An appeals court has upheld the dismissal of an official misconduct charge in the case of a Superior Court judge who failed to turn in her boyfriend when she knew an arrest warrant was issued in his name. But the panel also affirmed the trial judge in declining to toss two counts of hindering prosecution against the judge, Carlia Brady.
Brady was indicted over her failure to turn in Jason Prontnicki, who was wanted for the armed robbery of an Old Bridge pharmacy. Prosecutors said Prontnicki visited Brady’s home twice after she learned that authorities were looking for him. Brady became a Superior Court judge in Middlesex County on April 5, 2013, and authorities said Prontnicki attempted to hold up the pharmacy on April 29, 2013. Two years later, in May 2015, Brady was indicted on the official misconduct charge and two counts of hindering, and she has been suspended from the bench ever since.
Brady’s motion to dismiss the official misconduct count was granted by Superior Court Judge Julie Marino of Somerset County in March 2016. Marino refused to dismiss the hindering counts. The Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office appealed the dismissal of the official misconduct count and Brady appealed the ruling concerning the hindering counts. The case was moved to Somerset County because Brady was a sitting judge in Middlesex County at the time of her arrest.
Prosecutors contended that, as a Superior Court judge, Brady was obliged to notify authorities when Prontnicki came to her home. But the extent of the duty of a judge in such circumstances is unclear, the appeals court said.
The prosecution cited no authority to support “the contention that a judge has a nondiscretionary duty to enforce the order of another court, and it certainly has failed to demonstrate such a duty is ever present, obligating the judge to perform the duty wherever he or she may be, 24 hours a day, 365 days per year,” Judges Carmen Messano, Marianne Espinosa and Karen Suter ruled. Instead, the prosecution invited the grand jury to decide whether a Superior Court judge’s duties include enforcing an arrest warrant, the appeals court said. But the grand jury is “an accusatory and not an adjudicative body,” the panel said, and “the prosecutor must clearly and accurately explain the
law to the grand jurors and not leave purely legal issues open to speculation by lay people who are simply performing their civic duty.”
A judge is subject to an official misconduct charge if she refrains from performing her official duties in a case that comes before her, coupled with the purpose to bestow a benefit on herself or another, but “this is not such a case,” Messano wrote for the panel.
“The state has cited no authority supporting the contention that a judge has a nondiscretionary duty to enforce the order of another court, and it certainly has failed to demonstrate such a duty is ever present, obligating the judge to perform the duty wherever he or she may be, 24 hours a day, 365 days per year,” Messano wrote.
In refusing to dismiss the hindering counts, the appeals court said the evidence established that Brady knew Prontnicki was wanted for armed robbery and permitted him to enter her home for more than an hour on two occasions. On one of the visits, she gave him a bag of his clothing and offered him money for a taxi, which he declined. These visits came after Brady went to the Woodbridge police station to report that her car was stolen. She had lent it to Prontnicki, who, in turn, gave it to another person. At that time, the police notified Brady about Prontnicki’s arrest warrant and told her she was obligated to contact them if she saw him.
On appeal, the panel rejected Brady’s arguments that her “passive” conduct did not support a hindering count, that the state failed to demonstrate that she acted with the purpose of hindering Prontnicki’s apprehension, and that the aid she provided him, in the form of clothing and the offer of money, was insufficient to prove a violation.
The appeals court sent the case back to the Law Division for proceedings on the hindering charges.
A spokesman for the Somerset County Prosecutor’s Office, Jack Bennett, said the office would not comment on the ruling. Brady’s lawyer, Timothy Smith of Caruso Smith Picini in Fairfield, did not return a call about the ruling.