Thursday, March 7, 2013

Father of cop cannot hear police cases - NJ Supreme Court

One may kvell at the sight of one's son in uniform - but not from the bench in the town where he serves, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in IMO  Advisory Letter No. 7-11

"Would a reasonable, fully informed person, knowing that Judge Boyd's son is a Perth Amboy police officer, have doubts about Judge Boyd's impartiality in deciding a case that pits the credibility of a Perth Amboy police officer against that of a litigant? We believe the answer to that question is yes," Justice Barry Albin wrote for the court.
George M.  Boyd is the long serving Chief Judge of the Perth Amboy Municipal Court which hears motor vehicle, domestic violence, and low level criminal cases, including many cases involving drug offenses.   Policemen are frequent witnesses, of course.  When Boyd advised  Middle County Assignment Judge Travis Francis of the son's swearing in the son's cases were at first transferred to a neighboring town.  But shortly thereafter, citing a 1992 administrative directive Francis directed Boyd to resign from the bench.  When Boyd protested that Superior Court policies did not bind him Francis referred it to the Advisory Committee on Extra Judicial Conduct.  Boyd petitioned the Supreme Court when the Committee ruled against him.
Now, though winning no prizes for metaphor, or is it simile, the Supreme Court declared:
The figure of justice blindfolded, holding a scale equally balanced, is a common feature atop many courthouses. That symbol carries a simple message -- all stand before the law as  equals, and justice will be administered fairly and impartially. If the public is to keep faith in the ideals represented by that symbol, then it must have complete confidence in the integrity of the judges who administer our system of justice. 
Citing Judicial Canon 2's appearance of impropriety standard the court finds that a member of the public could reasonably suspect bias when a City police officer's credibility is an issue.   Boyd is therefore barred from hearing any cases involving police witnesses.  Since that is a major portion of the work of the court and the two judges he supervises, he appears to have little choice but to resign - or ask his son to give up his post.

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