TRENTON - Gov. Christie on Wednesday named former New Jersey Supreme Court Justice Peter G. Verniero chairman of a panel that screens judicial nominations, apparently sending a message that he will not back down from his decision against renominating Justice John E. Wallace Jr. to the Supreme Court.
Christie named replacements for the entire Judicial Advisory Panel, whose seven members abruptly resigned last week. Six of them cited as their reason Christie's decision not to renominate Wallace.
The six members signed a letter saying that Wallace "indisputably exemplified all the qualifications for honorable judicial services" and that Christie's decision not to renominate him for tenure "is inconsistent with an independent judiciary."
All seven former members were appointed by Christie's predecessor, Gov. Jon S. Corzine, who created the panel to review Superior Court nominations by executive order.
Wallace was the first Supreme Court justice seeking reappointment not to receive it under the current state constitution, but Verniero, whose term on the bench was controversial from the start, resigned before the end of his first term, possibly to avoid a contentious renomination process.
"I'm honored that the governor has asked me to take on this role with the panel, which will provide an important review of future nominees to the Superior Court," Verniero said. "I look forward to working with my colleagues on the panel, all of whom come with considerable judicial or legal experience in New Jersey."
Verniero, who was chairman of corporate internal investigations and appellate practice at Sills, Cummis & Gross P.C., served on Christie's transition team.
Christie, a former U.S. attorney, said the panel would help him select high-quality judges.
"I wanted to act quickly to fill the panel with qualified individuals of high integrity and reputation so that the panel would have no interruption in performing its function," Christie said.
Christie also amended Corzine's executive order to alter slightly the panel's membership requirements.
The other members appointed by Christie are:
Rosemary Alito, a lawyer specializing in labor and employment law with the firm K&L Gates, and chairwoman of the editorial board of the New Jersey Law Journal.
Richard J. Badolato, the immediate past president of the New Jersey State Bar Association.
John J. Degnan, vice chairman and chief operating officer for the Chubb Corp., a former New Jersey attorney general, and chief counsel under former Gov. Brendan T. Byrne.
Harriet Derman, a former Superior Court judge and chief of staff and chief counsel to former Gov. Christie Whitman.
W. Cary Edwards, former attorney general and chief counsel to former Gov. Thomas H. Kean.
Bette E. Uhrmacher, a former Superior Court judge in Monmouth County.