Ex-municipal judge accused of groping denies ‘malice’
Retired Municipal Court Judge Nino Falcone testified in his own defense on Jan. 26, 2022, before the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct. (Courtesy of New Jersey Courts)
A former municipal court judge suspended and criminally charged two years ago with molesting a woman in his law office testified during a disciplinary hearing Wednesday that the contact was accidental and embarrassing — and not the intentional groping the woman tearfully described.
The woman told the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct she visited ex-Judge Nino F. Falcone’s North Bergen firm in August 2019 in her role as the office and billing manager for one of Falcone’s law clients.
She testified Falcone pulled her into a hug to celebrate her birthday, during which he rubbed her back and brushed and squeezed her breasts. When she objected, she said, he grabbed her wrist, implored her to “let me touch you, let me play with you,” and then pulled out his wallet to offer her “birthday money.”
“I felt disgusted. I felt violated,” said the woman, identified in court paperwork and during the virtual hearing only as A.C.
The woman fled the office and reported the incident to Teaneck police that night. Falcone acknowledged “inappropriate” touching and repeatedly apologized to the woman during a phone call the Hudson County Prosecutor’s Office secretly recorded a few weeks later.
He was arrested in September 2019 for criminal sexual contact and eventually completed a pretrial intervention program, a diversionary, rehabilitative program for first-time offenders.
During Wednesday’s hearing, Falcone denied most of the woman’s testimony, saying: “Her version of the facts are not my version of the facts.”
“It was not premeditated, and it was not for any personal gratifications or malice on my part. It was just an accident,” he added.
Falcone, now 80, appeared before the committee to respond to its June complaint that he “demeaned the judicial office” and “impugned the integrity of the Judiciary.”
The nearly three-hour hearing ended without a decision. Any discipline would have little public impact, as Falcone retired from his part-time judicial position in North Bergen, which he had held since 1987, in August 2020.
On cross-examination, Falcone’s attorney, Jeff Garrigan, asked the woman if Falcone’s hands slipped and contacted her breasts unintentionally and if she initiated the hug, as Falcone contended.
“Seriously? Seriously?” the woman responded.
The woman told the committee Falcone tried to reach her by phone several times after the encounter, which she regarded as his attempt to possibly bribe her to stay silent.
“Why else would he call my office?” she said.
In one such call, she told the committee, Falcone rebuked her for not stopping the contact, saying: “Why didn’t you smack me? Why didn’t you kick me in the ass?”
Falcone denied the woman’s characterization of the incident and said he normally never makes physical contact with people in his professional work. A hug in this instance was a mistake, he said, and he couldn’t clearly explain why he did it.
“It should never have happened. There should never have been an embrace, there should never have been a hug, because that’s not what I do,” he said.
Falcone is one of a string of New Jersey judges accused in recent years of everything from making misogynistic comments in court to battling a school over youth sports.
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