Judge Admits Ethical Breach in Sending Romantic Emails

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Mercer County, NJ—A Superior Court judge has admitted to breaches of judicial ethics policies by sending romantic emails to a former law clerk, and by helping her to land a job at the public defender’s office.

Judge Lawrence DeBello, 51, admitted in statements earlier this week that he used his judiciary e-mail account to send the emails to an unnamed clerk who worked with him from September 2006 to August 2007.

DeBello had previously been questioned about the communications. In a December 2007 meeting with Hudson County Trial Court Administrator Joseph Davis and Hudson County Assigment Judge Maurice Gallipoli, he admitted that the emails were inappropriate. Two exchanges, copies of which were obtained by Gallipoli and Davis, used “offensive language” and concerned “personal matters.”

Although he was advised to discontinue this behavior, DeBello admitted to continuing the email exchange and complicity in “the escalation of the intimate tone and nature of those email exchanges, which concerned their respective romantic feelings for one another.”

In January of 2008, DeBello was transferred from Hudson County to Mercer County, but continued his contact with the former clerk and even attempted to help her gain a position as a law guardian. He “used the power and prestige of his office,” he said, and made an unsolicited telephone call to Deputy Public Defender Edward Marable, head of the Office of Law Guardian for the northwest New Jersey region, recommending the former clerk.

By doing so, DeBello admitted that he was ignoring guidelines regarding judges’ recommendations, which say that such recommendations should be given only when solicited. DeBello also said that, given his romantic feelings for the former clerk, it was unethical for him to act as her reference.

On October 20, 2008, Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct (ACJC) Executive Director John Tonelli and investigator Jennifer Endrzajewski questioned DeBello under oath about the frequency of his communications with the law clerk, and his decision to maintain contact with her after the December 2007 meeting.

DeBello also admits a breach of ethics took place when he used his judicial email account to send personal messages. DeBello was appointed to the bench by Governor Christine Todd Whitman in 1997 and given full tenure in 2004.

 

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