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A New Jersey municipal judge faces disciplinary action for allegedly dismissing a friend and former colleague’s traffic ticket after an ex parte meeting in chambers. Sybil Elias, a judge in East Orange and Irvington, should have disqualified herself from handling the matter involving Patrice Davis, a former assistant Essex County prosecutor, the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct says in a complaint made public on Tuesday. ACJC disciplinary counsel Candace Moody, while charging Elias with ethics violations, did not request any specific form of discipline. The alleged incident occurred on Dec. 1, 2006, when Davis showed up in East Orange Municipal Court on a traffic ticket. Before the court session began, Davis met with municipal prosecutor Derrick Griffin, who agreed to drop the case and added a handwritten note to the court’s file recommending that the charges be dismissed but that Davis be assessed court costs, Moody wrote. Davis then visited Elias in chambers, where they discussed the case without Griffin, and Elias dismissed the ticket off the record, waiving the associated court costs, Moody continued. Elias worked for the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office from roughly 1998 through 2002. Davis was her supervisor for about a year, they continue to be friends and Davis was a guest speaker at Elias’ ceremonial swearing in as a municipal judge in September 2003, according to the complaint. “In light of [Elias's] relationship with Ms. Davis, [Elias] should have immediately disqualified herself from presiding over any matters involving Ms. Davis, and to avoid the appearance of impropriety [Elias] should have had any and all matters involving Ms. Davis transferred to another municipal court judge,” Moody wrote. Elias is charged with violating Rule 2:15-8(a)(1) and (6), by engaging in misconduct in office and conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice that brings the judicial office into disrepute, and Rule 1:2-1, which requires that proceedings be conducted in open court. Her actions also allegedly violated Judicial Canons 1 and 2A, which require judges to preserve and promote public confidence in the judiciary; 2B, which prohibits them from allowing personal relationships to influence them and requires them to guard against the impression someone has special influence; 3A(6), which bars them from initiating or considering ex parte communications; and 3C(1), which requires disqualification where impartiality might be questioned. Elias was listed as a member of the New Jersey Supreme Court’s Municipal Court Practice Committee, in a report it issued in February. Other municipal judges have been disciplined for handling matters they should have handed off due to conflicts. Last December, former Marlboro Municipal Court James Newman was admonished for arraigning a man on charges of harassing his ex-wife, whom Newman represented in a related matrimonial case. The Supreme Court found he violated Canons 1, 2A and 3C, as well as Rule 2:15-8(a)(6), rejected his defense that the arraignment was a mere ministerial act and warned that municipal judges who commit similar infractions will receive “significantly more severe discipline” in the future. Elias could not be located for comment; her private practice telephone number was disconnected. The Essex County Prosecutor’s Office says Davis no longer works there, and she could not otherwise be reached. Griffin was not in his office and could not be reached. The case is In the Matter of Sybil M. Elias, Judge of the Municipal Court , ACJC 2007-096.

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