New Jersey Law Journal
Atlantic County Superior Court Judge Max Baker has been hit with ethics charges for allegedly launching into a tirade against an unrepresented family court litigant who complained about a child-visitation schedule he ordered.
The heated invective called into question Baker's ability to remain impartial, Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct counsel Candace Moody alleged in a complaint made public Friday.
The outburst allegedly took place during a hearing last Dec. 31 on cross-complaints for restraining orders brought by Michael and Dana Pilla, both of whom were pro se. After granting Dana's request for an adjournment to obtain counsel, Baker inquired about the couple's minor child and visitation.
On learning that Michael had not seen the child for more than a week, Baker imposed a temporary visitation schedule. When Dana expressed concern about the arrangements, Baker "became irate ... screamed at her, and, among other things, accused her of being a bad parent, and threatened her with incarceration if she disobeyed his Order regarding visitation," the ACJC complaint says.
Baker then made a series of additional remarks "again in an extremely harsh and loud tone, that created an appearance of or reasonable belief that he was not objective and impartial," the complaint continues.
Moody called the remarks "disrespectful and insulting" and in violation of Code of Judicial Conduct Canon 3A(3), which requires that judges be "patient, dignified, and courteous to all those with whom they deal in an official capacity."
Baker also violated Canons 1 and 2A of the code in that he did not maintain high standards of conduct and did not act in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary, Moody said.
Baker has been sitting in the Criminal Part since July 1, though Winnie Comfort, the judiciary's spokeswoman, says there is no information to suggest that the transfer was related to job performance.
But Baker has a reputation for poor demeanor, according to the New Jersey Law Journal's most recentSuperior Court Judicial Survey, published last year.
In the category of courtesy and respect to litigants and lawyers, lawyers graded Baker 4.76 on a 1-to-10 scale -- the lowest score in the Atlantic-Cape May vicinage and 349th out of 350 judges statewide. His overall score of 6.63 was also dead last in the vicinage.
Baker, 64, was appointed to the bench by Gov. Christine Todd Whitman in 1998 and was granted tenure in 2005. He did not return a message left at his chambers on Friday.
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Family Judge's Rant at Pro Se Litigant Draws Ethics Charges