Legal Ethics

N.J. Justice Censured

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A justice on the New Jersey Supreme Court has been censured by his colleagues for interceding with police and the courts in a delinquency case against a youth accused of bullying his son.

The court said Justice Roberto Rivera-Soto’s actions created an appearance of impropriety, the New Jersey Law Journal reports.

Law professor Robert Williams of Rutgers law school in Camden said the censure could affect the justice’s chances for re-appointment in 2011. Censure is “a pretty serious punch, not a slap,” he told the New York Times.

Rivera-Soto intervened after his son’s high school took no action against a football player accused of head-butting the youth during football practice. Rivera-Soto called the police chief and asked him to file charges, then went to the police station to sign a delinquency complaint. He also called the county prosecutor and assignment judge to alert them to the case, although he told the judge he wanted no special treatment.

The justice “engaged in a course of conduct that created a risk that the prestige and power of his judicial office might influence and advance a private matter, thereby engendering an appearance of impropriety,” the court said.

The New Jersey Supreme Court censured another of its members in 1990 for driving under the influence and refusing to take a breath test, the New York Times reports.

New Jersey’s Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct had recommended the penalty, saying “judges must always be conscious that they not blur the line between parent and judge.” (See this post for details.)

The case is In re Roberto A. Rivera-Soto, No. D-140 (PDF).

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