The state Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct on Thursday charged Passaic County Surrogate Bernice Toledo with abusing her office to benefit a personal friend and with a failure to recuse from a case in which she had a personal stake.
In a brief, the Committee claimed Toledo named Keith Stewart the administrator of Mark Halchak’s $600,000 estate over the deceased’s cousin, Estelle Halchak.
The late Halchak and Keith Stewart were unrelated.
The ACJC said that Toledo revealed that she knew Stewart and the family member’s attorney, Robert Altshuler, but did not disclose the extent of her relationship with the latter.
NJ Advance Media first reported the charges against Toledo.
The disciplinary body claimed the surrogate hid the fact that she had known Stewart and his family for more than 30 years.
The two were Facebook friends and Stewart assisted Toledo with her campaign. According to the ACJC filing, Stewart attended more than one fundraiser for Toledo, and the two exchanged at least six phone calls in the six months before the hearing.
The committee further charged that Toledo misrepresented her relationship with Stewart during a Superior Court appeal hearing.
Toledo told the judge Stewart was “not somebody I’d call to talk on the phone.”
She denied having any non-official contact with Stewart in the time between March 23, 2017, when he filed his application to become administrator of the deceased’s estate, and June 6 of that year, when the Surrogate Court heard arguments in the case.
Phone records showed the surrogate and Stewart had a 23-minute phone call on March 27, 2017 and exchanged 22 text messages during the time period.