Judges and attorneys do not always get along in the courtroom. The tension and high-stakes nature of litigation can stress both plaintiff and defense counsel, as well as the judge. However, rarely are relationships with judges and attorneys downright hostile. And rarely, a judge harms an attorney’s clients due to a soured relationship.
A municipal judge in New Jersey is facing an ethics complaint from the State Bar. He has a long-simmering negative relationship with a local attorney who regularly appeared in his courtroom. According to the ethics complaint, the judge, Hon. Peter Losascio, felt “extreme and personal [hostility to the attorney]”. He delayed the attorney’s clients cases, wasted their time and resources, and embarrassed them during court appearances.
The judge and attorney first butted heads in August 2008. The judge stated in open court that he was displeased that the attorney failed to attend a calendar call. The attorney apologized for the error and stated that it was an unusual occurrence.
The complaint notes that the judge questioned the attorney’s truthfulness, detained him in the court against the attorney’s will, threatened sanctions, and repeatedly berated him in open court.
On three occasions, the attorney wrote to the judge expressing his concerns. The attorney offered to meet on several occasions to reconcile their differences. The judge refused to respond to the letters or meet with the attorney.
According to the complaint, the judge then engaged in openly hostile and unprofessional treatment of the attorney. This harmed the attorney’s standing in the legal community but, more importantly, harmed his clients. The judge refused to decide on routine matters such as requests for adjournments, return dates on motions, status conferences, and plea-by-mail arrangements. He even refused to decide the attorney’s motion for recusal, even after the New Jersey Superior Court ordered him to do so.
Failure to Recuse Himself
The complaint also alleges that the judge failed to recuse himself (remove himself from the case) from several cases in which one of the parties was represented by a friend of his. This also created the image that the judge was biased, however, this time in favor of one side, rather than against one side.
Impropriety for a Judge
The complaint alleges that the judge demonstrated a lack of patience, failed to show dignity and respect to an officer of the court (the attorney), as well as demonstrated a lack of civility and fairness all in violation of the judicial code of conduct. The judge has now hired counsel to defend himself against the ethics charge. The judge has been on the bench for 12 years and has been practicing law for 42 years.