Judge Peter A. Locascio, the Municipal Court Judge in Atlantic Highlands and Highlands, has been accused of Judicial Misconduct by the Disciplinary Counsel of the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct (ACJC). The complaint can be found here.
Locascio is accused of exhibiting “extreme and personal” hostility towards an attorney appearing before him starting in August of 2008 and extending through early 2013, for failing to rule on recusal motions by that attorney after he was ordered to do so by his Assignment Judge, of using the powers of his office to his personal benefit and of conflicts of interest in allowing his personal attorney, a close personal friend, to appear before his court.
The attorney involved was not named in the complaint. “It could be several people,” said one member of the Monmouth County legal community speaking off the record, “Locascio is known to be caustic and vindictive.”
A complaint by the ACJC disciplinary counsel is an indication that an investigation into the initial complaint produced enough evidence to warrant an hearing before the committee. If after the hearing the committee determines that the Judge did violate the Code of Judicial Conduct the matter is referred to the State Supreme Court for public reprimand, censure, suspension, or removal. If the committee finds after its hearing that there is not clear and convincing evidence of Judicial Misconduct, it makes a recommendation to the Supreme Court to dismiss the complaint with or without private reprimand.
Assignment Judge Lawrence M. Lawson administering the Oath of Office to Freeholder Gary Rich, January 2012.
New Jersey Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner announced yesterday that Judge Lisa P. Thornton will replace Judge Lawrence M. Lawson as the Assignment Judge of the Monmouth County Vicinage, effective September 1, 2014.
Lawson, who has served on the bench since 1987 and as Assignment Judge since 1993, is retiring three years before he reaches the mandatory retirement age of 70.
Thornton will be the first female African-American Assignment Judge in the history of the New Jersey Court. She served as Rabner’s Chief of Staff when he was New Jersey’s Attorney General under Governor Jon Corzine.
A resident of Neptune, Thornton was appointed to the Court by Corzine in 2008. She earned her law degree from Rutgers-Newark in 1992 while she was employed by Prudential Financial. She was the Municipal Court Judge of Neptune Township from January of 1999 through December 2001. In 2002 Thornton was named special deputy commissioner of the Department of Banking and Insurance where she served until joining Corzine’s office as senior associate counsel in January of 2006 where she served until joining Rabner in the Attorney General’s Office in September of 2006.
Arthur Morgan III during a hearing at Monmouth County Court last October. Photo courtesy of Wall.Patch.com
Jury selection for the murder trial of Arthur Morgan III, 29 of Eatontown, started yesterday in Judge Anthony Mellaci’s courtroom in Freehold. Jury selection is expected to continue throughout this week. Opening statements in Morgan’s trail could start as early as Tuesday, March 11, according to a statement by Acting Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni.
Morgan is accused of murdering his 2-year old daughter, Tierra Morgan-Glover, on November 21, 2011, by tossing her off an overpass on Schoolhouse Road in the Shark River Park section of Wall Township. Tierra’s mother filed a missing persons report after Morgan failed to return his daughter to her mother’s custody as agreed after a visitation scheduled for a few hours. The toddler’s body was discovered by passers-by on November 22, 2011.
Morgan fled the area and was apprehended in San Diego, CA on November 29, 2011. He has been held on $10 million bail in the Monmouth County Correctional Institution since his extradition.
Five women whose divorce cases were heard by Monmouth County Superior Court Judge Paul X. Escandon are petitioning the New Jersey General Assembly to impeach the Judge they say violated their rights of due process and equal protection.
WABC-NY first reported the story of the impeachment petition.
Under the New Jersey Constitution, the General Assembly has the sole power to impeach judges by majority vote of the members. Should a judge be impeached by the Assembly, a trial is held in the Senate. A conviction and removal from office requires the vote of two-thirds of the Senate members.
Patricia Madison aka Patricia Pisciotti, Rachel Alintoff, Tameka Hunt, Paula Diaz Antonopoulos Wolfe, and Kristen Williams are represented by Robert A. Tandy, Esq., a Woodcliff Lake civil rights and employment attorney.
The women argue that they have no recourse against Escandon, other than impeachment and removal from office, for violating their civil rights due to the broad immunities granted Judges. They make the following allegations in their petition:
State Senator Barbara Buono and Linda Baum, Democratic candidate for Middletown Township Committee, 8/25/12 facebook photo
Middletown Library Director Susan O’Neal submitted incomplete and haphazardly organized emails between herself and Linda Baum, a past and present Democratic candidate for Middletown Township Committee, in response to Judge Lawrence M. Lawson’s ruling last week that the emails are government documents subject to the New Jersey Open Public Records Act.
MMM received the 298 pages of emails which include numerous duplicates, many truncated pages that cannot be fully read and omit relevant attachments, late this morning from Middletown Township via OPRA request. The emails can be viewed via Scribd at the end of this post.
The emails reveal a ongoing endeavor between O’Neal and Baum to undermine the oversight of the library by its Board of Trustees and the Township Committee. Additionally, Baum and O’Neal planned to use the library to forward the political objectives, including political fundraising, of Baum and the Middletown Democrats. Middletown Democratic Chairman Don Watson was copied on several of the emails.
In his ruling dated July 1 denying Baum’s motion to thwart the release of the emails requested by Middletown Clerk Heidi Brunt on behalf of Township Committeeman and Library Trustee Tony Fiore, Lawson wrote that Baum argued the emails have “absolutely nothing to do with the official business of the library” and do not relate to public operations.
Lawson wrote that “Baum argues that she has no relationship with the Library, nor is she an agent of the library in any respect.”
Monmouth County Superior Court Judge Dennis R. O’Brien has set a trial date of July 16 to determine if the Asbury Park municipal election ballots disqualified by the Monmouth County Board of Elections will be counted, according to a report in AsburyParkSun.
Daniel Harris, a candidate on the United Asbury ticket sued to have 332 vote by mail ballots and 32 provisional ballots that were disqualified for faulty signatures or missing witness/messenger affidavits counted in the final tally of the election that occurred on May 14. If the suit is successful, it is possible that members of the new council that was sworn in yesterday could be removed from office and replaced by Harris and/or other members of his ticket. Two members of the United Asbury ticket, James Keady and Duanne Small, are within 178 votes of unseating Mayor Myra Campbell and Deputy Mayor Susan Henderson. A pick up of 192 votes would also put Harris on the council and give United Asbury majority control of the council.
O’Brien ordered that the parties exchange the information that the need from each other by the end of the day today and raised the possibility that all 300-odd people who cast disallowed ballots could be called to testify.
Former Monmouth County Sheriff Joe Oxley’s nomination to the Superior Court was confirmed by the State Senate this afternoon after having been unanimously approved by the New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee earlier in the day.
Four of the other nominees confirmed today will be joining Oxley on the Monmouth County bench. Angela White Dalton of Howell, a former Township Councilwoman, Katie A. Gummer of Rumson, Arnold L. Natali, Jr of Little Silver and Mara E. Zazzali-Hogan of Shrewsbury are each expected to be confirmed by the Senate today. Zazzali-Hogan is the daughter of former NJ Chief Justice James R. Zazzali. Zazzali was Chief Justice for seven months, October 2006 until his mandatory retirement in June of 2007, after being nominated for the top post by Governor Corzine. He became an Associate Justice in June of 2000.
Monmouth County Assignment Judge Lawrence M. Lawson told MMM last December that the Court has been operating with six vacancies. Kathy Sheedy of Cream Ridge was nominated by Governor Christie on Monday to fill the final vacancy.
Lawson was not available when MMM called this afternoon to ask what the assignments will be for the new judges.
Monmouth County Senators Jennifer Beck and Joe Kyrillos issued the following statement praising the New Jersey Senate’s confirmation of five Monmouth County residents to be judges of the Superior Court:
“Monmouth County, like counties across the state, has had a number of judicial vacancies that have caused backlogs in our court system. We are pleased that the New Jersey Senate has finally taken action to confirm qualified nominees. By filling judicial vacancies, we can ensure that all kinds of legal proceedings, from criminal trials to divorce proceedings, can be heard in court in a timely manner.”
UPDATE and CORRECTION 2/8/13
Judge Lawson told MMM this afternoon that despite his Monmouth County residence, Natali will be assigned to the Middlesex County Vicinage. If Sheedy is confirmed by the Senate, the Monmouth Court will still have a vacancy.
A second vacancy will occur if Judge David F. Bauman is confirmed as an Associate Justice of the State Supreme Court. Bauman and Board of Public Utilities President Robert Hanna were nominated to the Supreme Court by Governor Christie on December 10, 2012. Senate President Steve Sweeney said this week that he wouldn’t be rushed into holding confirmation hearings for the two Supreme Court nominations.
Lawson said that the new Monmouth Judges will be assigned in either Family Court or Civil Court. He has yet to determine who will be assigned where.
Governor Christie’s nomination of Judge David F. Bauman to the State Supreme Court has prompted a mid-term reassignment of the Superior Court Judges in Monmouth County.
