In a four-to-three vote on Monday, the New Jersey State House Commission took the unusual step of stripping former Superior Court Judge Liliana DeAvila-Silebi of her pension.
Silebi was removed from the bench earlier this year after an investigation found the judge had improperly used her authority to help a former intern get custody of her child in 2015.
On May 9, 2015, Silebi told Fort Lee police that she had seen a court order saying her intern, who she did not name on the recorded call, was supposed to have the couple’s child that weekend.
Investigations revealed that no such court order existed, and Silebi did not preside over Bergen County when the call was made.
“I think it sends a message, and that was part of my consideration,” State Sen. Gerald Cardinale, one of the commission’s members, said. “If we gave her a slap on the wrist, which we could have done, it would have said to any of them who are inclined to behave in an arrogant fashion — and I believe arrogance was a piece of what created this situation — that they shouldn’t.”
Cardinale, Deputy State Treasurer Catherine Brennan, Assemblyman Paul Moriarity and Assemblyman John DiMaio voted against Silebi. State Sen. Bob Smith, Gov. Phil Murphy’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Legislative Affairs Justin Braz and Acting Director of Management and Budget David Ridolfino voted in Silebi’s favor.
Cardinale cited what he called repeated attempts at deception on the part of Silebi and her attorney as part of the driver behind his vote.
“She lied under oath. That says to me she has no respect for the law,” Cardinale said, adding later: “I’m really disappointed that a member of the bar would come before a public body like this and say such blatantly untrue things. [Silebi’s attorney] didn’t do his client any good if anybody was wavering. It was a continued deceit.”
Among those deceptions are claims from Silebi and her attorney that she was Bergen County’s emergent judge when she made the call to Fort Lee police. She was not.
Silebi retains the right to appeal the commission’s decision, and the commission’s decision does not forfeit her contributions to the pension, which will be returned to her as a lump sum.