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Matter of Carton

June 2, 1995

IN THE MATTER OF LAWRENCE A. CARTON, III, JUDGE OF THE OLD BRIDGE MUNICIPAL COURT.


On a Order to show cause why removal proceedings pursuant to R. 2:14 and N.J.S.A. 2B:2A-1 to -11 should not be instituted or why respondent should not be publicly disciplined.

Chief Justice Wilentz and Justices Handler, Pollock, Garibaldi, Stein, and Coleman join in the Court's opinion. Justice O'Hern did not participate.

(This syllabus is not part of the opinion of the Court. It has been prepared by the Office of the Clerk for the convenience of the reader. It has been neither reviewed nor approved by the Supreme Court. Please note that, in the interests of brevity, portions of any opinion may not have been summarized).

IN THE MATTER OF LAWRENCE A. CARTON, III, a Judge of Old Bridge Municipal Court (D-128-94)

Argued March 27, 1995 -- Decided June 2, 1995

PER CURIAM

This ethical proceeding against Old Bridge Municipal Court Judge Lawrence arose out of a November 5, 1992 letter from a supervising Deputy Attorney General of the Office of the Attorney General (AG) that was filed with the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct (ACJC). That letter advised the ACJC that in the course of the AG's investigation of the Old Bridge Municipal Court Clerk's Office, certain actions were taken or statements made by Judge Carton that may have been in violation of Canons 1 and 2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct.

The ACJC filed a three-count complaint against Judge Carton. Following three days of hearings, the ACJC filed a presentment in which it found that Judge Carton had violated certain Court Rules and Canons 1, 2A, and 2B of the Code of Judicial Conduct. Those violations consisted of: making telephone calls to the municipal court Judge and municipal prosecutor of another municipality in an attempt to influence the Disposition of charges against a business owned by Judge Carton, the Sea Bright matter, (Count I); and permitting a fax transmission to be sent from his law office to the Judge of another municipal court about a matter pending in that court, the Sayreville matter, (Count II). The ACJC dismissed Count III in which it was alleged that Judge Carton had made remarks to the staff of the Old Bridge Municipal Court to intimidate them and otherwise persuade them not to cooperate with an investigation by the State Police of possible criminal activities by the court clerk.

The ACJC recommended that the Supreme Court publicly reprimand Judge Carton. The Court then ordered Judge Carton to show cause why removal proceedings should not be initiated against him and why he should not otherwise be publicly disciplined.

HELD: For his violations of Canons 1, 2, and 3 of the Code of Judicial Conduct, Lawrence A. Carton, III, Judge of the Old Bridge Municipal Court, is publicly reprimanded.

1. Based on the Court's independent review of the record, it concurs with the ACJC's determination that Judge Carton violated the standards of judicial conduct. Although the Court agrees that Judge Carton should be publicly reprimanded, it does so on grounds different than those found by the ACJC. (pp. 3)

2. The record does not contain clear and convincing evidence that Judge Carton violated the Code of Judicial Conduct in respect of Count I, the Sea Bright matter. There is a paucity of evidence that would lead to the Conclusion that Count I has been proven by clear and convincing evidence. Judge Carton has served as a municipal court Judge since 1982. His prior record as an attorney and as a municipal court Judge has been unblemished. That he would attempt to fix a case that would at most lead to a $50 fine does not comport with common sense. Moreover, there was no complaint filed after the illicit conversation between Judge Foley and Judge Carton. The information was volunteered during the AG's investigation amidst a background and history of substantial antagonism between the Judges. As such, it cannot be found that Judge Carton is clearly and convincingly guilty of the allegations in Count I. (pp. 3-11)

3. The record does establish that during the latter part of 1989, Judge McGowan of the Sayreville Municipal Court received an unsigned fax transmission from Judge Carton's law office about a matter pending in that court. Thus, there is clear and convincing evidence present to support the ACJC's findings with respect to Count II, the Sayreville matter. (pp. 11-15)

4. The Court agrees with the ACJC's finding that the evidence does not clearly and convincingly show that Judge Carton impeded or sought to impede the investigation by the State Police of the actions of the Office of the Chief Clerk of the Old Bridge Municipal Court. Therefore, Count III was properly dismissed. (pp. 15-16)

5. Because Counts I and III are dismissed, the discipline to be imposed on Judge Carton results from his misconduct in connection with Count II, the Sayreville matter. Municipal court Judges are not to participate in criminal or quasi-criminal matters and are not to contact Judges or other personnel from another municipal court regarding any matters pending in that court. In the Sayreville matter (Count II), Judge Carton violated Canons 1, 2, and 3 and has engaged in conduct prejudicial to the administration of Justice that brings the judicial office in disrepute. For that, a public reprimand is warranted.

So ordered.

CHIEF JUSTICE WILENTZ and JUSTICES HANDLER, POLLOCK, GARIBALDI, STEIN, and COLEMAN join in the Court's opinion. JUSTICE O'HERN did not participate.

PER CURIAM

This proceeding against respondent, Lawrence A. Carton, III, a municipal court Judge, arose out of a letter from Robert E. Levy, Supervising Deputy Attorney General of the Office of New Jersey Attorney General, dated November 5, 1992, that he filed with the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct (Committee or ACJC). That letter advised that in the course of the Attorney General's investigation of the Old Bridge Municipal Court Clerk's Office, "certain actions were taken, and statements made, by Judge Lawrence Carton III of the Old Bridge Municipal Court, which may have been in violation of Canon 1 and Canon 2 of the Code of Judicial Conduct. Additionally, during the course of the investigation two other incidents have come to our attention which may constitute judicial misconduct."

A formal complaint was filed with the ACJC containing three counts. After three days of hearings in which eleven witnesses had testified and forty-three exhibits had been filed, the ACJC issued a presentment in which it found that respondent had violated certain Court Rules and Canons 1, 2A, and 2B of the Code of Judicial Conduct. Those violations consisted of making telephone calls to the municipal court Judge and municipal prosecutor of another municipality in an attempt to influence the Disposition of charges against a business owned by respondent (Count I); and permitting a fax transmission to be sent from his law office to the Judge of another municipal court about a matter pending in that court (Count II). The ACJC, however, dismissed Count III in which it was alleged that respondent had made remarks to the staff of the Old Bridge Municipal Court to intimidate them and otherwise persuade them not to cooperate with an investigation by the State Police of possible criminal activities by the clerk of that court. The ACJC recommended that this Court publicly reprimand respondent. We then ordered respondent to show cause why removal proceedings should not be initiated against him and why he should not otherwise be publicly disciplined.

Based on our independent review of the record, we concur in the ACJC's determination that respondent violated the standards of judicial conduct. Although we agree that respondent should be publicly reprimanded, we do so on different grounds than the ACJC. While we agree with the ACJC that clear-and-convincing evidence is present to support the ACJC's findings with respect to Count II, and that sufficient evidence is lacking to support Count III, our de novo examination of the record persuades us that the ethics charges against respondent with respect to Count I have not been established by clear-and-convincing evidence. We therefore dismiss Count I, the Sea Bright matter. Accordingly, the public reprimand that we impose is only for respondent's conduct in Count II, the Sayreville matter.

I

SEA BRIGHT -- ...


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