Prepared as a Public Service to the People by the Law Office of Vincent J. Sanzone, Jr., Esq.
The New Jersey Supreme Court in a ruling which hopefully will halt some of the current municipal court in New Jersey has ruled In the Matter of Louis M.J. DiLeo, D-66-12, that any judge in New Jersey who uses the court to violate the constitutional rights of any defendant by denying their due process rights may be held accountable and sanctioned by the New Jersey Supreme Court. The conduct must be egregious and contrary to fundamental principals of due process and well established due process protections as afforded by the United States and New Jersey Constitutions. This opinion not only applies to municipal court judges but all New Jersey judges who engage in such egregious conduct.
In the DiLeo case the former judge engaged in egregious conduct in completely denying the defendants their constitutional rights to a fair trial. In this case he not only denied their right to legal counsel, but acted as a prosecutor, in questioning the defendants, and allowing the police officer to do likewise. The trial which was presided over by the former judge was in essence a backwater small town “kangaroo court”, as sometimes sadly depicted in the movies and sometimes in real life in parts of the United States.
The Supreme Court in its ruling held that the undisputed facts in the DiLeo case clearly and convincingly demonstrate that Judge DiLeo committed egregious legal errors in his conduct of the proceedings involving the Kirkland brothers, the defendants in that case.
In this case, the justices adopted the objective standard set by Maine Supreme Court In re Benoit, 487 A.2d 1158 (Me. 1985), namely, that there must be clear and convincing proof of objective legal error of the type that a “reasonably prudent and competent judge” considers the conduct “obviously and seriously wrong in all circumstances.” In addition, the errors must be contrary to clear and determined law about which there is no confusion or question as to its interpretation,’ and that the error must be ‘egregious, made in bad faith, or made as part of a pattern or practice of legal error,’”
Following the standard adopted by the Louisiana supreme court in In re Boothe, 110 So. 3d 1002 (La. 2013) the court said that not every legal error, even if clear and unmistakable to a competent jurist, constitutes a violation of the Code, which necessarily leads to a determination of whether the judge should be sanctioned.
This is welcomed decision and was long overdue. Although the majority of the judges in New Jersey strive and work hard to be fair and apply the law without bias or prejudice, hopefully this decision will give notice to any errant judge not to engage in such misconduct.
Union County NJ Criminal Law Attorneys