YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: The New Jersey Supreme Court has banned a former part-time Norwood municipal judge from the bench for five years for dismissing a speeding ticket against his daughter’s onetime speech teacher, CLIFFVIEW PILOT has learned.
Former Municipal Court Judge Robert A. Solomon originally claimed that a state ethics panel got it all wrong when it accused him of violating codes of judicial conduct.
But the Supreme Court, after hearing his side of the story, accepted the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct’s findings of “clear and convincing evidence” that Solomon violated state ethics rules and censured him.
The committee had recommended that Solomon “be censured for his misconduct and that he be permanently disqualified from holding or securing future judicial office.”
In turn, Chief Justice Stuart Rabner said Solomon must show the high court “why public discipline less than removel, but including a permanent disqualification from holding or securing future judicial office, should not be imposed on him.”
Solomon had until Aug. 8 to present a written argument to the justices in advance of a hearing held this past Tuesday in Trenton.
The high court rejected a lifetime ban after the hearing and officially issued its decision this morning.
Solomon, a local attorney who is also a member of the Norwood Parent-Teacher Organization, made a name for himself defending the rights of injured workers and motorists. He was appointed Norwood’s Municipal Court judge on Jan. 1, 2006.
Born and raised in Brooklyn, he graduated cum laude from Fairleigh Dickenson University in 1977. He went to Drake University Law School in Iowa and returned, first to New York and then to New Jersey, to practice law, according to metrolaw.com.
Solomon, went to the municipal prosecutor handling the case the night of Feb. 10 and privately asked whether the ticket against borough schoolteacher Sheila Esposito could be knocked down to an obstruction of traffic offense, according to the complaint, first exclusively obtained and published by CLIFFVIEW PILOT (SEE: Judicial bombshell).
This would have drastically reduced the number of points on Esposito’s license, cut the possible fine and kept her insurance rates from going up, said Candace Moody, disciplinary counsel for the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct.
Prosecutor Laura Nunnick agreed to consider the move only if the officer who wrote the ticket concurred — but the officer objected, Moody wrote. Instead, the officer suggested an unsafe driving offense, which would also reduce points but carries a mandatory fine.
Court was already under way when Solomon took a break, pulled Nunnick aside, and learned what had happened, according to Moody. He then “followed the Municipal Prosecutor and the police officer into the Municipal Prosecutor’s office, where the Municipal Prosecutor indicated to [Solomon] that ‘this isn’t right’,” she wrote to the Advisory Committee.
Nunnick asked for an adjournment, but Solomon refused, Moody said.
Although the teacher and the officer gave different accounts on the stand, Solomon declared both credible and found Ms. Esposito not guilty,” the complaint says.
Not quite so, Solomon insists.
“I did not ask the Municipal Prosecutor to plead Ms. Esposito’s speeding ticket down to obstructing traffic or engage in any other type of plea bargaining,” he says in his response to the committee, obtained and published by the New Jersey Law Journal.
“[I]t was [my] normal procedure to speak to the Municipal Prosecutor prior to taking the bench to determine whether there was a sufficient number of cases that were ready to proceed with guilty pleas and, for the purposes of public convenience and time management, to find out if any cases were going to require a trial that court session,” he wrote.
Solomon says he didn’t follow Nunnink into her office, among other discrepancies.
He also disputes Moody’s contention that hearing the case instead of giving it to another judge was “a clear conflict of interest,” and he “attempted to use the power and prestige of his judicial office to advance Ms. Esposito’s private interests” — a direct violation of the state’s Code of Judicial Conduct.
“[T]he Municipal Prosecutor never asked me to recuse myself from the case” and “never suggested that there was a conflict of interest,” Solomon wrote.
“It never occurred to me that I should recuse myself from a case involving someone with whom I had not personal or business relationship and with whom I had not had a conversation in over 2 years,” he added.