In re Mathesius

As part of its constitutional duty to administer all courts in New Jersey, the Supreme Court sometimes finds it necessary to discipine judges.  On this date in 2006, the Court decided In re Mathesius, 188 N.J. 496 (2006).  The decision was somewhat unusual in that it was signed, by Justice Rivera-Soto.  Most disciplinary opinions are per curiam.  As Justice Rivera-Soto described it, “Judge Mathesius presents an almost indecipherable riddle.  On the one side, we have been presented the portrait of a sixty-six year old man who has been an attorney in this State since 1965, a long-time public servant who is learned in his craft, willing to assist his colleagues, and generous with his time and knowledge.  On the other side, however, we have been presented indisputable proof of repeated and unremorseful instances of petulance, sarcasm, anager, and arrogance; these have no place in the exercise of judicial duties.”

The record showed repeated instances of inappropriate conduct that violated multiple Canons of Judicial Conduct.  Judge Mathesius had excoriated a jury for bringing in a not guilty verdict when he thought the defendant clearly guilty, and compounded that by telling the defendant that the judge did not “know what they [the jurors] were thinking,” and that the defendant should “thank God that this jury didn’t see the forest for the trees.”  In another case, he had spoken with a jury off the record, without counsel present, in violation of the Canons, and then made intemperate remarks to defense counsel who questioned the judge’s actions.  Judge Mathesius conceded that those remarks were not “patient, dignified and courteous,” as required by the Canons. 

In a third instance, the judge wote a scathing letter to an Appellate Division judge who had been part of a panel that reversed a conviction over which he had presided.  Among other things, the letter accused the Appellate Division judge of having engaged in a “folly,” and “indulge[d] in fictive and romantic imagination.”  Judge Mathesius ultimately conceded that the letter was “improper in every respect.”  But the judge had not stopped there.  He had buttonholed the judge’s law clerk at a Bar dinner and told her to tell her judge that the judge was “inexperienced and not competent.” 

There was a pattern of other incidents as well.  Judge Mathesius had been subjected to other discipline, including two letters of admonition, but that discipline had not changed his behavior. 

The Court unanimously suspended Judge Mathesius for thirty days, without pay.  The Court did so to highlight for judges “the importance of civility and, more importantly, impartiality to both the judiciary as a whole and to the public at large.”  Though his conduct did not approach the level that has led the Court to remove  judges from office, Judge Mathesius had acted in intolerable fashion and was deservedly penalized.