Comedian Resigns As Hackensack Judge After Losing Appeal
NEWARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) – A New Jersey municipal judge who has been told by the state Supreme Court he can’t also be a stand-up comedian in his off hours has resigned from the bench.
Vince Sicari tells The Associated Press he tendered his resignation Thursday.
Earlier in the day, in a unanimous 7-0 decision, the Supreme Court ruled Sicari’s acting and comedy career “is incompatible” with judicial conduct codes.
The 44-year-old, whose stage name is Vince August, has carved out a career as a stand-up comic and actor, appearing on network television, in New York City comedy clubs and as a warm-up for Comedy Central audiences.
He was also a part-time municipal judge in South Hackensack, where he handles things like traffic ticket cases and disorderly persons offenses.
EXTRA: Read The Ruling
A state ethics board recommended in 2008 that Sicari quit his comedy work. It had expressed concern over Sicari’s character depictions on a reality show and the potential content of his sketches.
Sicari appealed the ruling to the state’s highest court, which heard arguments in February.
“If he chooses to continue his career as a comedian then, of course, my understanding of the ruling by the supreme court is that he would have to abandon any action as judge,” town attorney David Nasta told WCBS 880′s Levon Putney.
Sicari’s attorney, E. Drew Britcher, insisted at the time that his client never cracked wise on the bench and never let on that he moonlighted as a comic. In his comedy routine, Britcher added, Sicari refrained from jokes about the legal profession and never divulged his other job as a judge.
The opinion says even though he does not joke about attorneys, it’s conceivable someone who has seen Sicari’s comedic stage act could end up in his courtroom and may not be able to separate his comedy from judicial duties.
“In the course of his routines, Sicari has demeaned certain people based on national origin and religion and has revealed his political leanings,” according to the court’s opinion. “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 before whom he or she appears can maintain the objectivity and impartiality that must govern all municipal court proceedings.”
An attorney for the state Attorney General’s office, Kim D. Ringler, argued against Sicari being allowed to hold both jobs, saying municipal judges represent the most frequent contact the public has with the justice system. Some of the characters Sicari has depicted could confuse the public and reflect badly on the judiciary, she argued.
Several justices questioned whether the public had the ability to separate Sicari’s position as a judge from roles he has played on the ABC hidden camera show “What Would You Do?” in which he has portrayed homophobic and racist characters.
Sicari, who is a member of the Screen Actors Guild and other professional performers’ unions, has said his entertainment work entitles him to health benefits and earns him more than his $13,000-a-year part-time judge salary.
He said during the Supreme Court arguments in February that he was equally passionate about both his jobs.
Sicari told CBS 2′s Amy Dardashtian that it would not be easy to end his judgeship.
“For immigrant parents who had this son who didn’t have political connections and got the job based on merit I’m proud of that and I don’t like giving that up,” he said.
Sicari said that he was careful to avoid mentioning his profession during his act. He said the court’s decision was a step in the wrong direction.
“We are trying to protect a group of people oh you know that may take offense to it. That seems to be the wrong direction to go. I don’t think that’s what this country is about,” he said.
In the end Sicari said his decision was about following his passion.
“My girlfriend is telling me to get a divorce from my wife and I’m going to pick my wife,” he said.
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