Supreme Court: No one doubts Noriega — but some wonder if there was better nominee

Highly accomplished criminal defense and immigration law attorney would be 3rd Hispanic on court and 1st former public defender

As a former public defender with a history with the ACLU and a strong background in immigration law, Michael Noriega certainly has a lot of the progressive attributes Gov. Phil Murphy seemingly was looking for when making his fourth nomination to the New Jersey Supreme Court.

Support for NoriegaA day after he was nominated for the N.J. Supreme Court, support for Michael Noriega poured in from numerous top attorneys, Hispanic organizations and elected officials. See story here.

That’s why no one disputes Noriega’s qualifications to serve on the court — and why his nomination Monday drew a lot of praise from a lot of areas.

The selection, however, also was met with a bit of silence.

Michael Noriega. (Governor’s Office)

Noriega isn’t just being nominated to fill a seat on the Supreme Court, he is serving as a representative of the Hispanic community, being as only two Hispanics previously have served on the court.

No one in the Hispanic community was willing to speak on the record for fear of incurring the wrath of the governor — and for criticizing a member of the community — but, a number of people contacted by ROI-NJ made it clear they were not happy with the selection.

“The governor picked the wrong person,” one said.

Some were annoyed that the selection was not a female — noting that a number of well-qualified Latinas were offered as potential nominations.

Superior Court Judge Lisa Perez Friscia, Essex County College general counsel Christine Soto, Reed Smith attorney Julia Lopez and Seton Hall Law professor Solangel Maldonado (who later withdrew her name from consideration) all have great resumes. “There was an even longer list of qualified candidates; those were just the finalists,” one person said.

Others were bothered that Noriega is a partner at the Scotch Plains firm of Bramnick, Rodriguez, Grabas, Arnold & Mangan, the firm headed by Republican state Sen. Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield).

“These selections always are political, but this was a little much,” said another person.

Despite this, no one feels the nomination will have trouble going through.

The nomination will first be sent to the New Jersey State Bar Association’s Judicial and Prosecutorial Appointments Committee for approval. The governor will then proceed with a formal nomination, subject to advice and consent in the Senate.

Noriega, 45, would fill the seat of Associate Justice Barry Albin, who reached the mandatory retirement age of 70 on July 7, 2022.

Murphy, who has placed three other justices on the court and likely will get to nominate a fifth before his term ends, obviously feels he found the top candidate.

“As a former public defender and one of New Jersey’s most highly respected criminal defense and immigration law attorneys, Michael Noriega will bring extensive trial experience and a history of practice across our legal system to the judiciary. In addition to his qualifications, Michael’s character, integrity and commitment to serving the cause of justice make him ideally suited to serve on our state’s highest court,” he said.

Bramnick obviously agreed.

“Michael is a person of the highest integrity,” he said. “Whoever meets him comes away with a great feeling.

“He is extremely sincere, kind and generous. He has every quality we would want as a Supreme Court justice.”

Born in Weehawken to Peruvian immigrants and raised in Union City, Noriega is a 1995 graduate of St. Peter’s Prep, a 1999 graduate of Rutgers University with a Bachelor of Science in American studies and a 2002 graduate of Seton Hall University School of Law. Following law school, he served as a law clerk for Camille M. Kenny, judge of the Superior Court, Civil Division, in Hudson County.

Noriega, who has worked at Bramnick’s firm since 2014, is viewed as a highly accomplished immigration and criminal defense lawyer who has fought for the rights of both documented and undocumented residents living in New Jersey, helping them navigate the complex maze of federal immigration law and its interplay with state and municipal laws.

At the firm, he handles cases involving deportation defense, asylum, nonimmigrant visas, Green Card applications and Temporary Protected Status, as well as cases involving the intersection of immigration law with criminal, employment, business and family law. Noriega also handles personal injury cases for the firm.

Prior to joining the firm, Noriega ran his own law firm, Noriega & Associates, for six years, where he practiced immigration and criminal law. During that time, he served clients in towns such as Newark, Plainfield, Paterson, Elizabeth, Jersey City, Union City and Camden. He also provided pro bono counsel to Kids in Need of Defense, an organization that represents indigent, underage clients who have been subject to human trafficking and are facing removal proceedings.

Before starting his own law firm, Noriega served as an assistant deputy public defender in the Essex County Adult Trial Region from 2003 to 2008. During his time as a public defender, he handled hundreds of cases involving a range of criminal defense charges and tried more than 25 jury trials. Since leaving the Office of the Public Defender, Noriega has argued over half a dozen cases before the Appellate Division and two cases before the New Jersey Supreme Court.

Noriega said the nomination is the ultimate honor.

Seton Hall salutes selection

Seton Hall Law interim Dean Kip Cornwell lauded the nomination of Seton Hall alum Michael Noriega for a seat on the New Jersey Supreme Court.

“Michael Noriega is a cherished Seton Hall alumnus and a beloved adjunct professor at Seton Hall Law, most recently teaching our required Appellate Advocacy course,” Cornwell said. “His willingness to generously share his knowledge with our community has benefitted our students immeasurably.  We are, in addition, extremely proud of his tireless work on behalf of the immigrant population in New Jersey.  It is wonderful that his values and intellect can now find a home on the state’s highest court.”

“There are no words that can fully capture the tremendous privilege of being nominated to serve on the New Jersey Supreme Court,” he said. “Our Supreme Court has received national recognition for its intellectual rigor and forward-thinking decisions, and I promise to do everything in my power to continue that long and storied tradition.

“I would like to thank Gov. Murphy for this incredible honor, as well as my family, friends and colleagues who have shaped my life and career. I am also deeply grateful to Sen. Bramnick for his supportive words at today’s announcement, and to the whole Senate for their time and consideration of my nomination.”

Noriega is licensed to practice law in New Jersey and New York, as well as the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, and the U.S. Supreme Court. He is trilingual (fluent in English, Spanish, and Portuguese) and has years of experience assisting non-English speaking clients with legal matters.

Outside of his legal practice, Noriega served as an adjunct professor at Seton Hall University School of Law for eight years. He is a member of the New Jersey State Bar Association, New Jersey Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the Hispanic Bar Association of New Jersey and the Union County Bar Association.

Noriega currently serves as the president-elect for the Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers of New Jersey. In 2019, he was honored by the New Jersey State Bar Association as its Professional Lawyer of the Year. That same year, Noriega also received the ACLU-NJ Legal Leadership Award. In 2023, the New Jersey State Bar Association awarded him with the Distinguished Legislative Service Award.