Passaic 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?