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Middlesex judge faces discipline over estate trust case

By Nikita Biryukov, October 20 2020 4:57 pm

The Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct is pursuing a disciplinary case against a Middlesex County Superior Court judge, charging he violated judiciary rules while presiding over a dispute regarding an estate trust.

Judge Arthur Bergman presided over a civil case in which Michael Hennessy sued his brother, John Hennessy, seeking to remove him as the administrator of two trusts established by their deceased parents.

The ACJC’s complaint claims Judge Arthur Bergman, without informing either Hennessy or their attorneys, contacted Benjamin Oskierko, the owner of a contracting firm that made renovations to a Millstone home belonging to the trust.

John Hennessy and his daughter acted as caretakers for the home, which John Hennessy sought his part of the estate in August 2016. He was unopposed then and began using his own funds for home improvements to the property in early 2017.

In November that year, Michael Hennessy claimed his brother had no right to the home as an in-kind distribution from the trust. The judge agreed and ordered the home be sold to the highest bidder in May 2018.

John Hennessy then sought reimbursement for the home improvements, which he paid for from his own pocket.

In attempting to confirm those payments were made for the benefit of the trust and not John Hennessy and his daughter, Bergman called Oskierko and left him a voicemail message mentioning his landscaping company’s certification.

He did not mention a then-pending plenary hearing regarding the reimbursements and denied the request without speaking to Oskierko.

“Though believing himself ‘duty’ bound to determine Mr. Oskierko’s availability for a plenaiy hearing, Respondent did not wait for a return telephone call from Mr. Oskierko before issuing his decision in the matter on the next business day,” the ACJC complaint says.

The committee said Bergman’s decision to not hold a hearing and to contact Oskierko without informing either party violated judicial rules. It also said his instructing a law clerk to obtain personal information about John Hennessy’s daughter without informing either party created the perception of bias.

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