Gerald Council
Gerald Council ()

A New Jersey Superior Court judge facing discipline for alleged demeaning behavior toward court workers denies that he violated judicial ethics canons but says he needs more information to respond to the specific charges.

In his answer to the Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics’ April 1 complaint, Gerald Council said that he had “insufficient information to respond” to certain allegations and that an “amended reply will be provided subsequent to receipt of discovery.”

The complaint said that Council, Mercer County’s presiding Criminal Part judge, spoke disrespectfully to or about court workers, such as calling a female probation officer his “little pet” and another employee, who had undergone hip replacement surgery, “Hop-a-Long.”

The ACJC alleged five instances where Council mistreated members of the Drug Court team—comprised of attorneys, probations officers, substance abuse evaluators, treatment professionals and staff. He heads the Drug Court as the vicinage’s presiding criminal judge.

Three alleged instances involved an employee identified as A.J., who was the county’s Drug Court coordinator between December 2008 and May 2012.

On March 6, 2012, at the conclusion of a court session, after Council stepped down from the bench, A.J. approached him to discuss a drug court participant who was not cooperating with efforts to schedule an appointment, according to the complaint. Council “put his hand up close to A.J.’s face, ‘shushed’ her, and sternly told A.J. that he did not want to hear from her,” the complaint says.

A.J. was “publicly embarrassed” because the incident took place in open court, in front of other personnel, a treatment provider and the Drug Court participant, and when A.J. reported it the next day to her direct supervisor, she was “extremely upset and crying,” the ACJC alleged.

About two weeks later, on March 22, 2012, at a “meet and greet” breakfast reception for newly appointed Mercer Assignment Judge Mary Jacobson attended by court employees, A.J. introduced herself to Jacobson and was leaving the reception to go back to work when she spotted five Drug Court team members and stopped to talk with them, the complaint alleged.

Council allegedly put his hand on her upper back and neck area, told her to leave because she had work to do and with his hand still in place ushered her out of the event, as her colleagues watched, according to the complaint. A.J. who had only spent 10 minutes at the reception and was the only one Council told to leave, felt “demeaned” and concerned with how others would view Council’s “unwelcomed touching,” the complaint alleged.

The third run-in allegedly took place on April 2, 2012, when Council grabbed A.J. by the ear and pulled her toward the court room exit, saying “come on, come on” and referring to her as “my problem child,” causing her to be “embarrassed, humiliated and upset.”

The complaint said the name-calling, in March and April 2012, was directed at two Drug Court team members.

Council referred to R.N., a senior probation officer, as his “little pet” at a staff meeting, causing her to feel uncomfortable and to correct him by telling him in front of the other court employees that she was not his pet, the ACJC alleged.

D.E., an investigator, was allegedly called “Hop-a-Long” on a few occasions following his hip surgery.

In the answer, Council admitted only to his job titles, general descriptions of his duties and that he was A.J.’s supervisor. He said he needed more information to responde to 21 of the complaint’s 29 charging paragraphs.

Council’s lawyer, Newark solo Alan Bowman, who signed the answer, did not return a telephone call seeking comment.

A lawyer knowledgeable about judicial disciplinary matters, but not involved in this one, says Council’s answer is odd but not unheard of. The more routine response is to simply deny anything not clearly admissible, since discovery will proceed afterwards.

The complaint says Council violated Code of Judicial Conduct Canon 3A(3) by discourteous and undignified behavior and Canons 1 and 2A by failure to preserve the judiciary’s integrity and the public perception of that integrity.

Superior Court judges have been reprimanded for similar conduct toward litigants: Max Baker, of Atlantic County, in 2011, for discourtesy and impatience; and James Citta, of Ocean County, and James Convery, of Essex County, both in 2010, for demeaning comments.

Contact the reporter at mbooth@alm.com.