Court slaps N.J. judge with 30-day suspension for ‘misogynistic’ comments

The judge said he was ‘well-meaning but undeniably misguided’

By: - September 17, 2021 4:26 pm

Union arguments about the mandate infringing on constitutional rights met with a stony reception. (Photo by New Jersey Monitor)

A New Jersey municipal judge has been suspended without pay for 30 days for commiserating with a domestic violence suspect in 2019 about getting “frustrated with the women human beings” and advising the suspect to “let them know you’re the man, and you’re in control.”

In an order filed Thursday, the New Jersey Supreme Court said Steven A. Brister broke several rules in making his comments, which the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct declared “sexist and misogynistic” and “had the clear potential to suggest that the judge possessed a bias against women.”

Brister is one of a growing line of New Jersey judges punished for making offensive comments in the courtroom. One asked a woman if she had attempted to close her legs to thwart a sexual assault, while another said a 16-year-old rape suspect shouldn’t be tried as an adult because he was a college-bound Eagle Scout who came from a “good family.”

Brister was an acting judge in the Newark Municipal Court on Feb. 21, 2019, when he made the controversial comments to an incarcerated suspect appearing before him by video from the Essex County Correctional Facility, according to a document written by the advisory committee. The suspect had been accused of multiple domestic violence offenses.

Masiel Valentin, a public defender for Newark, represented the defendant and reported the comments to her supervisor afterward, sparking the judicial investigation and Thursday’s order.

Valentin later testified that she “really couldn’t believe [she] was hearing that in a courtroom.”

Brister told judicial investigators he used a “poor choice of words” and has apologized and since undergone training and counseling on maintaining a bias-free courtroom, including courses called “A Bad Day in Black Robes” and  “Some Legal Advice for New Judges.” Brister, an East Orange municipal judge who sometimes works as acting judge in Newark, has been an attorney in New Jersey since 1985, court documents show.

In his response to investigators, he said he made his “well-meaning but undeniably misguided” comments because of his religious beliefs in the Biblical origin story that Eve was created from the rib of Adam.

These are the comments that landed Brister in trouble:

“I’m going to tell you like I tell a lot of people with this same charge because all of these charges are the same. We as men — and I can speak to you as man, because I’m a man, as well, we get frustrated with the women human beings because we try to straightened out a creation because they was created with a curve, but we as men, we think we are above creation, and we can straighten it out. No matter how much you try, or how you try to straighten out that curve, you can never do it. We get frustrated, and then – but in our frustration you can’t come at them like you’re Mike Tyson, and they’re in the ring like they’re Leon Spinks. You can’t do it. You can’t punch, you can’t hit. At best, you treat as if you’re holding a feather, just to let them know you’re the man, and you’re in control. But on each one of these five complaints it said you went at ’em like Mike Tyson.”

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Dana DiFilippo
Dana DiFilippo

Dana DiFilippo comes to the New Jersey Monitor from WHYY, Philadelphia’s NPR station, and the Philadelphia Daily News, a paper known for exposing corruption and holding public officials accountable. Prior to that, she worked at newspapers in Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and suburban Philadelphia and has freelanced for various local and national magazines, newspapers and websites. She lives in Central Jersey with her husband, a photojournalist, and their two children.