Chief Justice Stuart Rabner reappointed three members of the Judicial Conduct Advisory Committee for additional three-year terms, leaving the partisan balance of the panel which is examining ethics allegations against the judges of seven Democrats, one Republican and two who are not affiliated with any policy. to party.
Rabner, in consultation with the other three justices, replaced Matthew Boxer, former state comptroller and deputy attorney for Governor Jon Corzine, who represented Governor Phil Murphy’s administration, and Karen Kessler, former assistant to Governor Jim Florio. and fundraising for the campaign. , both Democrats. Former Superior Court Justice Georgia Curio, a now unaffiliated former Republican, was also renamed.
The panel is also heavily white, with only one black member and no Hispanic or Asian Americans.
Unofficially, there is a four-term limit on service with the ACJC. Rabner appointed Kessler in 2013 and she is now in her fourth term.
Kessler is potentially a walking conflict of interest.
Running her own public relations company, Kessler PR, she represents the beleaguered women’s soccer team owned by Phil and Tammy Murphy. Kessler has also worked for several New Jersey law firms and for the New Jersey Performing Arts Center.
In the latter role, she organized the sponsorship of a gubernatorial debate between Murphy and Jack Ciattarelli – a role she should probably avoid since she works for the governor. The agreement between the two sides was clear: the Murphy and Ciattarelli campaigns were to get an equal number of tickets, with some seats assigned to the New Jersey PAC for guests and donors.
Some of those tickets were surreptitiously given to Murphy supporters, including elected Essex County Democrats.
The ACJC makes recommendations on grievances involving alleged judicial misconduct, but the New Jersey Supreme Court is the final arbiter.
In 2020, the higher court permanently removed Superior Court Judge John F. Russo, Jr. for asking an alleged rape victim if she tried to close her legs to fend off the assault.
This decision came ten months after the Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics recommended a three-month suspension without compensation and additional training on “appropriate behavior in the courtroom”.
Kessler was among a group of four ACJC members who recommended a harsher sentence of six months suspension without pay, “given the seriousness of this misconduct.”
Separately, Russo had faced an allegation of sexual harassment from a former clerk who accused him of standing uncomfortably near her despite pleas not to, brushing off the legs and repeatedly telling her to come closer, then tossing her a probation file and ordering her out of her office when she refused.
Allegations that he threw a case at his clerk led Ocean County Assignment Judge Marlene Lynch Ford to bar him from the courthouse. Lynch Ford had been a Democratic congresswoman who ran on a ticket led by the late John Russo, former Senate speaker and father of the ex-judge, but had a tussle with Russo Jr. once he joined the bench.
Russo Jr. was elected to the Dover (now Toms River) Township Committee as a Democrat in 2000 and became mayor in 2003 after striking a deal with two Republicans on the governing body. He served as an administrative law judge for six years until Governor Chris Christie appointed him to the Superior Court.