A New Jersey lawyer has decided to resign from his job as a part-time municipal judge after the state's Supreme Court ruled he could not moonlight as a comedian or actor due to his off-colored jokes on nationality and religion.
The New Jersey Supreme Court released a unanimous ruling Thursday that Vincent August Sicari, a municipal judge in South Hackensack, could no longer continue his 15-year career moonlighting as a well-established comedian because some of his jokes related to peoples' nationality and religion, and therefore it is possible the public would not be able to decipher between Sicari's stage personality and his ability to make unbiased decisions in court.
"In the course of his routines, Sicari has demeaned certain people based on national origin and religion and has revealed his political leanings," the court's opinion read, according to the Associated Press. "The court cannot ignore the distinct possibility that a person who has heard a routine founded on humor disparaging certain ethnic groups and religions will not be able to readily accept that the judge before whom he or she appears can maintain the objectivity and impartiality that must govern all municipal court proceedings."
Sicari has been practicing both law and stand-up comedy for the past 15 years, and he became a part-time, municipal judge in Hackensack in 2008, working on traffic violations and other minor legal matters while earning an annual salary of $13,000. He has previously appeared on the ABC hidden-camera show "What Would You Do," and has performed opening stand-up routines for audiences on Comedy Central. He also regularly performs at Caroline's, a comedy club in New York City.
One sticking point with the judges in Sicari's case was his occassional portrayal of racist and discriminatory characters on the show "What Would You Do." The hidden-camera show involves actors being offensive in public areas, such as restaurants, to test the public's reaction to their actions. Judges wrote in their opinion that they were concerned Sicari's portrayal of certain characters on the show would cause the public to associate him with that character in the court room.
"The concern is whether an ordinary member of the public can divorce the comedy routine or the roles played by Vince August from Judge Sicari," the court wrote in its 30-page opinion.
The Code of Judicial Conduct requires judges "to conduct any extrajudicial activities in a manner to avoid casting reasonable doubt on the judge's capacity to act impartially as a judge."
Sicari told the Associated Press that he is disappointed with the verdict, and he will continue working as a lawyer, comedian and actor, although he will no longer be a judge. "I'm not surprised by the result, but I'm very disappointed," Sicari, 44, said. "I take great pride in being a judge, and to give that up is disappointing."
"I am hopeful that all involved feel that I have served the judiciary with the honor and distinction that it deserves," Sicari added.
The lawyer reportedly relies on his comedy profession for his full income and health benefits. He had appealed to the state's Supreme Court after the state's ethics committee ruled in 2008 that he could not practice both professions.