By Clyde Hughes | AC JosepH Media
ELMER — Judge Jason Witcher said when he received a call from the Rutgers University Black Law Student Association saying he would be honored by the students and faculty at his alma mater on Jan. 12, he broke down in tears.
It has been an emotional ride for Witcher, taking a stance against an injustice within the City of Millville Municipal Court, which put him at odds with fellow judges and the state judiciary. But the honor was another point of validation that he is standing on the right side of history.
“I started crying, literally, because what it said to me that my simple small act has had rippling repercussions,” Witcher told Front Runner New Jersey.com. “To see a generation of law school students enter the field having that background and understanding, now know that they can be change agents with their degree.”
READ: Judge Jason Witcher Up for Two Awards Here on Jan. 3.
In 2022, while serving as municipal court judge in Millville, Witcher charged that Latino defendants he saw were discriminated against for allegedly being denied the option of appearing virtually during court hearings.
The allegation led to the state’s Attorney General’s Office suing the City of Millville this year over discrimination in its municipal court system, accusing it of requiring litigants who were perceived to be Spanish speakers based on their last names to appear in person for proceedings, while other people were offered the option of remote appearances. The lawsuit came after the state judiciary claimed it found no bias in its own internal investigation.
Witcher’s principled stance against discrimination against Hispanics came at a price. He retired from the bench in August, in what he called in a following lawsuit against the state judiciary as a “constructive discharge” because of retaliatory actions taken against him in an unrelated case dealing with his own personal health issues.
With the challenges, many in the community rallied to Witcher’s side. The New Jersey State Conference NAACP and various leading Hispanic groups like the statewide Latino Action Network praised Witcher and called for independent investigations into the judge’s charges.
One of the more moving responses to Witcher was at his retirement party in August, where the judge was honored by a large crowd of admirers from around New Jersey, Democrats and Republicans, from nearly all walks of life.
“It was emotionally overwhelming,” Witcher said of the community gathering. “To see the level of support and love that I felt in that place was incredible. To see that level of support, and it was amazing. It was genuine love and appreciation, and it was overwhelming for me and my family.”
A photo from one of his church elders preaching to him with attendees “laying hands” on him portrayed the emotional power of the experience.
“When he came and laid hands on me and prayed for God’s comfort on me and God’s blessings, the feeling was hard to describe,” Witcher said of the moment. “I knew my stance would have a rippling impact on the judicial system and God would use me going forward.”
Jazmyn Mongomery, of the Rutgers University Black Law Students Association, said Witcher’s stance has had rippling affect at the school as well. The second-year law student from Bordentown said her fellow students were impressed how Witcher was determined to do what was right instead of what was easy or caving just to keep his position as judge.
“He caught our attention,” Montgomery said. “It let us know that we, too, can make a difference when we go out into the field. Everyone here is proud of him.”
Witcher will also receive the Valor Award from the Camden County East NAACP in April. It’s president long a long-serving attorney in Camden County.
Witcher said, though, he had become used to the slights and microaggressions from his fellow judges who never truly embraced him despite his history-making appointments. He became the first African American municipal court judge in Salem County in 2010 with his appointment in Salem City.
That was followed by appointments in Penns Grove and Carneys Point as well. He made history again as the first Black appointed to the municipal bench in Cumberland County when starting hearing cases in Bridgeton. Millville was later added to assignments, becoming the first Black to serve there as well.
As for next steps, Witcher said he is attending seminary school but his future is wide open. He said he will have open arms to whatever opportunities present themselves, but the world knows that he will always take a principled stand to what’s right.
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