scales of justice blind justice

A New Jersey judge accused of trying to use his influence to reduce his personal child support payment obligations has denied that he violated any ethics rules, and highlighted his cooperation with the investigation and unblemished record in defense.

Ocean County Superior Court Judge James Palmer Jr. filed his response to the state Supreme Court’s Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct on Feb. 21. It was made public on Tuesday. The answer was filed by his attorney, Mitchell Ansell of Ansell Grimm & Aaron in Ocean.

The Jan. 16 complaint filed by the ACJC said Palmer “created the risk that his judicial office would be an influential factor” in the handling of his family matter. In so doing, he “impugned the integrity of the judiciary,” Disciplinary Counsel Maureen Bauman’s complaint alleged.

The complaint charges Palmer with violating three cannons of the Code of Judicial Conduct, including rules requiring judges to “observe high standards of conduct so that the integrity and independence of the judiciary may be preserved,” as well as to “promote public confidence in the independence, integrity and impartiality of the judiciary,” and to “avoid lending the prestige of their office to advance a personal interest.”

The complaint details an incident on March 21, 2017, when Palmer appeared at the Probate Division at the Somerset County Courthouse to discuss his child support obligations under a 2011 divorce and request to emancipate his daughter.

According to the complaint, he used his judicial identification and introduced himself as “Judge Palmer” to a series of employees, who each passed him up to a supervisor when they were unable to find the emancipation consent he said his ex-wife had filed. The ACJC charged that each employee said Palmer complained about having a cost-of-living increase in his child support payments when he had not been given a raise in his judicial salary, and that he told them his daughter “should have been emancipated a long time ago.”

In his answer, Palmer acknowledged that, during his visit, he was wearing his judicial identification badge on a lanyard and that he identified him as a judge.

He said he verbally “identified himself as ‘Judge Palmer’ only after [an office employee] noted it was her first day and that she was a new Probation Officer, in an attempt to put her at ease.”

He denied that he knowingly violated ethics rules, and disputed some of the facts laid out in the complaint, including some of his alleged remarks about judicial salaries.

“Respondent, upon reflection, acknowledges at this time that his conduct in identifying himself as a judge to judiciary employees in the Probation Division had the potential to be perceived as an attempt at deferential treatment, however, this was not the intent of the Respondent,” Palmer said.

Neither Ansell nor Palmer could immediately be reached for comment.

Palmer was admitted in New Jersey in 1985. He has a law degree from Indiana University and master’s degrees from Columbia University in New York and Roosevelt University in Chicago.

He spent 27 years in private practice, including as a solo in Jackson and as an in-house counsel to several corporations, before his December 2008 confirmation.

Palmer was first assigned to the Family Part in Burlington County, then moved to the Criminal Part in 2010. In 2014, he was assigned to his current position in the Ocean Vicinage’s Civil Part. He was granted tenure in late 2015.