Friday, January 17, 2020

A Rich History Of Comparable Prior Cases Leads To Disbarment Of Former New Jersey Judge

The New Jersey Supreme Court has disbarred an attorney for misconduct as a judge.

The order also permanently disqualifies from holding judicial office.

The Disciplinary Review Board described the criminal matter that eventually led to the attorney's completed of a pretrial intervention program and his future disqualification from judicial office

During his guilty plea allocution, respondent admitted that, from January 2010 through October 2015, while serving in public office as a municipal court judge in nine jurisdictions, he had systematically falsified official court records in motor vehicle cases. Specifically, respondent admitted that he routinely suspended mandatory motor vehicle fines in cases and, instead, substituted phony, baseless contempt of court charges in their place, knowing that his criminal scheme would steer one hundred percent of the contempt proceeds to the towns over which he presided. In contrast, mandatory motor vehicle fines were required to be divided between the respective towns and Monmouth County. Respondent further admitted that, if challenged by a defendant, he often would revert contempt charges to mandatory fines, but, on one occasion, threatened jail time for a defendant who had raised such a challenge. Moreover, respondent admitted that he would improperly apply defendants’ bail money toward the phony contempt charges, without notice or due process for those defendants.

Respondent further admitted that the purpose of his criminal scheme was to use his authority, in his public office, to direct maximum revenue to the towns where he presided as a municipal court judge, and that, to conceal his wrongdoing, he typically falsified the contempt charges outside of the presence of the defendants and their counsel.

Respondent admitted that his scheme was successful and, thus, deprived Monmouth County of its fair share of motor vehicle fine revenue. Finally, respondent admitted that he continued his scheme, even after a March 7, 2014 meeting with his superiors to discuss his contempt of court practices. Although he began assessing smaller phony contempt fines, he continued to steer funds to his preferred jurisdictions, until his suspension from the bench, on October 23, 2015.

What struck me most about the 30-page DRB recommendation was the plethora of prior cases involving ticket-fixing New Jersey judges.

The discipline imposed in cases involving similar misconduct in connection with municipal court proceedings has ranged from a reprimand to disbarment, depending on the facts of the offense, the presence of other unethical conduct, and the analysis of aggravating and mitigating factors.

The attorney sought a lesser sanction but

respondent argues that, given the widespread abuse of contempt of court fines by municipal court judges in New Jersey, it would not be fair to "single [him] out" and impose disbarment for his conduct...

Despite respondent’s protestations of being singled out, the evidence clearly and convincingly illustrates that he engaged in an egregious, systematic scheme of criminal conduct, while serving in public office.

(Mike Frisch)

Bar Discipline & Process, Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink


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