Although Kings of Their Courtroom, Judges Cannot Be Comedians (NJ)

After being admitted to the bar, Vincenzo August Sicari enrolled in acting classes and pursued dual careers, a plaintiff’s attorney by day and “Vincent August,” a stand-up comedian by night. Sicari maintains that he has two, carefully distinct identities and neither interferes with the other. For one thing, he refuses to do law jokes (which I’m sure is a challenge in it of itself).

Trouble occurred in 2008 when Sicari took office as a part-time municipal court judge in South Hackensack. He was forthcoming and immediately discussed his entertainment career with those who appointed him to the position. When he was asked to do an interview for a local paper, Sicari sought out the Advisory Committee on Extrajudicial Affairs to see if an interview was copasetic with his new judicial appointment. Unfortunately, it was not.

The Advisory Committee issued two opinions, an initial opinion and a supplemental opinion after Sicari asked for reconsideration of the initial opinion, both of which advised Sicari that his entertainment career was not compatible with judicial career. Sicari maintained that his two careers were separate and therefore did not create any ethical concerns. He appealed to the Supreme Court of New Jersey. The Court agreed with the Advisory Committee In the Matter of Advisory 2 Letter No. 3-11 and Opinion 2 No. 12-08 of the Supreme Court Advisory Committee on Extrajudicial Activities.

The reasoning behind the Supreme Court’s decision lies in Sicari’s actual work as a comedian. The Court watched numerous tapes of Sicari’s comedic work, and feared his work may bring his impartiality into question. The Court watched skits of Sicari playing a person engaged in racial profiling, a homophobic bar patron and even one about how much he hates kids. Sicari admitted his entertainment is inspired by current events as well as based on his personal experiences growing up in an Italian-American Catholic family, but also argued that he really believes Vincent August is a completely separate identity from Judge Sicari. The Court held that although his dual careers may be OK for a lawyer, they do not work for a judge.

The Code of Judicial Conduct subjects even part-time judge’s to a heightened ethical standard. Judges cannot pursue any activity, and particularly cannot pursue those that may put the judge’s impartiality on the line. The Court would not risk Vincent August’s audience commingling with Judge Sicari’s courtroom. While he sits as a municipal court judge, Sicari must put his entertainment career on hold.

Thanks to Anne Mulcahy for her contribution of this post.  If you have any questions — or jokes–, you can email Paul at pclark@wcmlaw.com