On an order to show cause why respondent should not be publicly reprimanded or otherwise disciplined.
For reprimand -- Chief Justice Wilentz and Justices Clifford, Handler, Pollock, O'Hern, Garibaldi and Stein. Opposed -- None.
This action against respondent, Bennett E. Bozarth, a Municipal Court Judge, arises out of a complaint filed with the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct (ACJC). The ACJC found that respondent had dealt inappropriately with a defendant who was talking in respondent's courtroom, trivialized another defendant's right to counsel, and implemented an inappropriate system for handling tardy defendants. That system resulted in one defendant, who was charged with violating a parking ordinance, being handcuffed to a bench in the police station for several hours. Our review of the record leads us to conclude that clear and convincing evidence supports the findings of the ACJC. Accordingly, we find that respondent violated the standards of judicial conduct, and order a public reprimand.
As found by the ACJC in its presentment, the relevant facts are:
Respondent presided over the January 4, 1989 session of the Pemberton Township Municipal Court. During that session Respondent observed a man, later identified as Orlando Caceres, speaking to a woman seated next to him. Respondent and Caceres engaged in the following colloquy:
The Court: All right. Now, were you talking to the lady next to you or was that my imagination?
A Voice: I was speaking to her.
A Voice: She asked me something, so I answered her.
The Court: Were you here when I began court?
A Voice: I walked in as soon as you called my name.
The Court: Did you hear me say earlier that there was no talking in court for any reason?
The Court: Hm-hm. Do you see that sign over there?
The Court: Well, why don't you keep your mouth shut then? No, no, no, I'm not ready to let you go. I asked you a question. Why can't you keep your mouth shut when you're in court? I'm listening.
A Voice: When somebody talks to me, I answer.
The Court: Not in here you don't, you're going to sit right up there and then you and I are going to deal with this at the end of court. Have a seat.
The tape recording of the court session contains no indication that Caceres' conversation with the woman seated next to him was disruptive of the ongoing court proceeding. Indeed, the conversation must have been very subdued because the tape machine did not pick it up. Nevertheless, Caceres was detained until the completion of contested matters that day, at which time Respondent denied Caceres' request for assigned counsel and rescheduled the trial of his case. Respondent made no mention to Caceres of the earlier incident involving talking in the courtroom.
During the same court session, Respondent began to take a guilty plea from Robert Brayman, who was charged with possession of drug paraphernalia in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:36-2, a disorderly persons offense. Respondent asked Brayman whether he wished to proceed without an attorney or to be represented by counsel. Brayman stated that he wished to plead guilty whereupon Respondent said that he would allow the plea but first needed to know whether Brayman wanted counsel. The following colloquy then took place:
The Court: I'm not going to stop you from that, but I have to go through this drill and ask you if you wanted a lawyer or not.
Mr. Brayman: I understand.
The Court: They make me do it. I know you don't want one, you know you don't want one, but I have to go through this and waste your time ...