A New Jersey judge charged with seeking a special deal for a councilman’s minor daughter caught with alcohol denies wrongly trying to use his clout.
But Garwood Municipal Judge Antonio Inacio, in his answer to a complaint by the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct, acknowledges his actions could be seen as improper.
Inacio’s answer was filed with the ACJC by his attorney, Edward Kologi of Kologi & Simitz in Linden, on Dec. 19, and made public on Monday.
Inacio “has had a distinguished and unblemished career for several decades and has been candid and forthright with the committee and will continue to be throughout the process,” Kologi says.
The answer says that if any penalty is warranted, it should be no more than a reprimand.
On Jan. 29, Garwood Councilman Louis Petruzzelli’s daughter was charged with possession of alcohol by a minor in Clark, where Inacio also sits.
The Juvenile Conference Committee recommended several measures, including attendance at two Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. On Feb. 1, Union County Superior Court Judge Robert Kirsch so ordered.
Petruzzelli contacted Inacio about the AA-meeting requirement. Inacio then invited the girl and her mother to meet with him at Clark Municipal Court on Feb. 27. He took them into chambers, spoke about alcohol-related dangers and shared personal experiences.
Neither the girl nor her mother discussed the Superior Court order or asked him to do anything on their behalf.
Nonetheless, the complaint says, Inacio contacted Clark Police Detective William Buczynski to ask whether minors charged with alcohol possession could observe court proceedings instead of attending AA meetings.
Buczynski said he lacked authority to make that decision.
In his answer, Inacio says he encountered Buczynski in a hallway but made no overt effort to contact him.
Inacio then sent a letter on April 1, on Clark Township stationery, to the Juvenile Conference Committee chair—copied to Buczynski—asking it to consider courtroom visits in lieu of AA-meeting attendance.
Inacio noted his judgeships in Clark, Garwood and Scotch Plains and wrote: “Forgive me for being so bold, but I think my telling…of the tragedy that occurred in my life was infinitely more compelling to her than any attendance at an AA meeting would have.”
The ACJC charges violation of Code of Judicial Conduct Canons 1 (observing high standards of conduct to preserve the judiciary’s integrity and independence), 2A (promoting public confidence in the judiciary’s integrity and impartiality), and 2B (prohibiting lending judicial office prestige to advance private interests of the judge or others).
Further, Inacio, who has known Petruzzelli since handling a real estate transaction for him in 1993, improperly represented him in a debt-collection matter while Petruzzelli was in office, the ACJC claims.
Since 2004, Inacio had been counsel to Petruzzelli’s company, Accent Electric Corp. of Garwood, in the debt-collection matter. After Petruzzelli took office on Jan. 1, 2011, Inacio failed to terminate the representation, according to the complaint.
Inacio’s representation of Petruzzelli also violated Canons 1 and 2A, the ACJC claims.
The ACJC also said Inacio violated Rule 1:15-1(b), which prohibits a municipal judge from representing an official in the same town in which he sits.
In his answer, Inacio denies he was trying to use the power of his office to advance the private interests of Petruzzelli’s daughter.
But he admits he “was attempting to assist the subject individual in a manner that could be perceived as a violation of Canons 1, 2A and 2B…”
And, he admits his actions “could clearly create the appearance of impropriety.”
The answer lists, in addition to his cooperation and lack of a disciplinary record, other affirmative defenses, including a lack of intention to violate ethics rules and his handling of tens of thousands of other cases without problem.
It also says his conduct was an aberration and not likely to recur and says he has an “extremely favorable reputation” for competence and demeanor among judges and lawyers.■