NEWTON – Located in Sussex County’s seat, is the Sussex County Office of the Surrogate.
Located easily on the street level of the Historic Sussex County Courthouse, is the Office of the Surrogate.
After the retirement of longtime Sussex County Surrogate, Nancy Fitzgibbons, Governor Chris Christie appointed then-Assemblyman Gary Chiusano (R-24) as the Surrogate. The Senate Judiciary Committee and New Jersey State Senate, from both sides of the aisle, supported the Governor’s decision in his choice of Chiusano.
He was officially sworn into his post on Feb. 11, 2013.
Although Chiusano was sworn in, it is necessary for him to be re-elected to his seat. He has already fought for it in June at the primary where he faced Alicia Ferrante, another Republican and a local attorney. In that race, Chiusano won the opportunity to be on the ballot for Nov. 5, with 6,575 votes (58 percent) versus Ferrante’s 4,748 votes (42 percent). In the upcoming election, he has another challenger in Independent Candidate, Bob Morris.
NJ Inside Scene had an opportunity to learn more about both of these candidates, their thoughts about how this position should be handled, as well as about the facts about the Sussex County Office of the Surrogate.
Gary Chiusano – Sussex County Surrogate
“I grew up in Sussex County, as did my wife of 35 years,” Chiusano told NJ Inside Scene. “We have three adult children and two grandchildren.”
“About 12 to 13 years ago, I got involved in my council and ran for office,” he continued.
From there, Chiusano became a Sussex County Freeholder, and then a member of the New Jersey State Assembly from 2008 to 2013.
Chiusano has a background as a former vice president of financial services, and was a trust officer with a banking institution. He has a background as a professional financial planner, and holds series 7, 63, and 66 Securities Licenses. Chiusano is a graduate of Drexel University, where he earned his Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and Finance.
When his colleagues in the Assembly said goodbye to Chiusano, video footage of his final day as an Assemblyman shows accolades coming in his direction from both sides of the aisle.
“I was confirmed entirely in the same bipartisan manner that supported me,” Chiusano said. “They did so not out of fear, but out of rest, and out of the way I conducted myself, in a courteous and respectful manner.”
From the words of some of his Assembly counterparts to Chiusano on his final day in the Assembly:
“Not only were you a leader, you made friends across the aisle.” – Assemblyman and Majority Leader Lou Greenwald (D-6)
“You have stood for bedrock principles. You have voted with a clear conscience. You have made a mark on this state, and marks for which you should be proud.” – Assemblyman Jay Webber (R-26)
“You gave me some good advice. I thank you for all you’ve done.” – Assemblyman Gilbert L “Whip” Wilson (D-5)
“I can’t put into words the respect I have for you. You’re high on that list how you’ve conducted yourself as a legislator and a man. The people in the State of New Jersey are going to miss you. In the 22 years I’ve been here, I’ve seen major changes in the house – you are one of the ones I’ve admired.” – Assemblyman and Speaker Pro Tempore Jerry Green (D-22)
Chiusano was moved as he watched the video, and listened to the comments from that day.
“They did so [commented positively about him] not out of fear, but out of respect, and out of the way I conducted myself in a courteous and respectful manner.”
Bob Morris – Independent Candidate for Surrogate
“I grew up in Sparta, and attended the schools there from elementary through high school,” Bob Morris, the Independent Candidate for Surrogate, began.
His Bachelor’s Degree is in Political Science and Business Administration. He holds a Master’s in Secondary Education.
After graduation in 1982, he began working on Wall Street, and said he has had a Securities Brokerage Firm, with offices in Augusta, Lake Hopatcong, Cranford, and an office on Broad Street in New York’s Financial District.
Morris is married and has two sons who are out of college, one who graduated from Rutgers, and the other, who serves in the military. He has two sons currently in college as well.
He said that he also spends his time refereeing basketball, and has been involved in local non-profit groups, including Big Brothers Big Sisters of Morris, Bergen, Passaic & Sussex, the American Red Cross Sussex County Chapter, the Partnership for Social Services, and two churches – the Lady of the Lake in Sparta, and St. Jude the Apostle Parish in Hamburg. He said he has also served on the Lafayette Board of Education.
