The state Supreme Court found the judge, Hector L. Rodriguez, failed to hold himself to a high ethical standard. (Getty Images)
A former judge who alluded to sexual acts while speaking to a woman defendant has been publicly reprimanded by the state’s highest court.
Hector L. Rodriguez, a former Franklin Township judge, violated three tenets of state judicial ethics rules during a Dec. 5, 2017 hearing involving an unnamed woman who was charged with multiple drug offenses, the New Jersey Supreme Court said in an order released Tuesday.
The episode began when Rodriguez told the defendant she was being released on her own recognizance and asked if she had any questions.
“Do I owe you anything, or — ?” the woman asked.
“Not that you can do in front of all these people, no,” Rodriguez responded.
Two attorneys in the courtroom reported the crass remark, which was escalated to the assignment judge for the Somerset, Hunterdon, and Warren vicinage.
The state Supreme Court found Rodriguez failed to hold himself to a high ethical standard, violating rules that require judges treat defendants with “courtesy, dignity, and patience.”
Rodriguez maintained that he was not making any sexual comment, and that he was simply “reiterating (the woman) did not need to make a payment to secure bail,” according to the document detailing the charges against him.
He also claimed his comments were taken out of context due to the current social climate, citing the rise of the #MeToo movement and Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer, two men who were accused of workplace sexual assault.
Rodriguez refused to concede his comments were inappropriate, the document says.
He also claimed the attorneys who complained about him found the comments offensive because of “their sensibilities,” “their gender sexuality,” and “their interactions with different types of people,” the document says.
Rodriguez submitted seven character letters to the court, some that allude to his “humor while on the bench” and his “quips” in the courtroom. He had no prior disciplinary history.
Whether he was trying to be funny or was truly making a sexual comment, Rodriguez should have known his comments could be negatively interpreted, the court said. They also pointed to an unspecified “joke” he made about the defendant’s last name in the same hearing.
The disgraced judge, also a New Brunswick attorney, was not reappointed to the municipal court due to his comments, according to the Franklin Reporter. Rodriguez served on the bench from 2014 to 2019.
The highest form of public discipline for judges who are no longer sitting on the bench is censure with a permanent bar.
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