NJ’s highest court to hear ‘joking judge’ appeal
(AP) – A judge in New Jersey is asking the state’s highest court to have a sense of humor.
Attorneys for Vince A. Sicari plan to argue in front of the New Jersey Supreme Court on Tuesday that the part-time municipal court judge should be allowed to keep his other paying gig as a comedian.
Sicari is appealing a 2008 state ethics committee ruling that he can’t continue working as a paid entertainer while on the bench.
Sicari, who performs under the name Vince August, said in court filings he has always kept his identity as a South Hackensack municipal court judge separate, and “there is never mention in either profession of the other.”
He insists in court papers that he never even makes lawyer jokes or anything that could tarnish the profession. He claims much of his comedy is derived from non-work related personal observations, such as his upbringing as an Italian Catholic.
The Committee on Extra-Judicial Activities in 2010 reaffirmed its decision that he could not continue as a paid performer/entertainer.
Committee members said they were concerned that the “content of his comedy routine could give rise to an appearance of bias, partiality or impropriety or otherwise negatively affect the dignity of the judiciary,” according to court papers.
Sicari countered that he should be able to supplement his $13,000 a year income as a part-time judge “while actively engaged in an entertainment career which provides me a substantial portion of my income.”
He says he’s made hundreds of stand-up comedy appearances a year, including at a New York City comedy club where he has performed since 1997, on network television, as a warm-up for Comedy Central audiences and in film. He’s a member of the Screen Actors Guild and other professional performers unions.
The committee cites rules that judges may hold outside positions including gigs as musicians, as long as they don’t get paid, or play at casinos, political events or in scenarios that could present a conflict of interest. They also cite a prior ruling that determined “a municipal court judge may not appear in a TV commercial for Shredded Wheat.”
Sicari argues in his appeal that he takes both his entertainment and his legal job seriously.
“This issue is about a person who affects lives in many ways in two distinct identities,” he said in a court filing.