Former Passaic County Surrogate Bernice Toledo, who was criminally charged with misconduct last year, was accepted into the state’s Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI) program today.
Superior Court Judge Carol Novey Catuogno admitted Toledo into the twelve-month program; if the former surrogate remains free of violations for one year, the charges against her will be dismissed. Catuogno also signed an Order of Forfeiture of public employment, which includes a lifetime ban on public employment.
The deal allowing Toledo to avoid a criminal record was reached by Catuogno, Deputy Attorney General Eric Cohen of the Office of Public Accountability & Integrity, and Toledo’s attorney, Dennis Carletta of O’Toole Scrivo.
A Democrat first elected in 2011, Toledo was accused of misconduct by the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct (ACJC) in January 2020. The ACJC alleged that, in 2017, Toledo had improperly given the executorship of a deceased man’s estate to her own political ally rather than the man’s cousin.
Toledo said the accusations were wrong, but in August 2021, acting Attorney General Andrew Bruck charged her with “allegedly falsifying a judgment she filed in order to make an improper appointment of an estate administrator,” charges that carried a sentence of up to 18 months in prison and fines of up to $10,000.
After the charges were announced, there followed an awkward period where Toledo, who was already not seeking re-election, continued to hold judicial powers despite being under indictment. She was finally suspended from her judicial duties in September 2021, but she resisted calls to resign and remained in office until her term was over. The complaint with the ACJC remains active and her admission into the PTI program does not close the judicial ethics complaint against her. In New Jersey, ethics complaints against judge may continue even after the termination of judicial service. It is also unclear whether Toledo will face the suspension of her law license or disbarment. The state Office of Attorney Ethics currently lists her as active and in good standing.
Toledo was succeeded as surrogate by fellow Democrat Zoila Cassanova, who narrowly beat Republican Aisha Mamkej in last year’s general election.
This story was updated at 3:38 p.m. to include the fact that Judge Catuogno signed an Order of Forfeiture of public employment.