The New Jersey Supreme Court announced today the censured Associate Justice Roberto Rivera-Soto for his role in a 2006 incident involving his son and a teammate on a high school football team.
The court agreed with a judicial conduct panel that Rivera-Soto "engaged in a course of conduct that created a risk that the prestige and power of his judicial office might influence and advance a private matter."
Rivera-Soto is the first state Supreme Court Justice to be censured in New Jersey history. Justice Robert Clifford was once reprimanded for a DWI conviction — a lesser penalty.
But still, Rivera-Soto remains on the top court — making the penalty essentially a slap on the wrist.
The Supreme Court found that Rivera-Soto used his post to influence a Camden County Superior Court Judge presiding over a dispute involving his son's high school football team. Rivera-Soto is accused of using or allowing "the power and prestige of his office as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court to influence or advance the private interests of his family and his son."
According to a complaint, the Justice's son, playing touch football with Haddonfield Township High School classmates last September, was involved in a "head-butting" incident that may or may not have been intentional. Rivera-Soto, upset with the school's failure to discipline the other student involved — and after threatening to involve the State Police — called the local Police Chief's cell phone to demand an investigation. The Justice eventually filed a criminal complaint against his son's teammate.
The complaint also alleges that Rivera-Soto "referred or alluded to his judicial office" during a telephone conversation with the Superintendent of Schools, and personally called the Assignment Judge, the Acting Camden County Prosecutor, and other court officials to discuss the case.
Rivera-Soto is accused of violating the Canons of the Code of Judicial Conduct and Court Rules, "which requires judges to observe high standards of conduct so that the integrity and independence of the judiciary may be preserved.. to avoid creating the appearance of impropriety and to act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary… (and) to avoid lending the prestige of their office to advance the private interests of others;… (and) prohibits conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice that brings the judicial office into disrepute.