Assignment Judge Lawrence M. Lawson told MMM that effective January 2, 2013 Judge Paul Escandon is transfered from Family Court to Civil Court, Judge Honora O’Brien Kilgallen will move from Civil Court to Criminal Court, Judge Linda Grasso-Jones will switch from hearing Civil matters to Family matters, and Judge James J. McGann will transfer from Civil Court to Criminal Court hearing Juvenile cases. Judge Leslie-Ann M. Justus will remain in Family Court and take over Escandon’s calendar.
MMM called Lawson for comment on a New York Post story over the weekend that said Escandon would not be hearing divorce cases “after a months-long campaign by women who say he systematically cheated them from the bench.” Lawson said the Post story was a “rehash.” Escandon has not been hearing new divorces, rather, he has been presiding over non-matrimonial cases and post-Judgment matters in Family Court, since July.
Escandon’s July reassignment was caused by Judge Michael Guadagno’s elevation to the Appellate Court and these recent reassignments are the result of Bauman’s anticipated elevation to the Supreme Court, according to Lawson.
Lawson said that the Monmouth County Vicinage currently has six vacancies with a seventh coming if Bauman is confirmed a Supreme Court Associate Justice by the State Senate. There are four pending Judicial nominations for Monmouth County pending before the Senate.
Escandon’s tenure on the Family Court bench has been a subject of controversy since May when former Long Branch resident Rachel Alintoff complained to Governor Christie at at Town Hall Meeting in Garfield about Escandon’s rulings, one of which had been overturned on appeal, in her divorce case. Since then, a group of divorce litigants, mostly women, have been holding periodic protests about Escandon at the Monmouth County Court House and the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct has initiated an investigation into Escandon based upon Alintoff’s complaints.
Two former public servants were in Judge Thomas F. Scully’s courtroom this morning to be sentenced for crimes to which they had negotiated plea bargains.
The courtroom was crowded for former Eatontown detective Philip Emanuelle’s sentencing. On one side of the gallery were Emanuelle’s wife, and many supporters. On the other side was the 25 year old woman who said she was raped by Emanuelle while he was armed, the woman’s family and many supporters. The tearful and tragic emotion in the room was raw.
Emanuelle, 33, of Brick Township, served in the Eatontown Police Department for eight years. He was charged with one count of Sexual Assault, two counts of Official Misconduct, a count of third degree Criminal Coercion and a fourth degree count of Tampering with Physical Evidence.
The Sexual Assault charge and the Official Misconduct charges were dismissed as part of his plea agreement. He was sentenced to five years probation, the loss of his job, and prohibited from public employment for life for the Criminal Coercion and the Tampering with Physical Evidence charges. Emanuelle left the courthouse with his family and friends.
A different and smaller crowd was in the courtroom a short while later. There were no tears shed by former Brookdale Community College President Peter Burnham or his family. Burham quoted Kipling’s The Road Less Traveled, while pleading with Scully to give him a lesser sentence than the one to which he had already agreed to serve.
Burnham, who presided over Brookdale for more than two decades, pled guilty to stealing roughly $44,000 from Monmouth County’s community college; $24,000 in charges for personal expenses to the college’s credit cards over an 8 year period and $20,000 in tuition reimbursement for his son that had already been paid for by the federal government. He was sentenced to five years in State Prison with no eligibility for parole for the first two years. Burnham was taken into custody after sentencing.
Monmouth County Acting Prosecutor, Christopher J. Gramiccioni, described Burnhman as “a king who ruled Brookdale with an iron fist,” a greedy arrogant man compensated very generously with a pay package worth over $300,000 per year who still betrayed the public trust by stealing $44,000.
In contrast, Emmanuelle’s victim graphically described being forcibly raped after she declined to perform oral sex on the detective who was still wearing his gun during the act. She said another victim had come forth. Assistant Prosecutor Gregory Schweers told Scully that his office did not believe they had sufficient evidence to prosecute Emanuelle for the other woman’s allegations.
The victim asked Scully to disregard the plea bargain that she agreed to and send Emanuelle to prison.
Scully told Emanuelle that his actions were “utterly hideous.” The judge repeatedly expressed his shock at the high level of support Emanuelle was receiving from his wife, family and friends. Then Scully gave Emanuelle a longer probationary term than callled for in the plea agreement.
Burnham went to jail today. Emmanuelle went home.
The fact that these two sentencing hearings occurred back to back is legally irrelevant. While they occurred moments apart, they seemed like alternate realities playing out on the same stage after a brief intermission.
Each case was probably disposed of justly on its own merits. But viewed together, back to back, by a layman, it seemed that the cop got away with rape while the college president went to jail for a relatively minor infraction. Burnham’s infraction seemed very minor compared to Emanuelle’s crime. Yet Burnham’s next five years will be much harsher than Emanuelle’s.