Passaic County Surrogate Bernice Toledo was criminally charged yesterday with “allegedly falsifying a judgment she filed in order to make an improper appointment of an estate administrator,” Acting Attorney General Andrew Bruck announced today.
Toledo, who was first elected in 2011, was accused of misconduct by the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct (ACJC) nearly two years ago.
The ACJC alleged that in 2017, Toledo improperly appointed Keith Stewart, a friend and political ally, to administer the estate of Mark Halchak, who was not related to Stewart. Toledo stated at the time that Halchak’s next of kin had renounced their rights to the estate executorship, but in fact Halchak’s cousin Estelle had not renounced her right, and had informed Toledo of this.
Toledo additionally failed to properly disclose her relationship with Stewart, although the two had seemingly known one another for decades.
According to a statement from the attorney general’s office, the charge carries a sentence of up to 18 months in prison and fines of up to $10,000 if Toledo is found guilty.
Although county surrogate is a judicial position, a spokeswoman for the judiciary said that since it is also an elected position, Toledo will not be removed from office because of the charges.
Toledo announced in February that she would not seek re-election this year, telling the New Jersey Globe that it was “time to explore other options.” Her successor as the Democratic nominee, New York Supreme Court attorney Zoila Cassanova, will face Republican election clerk Aisha Mamkej this November.
Passaic County Democratic Chairman John Currie called on Toledo to resign.
“The Democratic Party leaders and I did not support Bernice Toledo for re-election based on the initial ethics complaint and now the criminal charges make it clear that she needs to resign immediately,” Currie said. “The residents and families in Passaic County deserve honest and transparent services from the Surrogates office and these charges cast serious doubt on her ability to serve.”
This story was updated at 3:23 PM with a response from the judiciary and at 4:49 PM with comment from Currie. It was updated again at 11:14 AM on September 21 to amend an error; the ACJC accused Toledo of misconduct two years ago, not one year ago.