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In re Sadofski

Decided: February 8, 1985.


On an Order to Show Cause why respondent should not be publicly reprimanded or otherwise disciplined.

For reprimand -- Justices Clifford, Handler, Pollock, O'Hern and Garibaldi. Opposed -- None.

Per Curiam

This proceeding against respondent, Joseph E. Sadofski, a judge of the Superior Court, arises out of two complaints filed with the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct (ACJC), identified as the Schuster and W.G. matters. The Committee found that respondent had breached his duty to preserve and protect the dignity of courtroom proceedings contrary to the mandates of Canons 1 (a judge shall uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary), 2A (a judge should avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all his activities), and 3A(2) and (3) (a judge should perform the duties of his office impartially and diligently). Common to both complaints was the use of intemperate and offensive language during courtroom proceedings.

As found by the ACJC, the relevant facts are:

A. Schuster Complaint

Complainant was a litigant in a bitterly contested matrimonial action involving issues of visitation and domestic violence. His former wife (Harary) has custody of their two children. Complainant sought increased visitation privileges. In connection with his attempt to gain greater visitation, Complainant filed an application for a restraining order against Harary. Harary also sought an order of protection for herself and her children against Complainant.

Respondent had held preliminary hearings on both applications. On July 18, 1983, a final hearing on the restraining order sought by Harary was held. At that hearing, Respondent began by briefly reciting the history of the litigation. He then called on Harary's counsel (Penhorne) to make his presentation. Penhorne sought to advise the court that his client had been "dragged into" numerous court appearances in New York and New Jersey. Respondent immediately interrupted Penhorne:

Don't start the dragging in, okay? Just give me legally what you want, all right? . . . This isn't the matrimonial court so I'm not going to listen to all the dragging in situations.

Penhorne then proceeded to request the relief sought, specifically, an order of protection to prevent Complainant from abusing Harary and harassing her children. He made reference to previous litigation in New York where a court had issued a similar order. When Penhorne tried to explain to the court the similarity in the present proceeding, Respondent again interrupted:

COURT: I don't care what the New York court said, to start with, okay?

PENHORNE: Well, can't I tell you what the facts are, your Honor?

COURT: Well tell me the facts of the case, but I don't want to know what the New York court said.

Later in the proceeding, Respondent further displayed his dissatisfaction with the procedural actions of the New York Court. When advised of the New York decree concerning visitation Respondent stated:

COURT: That sounds like a real horsing around, it sounds like a real jerking around.

PENHORNE: Well, your honor, I'm not responsible for what the New York judge does.

COURT: Well, you're telling me what the judge in New York does, and I don't give a damn, because I'm not going to horse these people around.

The issue of visitation also angered Respondent. At one point in the proceeding, the terms of Complainant's visitation privileges were under discussion. Respondent stated to Harary:

I'll continue the visitation until then, but you better figure out how the hell visitation is going to occur, because your attitude of they don't want to see him, that's for baloney. That's for baloney. We don't take votes from nine year old and eleven year old kids.

Respondent was displeased as well with the fact that Harary had not brought her boyfriend to testify as a witness to some of the alleged conduct of Complainant. When Penhorne stated that the boyfriend would be available on call, Respondent retorted:

We're not going to make a three day operation out of this, this stuff. This is stuff.

Respondent, however, directed his harshest comments to Complainant, who was unrepresented at this hearing. For example, Respondent interrupted the direct examination of Harary to question Complainant about whether he had been arrested near Harary's home on a certain date for violation of a protective order issued in New York. After Complainant had answered Respondent told him:

Mr. Schuster, you are close right now to going to Middlesex County Workhouse. I would suggest you sit down and be quiet for a minute. Get it together, Mr. Schuster, because you're going to go out that door in two minutes and you'll be there until I call you back and I'm going on ...

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