Home>Highlight>Rabner reappoints incumbents to judicial conduct panel

Karen Kessler. (Photo: Karen Kessler/Facebook).

Rabner reappoints incumbents to judicial conduct panel

By David Wildstein, August 31 2022 10:47 pm

Chief Justice Stuart Rabner has reappointed three members of the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct to additional three-year terms, leaving the partisan balance of the panel that review ethics allegations against judges at seven Democrats, one Republican, and two who are unaffiliated with any political party.

Rabner, in consultation with the other three justices, has reupped Matthew Boxer, a former state comptroller and assistant counsel to Gov. Jon Corzine who has represented Gov. Phil Murphy’s administration, and Karen Kessler a former aide to Gov. Jim Florio and campaign fundraiser, both Democrats.  Former Superior Court Judge Georgia Curio, a former Republican who is now unaffiliated, was also renamed.

The panel is also heavily white, with just one Black member and no Hispanics or Asian Americans.

Unofficially, there is a four-term limit to service on the ACJC.   Rabner named Kessler in 2013 and she is now in her fourth term.

Kessler is a potentially a walking conflict of interest.

The head of her own public relations firm, Kessler PR, she represents the embattled women’s soccer team owned by Phil and Tammy Murphy.  Kessler has also worked for several New Jersey law firms, and the  New Jersey Performing Arts Center.

In the latter role, she organized the sponsorship of a gubernatorial debate between Murphy and Jack Ciattarelli – a role she probably should avoided since she works for the governor.  The agreement between the two sides was clear: the Murphy and Ciattarelli campaigns were to get an equal number of tickets, with some seats allocated to the New Jersey PAC for guests and donors.

Some of those tickets were surreptitiously given to Murphy supporters, including Democratic elected officials in Essex County.

The ACJC make recommendations on grievances dealing with alleged judicial misconduct, but the New Jersey Supreme Court is the final arbiter.

In 2020, the top court permanently removed Superior Court Judge John F. Russo, Jr. for asking an alleged rape victim if she attempted to close her legs to fend off the assault.

That decision came ten months after the  Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct recommended a three-month suspension without pay and additional training on “appropriate courtroom behavior.

Kessler was among a group of four ACJC members who recommended a stiffer punishment of six months suspension without pay, “given the severity of this misconduct.”

Separately, Russo had faced an allegation of sexual harassment from a former clerk that has accused Russo of standing uncomfortable close to her despite entreaties not to do so, spreading his legs and repeatedly telling her to come closer then throwing a probation file at her and ordering her out of his office when she refused.

Allegations that he had thrown a file at his law clerk caused  the Ocean County Assignment Judge, Marlene Lynch Ford, to bar him from the courthouse.  Lynch Ford had been a Democratic assemblywoman who ran on a ticket headed by the late John Russo, a former Senate President tor and the ex-judge’s father, but had sparred with Russo Jr. once he joined the bench.

Russo Jr. was elected to the Dover (now Toms River) Township Committee as a Democrat in 2000 and became mayor in 2003 after making a deal with two Republicans on the governing body.  He served as an administrative law judge for six years until Gov. Chris Christie nominated him to the Superior Court.

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