Roberto Rivera-Soto has not been an issue in the 2009 gubernatorial campaign, even though the winner will have to decide whether to reappoint the controversial Associate Justice to a tenured term on the New Jersey Supreme Court in 2011. None of the candidates have said if they would reappoint Rivera-Soto.
The next governor will also have to appoint new Justices to replace Virginia Long and John Wallace, who will reach the mandatory retirement age of seventy in March 2012. Another Justice, Helen Hoens, is up for reappointment in 2013.
Rivera-Soto, appointed in 2004 as the first Latino on the state’s top court,
In 2007, the New Jersey Supreme Court censured Rivera-Soto for his role in a 2006 incident involving his son and a teammate on a high school football team. The court agreed with a judicial conduct panel that Rivera-Soto “engaged in a course of conduct that created a risk that the prestige and power of his judicial office might influence and advance a private matter.” Rivera-Soto still faces a civil suit.
The Supreme Court found that Rivera-Soto used his post to influence a Camden County Superior Court Judge presiding over a dispute involving his son’s high school football team. Rivera-Soto is accused of using or allowing “the power and prestige of his office as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court to influence or advance the private interests of his family and his son.”
According to a complaint, the Justice’s son, playing touch football with Haddonfield Township High School classmates last September, was involved in a “head-butting” incident that may or may not have been intentional. Rivera-Soto, upset with the school’s failure to discipline the other student involved — and after threatening to involve the State Police — called the local Police Chief’s cell phone to demand an investigation. The Justice eventually filed a criminal complaint against his son’s teammate.
The complaint also alleged that Rivera-Soto “referred or alluded to his judicial office” during a telephone conversation with the Superintendent of Schools, and personally called the Assignment Judge, the Acting Camden County Prosecutor, and other court officials to discuss the case.
Rivera-Soto was accused of violating the Canons of the Code of Judicial Conduct and Court Rules, “which requires judges to observe high standards of conduct so that the integrity and independence of the judiciary may be preserved.. to avoid creating the appearance of impropriety and to act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary… (and) to avoid lending the prestige of their office to advance the private interests of others;… (and) prohibits conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice that brings the judicial office into disrepute.
The Justice faced more problems last year when a prosecutor has accused him of violating a court order when he identified an investigator who used a racial slur in the Jayson Williams case. Bennett Barlyn, an Assistant Hunterdon County Prosecutor, has filed an ethics complaint against Rivera-Soto. Williams is being retired.
The Supreme Court decided not to publicly sanction Rivera-Soto and instead advised him privately that he made a mistake.