Judges and Official Misconduct (Part 6)

by | Oct 23, 2017 | Blog, Criminal Law, Judge and Jury, Monmouth County, Ocean County

criminal attorneyN.J.S.A. 2C:30-2b criminalizes only the omissions of “a judge who consciously refrains from performing an official non-discretionary duty, which duty is imposed upon him by law or which is clearly inherent in the nature of his office. In addition, the public servant must know of the existence of such non-discretionary duty to act.” The State has cited no authority supporting the contention that a judge has a non-discretionary duty to enforce the order of another court, and it certainly has failed to demonstrate such a duty is ever present, obligating the judge to perform the duty wherever he or she may be, twenty-four hours a day, 365 days per year.

This portion of the opinion flies in the face of the maxim that “ignorance of the law is no defense.” The maxim carries additional force when applied to a judge who should be an authority on the law.

At oral argument, the State adopted the proposition that a judge would commit official misconduct if, knowing an arrest warrant based on a family member’s failure to pay outstanding parking tickets had issued, the judge refrained from notifying police of that family member’s whereabouts. No provisions of the Code or any other authority, however broadly read, would sustain a charge of official misconduct based on those facts. The facts presented to this grand jury were not much different.

In affirming dismissal of the official misconduct count, we do not condone in any way defendant’s alleged conduct, nor does it relieve defendant of the potential serious consequences if convicted of the crime of hindering. The Court has repeatedly exercised its power to discipline judges for their conduct, criminal or unethical, official or otherwise. It has the power to remove a judge from office “for misconduct in office, willful neglect of duty, or other conduct evidencing unfitness for judicial office, or for incompetence.” We further note that if defendant were convicted of third-degree hindering Prontnicki’s apprehension, she would forfeit her office. We affirm the dismissal of count one of the indictment charging defendant with official misconduct.