It was an historic day at the Historic Cape May County Superior Courthouse yesterday as two new judges were sworn into Vicinage I of Atlantic and Cape May counties. For the first time a judicial oath of office ceremony involved two women: Ocean City’s M. Susan Sheppard and Christine Smith, of Tuckahoe.
“This building has seen a lot of history since it was built in 1848,” the Honorable Julio L. Mendez said as he presided over the event. “Again, this Courthouse is witness to history.”
Mendez was quick to add his opinion on the true significance of the event. It wasn’t, he said, because both new judges were women. It was because Sheppaard and Smith had proven themselves as “exceptional representatives as lawyers, as public servants and (persons of) integrity” who happen to be women.
A nearly packed house looked on as Mendez administered the oath, husband Frank Faverzani held the Bible and children Nora and Mark looked on. Eldest son Frank could not be present, but Sheppard’s mother, Marlene Sheppard and Spanish Exchange Student Rafael Cortes Fernandez were on hand.
“I am grateful and humbled,” Sheppard said of her appointment to work in the Family Division of the Superior Court. “I understand the enormity of what I have been entrusted to do.” She said in reference to the impact her decisions will have on families and particularly children.
Previously Sheppard served at Cape May County Surrogate, the first woman elected to hold that office. She stepped down after five years to accept her appointment. She was the second woman elected to the Cape May County Board of Chosen Freeholders. She is a former member of Ocean City City Council, the Ocean City Library Council, and the New Jersey Congressional Redistricting Committee.
Longtime friend and now colleague Judge Michael J. Donohue called Sheppard “a pioneer, a leader, a trailblazer and a pathfinder.”
The new Judge was legally sworn in more than two months ago and she has since been hearing cases, as has Smith. Yesterday’s swearing in was the ceremonial commemoration, and it featured bagpipers, color guard and a singing of the National Anthem by the Neumann University Concert Chorale.
A processional of the Vicinage I Superior Court Judges followed from the back door of the courtroom, an impressive parade of most, if not all of the nearly 30 representatives of the vicinage.
Among those sharing the dais with Mendez was Associate Justice Anne M.Patterson, who offered Sheppard and Smith congratulatory remarks; as did State Sen. Jeff Van Drew. The Bar Associations of Atlantic and Cape May Counties presented each of the new judges with a plaque.
There was an impressive group of elected, civic, and business leaders in attendance.
Justice Patterson urged the new judges to be guided by “protecting the Constitutional rights of all defendants, litigants and observers in the courtroom.” Because people who come to court are often in trouble or need help, and tempers can flare, the judges need to be above the fray.
“Remember, you are the face of the New Jersey judicial system.”