It’s uncommon for judges to be ousted from their seats. Just 12 judges have been removed since 1977. (Getty Images)
A New Jersey Superior Court judge in Union County inched closer to being booted off the bench, with the state Supreme Court on Thursday ordering her to answer why she shouldn’t be removed or disciplined for getting into a protracted dispute with her daughter’s school.
The Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct in May 2018 found Judge Theresa A. Mullen broke five rules of judicial conduct when she challenged her daughter’s Catholic school for refusing to allow the girl to play on the boys’ basketball team.
The girl, then a seventh grader, wanted to play on the boys’ team when St. Theresa School in Kenilworth disbanded the girls’ team after the 2015-16 school year, but the school said no, according to case filings. The family took their cause to court in what would turn into an acrimonious, years-long battle.
In February 2017, the school expelled the couple’s two daughters, citing school rules that require families with pending litigation against the school to unenroll them.
Mullen took her daughters to school anyway — and refused to leave, challenging police to charge and remove her. They did, citing her with defiant trespass, a petty disorderly conduct offense. A judge later declared her guilty.
The case didn’t end there. The family continued filing legal actions against the school, even trying to add about 80 parents as defendants after they signed a petition against re-admitting the daughters.
In July 2018, Mullen challenged the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct’s findings in a 362-page filing that contained so many exhibits they circled through the alphabet almost three times.
But the committee wasn’t swayed. Last February, it recommended Mullen’s removal from her Family Court seat, which she was appointed to in 2014, saying her behavior over the four years she fought the school showed she abused her office, engaged in obstructive behavior, and lacked candor.
Mullen’s behavior throughout her battle with the school “reveals a compromised character for truthfulness and a penchant to employ the prestige of the judicial office improperly for her personal advantage,” the committee wrote.
Such conduct “irreparably compromised her integrity and that of the judicial office she is entrusted to hold, and renders her continued service on the bench incompatible with the principled objectives of the judiciary and the public’s continued confidence in the work of the courts,” the committee said.
Mullen can request an evidentiary hearing to show why she shouldn’t be disciplined or removed — or plead her case directly before the state Supreme Court, according to this week’s order, which specifies no deadline for Mullen to respond.
It’s uncommon for judges to be ousted from their seats. Just 12 judges have been removed since 1977 in a system with 470 judicial seats (463 in Superior Court and seven on the state Supreme Court), courts spokeswoman MaryAnn Spoto said.
A handful of judges do get disciplined every year with lesser punishments. A municipal judge in Essex County was recently suspended for comments he made to a domestic violence defendant that the committee deemed misogynistic.
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