New Jersey Judge Faces Judicial Complaint Over Crude and Personal Comments

108669155Passaic County Superior Court Judge Joseph A. Portelli (New Jersey) is facing formal judicial conduct charges over what was allegedly “poor judgment and a lack of dignity and respect for his office.” What is interesting is the range of comments, including some that would not have been previously considered a basis for discipline but now raise serious judicial conduct questions. The charges could raise an interesting hearing as subject to different interpretations with Portelli claiming that he is merely salty or familiar in his language while others would call it sexist or intrusive.

There is no question that Portelli was at times crude and injudicious in his working as when he told a deputy attorney general and her supervisor they were doing a great job and said that he liked how the deputy attorney general “shoves it up the law guardian’s ass.”

The complaint includes an incident where Portelli wrote to a family service specialist “you look nice” on a legal pad. This allegation is reminiscent of the recent criticism of a British lawyer for saying that a LinkedIn photo of a female solicitor was “stunning.”

It also includes incidents where Portelli said that he “hated” handling guardianship proceedings because they were “so boring and long.”

Another charge says that Portelli allowed a child to sit on his lap in court and to play with the gavel — a common practice that he is known to do with children. There is nothing wrong with that practice but on one occasion he told an attorney that “you can’t come sit on my lap next” as a joke. The attorney complained that the comment was inappropriate.

Portelli, 60, was appointed to the bench in 2009 and is assigned to the family division handling child guardianship matters and complaints against parents by state child protection officials.

Do you consider these incidents to be worthy of judicial discipline?

Here is the complaint.

19 thoughts on “New Jersey Judge Faces Judicial Complaint Over Crude and Personal Comments”

  1. Yes, Portelli should receive a public reprimand.

    If he were here in NC he might not be, simply because our judges and legislators have colluded to pass legislation which guts the Judicial Standards Commission and puts the power to discipline judges in the Supreme Court where the proceedings are now secret. North Carolina has tried its best to become a banana republic, and now it has succeeded.

  2. wow, this blog literally defends what the Founding Fathers originally wanted as a republic, no women, blacks, natives, Hispanics, or non-property owners are allowed….

    I think this blog would be completely fine (happy in many ways) if we returned to chattel slavery, as long as their people were not enslaved and they could benefit. Creepy stuff.

  3. He deserves judicial discipline for sure. Unacceptable behavior in a court of law by a person that wields power that has great consequences on people’s lives.

    If a similar act was done by poor people with a professed belief in communism, the presumption of guilt and not innocence would be applied here… status is everything to this place…

  4. mark, That’s “One giant leap.” If a person is doing it in a public courtroom, presumably w/ parents or guardian present, that’s a helluva lot different than doing it in his basement w/ no one else around. Unless you’re using “play w/ his gavel” metaphorically.

  5. Nick: Any stranger short of Santa Claus who asks kids to sit on his lap and play with his gavel is suspect in my book. At best, it’s inappropriate, and at worst, someone should check this judge’s computer for child porn.

  6. So what was wrong with what McCain said? Sounds right to me. But we are from France so what do I know.

  7. “Get out of here, you low-life scum,”


    John McCain lashed out angrily Thursday at a group of protesters who interrupted the start of a Senate hearing featuring Henry Kissinger by calling for the former secretary of state to be tried for war crimes.

    “Get out of here, you low-life scum,” the Arizona Republican and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee barked, before the protesters were ushered out of the hearing room by U.S. Capitol Police.

    “I’ve been a member of this committee for many years, and I have never seen anything as disgraceful and outrageous and despicable as the last demonstration that just took place,” Mr. McCain said.

  8. I would want him in my town. Nothing wrong. Shove that Judicial Complaint up some politician’s arse. I am sure that the judge would say that too.

  9. The position of judge demands complete respect. A judge can and sometimes does punish those who do not communicate with the position as they see appropriate. Those that hold this position of seemingly absolute power should represent themselves accordingly. TV judges have leaked over into the courts. This is not entertainment.

  10. If a judge is brought to book for reasons of misconduct this implies contempt of the court over which he/she is presiding.

    Circumstances may beyond human control, but our conduct is in our own power.

    If there is no dignity there is no respect. If there is no respect, no one is left to join up the colours.

    Bad Behaviour is the product of an intrinsic ineptitude.

  11. Crude comments, but I’d still give him his first amendment rights. When did it become someone’s right to not hear something offensive? Protect speech or you will lose all your rights.

  12. Don’t knock Judge Roy Bean. He made his court pay for itself. In this case I see nothing to lose his job over, but he does need to keep his opinions to himself. I think it is great that he has the kids at the bench where they feel comfortable.

  13. Sir Francis Bacon said: “Judges ought to be more leaned than witty, more reverent than plausible, and more advised than confident. Above all things, integrity is their portion and proper virtue”.

    Today knowledge is dumbed down, humour is vernacular is common place, reverence has become arrogance, playing to the Circus of Legal Manipulation. The players should not bigger than the Production, and when this happens probity collapses. There have been some celebrated criminal cases illustrating this demise.

    We are seeing a number of postings of bizarre behaviour in the U.S. Legal System which only serve to demonstrate such contempt with impunity.

    Maybe it is time for the “Make it Up as We go Along System” to start to serve the People by instilling some self discipline.

    For in order to judge others, surely we must also be judged.

    Maybe what is lacking in the U.S. Courts is the ceremony associated with the more formal conduct of other systems which emphasises the serious nature of the Legal System.

    The days may be gone when Judge Roy Bean the eccentric U.S. saloon-keeper and Justice of the Peace in Val Verde County, Texas, who called himself “The Law West of the Pecos”. According to legend, Judge Roy Bean held court in his saloon aided and abetted by one Jack Daniels, along the Rio Grande on a desolate stretch of the Chihuahuan Desert of southwest Texas. He is known to have sentenced only two men to hang, one of whom escaped.

    However with postings of inappropriate behaviour of Judges, Lawyers and Police Officers being made so frequently it is clear that regulation of the Officers of the Law requires revision as a matter of some urgency.

  14. There’s nothing in the facts given which is over the edge, on it for sure but not over it. As much as I dislike such shenanigans, it takes all kinds, and litigants have the right to disqualify him, making his a very quiet courtroom.

  15. Nothing involves integrity, just comportment. He’s crude. But, the fact that he likes kids is a plus in my book. I would put him on some type of probation, give him a list of offenses that are not acceptable, and see if he adjusts his behavior. If he doesn’t, then he goes.

  16. Judges should have some sort of ‘review/control board’. They would probably protect their own and let most stuff slide but perhaps not. The public through the media makes the point and the review/control board investigates and bounces those not able to rise to the position. After all we are talking about a position that makes major decisions affecting the lives of citizens. If the judge cannot meet the requirements of the position then perhaps he or she should be chasing ambulances.

  17. Bored sitting on his arse while being paid the equivalent (with retirement benefits) of about $250k/annually. Doing one of the most critical jobs for any judge. Do the math on his retirement benefit cost and I bet the cost is that high if not more.

    The government’s ZIRP makes interest rates hover about the same as inflation. His fixed retirement benefit is probably at least $100k/annually.

    I’d fire this jerk, or at least suspend him without pay for the longest period allowable.

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