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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Court: Judge's Threats to Public Servants are Criminal

Ex-Judge's Law License Suspended for Threatening Cops During DWI Arrest
The New Jersey Law Journal by Charles Toutant - February 9, 2009

The New Jersey Supreme Court has suspended from law practice a former municipal court judge convicted of making threats to officers during a drunken-driving arrest. Though the Disciplinary Review Board had recommended only a reprimand for George R. Korpita, of Dover, finding his actions stemmed from his drunken state, not dishonesty, the court said a three-month suspension was the appropriate quantum of discipline. His threats of harm to public servants constituted a criminal act that reflects adversely on a his honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer under Rule of Professional Conduct 8.4(c), the court said in an order issued Feb. 2.

Korpita, who had been a sitting judge in Rockaway Borough, Dover and Victory Gardens, was arrested in Roxbury, N.J., on Nov. 6, 2007, after a passing motorist called police to report a man passed out at the wheel of a car at a traffic signal on Route 46. Patrolman Jonathan Edmunds, as he arrived at the scene, observed Korpita's car drift slowly from the right to the left lane. When the officer put on his overhead lights, Korpita veered into the right lane, turned onto a side road and pulled into a driveway. Edmunds approached the car and asked for a driver's license. Korpita handed him a state judiciary identification card and said, "I'm a judge." When the officer again asked for the license, Korpita said, "I'm OK, bro, I'm OK." Edmunds took Korpita to the police station and said later, in a letter to Morris County Assignment Judge B. Theodore Bozonelis, that Korpita made "statements that caused [him] great concern as a police officer."

Korpita told Edmunds he was a supporter of law enforcement and "when the cops beat the shit out of a guy, I do the right thing ... . I'll never take care of cops again. After tonight, I'm done," according to Edmunds' letter. Korpita then said he had cases that could have gone either way and he had always decided in favor of the police. But, he added, "never again, I'm going to stick it up their asses. Get the Vaseline out and bend over." When another officer, Sgt. Kevin Carroll, asked Korpita whether that statement was a threat, Korpita said no, and then asked whether he could be charged with reckless driving instead of drunken driving, the letter continued.

Korpita resigned his municipal judge posts shortly after he was arrested, and on Dec. 28, 2007, he pleaded guilty to N.J.S.A. 2C:27-3A(3), which makes it a crime to threaten a public servant. He admitted saying to the police officers that he would take some adverse action against them in the future, if the arrest process were to continue. Judge Salem Vincent Ahto sentenced Korpita to three years' probation and 100 days community service instead of the two-year prison term the statute prescribed. Morris County Prosecutor Robert Bianchi had told Ahto that the mandatory incarceration was aimed at cracking down on corruption, which he said was not present in Korpita's case. However, Korpita was banned for life from holding public employment. He also pleaded guilty to drunken driving and had his license suspended for one year.

During proceedings at the DRB, Korpita said he was rehabilitated from his alcohol problem, had attended more than 200 Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and had been sober for 200 days. The DRB concluded last Dec. 4 that Korpita's conduct "was not the result of dishonesty or a flaw in his character, but the product of severe intoxication." The panel said that Korpita "paid a high price for his offenses. He lost his position as a judge in three municipalities, reportedly his principal source of income, and is barred from ever holding public employment. In view of the foregoing, we believe that a censure sufficiently addresses the extent of respondent's conduct and, at the same time, preserves the public's confidence in the disciplinary system and the judiciary as a whole," the DRB said.

Korpita did not dispute the Supreme Court's decision to suspend him, says Blair Zwillman, who represented him at the DRB level. Zwillman says the court likely gave Korpita a stiffer penalty because it did not want him to get off free after committing a crime. "I think the penalties he paid are enough. He's a lifetime felon," Zwillman said. The suspension is only the latest setback for Korpita, who practices with his father at Dover's Korpita & Korpita. On May 4, 2007, he had a confrontation with Warren Hartzman at a restaurant in Rockaway Borough. When Hartzman joined a woman friend outside the restaurant while she smoked a cigarette, he leaned against Korpita's Maserati and caused a scratch. After Korpita and Hartzman argued, Rockaway officers arrived and took Hartzman into custody, allegedly at Korpita's request. Hartzman, who was held for several hours but was not charged, sued Korpita and Rockaway for civil rights violations in U.S. District Court. The suit claimed that his arrest was in retaliation for scratching Korpita's car.

U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton dismissed the civil case, Hartzman v. Korpita, 2:07-cv-03848, as settled on Jan. 21. The defendant's attorney, Robert Greenbaum of Greenbaum & Flanagan in Roseland, N.J., and the plaintiff's attorney, William Pinilis of Kaplan, Fox & Kilsheimer in Morristown, N.J., decline to discuss the settlement. While the Roxbury drunken-driving arrest was pending, Korpita was charged with drunken driving on Feb. 18, 2008, after his car was pulled over on Route 181 in Sparta, N.J. He was also charged with careless driving, failure to keep right and refusing to take a breath test. If convicted of a second DWI charge, Korpita could face another $1,000 in fines, loss of his license for an additional period of up to four years and up to 90 days in jail.


Anonymous said...

Hey NJ, come to NY and enjoy our judicial beauties.

Anonymous said...

Hey, don't you understand that a Judge is KING

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See Video of Senator John L. Sampson's 1st Hearing on Court 'Ethics' Corruption

The first hearing, held in Albany on June 8, 2009 hearing is on two videos:

               Video of 1st Hearing on Court 'Ethics' Corruption
               The June 8, 2009 hearing is on two videos:
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