Superior Court Judge Carlia Brady has been on a roll of late, with a judge dismissing charges that she hindered her boyfriend’s apprehension and the Supreme Court ending her suspension from the bench after nearly five years. But she still faces an inquiry by the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct over her 2013 harboring arrest, and some see her as vulnerable to penalties.
The Supreme Court reinstated Brady to active duty on Tuesday as a judge in the Civil Division in Middlesex County, following a March 1 ruling from Judge Robert Reed of Somerset County that dismissed the last remaining charges against her from her arrest. But the Supreme Court noted in its reinstatement order that its prior referral of her case to the ACJC remains in effect.
No judicial discipline is warranted over Brady’s arrest, said her lawyer in the criminal case, Timothy Smith, who said she “acted at all times in conformance with the law and the standard of conduct expected of a member of the judiciary. I think anybody that undertakes a thorough review of the underlying facts will reach the conclusion that she did nothing wrong.”
Brady’s brush with the justice system—as a criminal defendant—will make her a better judge because she gained an understanding of what it’s like to be falsely charged, said Smith, of Caruso Smith Piccini in Fairfield. He has described the case as the work of “rogue cops” in the Woodbridge Police Department.
He declined to say if Brady would seek to recoup the nearly five years of pay she missed out on during her suspension.
Brady was arrested after permitting her then-boyfriend, Jason Prontnicki, in her home for more than an hour when he was being sought by police in connection with the armed robbery of a pharmacy. She was charged with official misconduct and harboring a fugitive. The misconduct charge was dismissed in March 2016 and that decision was upheld by the Appellate Division in October 2017. Last week’s decision to throw out the hindering charges was based on another Appellate Division ruling that Prontnicki could not be compelled to testify against Brady.
The ACJC will have to decide whether Brady acted in a manner unbecoming a judge when she allowed Prontnicki in her home for an hour in June 2013 even after she learned an arrest warrant had been issued in his name.
In the best-case scenario for Brady, the disciplinary committee would take note of the dismissal of the official misconduct charge against her. Superior Court Judge Julie Marino, in Somerset County, rejected the state’s notion that a judge has “a duty inherent in her office to enforce an arrest warrant,” and said Brady was not “acting in her official capacity. There is no connection between the duties inherent in the office of Judge and the … conduct here.” And Appellate Division Judges Carmen Messano, Marianne Espinosa and Karen Suter, who affirmed Marino’s ruling, said the issue in the case was analogous to one in which a judge failed to turn in a family member who was issued an arrest warrant for failing to pay parking tickets.
Lee Gronikowski, a Mount Laurel, New Jersey, lawyer who spent 20 years as deputy ethics counsel at the Office of Attorney Ethics and who represents judges in his private practice, feels confident that Brady will face judicial discipline of some sort. He said she could well be caught up by the appearance-of-impropriety standard.
The fact that Brady’s alleged misdeeds were unrelated to her job will make little difference to the ACJC, according to Gronikowski.
But Marc Garfinkle, a Morristown, New Jersey, attorney who represents judges before the ACJC, disagrees, saying than an offense unrelated to the job will likely be seen as less serious than a job-related offense.
Garfinkle warned that the standard of proof in judicial ethics proceedings is a clear-and-convincing standard, unlike the reasonable-doubt standard in a criminal case. What’s more, Brady should not take any comfort in the dismissal of hindering charges against her, since the court did not rule on the merits of those charges.
“Here, the criminal case was not really adjudicated. When the ACJC looks at it, not only do they have a different standard of proof, they don’t really care what happens in criminal courts,” Garfinkle said. “They don’t look at the disposition, they look at the facts of the case. They look at it with a clean slate,” he said.
Garfinkle said the case could implicate three rules of the Code of Judicial Conduct: Rule 1.1, which requires judges to “personally observe high standards of conduct so that the integrity, impartiality and independence of the judiciary is preserved”; Rule 1.2, which says judges should ”respect and comply with the law”; and Rule 2.1, which says judges should “shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity and impartiality of the judiciary, and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.”
In examining Brady’s case, the ACJC would use a telescope, rather than a microscope, and would be interested in the “overall wrongness of what she did,” Garfinkle said.
It’s possible that Brady could be disciplined privately, Garfinkle said. While private discipline of lawyers ended in 1994 in New Jersey, some private judicial discipline remains, he said. Based on contrition and the likelihood that the misconduct won’t reoccur, Brady has “a very good case to make for private discipline,” he said.
“I have little doubt she will be disciplined in some measure. In view of the fact that this was not an act she took on the bench, she’s got a good chance at keeping the bench. The ACJC will look at her overall character,” Garfinkle said.
He said he thinks the committee will find Brady’s actions related to her ex-boyfriend don’t reflect well on the judiciary.
“It’s hard to accept that an educated member of the public would look at this situation and not have some doubts about the integrity of the judiciary,” Garfinkle said.