The Role of the Sussex County Surrogate
“Our job here is to help people through one of the most difficult times of their life,” said Chiusano, “the loss of their loved ones.”
Other services the Office of the Surrogate performs include: overseeing adoptions and guardianships. One of the other functions of the office is to probate wills and appoint administrators for estates in cases where there are no wills.
Changes in the Sussex County Office of the Surrogate
“We’ve made changes day one to the phone and computer systems, and to our website,” Chiusano said.
Even with budget constraints, Chiusano said he is operating the budget below the 2013 allocations, which will be 17 percent lower than the 2008 operating budget for his office.
“We are just being as frugal as possible with every line item,” he said.
Chiusano said he admires the diligence of the employees in his office, who are handling additional workloads, with more efficiency.
“Our people in this court, are some of the most dedicated and hardworking people I’ve met in my 40 years in business,” he said. “It is the amount of work they’re doing, and in a compassionate, and respectful manner.”
Morris’ View of the Sussex County Office of the Surrogate and Changes He Would Like to Implement If Elected
“It’s not a political position, you’re an administrator,” he said.
Morris believes he is qualified for the position, as someone who has already been an administrator of paperwork, which he processed himself while on Wall Street.
Morris believes there should be satellite offices throughout the county.
He has seen examples in other counties including Union (there are four other locations by appointment only, in the evening, and with limited hours and days, once a month – the Cranford Community Center, the Linden Public Library, the Union Township Municipal Building, and Summit City Hall), Middlesex (there are eleven offices in at locations ranging from senior centers to municipal buildings), Bergen, (in 10 locations by appointment ), and Monmouth (four locations by appointment, three are public libraries, one is a connection center).
Morris proposes satellite offices in areas furthest away from Newton, such as Hopatcong, Vernon and Wantage. He suggested, for example, in Vernon, he could drive up by appointment and bring paperwork. He has concerns with what he sees as “the mobility and lack of it,” in the current surrogate’s office.
Morris does not see that certain tasks, such as guardianship, are limited to being performed within the main office in Sussex County.
“It’s [the Sussex County Office of the Surrogate] hard to navigate that, and there’s limited parking,” he said.
When NJ Inside Scene asked Morris if municipalities in the county agreed to hosting satellite offices in a location in their town, he replied that he had only approached Sparta at this point.
“I spoke to Sparta,” where he said he had been on their economic council, “and it didn’t seem to be an issue.”
When NJ Inside Scene asked Morris about the privacy factor, if the Sparta Municipal Building was to be used, he said, “They have nice conference rooms. The mayor has conference rooms with the same methods of privacy.”
Morris also described the “lack of forms” online for the Sussex County Office, stating to NJ Inside Scene, that there were “about two.”
“People want to do things on the Internet, I want to make things as easy as possible to do on the Internet,” he said.
For the Sussex County Office of the Surrogate, he suggests a package online, where constituents could complete their advanced health care directives. He said a Power of Attorney form exists with ombudsman, however, he said he would like to centralize it, online, in one location. He feels the Office of the Surrogate site would be an important location for it.
When asked about forms for advanced directives, if there are places where forms can be located after a person has filled one out, he said that is not available in New Jersey. He replied that the State of Arizona, has such an online repository, and he would like to model something similar in Sussex County with Newton Medical Center.
Morris is also advocating simple wills, and a place in the office with a template where constituents can complete their simple will. He said in New Jersey, holographic wills are also acceptable. He noted, however, a surrogate is not able to provide legal advice.
Gary Chiusano’s Take on Some of the Proposals Suggested by Bob Morris
Chiusano does not agree with Morris’ proposals for satellite offices. He said in the counties in which those offices exist, the population is much larger than in Sussex County. He also feels it will spread the employees at the Sussex County Office of the Surrogate, thin.
He also believes, it is a disservice to those who come to the Sussex County Office of the Surrogate, to be at places, such as municipal buildings, to fill out paperwork during times of mourning, where they could run into neighbors coming in to renew their dog licenses.
“They’re not coming [to the Sussex County Office of the Surrogate] because they won a trip to Disney,” Chiusano said. “They’ve come because they’ve lost loved ones.”
