Jersey City’s former chief municipal judge, who was permanently barred from public employment for fixing traffic tickets, will likely lose her law license for six months.
But the sanction recommended for Wanda Molina on Tuesday by the Disciplinary Review Board is far less stringent than the two- to three-year suspension urged by ethics prosecutors.
It’s now up to the New Jersey Supreme Court to decide.
The ticket tampering came to light in September 2007, after Hudson County court officials, acting on a tip, launched an internal investigation of the Jersey City Municipal Court.
Molina, chief judge since 2004, was found to have dismissed nine parking tickets issued to her “significant other,” who has not been publicly named, between October 2006 and April 2007.
On three of them, Molina wrote the word “emergency,” though none existed, to make it appear that there were circumstances that justified the illegal parking.
She conceded that she should have requested a change of venue because of the conflict or paid the tickets.
Molina resigned in September 2007.
She pleaded guilty in 2010 to one count of third-degree tampering with public records and one count of fourth-degree falsifying records.
She was sentenced to 364 days in jail, to be served subsequent to a three-year period of probation, with the proviso that if probation was completed successfully, she could seek to vacate the jail time, which is what occurred.
In addition, she was permanently barred from public employment and had to perform 500 hours of community service and pay restitution for the $200-plus amount of the tickets.
Four other Jersey City judges and municipal court administrator Virginia Pagan were implicated in ticket-fixing.
The only one to serve time was Pagan, who was sentenced to three years after she pleaded guilty to voiding 215 tickets issued to her and her daughter between 1999 and 2007.
Two judges—Pauline Sica and Victor Sison—were allowed into pretrial intervention. Charges brought against Irwin Rosen were dropped and he has since returned to the Jersey City bench. The fifth judge, Victor Signorile, was investigated but not charged.
In Molina’s disciplinary case that followed, the Office of Attorney Ethics urged a two-to-three-year suspension.
The Disciplinary Review Board not only disagreed with the OAE on the degree of punishment, but split internally.
Three members, attorneys Edna Baugh and Morris Yamner, joined by public member Jeanne Doremus, thought six months appropriate.
Two others, attorney Bonnie Frost and public member Robert Zmirich, favored a year suspension, while attorney Bruce Clark voted for three months.
The seventh member, Maurice Gallipoli, disqualified himself. At the time of the ticket-fixing, he was Hudson County’s assignment judge, with a supervisory role over the Jersey City court.
In deciding how to punish Molina, the DRB looked at other ticket-fixing cases where penalties ranged from a reprimand to disbarment.
The reprimand was meted out in 1977 to Evesham Judge Frederick Hardt because he allowed a prosecutor to improperly dispose of a ticket though he had no prior knowledge of the plan.
The disbarment was imposed in 2000 on James Boylan, a Jersey City judge who dismissed tickets for female defendants in return for sexual favors.
The OAE viewed Molina as more akin to Boylan because of her criminal conviction and the personal benefit to her in helping her significant other, though it acknowledged Boylan’s conduct was “more troubling.”
It was also swayed by the fact that Molina’s ticket-fixing was not an isolated incident.
The DRB said Molina’s conduct was “improper and repetitive” and saw no significance in her assertions that she did not realize she was committing a crime and was singled out for prosecution.
But it saw “no comparison” with Boylan and was persuaded by “compelling mitigating factors,” such as Molina’s “sincere contrition, previous unblemished record, otherwise good character and reputation in the community, and extensive civic efforts,” which included working with women’s and Hispanic groups and mentoring.
She also established a domestic violence referral system in the court and launched a summer youth law program.
Further, 18 character letters were submitted on her behalf and, the DRB noted, she “did not enlist wrongdoing by another.”
Molina, now with Kim & Bae in Jersey City, says she accepts the DRB recommendation and will not appeal it, adding she is accountable and wants to move on.
“I want the public to know that this was a monumental lapse in judgment and outside of that, I’ve always done right,” she says.
Her lawyer Marc Garfinkle, a Morristown solo, says “she did her penance criminally and now she’s got to answer to the profession.” ■