Thinking About Judicial Ethics

Dealing with ex parte requests should make every judge quite nervous. Dealing with domestic violence or the welfare of a child should make every judge vigilant. So, what happens when the two intersect? A New Jersey judge facing disciplinary action for allegedly intervening in a child custody matter defended herself at a judicial conduct hearing, saying she acted properly given the facts she had at the time.

Passaic County Superior Court Judge Liliana DeAvila-Silebi is charged with violating the judicial code of conduct by calling the police on a weekend and having a child transferred from one parent to another.

At the time, DeAvila-Silebi was in the middle of transferring from Bergen County to Passaic County, and was an emergent judge on call that weekend. DeAvila-Silebi told the state Supreme Court’s Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct that she received a call on her cellphone from someone purporting to be an attorney, who read a Family Court order describing a child custody agreement and alleging that the father had violated the order by keeping the child out of school for a week and not returning him to his mother.

“You can’t help but be human,” the judge told the ACJC. “As a judge you still have compassion. DeAvila-Silebi’s attorney, Raymond Reddin, said in the answer that she acted as best she could under the circumstances.” Given the volume, the unexpectedness, and the ex parte nature of these emergent phone calls, it would be very unreasonable and unrealistic to expect an emergent judge, without the benefit of a court staff or even a file, to field an emergent call on a weekend and completely vet the entire situation prior to making a decision,” he said.

It turned out that the phone call, purportedly from an attorney, came from an unidentified male using a phone later found to belong to the mother of the child involved in the custody dispute, the complaint said.

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