‘Backwater judge, jury executioner’ costs Linden more than half-million dollars
LINDEN — A former Municipal Court judge who was once reprimanded by the state’s highest court continues to burden city taxpayers more than five years after his retirement.
The city earlier this year settled a lawsuit by agreeing to pay $575,000 to two brothers who were improperly convicted and sentenced by then-Municipal Court Judge Louis DiLeo in 2010.
The conclusion of the federal lawsuit comes years after the state Supreme Court excoriated DiLeo for his “perversion of justice” against Anthony and Wendell Kirkland.
The brothers were arrested in 2009 on charges of stealing five lug nuts, a tire, possessing burglary tools and possessing less than 50 grams of marijuana.
According to a review of the case by the Supreme Court’s Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct, DiLeo denied the brothers a public defender and he ordered them to stand trial in 2010 without either a defense attorney or city prosecutor present.
DiLeo allowed a police officer, who was not an attorney, to cross-examine the brothers. No evidence was presented and DiLeo concluded the trial after less than an hour even though the brothers said they could produce witnesses who were not there that day.
DiLeo pronounced both guilty. He sentenced Wendell to 180 days in jail, three consecutive one-year probationary terms and $2,700 in fines. Anthony was sentenced to two consecutive — meaning back-to-back — 180 jail terms, three consecutive one-year probationary terms and $3,100 in fines.
The brothers served 124 days in jail before their appeals released them.
After they appealed, the county prosecutor requested that DiLeo’s guilty verdicts be thrown out.
Superior Court Judge Scott Moynihan, who found the brothers not guilty on the marijuana charges, tore into DiLeo, saying he had “transformed the role of the court from a neutral and detached magistrate and evoked the specter of the backwater ‘judge, jury and executioner’ figure that has never had any place in American jurisprudence.”
The remaining theft charges were sent to Elizabeth Municipal Court, where the brothers pleaded guilty to a city ordinance violation.
In 2011, the brother’s attorney and Mayor Richard Gerbounka filed complaints against DiLeo with the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct.
DiLeo defended himself by arguing that he was just trying to get through the Municipal Court’s mounting backlog of cases.
The Supreme Court’s Committee determined that DiLeo be reprimanded, saying he “abdicated his judicial function and assumed the role of the prosecutor.”
The Supreme Court went further in thrashing DiLeo. Their unanimous 6-0 decision in January 2014 said DiLeo’s “perversion of the judicial process […] cannot be defended or minimized.”
“A court’s concern about judicial ‘backlog’ never trumps protection of a defendant’s constitutional rights,” the court said.
“The legal errors that took place in the municipal court proceedings conducted by Judge DiLeo were egregious. The egregiousness of these errors – indeed, the judicial misconduct that occurred here – had the clear capacity to undermine public confidence in the dignity, integrity and impartiality o the judicial system of this state.”
DiLeo, who was earning a salary of $124,000, retired in 2012. He now gets a $49,400 annual pension for the rest of his life.
DiLeo sued the city and Gerbounka in 2013, saying he was fired as retribution for refusing request to void a traffic ticket. The lawsuit was settled that year.
The settlement in the brother's lawsuit was reached in February and made public this week after New Jersey open-government advocate John Paff shared a copy of the lawsuit and settlement agreement on his website.
The brothers were represented by Michael Rubas of the Springfield firm DiMaggio & Rubas.
Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also on New Jersey 101.5: