For reprimand -- Chief Justice Hughes and Justices Mountain, Pashman, Clifford, Schreiber and Handler. Opposed -- None. The opinion of the court was delivered by Clifford, J.
In keeping with the procedure provided for in R. 2:15 et seq., we issued an Order requiring respondent, Judge of the Municipal Court of Seaside Heights, to show cause why he should not be publicly reprimanded.*fn1 The Order was in response to a Presentment issued by the Supreme Court Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct. That presentment reads in its entirety (with the exception of the concluding sentence) as follows:
This matter was brought to the attention of the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct by law enforcement officials in Ocean County. The Committee was made aware that several traffic summonses returnable before the Municipal Court for the Borough of Seaside Heights were not set down for hearing and appeared to have been processed contrary to law. After reviewing the records touching upon disposition of the two traffic summonses, and having the benefit of statements signed by many of the individuals who were in a position to relate information concerning their disposition, the Committee caused a complaint to be issued charging the respondent with the improper disposition of two specific traffic summonses and, on other unnamed occasions, additional summonses not specifically known to the Committee.
Respondent's answer to the complaint did not substantially deny the allegations of the complaint, but rather related a procedure utilized by the respondent in disposing of traffic summonses where representations were made to the respondent by "a senior member of
the police department." According to the respondent, senior police officials would request dismissals in certain cases, indicate to the respondent in chambers that there was a deficiency in the State's proofs and consent on the part of the issuing police officers that the summonses be dismissed.
Following the receipt of the answer, the Committee ordered the matter set down for hearing. On October 21, 1976, the respondent appeared before the Committee with counsel and fully participated in the hearing, including the offering of witnesses and other evidence, as well as testifying on his own behalf.
II OUTLINE OF THE EVIDENCE
A. The Donna Bottari Summons
On May 2, 1975, Police Officer Charles Scalzo issued a motor vehicle summons to Donna Bottari (hereinafter "Bottari") for violation of N.J.S.A. 39:4-81 (Failure to Obey Traffic Signal). The evidence is clear that Bottari discussed the summons with her mother, Theresa Bottari, who thereafter communicated with the Chief of Police for the Borough of Seaside Heights (hereinafter "Chief Groffie"), and conferred with him about the summons. Chief Groffie knew Theresa Bottari for a period of time and had utilized her services as a travel agent in his private life incident to travel arrangements during vacation periods. Chief Groffie called upon Theresa Bottari at her place of employment, obtained from her the summons issued to her daughter, and advised Theresa Bottari that he would "look into the matter."
On June 6, 1975, the respondent dismissed the Bottari summons in his chambers. The respondent never heard the testimony of the issuing police officer or the defendant, nor did he in any other manner adjudicate the case. It is the position of the respondent that at some point in time prior to the dismissal of the summons, the exact date not recalled, Chief Groffie requested a dismissal of the summons. According to the respondent, Chief Groffie advised him that there was either a fatal defect in the State's case or great difficulty in proving the charges; and in requesting that the summons be dismissed he, Chief Groffie, had the consent of the issuing officer.
The testimony of the respondent that he dismissed the summons at the request of the Chief of Police, and then only after first obtaining the above representations from him, is consistent with other evidence before the Committee and a point which the Committee finds factually true. The testimony of the respondent is further supported by the rather unusual activities engaged in by Chief Groffie, including his taking a personal interest in the Bottari summons and in testifying to other ...