Judging and Comedic Performances Do Not Mix

IMO Advisory Letter No. 3-11 and Opinion No. 12-08 of the Supreme Court Advisory Committee on Extrajudicial Activities, 215 N.J. 495 (2013).  Since 2008, Vincent Sicari has been a part-time Municipal Judge in South Hackensack.  He has also performed as a stand-up comedian, under the name Vince August, including many appearances at Caroline’s, the well-known New York comedy club, and in other entertainment roles, including participating in a reality show called “What Would You Do?”  Sicari appeared at least seventeen times on that show.  In those comedy routines and other roles, he “demeaned certain people based on national origin and religion, has revealed his political leanings, and has declared his dislike for and intolerance of children.”  He intended those performances to be humorous, however, and there was no evidence that he had “ever conducted proceedings in his courtroom in any manner other than a professional one.”

Sicari communicated with the Supreme Court’s Advisory Commitee on Extrajudicial Activities regarding his dual roles as judge and performer.  The Committee determined that, under the Code of Judicial Conduct, Sicari could not do both.  He petitioned to the Supreme Court, which agreed with the Committee in a per curiam opinion.

Though Sicari had claimed that he kept his two roles separate, including using a different name when performing and “refus[ing] to do a law joke,” the Bergen Record was easily able to determine that Sicari and Vince August were the same person.  That newspaper published an article about his dual roles.  Thus, it was not hard for the Court to conclude that the public might readily recognize Sicari as a part-time comedian and performer, contrary to Sicari’s contentions.  “[T]he record belies his assertion that he has created two watertight vocational paths– law and comedy.”

The Court reviews opinions of the Committee de novo, under the “clear and convincing” standard.  The Canons of Judical  Conduct and the related Guidelines for Extrajudicial Activities are construed “broadly,” solely in order to “preserv[e] public confidence in the integrity and independence of the judiciary.”

Sicari could not be both a municipal judge and pursue his entertainment career, the Court held, because “the focus of his comedy and his decision to participate in a pseudo-reality television in situations that demean, ridicule, or embarrass others based on their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, or physical characteristic are simply not consistent with the high standard of conduct expected of a judge.”  That rationale was reinforced by the concern that litigants before Judge Sicari might recognize him as Vince August, as the Bergen Record so readily had.