Japanese judge visits U.S. to learn from veteran of Bergen County bench

They are normally separated by almost 7,000 miles, but veteran Judge Brian Martinotti and up-and-coming Japanese Judge Takuya Matsunami are of the same mind in their fascination for one of the law’s most complex aspects.

So much so that Matsunami, just 27 but already a four year veteran of the bench, recently became the first Japanese Judge to plan and execute a visit to the Bergen County judicial community in Hackensack since New Jersey and Japan began a visitation program 42 years ago. And he did it specifically to watch Martinotti at work in handling mass tort cases.

It was a case of instant mutual respect.

”When I was preparing for coming to New Jersey, I found an interesting paper written by Judge Martinotti. In Japan, there are few studies on Multicounty Litigation,” Matsunami said, adding he felt he could learn a great deal in Martinotti’s court.

And Martinotti, in return, took quick note of his Japanese colleague’s serious focus — and youth.

“He seemed very interested in multi-county litigation, and was very enthusiastic about the process,” Martinotti said. “I thought he was very impressive, too, for his age. He’s spent four years on the bench and was appointed at 23 years old. I’ve spent 12 years on the bench and was appointed at 41 years old.”

In 1972, an administrator of the New Jersey Courts, Edward B. McConnell, and the Supreme Court of Japan collaborated to bring about the visiting Japanese Judge Program, for Japanese judges, ages 25 to 30, to “gain insight into the administration of justice through exposure to foreign jurisdiction,” as explained by the New Jersey Courts.

Every participant is annually chosen by the Supreme Court of Japan. The participant then spends a year visiting New Jersey vicinages to gather information from judicial disciplines of their choice.

Among the 20 U.S. visiting programs available, Matsunami chose to apply to the one based in New Jersey.

“This program is the oldest, and I believe its the best one available,” Matsunami said.

A mark of his own talents, Matsunami was easily chosen as the 42nd judge to participate in program’s long history. It was yet another accomplishment on the resume resume of one of the youngest judges ever to be appointed in Japan.

He currently serves at the Osaka-district court in Japan, hearing civil trial cases as an assistant judge in panel. Not required by Japanese law to attend law school, Matsunami graduated from Kyoto University with a degree in physics, passed the National Bar Examination at age 22 and completed a 16-month course at the Legal Training and Research Institute of Supreme Court as a legal apprentice.

Now 27, Matsunami said he looked to the visiting Japanese Judge Program as an opportunity to learn more about his keen interest in mass tort cases. The discipline is one of multi-county litigation and defined as a series of lawsuits involving the same issue or company being brought together as different aspects in one substantial lawsuit handled by one judge — in this case, the judge being Martinotti.

There are only three counties in New Jersey that deal in such cases: Bergen, Atlantic and Middlesex. And although Matsunami has planned to visit all three, the complex but impressive settling of cases found in Martinotti’s chambers gave Bergen County the advantage over the other two.

Martinotti graduated from Fordham University in 1983 and Seton Hall Law School, cum laude, in 1986. Soon after, being a certified civil trial attorney, he was appointed to the Superior Court of New Jersey in 2002, serving in the Civil Division before being appointed in 2009 by the chief justice as one of the state’s three mass tort judges. He has successfully overseen the settlement of cases ranging from claims of false hip replacements to claims of faulty birth control methods.

When referring to Martinotti, Matsunami claimed to have learned “everything” from him.

“I have met three mass tort judges, and they all handle their cases totally different. I like his way,” he said.

Matsunami will end his term in the program in June. He described being impressed by how U.S. cases are settled consistently in the courtroom, while in Japan, normal practice is to avoid courtrooms to settle cases. However, he plans to keep one aspect of Japan’s judicial tradition — punctuality — in the forefront: Matsunami expressed surpise at how courtrooms in the U.S. lack strictly followed schedules and timelines for appointments.

But looking back on the experience, both judges say they are please with the results.

“The judge is overly modest and very shy, but very confident. And hopefully we’re going to have a continuing relationship. But it is a nice recognition for the county,” Martinotti said, downplaying the fact that in the end, it wasn’t the program that brought Judge Matsunami to Bergen County, it was Judge Martinotti.


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