The Docket Made Me Do It — Municipal Court Judge Roman Montes blames a crushing case load for interactions with an exotic dancer that led to ethics charges against him.

Montes, who sits in Rahway and Elizabeth, admitted in his answer on Friday that he met the woman on Dec. 11, 2012, at a Rahway go-go bar called "Breathless, The Men's Club," and described on its website as "where elegance meets passion." They drank together and she danced for him, though not exclusively, he said. At some point that night, she told him she had appeared before him in a domestic violence case against her boyfriend less than two weeks earlier but now wanted it dismissed.

Montes tied his failure to recognize her to the fact that he presided over about 1,000 cases during those two weeks but claims once he realized the conflict, he had the matter transferred to Clark, where it was dismissed on a plea agreement.

The ethics complaint says Montes told Clark's judge he had a sexual relationship with the dancer. Montes admits he had a conversation but denies saying he was sexually involved. He also admits to texts and phone calls with the dancer in the two weeks before the transfer.

Montes could not be reached and his lawyer, Anthony Vignuolo, of Borrus, Goldin, Foley, Vignuolo, Hyman & Stahl in North Brunswick, did not return a call.


Vonte Skinner

Chilling Rap — The American Civil Liberties Union is seeking to uphold reversal of a rap artist's attempted-murder conviction on the ground that use of his violent-themed lyrics as evidence was prejudicial.

Vonte Skinner was convicted after the jury was read 13 pages of lyrics describing shootings, rapes and knife attacks. The Appellate Division reversed, 2 to 1, finding the words had no relevance and gave the impression Skinner was predisposed to violence. The Burlington County prosecutor appealed as of right.

The ACLU wants the appellate decision affirmed and is asking for amicus status, saying it seeks to avoid a chilling effect on free expression. It also wants the Supreme Court to set rules on admissibility of such lyrics, which have been admitted in 14 cases across the country and barred in four others.

Ezra Rosenberg of Dechert in Princeton, the ACLU's cooperating counsel, said in court papers that rap lyrics constitute political and social discourse and are entitled to heightened First Amendment scrutiny.

That a rap artist seemed to embrace violence, Rosenberg said, "is no more reason to ascribe to him a motive and intent to commit violent acts than to saddle Dostoyevsky with Raskolnikov's motives or to indict Johnny Cash for having 'shot a man in Reno just to watch him die.'"


Paul Bergrin

Straw Man — A renewed attempt by former prosecutor Paul Bergrin to set aside his conviction fell short Thursday when U.S. District Judge Dennis Cavanaugh in Newark refused to reconsider his earlier denial of a motion for acquittal or a new trial.

A jury found Bergrin guilty on March 18 of facilitating the murder of a witness and running a drug ring through his Newark firm.

Cavanaugh found Bergrin was repeating failed arguments that the government relied on perjured testimony and ignored or distorted exculpatory recordings and wiretap intercepts.

Cavanaugh also rejected two new arguments, saying Bergrin should have made them pretrial or in his post-trial motion. One was that prosecutors held off indicting Bergrin until after he pleaded guilty to money laundering in New York, which provided them with a predicate offense for their RICO charge. The other was that they improperly intercepted his emails and phone calls while he was incarcerated in New York.

Cavanaugh spurned Bergrin's request to recuse based on alleged personal and professional relationships with four attorneys for cooperating witnesses, saying he had no relationship with any of them "that would have any bearing on rulings in this matter nor would create any degree of personal bias so to justify recusal." One of the lawyers, Richard Roberts of Newark, says "when people go down, they'll grasp at any straw."

The U.S. Attorney's Office did not respond to a request for comment.

The Second-Year Itch — We know what policies Barack Obama has pursued as president of the United States, but what would he do as the leader of a law school?

His top priority: Cut out the third year.

"This is probably controversial to say, but what the heck, I'm in my second term so I can say it," Obama, a Harvard Law School graduate, said Friday during a town hall speech on college affordability at Binghamton University in New York.

"I believe, for example, that law schools would probably be wise to think about being two years instead of three years — because by the third year — in the first two years young people are learning in the classroom," Obama said. "The third year they'd be better off clerking or practicing in a firm, even if they weren't getting paid that much. But that step alone would reduce the cost for the student."

Obama recognized the challenges in that strategy. "Now, the question is can law schools maintain quality and keep good professors and sustain themselves without that third year," Obama said. "My suspicion is that if they thought creatively about it, they probably could."

The speech came as part of a bus tour touting a new education plan to reduce the cost of college.

— By Mary Pat Gallagher, Charles Toutant, Todd Ruger (Legal Times)