Legal Ethics

Does judge's moonlighting as stand-up comic put judiciary in bad light? State's top court to decide

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Vince A. Sicari is a municipal judge in South Hackensack, N.J. He’s also a stand-up comic who performed Monday night at Carolines on Broadway in New York and recently warmed up the crowd before a taping of The Colbert Report and cracked jokes before an appearance by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor to promote her memoir.

Tuesday his lawyers are set to argue before the New Jersey Supreme Court that the 43-year-old jurist should be allowed to continue moonlighting as a paid comedian under the stage name Vince August. He is appealing a 2008 ethics ruling—upheld in 2010 by the New Jersey Advisory Committee on Extra-Judicial Activities—that doing so poses a risk of creating what court papers term “an appearance of bias, partiality or impropriety or otherwise negatively affect the dignity of the judiciary,” the Associated Press reports.

Sicari, who earns $13,000 annually from his part-time judge job, says he never jokes about lawyers onstage and argues that he should be allowed to continue on the bench “while actively engaged in an entertainment career which provides me a substantial portion of my income.”

The committee has expressed particular concern about his appearances on ABC’s television reality show Primetime: What Would You Do?, in which he tried to shock audience members and passers-by as he played racist and homophobic characters.

An earlier ethics ruling banned a municipal judge from appearing in a television commercial for Shredded Wheat cereal. However, municipal judges are allowed to maintain a private practice as attorneys.

Because Sicari now performs hundreds of days a year as a comedian, it isn’t practical for him to maintain a private law practice, his lawyer, E. Drew Britcher, tells the Record. For years, Sicari made a living handling criminal and real estate matters and doing contract work by day while working nights as a municipal judge.

His court calendar in South Hackensack focuses on traffic tickets and misdemeanors, the Record notes.

Although Sicari brought down the house at Carolines on Monday night with jokes about Lance Armstrong and Oscar Pistorius, both of whom have recently been in the news because of legal proceedings, none of Sicari’s comments related to the legal profession, the AP reports.

“It seems a bit unusual that a United States Supreme Court justice can appear on the [Colbert] show but a municipal court judge … can’t warm up the crowd,” Britcher said.

Earlier coverage: “Municipal Judge Appeals Kibosh on 2nd Gig as Stand-Up Comedian”

The Record (opinion): “The Record: Comic justice”

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