Julien Neals – Nominee to the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey

In February 2015, Newark attorney Julien Neals was nominated by President Obama for a federal judgeship.  Neals’ nomination then sat in limbo before the Republican-controlled Senate for nearly two years before the election of President Trump ended his chances.  Today, more than six years later, Neals is getting a second shot to become a federal judge.

Background

Julien Xavier Neals was born in Newark, NJ on January 1, 1965.  Neals graduated from Morehouse College in 1984 and then spent the next few years as a self-employed musician.[1]  He then attended Emory University School of Law, getting his J.D in 1991.[2]

After graduating, Neals clerked on the Superior Court of New Jersey and then joined the Secaucus office of Chasan Leyner & Lamparello, PC, where he became a Partner in 2003.  In 2006, Neals was chosen by Mayor Cory Booker to serve on the Newark Municipal Court.  

In 2008 Booker tapped Neals to be the city’s Corporation Counsel.[3]  In 2010, Neals shifted position again, to become the City’s Business Administrator as well.  Since 2015, Neals has been serving as County Counsel and acting County Administrator for Bergen County.

History of the Seat

The seat Neals has been nominated for opened on February 10, 2015, with Judge William Martini’s move to senior status.  On February 26, 2015, upon Booker’s recommendation, Neals was nominated by President Obama to fill the vacancy opening with Judge Faith Hochberg’s move to senior status on March 6, 2015.  Neals received a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee on September 30, 2015 and was approved by voice vote on November 5, 2015.  However, the nomination sat on the Senate floor without action for 14 months before the inauguration of President Trump resulted in its withdrawal.

In 2017, Booker and the Trump Administration attempted to reach an agreement of New Jersey nominees that would include the renomination of Neals to fill a district court vacancy.[4]  However, the deal never came to fruition and Neals was not renominated.  Instead, the vacancy left by Judge Hochberg, along with six other New Jersey vacancies were left without nominees throughout the Trump Presidency.

Legal Experience

Neals spent the first half of his legal career as an attorney with Chasan Leyner & Lamparello, where he handled general litigation, including around 35 trials.[5]  Among the notable matters he handled at the firm, he represented the City of Paterson in defending against lawsuits alleging excessive force resulting from a riot at the City’s Peruvian Day festival.[6]  

In 2008, Neals became the Corporation Counsel for the City of Newark, which began the second phase of his career, where he primarily worked within municipalities.  As Corporation Counsel, Neals helped implement the city’s community court project as an alternative to jail for petty crimes.[7]  He also oversaw the repeal of the City’s loitering ordinance, which had been declared unconstitutional by the New Jersey Supreme Court.  

During his tenure as Corporation Counsel, Neals was also the target of a blackmail attempt, in which his subordinate Neil Braunstein threatened to accuse Neals of corruption and workplace discrimination if he was not given a promotion and $750,000 in cash.[8]  After Neals reported the attempt, Braunstein was criminally charged, convicted, fired, and had his law license suspended.[9]

After his tenure as Corporation Counsel, Neals served as the City’s Business Adminstrator, where, due to declining revenues, Neals was forced to cut back on police expenditures,[10] and as County Counsel for Bergen County.

Judicial Experience

Neals served as the Chief Judge of the Newark Municipal Court from 2006 to 2008, a court with jurisdiction over traffic infractions, housing and code violations, and minor criminal offenses.[11]  As Chief Judge of the court, Neals supervised the other judges and presided over approximately 6000 cases.[12]

Overall Assessment

Deprived of new judges for the last four years, the District of New Jersey is desperately short-handed.  As Neals’ past nomination was approved by a Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee without opposition, one could argue that his current nomination should receive similar support.

However, there may be reasons why Neals’ current nomination may draw greater opposition than his previous one.  In particular, Neals having presided over cuts to the Newark Police Department may draw greater salience in the backdrop of police reform movements and calls to “defund the police.”  

Nonetheless, Neals is still much more likely than not to be confirmed.  However, he may draw more active opposition than his nomination did in 2015.

[1] Sen. Comm. on the Judiciary, 114th Cong. Julien Neals: Questionnaire for Judicial Nominees 2.

[2] See id. at 1.

[3] See Andrew Jacobs, Booker is Losing 2 Top Officials, 18 Months Into His Newark Administration, N.Y. Times, Jan. 5, 2008.

[4] See Andrew Seidman and Jonathan Tamari, Trump Poised to Nominate Christie Ally for U.S. Attorney in Complex Political Deal, Philadelphia Inquirer, Aug. 11, 2017.

[5] See Neals, supra n. 1 at 40.

[6] Rossmorey et al. v. City of Paterson, et al., 2:97-cv-03964-JLL-RJH (D.N.J.).

[7] See Donna Leinwand, Alternative Courts Gain Ground for Petty Crimes, USA Today, June 10, 2008.

[8] See Rohan Mascarenhas, Newark City Attorney Is Arrested for Alleged Blackmail of Boss, NJ.com, Apr. 2, 2009, https://www.nj.com/news/2009/05/newark_attorney_arrested_at_ci.html.

[9] See Debra Cassens Weiss, Lawyer is Suspended from Law Practice for Taking Quest for a Promotion Too Far, ABA Journal, May 10, 2012, https://www.abajournal.com/news/article/lawyer_is_suspended_from_law_practice_for_taking_quest_for_a_promotion_too_.

[10] See David Ariosto, As City Cutbacks Cause Police Layoffs, Bullets in Night Claim Young Mother’s Life, CNN.com, Oct. 28, 2012.

[11] See Neals, supra n. 1 at 33-34.

[12] See id.

2 Comments

  1. Pingback: Pennsylvania Member of Congress Tracking Report - 06.13.21

  2. Pingback: Where We Stand: Assessing Vacancies and Nominations in the Federal Judiciary – The Atlantic Coast | The Vetting Room

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