News

Court: judge’s comedy gig no laughing matter

Court: judge’s comedy gig no laughing matter

Vince Sicari, a municipal judge, has been moonlighting as a comedian. Photo: Associated Press/AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, File

(Reuters) – Being a judge in New Jersey is no laughing matter.

That was the conclusion from the state’s highest court on Thursday, when it ruled a municipal judge could not continue to spend his days on the bench and his nights as a stand-up comedian.

Vince Sicari was the judge in South Hackensack, a small town in Bergen County, New Jersey, where he worked part-time ruling on traffic violations and other minor legal matters.

Vince August, his alter ego, is a comic and television actor who has frequently appeared on the ABC show “What Would You Do?” and regularly performs at Caroline’s, a New York City comedy club.

In a 30-page opinion – which, for the record, did not contain a single joke – the New Jersey Supreme Court essentially told Sicari to choose between doling out puns or punishment.

“The concern is whether an ordinary member of the public can divorce the comedy routine or the roles played by Vince August from Judge Sicari,” the court wrote.

A few hours after the court ruled, Sicari, 44, said he accepted the decision and would immediately resign from the bench.

“I am hopeful that all involved feel that I have served the judiciary with the honor and distinction that it deserves,” he said in a statement.

His lawyer, E. Drew Britcher, said Sicari, who earned $13,000 a year as a judge, relies on his comedy for a full-time income and health benefits.

As a regular on “What Would You Do?,” a hidden-camera show that uses actors to re-enact real-life situations to see how bystanders react, Sicari has played numerous offensive characters, including a homophobic bar patron and a racially profiling security guard.

Like many stand-up comics, Sicari also comments on religion, race, politics, sex and other potentially touchy subjects in his routines.

Those off-color comments could make it difficult for residents who appear before him to believe that he can remain impartial and objective, the court concluded.

“To be sure, the routines are designed to be funny,” the court wrote. “We must acknowledge, however, that many regard the maxim ‘Many a true word is said in jest’ as a fundamental truth.”

Sicari had appealed a 2008 decision from the state ethics committee that said he could not pursue both careers at the same time.

He argued that he kept his legal career completely separate from his comedic work, eschewing jokes about lawyers while on stage and never cracking wise while on the bench. Sicari became South Hackensack’s judge in 2008 after 12 years in private practice.

“We felt this raised a unique question,” said Britcher, Sicari’s attorney. “Clearly, municipal judges in small municipalities need to have other employment. We wanted to ask why he could be a carpenter but not a comedian and actor.”

Recent Headlines

9 hours ago in National, Olympics, Sports

Flame lands in troubled Brazil for 94-day relay to Games

21-overlay-1

President Dilma Rousseff lit the Olympic torch in Brazil's capital on Tuesday and pledged that political turmoil engulfing her nation would not harm the first Games to be held in South America.

10 hours ago in National, World

Islamic State kills U.S. Navy SEAL in northern Iraq

10-overlay-1

Islamic State militants killed a U.S. serviceman in northern Iraq on Tuesday after blasting through Kurdish defences and overrunning a town in the biggest offensive in the area for months.

17 hours ago in Sports

Cavaliers beat Hawks in series opener

14-overlay-1

A week off did not disrupt the Cleveland Cavaliers' momentum, nor was it enough time to alter the Atlanta Hawks' history against them. The Cavaliers still have never lost to the Hawks in the postseason, but this one was not easy.

17 hours ago in Sports

Murray makes his mark as Pens beat Caps

capsREUTERS

The Pittsburgh Penguins do not have a goal yet in the series from Sidney Crosby. Or a power-play goal. What they do have is a 2-1 lead over the Washington Capitals.

17 hours ago in Sports

British soccer team Leicester celebrates 5,000-1 title success

leichesterREUTERS

Leicester City's Premier League title dream became reality on Monday when one of the greatest sporting fairytales reached its conclusion in west London where chasing Tottenham Hotspur were held 2-2 by Chelsea.