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Saturday, 14 October 2017 00:00

Even judges are not immune to lawsuits based on their misconduct.

Written by Jonathan Druckman

The city of Linden has reached a $575,000 settlement over a municipal court judge’s missteps.

The settlement arises out of a criminal trial back in 2010 handled by Municipal Court Judge Louis DiLeo. Judge DiLeo was allegedly acting as both the judge and prosecutor, which constituted a fundamental miscarriage of justice. The settlement was reached in April of 2017 but the terms of the agreement were first made public in October through an Open Public Records Act. The defendants in this case were a set of cousins who were allegedly trying to remove wheels from a vehicle when they were apprehended and then found to have marijuana on their persons. They were charged with possession of less than 50 grams, but the prosecutor downgraded the charges to disorderly persons charges and directed the defendants to municipal court. The municipal court is part of the Law Division but falls below the Superior Courts in NJ.

A Superior Judge who was charged with examining Judge DiLeo’s conduct overturned the defendant’s conviction and used the term, “perversion of justice” with how the episode was handled. In the American Court System, there is always a separation between the judges, jury, and prosecutor. (In small municipal trials the judge acts as the jury).

Based upon, his actions, the Supreme Court of NJ issued a reprimand to DiLeo for his conduct. Judge DiLeo had served as a municipal court judge for nearly a decade beginning his term in 2003, but the city of Linden did not reappoint him in 2012.

Back in 2014, a ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit said that the motions to dismiss the lawsuit against Judge DiLeo were properly denied. DiLeo attempted to dismiss the lawsuit citing absolute judicial immunity and Eleventh Amendment immunity. The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit properly denied such requests and upheld counts against the city based on conspiracy and direct liability.

In connection with the underlying incident DiLeo allegedly tried the defendants for attempted theft and possession of marijuana. The problem was that DiLeo tried the case after the prosecutor had left the court room. He then allowed the arresting officer to question the defendants. The defendants were also denied their constitutional right to have a public defender, since they could not afford an attorney. Furthermore, he handed down sentences of 180 days in jail to one defendant and two, consecutive 180-day jail sentences to the second defendant. The problem? State law only allows a jail term of 90-days to be imposed by a municipal court judge, not the 180 or 360 days (nearly a year) that DiLeo handed down. DiLeo also attempted to impose what is known as a “day for day” sentence, meaning that parole guidelines would not be allowed.

Although such instances of judicial misconduct may be rare, in order to protect your rights, it is important to have an attorney represent you on any Court hearing. Similarly, in many civil cases involving automobile accidents, insurance companies are quick to try to get their policyholders to sign waivers in exchange for a settlement amount much lower than what their injuries should be worth. Do not get taken advantage of. Call the law offices of Druckman & Hernandez to speak with an attorney immediately. In the accident cases we handle, there is only a fee if we recover money for you. Our number is 908-353-5850, and our attorneys are available 7 days a week. All initial consultations are always free.

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