Judges in trouble

In February 1990, the New Jersey Supreme Court publicly reprimanded Associate Justice Robert Clifford, who was convicted of drunk driving. The court said that ”a public reprimand is essential both to vindicate the interests of the judiciary and to maintain the public’s confidence in it.”

Four months earlier, Clifford was stopped for driving while intoxicated in Princeton Borough. He refused a Breathalyzer test and was taken to the local police station. Later, he pleaded guilty and lost his license for one year.

Clifford served on the state Supreme Court from 1973 to 1994. He was arrested again for DWI in 2000 when his vehicle struck a small bridge in his hometown, Bernards. Because Clifford’s earlier conviction was more than ten years ago, the law allowed him to be viewed as a first-time offender. According to the Star-Ledger, “five state judges have been sanctioned by the Supreme Court following drunken driving convictions. Three were publicly reprimanded, one was censured and one was suspended for 60 days after he was convicted of a second driving-while-intoxicated charge.”

The most classic story of all may be Administrative Law Judge Florence Schreiber Powers, who was convicted of shoplifting a pair of $29 watches from T.J. Maxx in Lawrenceville. Powers, the daughter of retired state Supreme Court Justice Sidney Schreiber, admitted that she stole the two watches but claimed diminished mental capacity. A psychologist who testified at her trail outlined nineteen different stresses, including an “ungodly” vaginal itch.

Among the other reasons the Judge lifted the two watches, according to a Star-Ledger report: menopausal hot flashes, a bad rash, a toilet that would “not stop flushing,” problems with a wallpaper job that caused her to file a lawsuit, proposed dental surgery, preparations for her parents wedding anniversary, Thanksgiving dinner (she had twenty guests), holiday shopping (she needed to buy 200 gifts), a traffic accident that caused her to miss two weeks of work and buy a new car, and selling her house without the services of a realtor.

A Superior Court Judge found her guilty after a two-day trial, but said a $250 fine was sufficient punishment. ‘”I find no reason to believe that defendant cannot continue to perform the functions and duties of her office in a manner consistent with her oath,” said Judge Samuel Lenox. “Indeed, this experience will probably cause her to perform at an even higher level of dedication than she has in the past.” The Office of Attorney Ethics took no disciplinary action against Powers. Still, Governor Jim Florio declined to reappoint her to the bench. Powers has returned to public life: she now works for the state as the Assistant Chief of the Municipal Court Services Division of the Administrative Office of the Courts.

For Six-Degrees of Separation players: Williams served as Deputy Attorney General under Florio, and Sweeney, a former Assemblyman, was Florio’s Chief Counsel.

 

Judges in trouble