New Jersey’s Joking Judge Chooses Stage Over Bench

     
     (CN) – A part-time judge and nationally recognized comedian who has told audiences he “hates kids,” and joked about congratulating black people on the election of President Obama, resigned his judicial position after the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled he could not keep both jobs.
     Vincenzo Sicari made his choice within hours of the ruling, telling the presiding judge in South Hackensack, New Jersey he was leaving his $13,000-a-year judgeship to continue pursuing his more lucrative career in show business.
     “I was beyond proud to be a judge and I consider myself lucky to have done two jobs I loved,” Sicari told ABC news afterward. “But I respect the court’s decision.”
     Although he said he’d “braced” himself for the decision; until the last, he said, he’d hoped the court would decide differently.
     In the end, the controversy boiled down to concerns about public perception.
     Sicari served as a municipal court judge in South Hackensack, a small New Jersey community with a population 2,249, overseeing traffic tickets and misdemeanor crimes two evenings a month.
     But he primarily works as a stand-up comic, performing nightly as Vince August at comedy clubs in New York City and California. He says he “refuse[s] to do a law joke,” and makes a great effort to keep his legal and entertainment careers separate.
     His comic material is mostly based on his experience growing up as an Italian-American Catholic, religion in general, and his personal sexual experiences.
     Sicari’s double career was never an issue until he left private practice, and took a part-time job as a municipal judge in January 2008, at which time the Advisory Committee on Extrajudicial Activities told him he “should not continue to perform in a paid capacity as a comedian/entertainer,” while sitting on the bench.
     It also told him that his involvement in the pseudo-reality TV show “What Would You Do?” would risk damaging the dignity of the court. In the show, actors play out scenarios in public places to capture the reaction of the public, and whether people will intervene when an injustice is perpetrated.
     Sicari appealed to the Supreme Court of New Jersey, which agreed with the Advisory Committee on Thursday that Sicari cannot be both a judge and a comedian.
     Highlighting clips from Sicari’s routines, the court quoted Sicari saying, “Barack won. And its weird, because, like, I voted for him. But, I almost don’t know … do I congratulate black people?”
     He once told an audience that he “hates kids,” finds them “awful,” “soft,” “spoiled,” and “creepy.”
     Sicari also participated in a roast of Vincent Pastore, a star on the HBO show “The Sopranos,” as Salvatore “Big Pussy” Bonpensiero, in which he asked Pastore, “Do you realize that ‘Big Pussy’ was the most masculine role you actually had?” Sicari also commented that the name Pastore “comes from pastor. We know what pastors like to do with little boys.”
     In a per curiam opinion, the court said: “We cannot discount the possibility that a person who has attended a comedy club in New York City will find himself or herself before Judge Sicari in South Hackensack. In the course of his routines, he has demeaned certain people based on national origin and religion, has revealed his political leanings, and has declared his dislike for and intolerance of children. To be sure, the routines are designed to be funny. We must acknowledge, however, that many regard the maxim ‘many a true word is said in jest’ as a fundamental truth. We cannot ignore the distinct possibility that a person, who has heard a routine founded on humor disparaging certain ethnic groups and religions, will not be able to readily accept that the judge before whom he or she appears can maintain the objectivity and impartiality that must govern all municipal court proceedings.”
     The ruling also found it “stunning” that Sicari could not find a copy of his award-winning comedy film Vinsanity,” which he has described as the centerpiece of his comedic work, for the court’s review.
     “The failure to produce ‘Vinsanity’ permits this court to infer that it is replete with humor that is not befitting a municipal court judge. Such humor by a sitting judge has the clear capacity to demean his judicial office and casts doubt on the judge’s ability to act impartially,” the 33-page opinion said.
     In addition, on the TV show ‘What Would You Do?,’ Sicari accepted roles that “regularly disparage the needy, handicapped, and overweight, and roles that harass racial minorities, and sexual orientation.”
     For example, Sicari played the part of a security guard who racially profiled a customer in an episode called “Shopping While Black.” He also posed as a homophobic bar patron in an episode called “Gay Bashing.”
     Sicari claimed that the purpose of each of these episodes was to heighten awareness of racial profiling and hate crimes, respectively.
     But the court found that ordinary people watching the TV show could have a legitimately difficult time divorcing the roles played by Vince August from Judge Sicari.
     “The focus of his comedy and his decision to participate in a pseudo-reality television show in situations that demean, ridicule, or embarrass others based on their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, or physical characteristic are simply not consistent with the high standards of conduct expected of a judge,” the court concluded.
     Sicari’s attorney Drew Britcher, of Britcher, Leone & Roth, said of his client’s choosing to leave the bench, “In some ways, it was a difficult decision, in other ways, not.”
     “Sicari absolutely considers his appointment one of the shining achievements of his professional career, especially as the son of immigrant parents,” Britcher said. “On the other hand, he had no economic choice. We discussed whether he could stop doing comedy to serve out the rest of his term, but it was literally a matter of putting food on the table. He makes by far the majority of his income as a comedian.”
     Britcher went on to liken Sicari “to the guy who’s leading the Masters, and calls the penalty on himself, costing himself the trophy … Because there’s honor in the game.
     “Vince recognizes the honor of being a member of the judiciary. He was not hiding anything. He came to them [the advisory committee] and said, this is what I do,” he said. “We’re pleased the court gave us a chance to be heard, to lay out the record, and we accept their ruling that this is outside what is allowed.”
     “But let me tell you, he is funny,” Britcher added. “If they’re looking to replace Ashton Kutcher on Two and a Half Men, I think Sicari would be even better. [Though] maybe not as good as Charlie Sheen.”

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