Home>Local>Bergen>Judge may have infuenced Bergen mayor’s race, candidate says

Former Palisades Park Mayor James Rotondo, left. outside a polling place on Electio Day 2022 with a sign publicizing a citizen complaint against the GOP mayoral candidate. Judge Anthony Gallina found probable cause to refer the complaint to the prosecutor to weeks earlier. (Photo obtained by the New Jersey Globe).

Judge may have infuenced Bergen mayor’s race, candidate says

Judge Anthony Gallina didn’t recuse himself even though his daughter works for Democratic county commissioners

By David Wildstein, January 23 2023 2:28 am

Did a Bergen County judge put his thumb on the scale and influence a mayoral election in Palisades Park last fall when he found probable cause to refer a citizen complaint to the prosecutor against one of the candidates just two weeks before Election Day?

Stephanie Jang believes that Bergen County Presiding Municipal Court Judge Anthony N. Gallina cost her the election.

“Definitely, I believe so,” said Jang, a Republican councilwoman who lost by just 256 votes in a heavily Democratic town.  Her running mate lost a council seat by a mere 84 votes.

Gallina found probable cause to refer allegations that Jang helped voters at a local senior housing facility fill out vote-by-mail ballot during the 2020 primary election, an indictable offense.

The Bergen County Prosecutor “administratively terminated” the case on January 3, hours before Democrat Paul Kim was sworn in as mayor, vindicating Jang after a relatively swift review.

Gallina’ decision was unusual since judges typically don’t get near campaigns, especially after some ballots had already been cast, unless there is urgency to the matter.  It’s not clear if a citizen complaint rises to that level.

Now Gallina is facing criticism for not recusing himself because his daughter works for the Democratic-controlled Bergen County Board of Commissioners and has ties, albeit indirect ones, to David Lorenzo,  the borough administrator and local political boss.

Lorenzo was a major stakeholder in the race and a key Kim supporter.

It was Lorenzo who filed the citizen complaint.

“People were worried, saying ‘what if we elect Stephanie Jang and she goes to jail?’ she said.  “They spread a huge rumor that I was going to jail.”

Until Gallina’s ruling, key North Jersey Democrats acknowledged that Jang was on a path to defeating Kim, a councilman who had beaten incumbent Christopher Chung in the Democratic primary.

A copy of the summons signed by Gallina was mailed to Palisades Park voters, and was even turned into giant signs that were displayed in public.  Former Mayor James Rotondo, a Lorenzo ally who lost his seat in a 2018 primary against Chung, was photographed holding up the one of those giants signs outside a polling place on Election Day.

Judge’s daughter works for Democratic county commissioners

Bergen County Presiding Municipal Court Judge Anthony N. Gallina. (Photo: Borough of Elmwood Park)

Stephanie B. Gallina was hired in 2007 after her father contacted James Carroll,  who was then seeking re-election to the Bergen County Board of Freeholders, three sources with knowledge of her hiring have confirmed.   Anthony Gallina was serving as the Elmwood Park municipal court judge at the time he sought a job for his daughter.

The relationship between Gallina and Palisades Park Democrats is circuitous.  It involves a personal relationship between his daughter and Dennis Oury, Jr., who works for the Bergen County Utilities Authority.  Oury’s co-worker is Laura Ashley, whose husband, Austin, is the Palisades Park deputy borough administrator and a direct report to Lorenzo.

Stephanie Gallina told the New Jersey Globe that she did not discuss the Palisades Park case with her father.  Ashley said there was no discussion of Jang with Oury.

“I haven’t talked to him about Palisades Park,” Ashley said.  “We talk about other things.”

Oury did not return a call seeking comment.

Anthony Gallina did not return four calls seeking comment.  A spokesman for the courts said the judge would have no comment.

New Jersey’s Code of Judicial Conduct says that judges “should avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety,” and that a judge “should not allow family, social, political, or other relationships to influence judicial conduct or judgment.”

“Municipal judges in New Jersey must do all they can to avoid being pulled into political dogfights by warring local factions,” said Micah Rasmussen, the director of the Rebovich Institute of New Jersey Politics at Rider University.  “That goes double for matters involving elections and voting, which by definition are so susceptible to questions about neutrality and fairness.”

Jang declined to say if she was planning to file an ethics complaint against Gallina, although some have suggested that she do so.

But she did complain that Gallina kept pushing off the hearing, which was initially set for August 4 and then delayed until September 15 and finally October 20, nearly a month after vote-by-mail ballots were sent out by county election officials.

“I have never seen such a disorganized judge,” Jang stated.

On municipal court matters, the line between politics and the judiciary is sometimes murky.

When a 2021 DWI charge against State Sen. Sandra Cunningham (D-Jersey City) was transferred from Hudson to Bergen to obviate any appearance of a conflict, the case was assigned to Gallina.  The municipal prosecutor was Linda Schwager, the Democratic mayor of Oakland.   Fourteen months after her arrest, Cunningham was cleared of the DWI charge and found  guilty of careless driving.

The 68-year-old Gallina faces will reach his mandatory retirement age in sixteen months, less time than the Advisory Committee on Judiciary Conduct typically takes to investigate ethics complaints against judges.

Judge is a veteran of Bergen politics

Gallina is no political neophyte.

A registered Republican, Gallina sought a seat on the Bergen County Charter Commission in 1974, finishing 32nd in a field of 40 candidates for seven seats.   The following year, he became  the Rochelle Park municipal prosecutor and later the zoning board attorney.   He served as attorney for the Bergen County Animal Shelter, as municipal prosecutor in Paramus, Tenafly, Edgewater and Elmwood Park, and as Paramus labor attorney, as the attorney for the Saddle Brook Board of Education before becoming the Elmwood Park municipal court judge in 2007.

In 2010, Gallina recused himself in a citizen complaint filed by a Republican congressional candidate in New Jersey’s 9th district, Michael Agosta, against a volunteer for his primary opponent, John Aslanian.  Agosta had contended that the volunteer harassed him during an incident involving campaign signs.

Gallina became the Paramus municipal court judge in 2011 after the all-Republican council dumped the sitting judge, Joseph Mecca.

He was a modest donor to Republican campaigns, although he stopped contributing after becoming a judge.

Chief Justice Stuart Rabner named Gallina to serve as the presiding municipal judge in Bergen in 2018 after Judge Roy F. McGeady stepped down.

McGeady won national attention in 2016 and 2017 when he refused to dismiss a citizen complaint filed by Bill Brennan, instead finding probable cause that then-Gov. Chris Christie may be guilty of official misconduct as a result of his role in the 2013 lane closures at the George Washington Bridge.

The Bergen County Prosecutor’s office later declined to charge Christie.

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