Superior Court Judge Thomas A. Callahan, Jr. may have violated the judicial code of conduct by signing his wife’s petition for Democratic County Committee in Roseland.
Callahan signed a petition for his wife, Ann Marie Callahan, who is running on off the line on a slate of candidates backed by former Gov. Richard Codey. Her opponent, Maria Jorge, works for Essex County Executive Joseph DiVincenzo and has the endorsement of the Essex County Democratic organization.
Another judge, Louis Sceusi, is already facing an ethics complaint for signing his wife’s nominating petitions in a contested race for a county committee seat in Rockaway Township. The complaint, filed today with the New Jersey Supreme Court Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct, alleges that Sceusi violated the state rules of judicial conduct by endorsing his wife.
Judges are prohibited from participating in any political activity, including publicly endorsing a candidate — even when the candidate is a spouse. Petitions for public and party office in New Jersey state that “we the undersigned, hereby certify… that we endorse the above-mentioned person as a candidate for election.” The endorsement is part of the language outlined in the statute.
“A judge shall not publicly endorse a candidate for public office,” according to the rules governing the New Jersey judiciary.
Callahan was appointed to the bench by Gov. Chris Christie in 2016. He is a former Assistant Essex County prosecutor.
Unlike Ingrid Sceusi, whose petitions are being challenged for not having the enough valid signatures, there is no legal issue with Ann Marie Callahan’s petitions. She filed with twelve signatures – Essex County utilizes the same system as nineteen other counties, where county committee petitions require 5% of the votes cast in a party’s last Assembly primary – so she only need five.
A 1976 New Jersey Supreme Court ruling allowing judicial spouses to seek and hold public or party office also said that judges have “an implicit burden…to be vigilant in avoiding any appearance of impropriety concerning the political career of a spouse.” Judges are not permitted to attend political events, contribute to political campaigns, or even act as political advisors to a family member’s campaign.
In 1990, two state court judges were reprimanded for accompanying their spouses to Gov. Jim Florio’s inaugural ball, which was deemed a political event.
“Judges must make many sacrifices, sometimes most substantial, in order to maintain the public’s confidence in the judiciary,” the Supreme Court said in that decision. “We are certain that a judge who attends any political event damages the most valuable interests of the judiciary, damages the public’s confidence in the judiciary, damages the public’s confidence in its independence, and damages the public’s confidence in the judiciary’s total separation from politics.”