MAYS LANDING – The courtrooms in the new Central Municipal Court of Atlantic County will be named in honor of three groundbreaking pioneers during a May 4 ceremonial dedication of the state’s first regional court system.
The idea for the consolidated court was that of Atlantic County Executive Dennis Levinson who has been a strong and long-time proponent of reducing duplication and providing cost savings to taxpayers through shared services.
“We live in the highest taxed state in the country with 565 municipalities, more than several states combined,” Levinson said. “A consolidated municipal court was an opportunity for Atlantic County to embark on a unique shared service for the benefit of our taxpayers.”
Levinson formed a committee in 2020, led by County Counsel Jim Ferguson with representatives of the New Jersey courts and county municipalities, to explore the feasibility and cost savings of a regional court. After more than a year of dedicated work and planning, the Central Municipal Court of Atlantic County opened in January 2022 with initial participation from nine of the county’s 23 municipalities.
Levinson noted that without the leadership of former NJ Senate President Steve Sweeney in spearheading the passage of a state statutory amendment to allow a county based municipal court in a county with less than 900,000 residents, the Atlantic County municipal court would not have happened.
“Sen. Sweeney recognized the tremendous value and significance of this court and was an enthusiastic supporter from day one,” he said. “We are extremely grateful for his efforts.”
With the opening of the court in the historic court house at 5905 Main Street in Mays Landing, Levinson wanted to name each of the three courtrooms for a highly respected individual who served as a trailblazer.
“I could not think of three more appropriate individuals than the late Herbert S. Jacobs, the first Atlantic County African American state judge; Valerie H. Armstrong, the first female Atlantic County Assignment Judge; and Julio L. Mendez, the state’s first Hispanic Assignment Judge; each significant in their own right.”
According to Levinson, at age 30, Judge Jacobs was also the youngest judge to be appointed in the state. He served in the Atlantic County District Court from 1964 to 1978. Judge Armstrong, who served in New Jersey Superior Court, Vicinage 1, Atlantic and Cape May counties, was a strong advocate for equity and fairness. Judge Mendez, who retired earlier this year after having served in New Jersey Superior Court, Vicinage 1, Atlantic and Cape May counties since 2002, was a recognized leader in state municipal court reform.
“It gives me great pride to honor each of them in this way,” Levinson said, “and to know that their contributions will not be forgotten.”
A plaque for each was created by the county and will hang above the entrance to each respective court room. Court Room 1 will be named in honor of Judge Mendez; Court Room 2 will be named in honor of Judge Armstrong; and Court Room 3 will be named in honor of Judge Jacobs.