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Embattled Municipal Court Judge Rodriguez Not Reappointed By Council

A New Brunswick attorney who is under a state ethics investigation for comments he made to a defendant while serving as Franklin Township’s presiding Municipal Court judge was not reappointed to that position at the January 6 Township Council reorganization.

The Council chose to not reappoint Hector Rodriguez, who had served as the Municipal Court presiding judge since 2014. Instead, the Council appointed Maureen Vella, a Metuchen attorney, into the top spot.

Vella was previously a township Municipal Court judge as well, but her appointment did not expire until the end of 2021.

To replace Vella, the Council appointed Sheila Ellington, a Mount Holly attorney, to fill Vella’s unexpired term.

Although the Council members did not comment on the judicial appointments at the meeting, Mayor Phil Kramer said later that, “I believe the town would best be served with Judge Vella in charge.”

Rodriguez in December 2018 was hit with charges that he violated three tenets of the state Judicial Canon of Ethics. The charges stem from a comment he made to a female defendant during an appearance before him.

According to the complaint from the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct, the woman seemed confused about whether she was going to need to pay any bail. She asked Hernandez if she owed anything, to which he replied, “Not that you can do in front of all these people, no.”

According to the complaint, the Assistant Prosecutor, the Public Defender and the court employee recording the hearing all felt the comment was sexual in nature and made the complaint.

In his response, which was filed on Jan. 7, Rodriguez denied there was any sexual innuendo in his comment, and added that if he did violate any of the Canons of Judicial Ethics, he did not do so to an extent that would warrant formal discipline.

Rodriguez also showed up in an analysis of emails obtained through an Open Public records request by the Franklin Reporter & Advocate, which questioned whether former Township Councilman Rajiv Prasad attempted to influence a landlord-tenant municipal court case.

Other Council appointments dealing with the court were:

  • Bernice M. Jalloh as township prosecutor, under a $35,500 contract.
  • Kevin A. Buchan as associate township prosecutor, under a $30,500 contract.
  • Norman W. Albert as alternate township prosecutor, under a $10,000 contract.
  • Dennis Auciello as township public defender, under a $31,000 contract.

A spokesperson for the judiciary has not as yet returned a request for comment on whether the ACJC case against Rodriguez will proceed, now that he no longer sits on the Franklin bench. We will update accordingly.

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