Monday, January 27, 2014

The Backwaters Of New Jersey

A former municipal court judge who had "committed egregious legal errors in his conduct of the proceedings" involving two criminal defendants has been reprimanded by the New Jersey Supreme Court.

The defendants were initially given time to retain counsel.

When they were unable to do so, the judge told them that they had waived their right to a public defender (which one defendant now sought). The judge then conducted the trial without either defense counsel or the prosecutor.

The defendants were tried and convicted in less than one hour.

After counsel was appointed on appeal, a new trial was granted. The court concluded that the trial before the reprimanded judge

transformed the role of the court from a neutral and detached magistrate and evoked the specter of the backwater "judge, jury and executioner" figure that has never had any place in American jurisprudence.

The judge explained that "he was not attempting to prosecute the case, but rather was trying to move the court's calendar along."

The court

Judge DiLeo conducted this trial on his own terms. He denied the defendants’ request for counsel, forced them to go to trial pro se after refusing their request for a public defender, prosecuted the case with the help of the arresting police officer, personally cross-examined the defendants, and found the defendants guilty based on testimony that he himself had elicited during his cross-examination. Furthermore, at the conclusion of those proceedings, Judge DiLeo sent these two pro se defendants to jail where they remained for 124 days for non-violent disorderly persons offenses. Not only the defendants but also the judicial system were victims. The judge violated basic principles and procedures of our judicial system that people have a right to expect a municipal court to follow when prosecuting a citizen for a disorderly persons offense.

The court thus concluded that the conduct of the trial "cast a pall over the judiciary as a whole..." (Mike Frisch)

Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink

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This heavily researched and well considered opinion is a 'must read' for anyone interested in the topic of when legal error becomes judicial misconduct. The opinion announces a new standard for New Jersey.


Posted by: Stephen Williams | Jan 31, 2014 9:37:17 AM

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