Regular readers of this blog (or bLAWg) may have realised that I am keen on law-related stories from across the Atlantic, having received something of an insight into the Floridian legal system last year. Such readers may also have noted my propensity for posting on Friday as a means of providing some light relief… this post takes up both themes!
New Jersey like the UK has part-time civil judges. Part time Municipal Judge Vince Sicari, is one such member of the judiciary, who sits at South Hackensack Municipal Court. However, unlike in this Jurisdiction, such judges are not necessarily members of the legal profession.
Judge Sicari, has however an alter ego. “Vince August” is a stand-up comedian. He is an occasional warm up act for The Daily Show and the Colbert Report, and regularly performs at a well-known comedy club on Broadway, New York. His material is probably likely to be considered by most to be somewhat risqué, including sexual and racial jokes, impressions of people and jokes about topical but controversial issues. He appears regularly on the ABC network's Primetime show as an actor making offensive comments to prompt reactions from passers-by.
Certainly Jude Sicari’s other employment been enough to invoke the wrath of New Jersey’s State Ethics Committee. They have ruled that he must desist as undertaking work as a paid entertainer while he sits on the bench.
The matter has been challenged and has been heard by the New Jersey Supreme Court. Judge Sicari’s lawyer, Drew Britcher, argued he kept his dual professions separate, never cracks jokes from the bench and does not tell gags about the legal system on stage.
However, lawyers from state attorney general's office, argued that such municipal judges are the public's most frequent point of contact with the judiciary and thus, that Judge Sicari’s performances "detract from the dignity of his judicial office and may reflect adversely on the judge's impartiality”.
Chief Justice Stuart Rabner, asked whether Mr Sicari's routines featured subjects that are commonplace in the comedy world -- such as "remarks demeaning individuals on the basis of race, sex, religion, national origin, disability, age, sexual orientation or socio-economic status". These are prohibited under judge's rules of conduct.
The “Comedy Judge” as he has been called in a number of articles has been asked to provide the court with a DVD of his performances to assist them in their deliberations. It is likely the Supreme Court Justices are treated to some better material than the various pretty cringe-worthy jokes made in the press about this case, including references to this being Judge Sicari’s “toughest crowd ever” and the case being “no laughing matter”!