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In re Mattera

Decided: February 20, 1961.

IN THE MATTER OF LOUIS J. MATTERA, ATTORNEY-AT-LAW OF NEW JERSEY AND MAGISTRATE OF THE MUNICIPAL COURT OF THE CITY OF WILDWOOD


On order to show cause why respondent should not be disciplined.

For discharging rule -- Chief Justice Weintraub, and Justices Jacobs, Francis, Proctor, Hall and Schettino. Opposed -- None. The opinion of the court was delivered by Weintraub, C.J.

Weintraub

Respondent is a member of the bar and magistrate of the Municipal Court of the City of Wildwood. On the basis of charges arising out of his conduct as magistrate, we issued an order to show cause why he should not be adjudged in contempt of the Supreme Court and be disbarred or otherwise disciplined.

A routine examination by the Administrative Director of the Courts of the records of the municipal court revealed apparent irregularities in the handling of traffic tickets. Being so informed, we ordered an investigation before the Honorable Anthony J. Cafiero, a judge of the Superior Court. Upon receipt of his report, we assigned the Honorable John B. Wick, also a judge of the Superior Court, to be acting magistrate of the municipal court. In that capacity Judge Wick cited the mayor and also a commissioner of the City of Wildwood for contempt of the municipal court. We also referred to Judge Wick for hearing and report the order to show cause against the respondent described in the paragraph above.

Upon the consent of all parties, a single hearing was held. Judge Wick found the mayor and the commissioner guilty of contempt and imposed fines. Neither has appealed.

He also reported his findings with respect to the respondent magistrate, and that report is now before us.

All of the traffic tickets involved non-moving violations. The tickets, some 200 in number, were delivered either by the mayor or by the commissioner to the clerk of the municipal court. In their testimony the mayor and the commissioner disavowed a purpose to "kill" the charges, saying they merely wanted the magistrate to direct the police to investigate grievances claimed by the individuals who had been summoned. Judge Wick understandably found their purpose was to obstruct the processes of the municipal court and adjudged them guilty of contempt. The magistrate testified that upon being advised by the clerk of the actions of the mayor and the commissioner, he ordered the clerk nonetheless to process the tickets, that is, to obtain from the licensing authorities the identities of the owners of the vehicles and then to bring the traffic charges on for trial by further notice. The clerk testified in harmony with the magistrate's version and added that letters to the issuing authorities were in fact prepared but were not mailed by him because he had embezzled receipts and the follow-up procedure would have exposed his offense. Upon his confession, criminal charges were brought against the clerk and he was later convicted and sentenced. The foregoing gives the general setting.

The charges against the magistrate stem from alleged infractions of the rules of practice and procedure and rules for the internal administration of the judicial system, as well as the Canons of Judicial Ethics, all adopted by this court.

Several decisions within the past few years have involved charges against magistrates. In re Palmisano, 18 N.J. 497 (1955); In re Klaisz, 19 N.J. 145 (1955); In re Stevens, 20 N.J. 177 (1955). In the first two cases, the conduct violated a rule of court prohibiting a magistrate from acting as an attorney in the affairs of the municipality in which he holds court. The activities thus did not relate to conduct

as magistrate but rather to conduct as an attorney which assumed an unwholesome cast because the attorney held the office of magistrate. In the last cited case, the charges related directly to conduct in the judicial office. The thesis pursued was that a violation of the rules governing the municipal court and the Canons of Judicial Ethics constituted a contempt of this court.

When we issued the order to show cause, we were conscious of important questions as to our power. Aware also of the regrettable tendency of accuseds to appear with hat in hand before a tribunal which judges its own complaint, we invited counsel for respondent to question our power with absolute candor. We made the same request of counsel we designated to prosecute the charges. Both responded with gratifying frankness and industry.

I.

The beginning point is the broad question whether the Court's disciplinary power and responsibility are limited to misconduct committed by an attorney in his strictly professional capacity.

The Constitution (Art. VI, ยง II, par. 3) provides:

"The Supreme Court shall make rules governing the administration of all courts in the State and, subject to law, the practice and procedure in all such courts. The Supreme Court shall have jurisdiction over the admission to the practice of law and the discipline of persons admitted."

Pursuant to this authority, a rule of court (R.R. 1:25) was adopted, reading:

"The Canons of Professional Ethics, and the Canons of Judicial Ethics, adopted by the American Bar Association, as amended and supplemented by this court, * * * shall govern the conduct of the judges and the members of the bar of this State."

These canons do not exhaust the demands of ethics. As the preamble to the Canons of Professional Ethics observes,

"No code or set of rules can be framed, which will particularize all the duties of the lawyer in the varying phases of litigation or in all the relations of professional life" and accordingly "the enumeration of particular duties should not be construed as a denial of the existence of others equally imperative, though not specifically mentioned." The canons were adopted to guide and forewarn to the extent to which prior experience permitted that fair and salutary course.

Hence the disciplinary power is not confined to the area covered by the canons. It has long been settled here and elsewhere that any misbehavior, private or professional, which reveals lack of the character and integrity essential for the attorney's franchise constitutes a basis for discipline. In re Wagner, 27 N.J. 217 (1958); In re Carlsen, 17 N.J. 338 (1955); In re Howell, 10 N.J. 139 (1952); In re Isserman, 6 N.J. Misc. 146, 140 A. 253 (Sup. Ct. 1928); In re Young, 75 N.J.L. 83, 96 (Sup. Ct. 1907); Annotations, 9 A.L.R. 189 (1920); 43 A.L.R. 107 (1926); 55 A.L.R. 1373 (1928).

The reason for this rule is not a desire to supervise the private lives of attorneys but rather that the character of a man is single and hence misconduct revealing a deficiency is not less compelling because the attorney was not wearing his professional mantle at the time. Private misconduct and professional misconduct differ only in the intensity with which they reflect upon fitness at the bar. This is not to say that a court should view in some prissy way the personal affairs of its officers, but rather that if misbehavior persuades a man of normal sensibilities that the attorney lacks capacity to discharge his professional duties with honor and integrity, the public must be protected from him.

In terms of rational connection with fitness at the bar, behavior of an attorney in judicial office cannot be insulated from the demands of professional ethics. On the contrary, the judge's role is so intimate a part of the process of justice that misbehavior as a judge must ...


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