Chiusano said the environment in which those who are coming to the Sussex County Office of the Surrogate because of the death of the loved one, is secure and private. Those who enter the Historic Sussex County Courthouse must pass through security, before they come into the office. From there, those with an appointment are taken to a private conference room, where their business can be discussed further.
Some cases, he said, can be dramatic, and include family members fighting with one another.
For that reason, Chiusano also eschews the idea of the Sussex County Office of the Surrogate, becoming a place where people can just walk in and use a computer to fill out a simple will.
“We don’t have the physical space,” Chiusano said. “People shouldn’t be walking through here when others are here still in mourning. This is not a library.”
Chiusano said his office cannot provide legal advice, though he does say that, “everyone should be encouraged to have a will written for them, particularly with major changes in the family.”
He is not fond of the idea of a simple will, without guidance of an attorney.
“Would you perform your own brain surgery?” he asked.
Chiusano said his office provides outreach to the senior citizens in the county on topics.
He also said that satellite offices are not a necessary add-on for the Sussex County Office of the Surrogate, because, if a person cannot come to his office, such as if they are wheelchair-bound, once security is verified, he can make house calls, or make an appointment to meet the person at their attorney’s office.
Chiusano wrapped up by elaborating on his experience.
It takes compassion,” he said.
One such act of compassion was one that Chiusano said brought tears to his eyes – an adoption of a little girl that he performed for the second time, when the first adoptive family gave her up. He was content to see that the child was placed into the home of a loving second family, and this time permanently.
“I’ve been a trust officer for 11 years, and we need someone in this position who has proven themselves to constituents to act respectfully, and in a dignified manner,” he said.
Editor commentary on some of the proposals mentioned in this story:
NJ Inside Scene did further research into some of the proposals discussed in this story. We are supplying additional information for our readers.
One of the proposals in this story is that Sussex County should have Satellite Offices for the Sussex County Office of the Surrogate. We have provided statistics below regarding the other counties where satellite offices exist for the surrogate office. Please note, the Monmouth County Surrogate states specifically on the website, there are certain orders of business which cannot be conducted at the satellite offices, and can only be performed at the main office, such as adoptions, withdrawals from minors intermingled trust accounts, and legal files for the Chancery Division (Probate part).
After speaking to the Union County Surrogate Office, NJ Inside Scene further learned that the Satellite Offices there are only open once a month per office, by appointment only, and for example, if wills are to be probated, paperwork must be sent in first to the main offices (such as death certificates requiring to be faxed), and then the Surrogate will proceed to the satellite office after the paperwork is sent in advance and appointment made. Like Monmouth County, certain actions, such as adoptions cannot be performed at the satellite office. That must be performed at the main office, with paperwork filed previous to the court by the Adoption Clerk.
The population of Sussex County versus these other counties where satellite offices exist, as well as square mileage, is as follows (2010 Census):
Sussex County – 149,265 residents – 536 sq. mis.
Bergen County – 905,116 residents – 247 sq. mis.
Middlesex County – 732,745 residents – 323 sq. mis.
Monmouth County – 630,382 residents – 665 sq. mis
Union County – 536,499 residents – 105 sq. mis
With the question of a Living Will or Advanced Directive in the State of Arizona, and the establishment of such a database in the State of New Jersey (or Sussex County) the Arizona Department of State, Office of the Secretary of the State, is the office that oversees the electronic copies of the advanced directives.
As a note about Holographic Wills in the State of New Jersey, according to the attached, a Holographic Will is only valid when it meets particular provisions.
Roles of the Sussex County Office of the Surrogate
Functions of the Surrogate Court
- Probate Wills
- Appoint Administrators
- Provide Affidavits of Spouse or Next of Kin
- Appoint Trustees
- Appoint Guardians
- Invest Minors’ Trust Funds
- Process Adoptions
- Issue Letters of Conservatorship
- Process Contested Probate Matters
- Maintain the Surrogate Records from the early 1800’s
- Film and Record All Surrogate & Superior Court Proceedings
- Assists in Genealogy and Title Research
- Outreach Program to senior population and homebound
Source of above: Sussex County Office of the Surrogate
Click our video at the top of this story for a virtual tour of the Sussex County Office of the Surrogate.