A former Camden municipal prosecutor, who was on the receiving end of a series of allegedly “discourteous and undignified emails” from the city’s chief judge, is suing the judge and the city, claiming the incident caused her to leave her job.
The former prosecutor, Kristina Bryant, filed the lawsuit against Chief Municipal Court Judge Christine Jones-Tucker and the city on Thursday in Camden County Superior Court.
Jones-Tucker already has been hit with an ethics complaint from the state Supreme Court’s Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct in connection with the incident, but has denied violating any ethics rules.
According to documents, the emails in question were sent in late 2016, when Bryant was seeking to have a February 2017 trial date postponed.
The emails and the repercussions, Bryant said in her lawsuit, affected her so much that she was forced to leave her job in January 2017.
“Plaintiff enjoyed a good reputation, both generally and in her profession as an attorney, including when she was employed by the municipality in September 2016 until January 2017,” said her attorney, Craig Mitnick, in the complaint.
The lawsuit alleges harassment, tortious interference with contract, defamation and creation of a hostile work environment.
Bryant has “suffered irreparable harm to her reputation and was no longer able to perform her job as numerous law enforcement officers from various departments questioned Ms. Bryant … as to what she did wrong and questioned her credibility,” said Mitnick, who heads a firm in Haddonfield.
“Plaintiff has suffered shame, mortification, loss of personal and professional reputation, loss of employment and related benefits and injury to her feelings,” the suit claims.
Mitnick was away from his office and unavailable for comment.
The city’s chief attorney, Michelle Banks-Spearman, said the city does not comment on pending litigation.
Jones-Tucker does not deny that the email exchanges occurred, but contends that she remained within the bounds of judicial ethics strictures and never lied about the exchanges. In her answer to the ACJC complaint she filed last month, her attorney, Carl Poplar, said: “At all times … Respondent established, maintained and enforced the highest standards of conduct” and “was patient, dignified and courteous.” The answer added: “The Respondent at no time made any knowing misrepresentation.”
The ACJC’s views the episode differently. The July 11 complaint alleges that Jones-Tucker violated several Canons of Judicial Conduct.
Poplar, who heads a firm in Cherry Hill, declined to comment on Bryant’s lawsuit.
Jones-Tucker has been the city’s chief judge since August 2016.
The charges, filed by ACJC counsel Maureen Bauman, largely center on a series of emails Jones-Tucker allegedly sent to Bryant about a trial date for a man named Derek Heimstra, who was charged with driving while intoxicated, according to documents. Heimstra was represented by John Sitzler of Sitzler & Sitzler in Hainesport.
The emails in question primarily occurred on Dec. 30 and 31, 2016, when Bryant was asking to have a February 2017 trial date postponed because of a problem with witnesses. The trial date had been rescheduled once before. Jones-Tucker, the ACJC said, then sent Bryant a series of emails starting at 10:54 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, saying that rescheduling was a “complete waste of court resources.”
“Get with the program,” the ACJC complaint quotes Jones-Tucker as saying. There were other emails from Jones-Tucker up until 11:09 p.m., the complaint alleged. “Not a game,” the ACJC also quotes the judge as saying. “Not a game. This is the date. Not a game,” Jones-Tucker said. Jones-Tucker also said, “Sick of this. Respect for the city [of] Camden. Respect for our court,” according to the document.
On New Year’s Day 2017, Bryant, the complaint said, sent an email to City Attorney Marc Riondino, saying she found the emails “condescending and disrespectful.” On Jan. 2, the complaint said, Jones-Tucker sent an email to Bryant affirming the trial date and added: “This is it [sic] a game. … Respect for this court. Respect for this city.”
Sitzler appeared before Jones-Tucker on Jan. 6, 2017, to inquire about a firm trial date. He apparently had learned of the emails between Jones-Tucker and Bryant, and asked the judge about them since he had never been copied. “I’m not sure what emails you’re referring to,” the ACJC complaint quotes Jones-Tucker as saying.
Afterward, the ACJC alleges, Jones-Tucker said the Heimstra case would be reassigned, and then notified Riondino in an email that she would no longer hear cases involving Bryant.
The ACJC charged that Jones-Tucker “demonstrated a lack of veracity and an inability to conform her conduct to the high standards of conduct expected of judges and impugned the integrity of the judiciary.”