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Morris County Judge endorses in GOP fight

Signing his wife’s petition could be a violation of judicial ethics

By David Wildstein, April 09 2018 9:55 am

Superior Court Judge Louis Sceusi may have violated the judicial code of conduct by signing his wife’s petition for Republican County Committee in Rockaway.

Judges are prohibited from participating in any political activity, including publicly endorsing a candidate — even when the candidate is a spouse.  Sceusi signed a petition for his wife, Ingrid, who is running in a contested race in Morris County.  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.

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.”

A spokesman for the New Jersey Courts says he cannot publicly comment on a specific case.

Ingrid Sceusi, a longtime Republican committeewoman and former municipal chair, faces opposition in the June primary from Gretchen Tramontin-Clegg.  Her nominating petitions are being challenged due to an alleged shortage of the legally required number of signatures.   The winner will vote to elect a new GOP County Chairman in a contest that has become particularly testy.

In 2016, Louis Sceusi also signed – and notarized — his wife’s county committee petitions.

Sceusi, 65, served as mayor of Rockaway for eleven years before Gov. Chris Christie nominated him to serve as a judge in 2012.  A former federal prosecutor, Sceusi had entered the race for State Assembly in a 2011 special election following the death of Minority Leader Alex DeCroce.  He withdrew the night of the election, clearing the way for Betty Lou DeCroce (R-Parsippany) to take her late husband’s seat.

There is some modern precedent to guidelines on judicial involvement in politics.  After Michael Guadagno became a Superior Court Judge in 2005, he was unable to participate in any campaign events on behalf of his wife, Kim Guadagno, when she ran for Monmouth Beach Commissioner, Monmouth County Sheriff, twice for Lt. Governor — and until his retirement after the 2017 primary — in her gubernatorial bid.

Ingrid Sceusi 2018 petition
2016 Ingrid Sceusi Petition
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2 thoughts on “Morris County Judge endorses in GOP fight

  1. It seems like he may have been appointed as a Superior Court judge in 2012 as a reward for dropping out of the 2011 election against Betty Lou DeCroce for the Assembly seat.

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