'Joking Judge' Can't Do Comedy, N.J. Supreme Court Rules

By Aditi Mukherji, JD on September 19, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Vince Sicari, popularly dubbed the "joking judge" in New Jersey, wound up being the butt of his own jokes.

Sicari, a part-time municipal judge, moonlights as a comedian and actor. But New Jersey's Supreme Court isn't laughing.

In a (humorless) 7-0 opinion, the state's highest court unanimously ordered the joking judge to either quit his side gig or step down from the bench.

Gavel by Day, Mic by Night

By day, Vince Sicari is a part-time municipal judge in South Hackensack, where he handles minor offenses such as traffic ticket and disorderly person cases, reports The Associated Press.

By night, "Vince August" is a stand-up comic and thespian, appearing on network television, making the rounds in New York City comedy clubs and serving as a warm-up for Comedy Central audiences.

He's even appeared on the ABC News' hidden-camera show "Primetime: What Would You Do?" in which he's portrayed homophobic and racist characters.

Drop the Mic -- or the Bench

Sicari's worlds collided when his non-"PC" humor took center stage in court. In 2008, the state ethics committee ruled that Sicari couldn't continue working as a paid entertainer while working part-time as a judge.

The committee was concerned over his character depictions on the ABC show and the content of his stand-up sketches, which included "disparaging certain ethnic groups and religions" and "revealing his political leanings," according to the court's opinion.

Sicari appealed to the New Jersey Supreme Court. The court didn't quite hurl tomatoes at Sicari, but it did applaud the ethics committee's decision.

Though Sicari was careful to keep his two "Legal Hannah Montana" worlds apart, the court was concerned that Sicari's characters and comedy would confuse the public and reflect poorly on the state judiciary.

As one judge's court opinion on pasties makes clear, some humor with a gavel in hand is welcome. But a judge must avoid impropriety and even the appearance of impropriety in all activities, including personal ones -- yes, even in New Jersey.

Judges must appear impartial at all times and Sicari's humor jeopardized that pristine appearance, the court ruled.

Sicari isn't alone. In light of appearances of partiality made by U.S. Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, lawmakers have proposed the Supreme Court Ethics Act of 2013, which would subject the justices to the same code of ethics that currently applies to federal judges.

Sicari told the AP on Thursday that he has resigned from his judicial post, calling the court's ruling "disappointing." Little does the court realize that Sicari can potentially have television, comedy and court: Judge Judy, meet the Joking Judge.

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