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NJ Supreme Court: Judge Can't Do Comedy

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By William Peacock, Esq. on September 20, 2013 9:59 AM

Okay, this decision unfortunately makes a lot of sense.

Judge Vincent August Sicari, a part-time municipal judge making $13,000 per year, had a second, more lucrative, and more exciting career: he was a stand-up comedian and actor under the stage name Vincent August.

Now, he'll have to give up the honor of overseeing traffic tickets and disorderly person offenses in favor of reality television and stand-up comedy, reports The Associated Press.

Code of Judicial Conduct

The state's high court, before diving into the specifics of August's entertainment career, recounted the relevant Canons of the Code of Judicial Conduct. Canon 1 requires the judge to "uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary" and to adhere to "high standards of conduct." The second canon requires judges to " avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all activities."

And then there is Canon 5, which states:

A Judge Shall so Conduct the Judge's Extra-Judicial Activities as to Minimize the Risk of Conflict with Judicial Obligations

A. Extra-judicial Activities in General.

A judge shall conduct all of the judge's extra-judicial activities so that they do not:

(1) cast reasonable doubt on the judge's capacity to act impartially as a judge;
(2) demean the judicial office; or
(3) interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties.

Comedic Conduct

You knew this was going to end poorly when the court cited a case where they didn't allow a judge to appear as an extra in the background a courtroom scene. It got worse when the court talked about Vincent August's role on ABC's reality television/hidden camera show "What Would You Do?" Some of the episodes in which August appears include scripted roles where he plays a racist and where he engages in homophobic harassment. A few of the at least seventeen episodes in which he appears include:

  • A Black Dad With a White Child Being Harassed
  • Shopping While Black
  • Gay Bashing at a Sports Bar

The point of the show is for the actor to engage in objectionable conduct on camera to see if bystanders will intervene.

The court also cites comments made during stand-up comedy specials with racist overtones.

Decision is Unfortunate, Yet Correct

No one appreciates inappropriate humor as much as this blogger, but when parties appear before a judge, they shouldn't be thinking about that episode of last night's reality television show where he harassed a deaf grocery store employee. Judges have to avoid the appearance of impropriety. Politically incorrect humor, even in obvious parody, carries the risk of such an appearance.

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