Judge Can't Moonlight As A Comedian, Court Says
The New Jersey Supreme Court told Vincent Sicari the two careers are "incompatible."
"August" has made a name for himself in the comedy world for an edgy brand of humor. He's known to rip children on stage, calling them "soft," "spoiled" and "creepy." In addition, his appearances on ABC's hidden-camera show, "What Would You Do?," have been marked, says The Associated Press, by the "homophobic" and "racist" characters he has portrayed.
An 'incompatible' career: In view of such a resume, the New Jersey Supreme Court voted 7-0 Thursday that the two careers are "incompatible." Sicari was told that he must either give up his comedy work or step down from the court position that he's held since 2008. The court said that judges must follow a "higher standard," and quoted English literature's Geoffrey Chaucer -- "many a true word is said in jest." Sicari chose to immediately resign from his judicial position, for which he earned $13,000 a year.
"I take great pride in being a judge, and to give that up is disappointing," he told the AP. His municipal court, based in South Hackensack, mostly handles traffic tickets and disorderly conduct offenses. "I'm not surprised by the result, but I'm very disappointed."
What was the rationale for the decision? The Court said it recognized that Sicari's jokes "are designed to be funny." The Court also said there was "no evidence that Judge Sicari has ever conducted proceedings in his courtroom in any other manner than a professional one." But the court said New Jersey residents could end up confused or even "horrified" if they saw the same man who judges them letting it rip at a comedy club on race relations and children, among other topics:
"The court cannot ignore the distinct possibility that a person who has heard a routine founded on humor disparaging certain ethnic groups and religions will not be able to readily accept that the judge ... can maintain the objectivity and impartiality that must govern all municipal court proceedings."
"If it's good enough for the High Court...": Yet a post by legal blog Above the Law suggested such a standard has been applied inconsistently. The post, written by Joe Patrice, pointed out that justices of the Supreme Court such as Sonia Sotomayor have appeared on "The Colbert Report." And so, "it's hard to say that a venue graced by a Supreme Court justice lacks the proper judicial dignity [for Sicari]," Patrice wrote.
Sicari's lawyer, E. Drew Britcher, for his part, pointed out in the proceedings that his client has made sure to never reveal his judicial post when performing. And according to Britcher, Sicari has purposely stayed away from deriving humor from his judicial career. Sicari said that he will continue a private practice in law.
Fellow New Jersey public officials in a similar boat have not been sympathetic to Sicari's plight. New Jersey Assembly Minority Leader Jon Bramnick, who also moonlights as a comedian, told the New Jersey Star Ledger that Sicari's comedy work undermines his standing on the court. "Here's the problem. Every lawyer who goes before that judge is going to look for a reason to set aside that case," he said. "If they got the video of [Sicari's] act, and the judge were to say things -- say, in a sexual assault case -- that could be interpreted in a certain way, it could be grounds for upsetting the judge's decision."
And in speaking to the Star-Ledger, Britcher conceded, "we knew going in it was an uphill battle."
Dan Fastenberg was most recently a reporter with TIME Magazine. Previously, he was a writer for the Thomson Reuters news service's Latin America desk. He was also a reporter and associate editor for the Buenos Aires Herald while living in South America.
Follow Dan on Twitter. Email Dan at firstname.lastname@example.org. Add Dan to your Google+ circles.