Not Funny: NJ Supreme Court Says Judges Can't Do Stand Up

from the benched dept

Humor: some people have it, other people don’t. For the humoursly challenged, exposing the funny takes several ingredients. First, you need to be in a position to observe everyday occurrences that can be mocked or exposed for ridicule. Then you need the ability to craft a joke about that topic. Finally, you need the ability to deliver that joke. Vince Sicari has those ingredients. He’s also a part-time judge in New Jersey, which is the sort of thing I didn’t know existed (part-time judges, not the great state of New Jersey). Unfortunately that apparently makes him the bane of the legal system, as the New Jersey Supreme Court has ordered him to step down from the bench if he continues working in comedy.

“The judge’s acting and comedy career is incompatible with the Code of Judicial Conduct and therefore he may not serve as a municipal court judge while continuing with that career,” the court wrote in a unanimous 7-0 opinion.

Specifically, the court noted that Sicari’s work has included playing bit roles on shows like ABC’s What Would You Do?, in which he essentially pretends to be a jackass, often a racist or vulgar jackass, to see how those around him will react. The court says that the discerning public won’t be able to separate the words spoken in this role and during his standup routines and the words he utters from the bench, because apparently residents of New Jersey never watched Sesame Street growing up and don’t know what the word “pretend” means. Judges, you see, are not allowed to be funny.

Harry Anstead putting
Pictured: The Florida Supreme Court shortly before their summary execution under the Rabbit Ears Act Of 1918

This, in case you aren’t sure, is stupid. Aside from the fact that what the court points to in terms of Sicari’s performances are his in character roles, the other problem is that he’s gone out of his way to not do comedy about legal matters or make jokes from the bench. He also performs under a different name (Vince August instead of Vince Sicari). Still, an attorney for the state argued that the public would be confused over which Sicari was the real Sicari after seeing him play characters on the show, because apparently that attorney hasn’t seen ABC’s ratings.

Look, being a judge is important, even a traffic court judge like Sicari. I get that. But do we really want to live in a society where you can’t be a comedian and serve the public? Hell, half of our public servants are hilarious unintentionally. That’s because public discourse is inherently funny, due to the fact that the public is involved and half of them are morons. See? That was a joke. Kind of.

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Comments on “Not Funny: NJ Supreme Court Says Judges Can't Do Stand Up”

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Erik Grant says:

Lets look at the "why"

I am guessing the reason why they ruled as they did was due to the current state of our justice system.

Anybody can and should be able to go on TV and be funny, including touching on subjects like race and gender. I don’t have a problem with that. As has been said, that’s also a first amendment right. In this case, it was a judge. He still has first amendment rights, to be sure, and I’m not positive this decision is consistent with the law.

Lets just imagine for a moment what happens if this judge passes down a harsh sentence on his next black defendant. No matter how guilty the man is, if his lawyer can point to a skit the judge did on TV where he pretended to be racist, do you really think he can’t force a recusal of the judge? Now repeat for women, now asian people, and suddenly we have half a judge whose rulings will always be subject to appeal.

It’s not right that the man’s rights to free speech have been impugned. But there is a tough reality here, and there probably is no really good answer here.

Jessie (profile) says:

So we have a judge working part time as a judge making $13,000 a year from it and by all accounts seems to be actively disclosing his other job to the mayor and advisory boards, actively trying to prevent conflicts of interest and working another job to support himself while doing the things he enjoys doing.

What’s he supposed to do, take kickbacks and become corrupt to make up for the money that being a part time judge doesn’t pay?

Then again, maybe the fact he’s not is the real issue in this decision.

Anonymous Coward says:

Flip Flopity my brain explodes

On one had I see that morons in a hurry might not be able to separate racist joke telling guy from impartial judge. Like it or not just the appearance of impropriety IS a problem.

On the other hand, what the judge does outside of court is his own damn business. If he is being a fair, impartial Judge following the laws as written then he is a good Judge.

How would you feel being sentenced by a judge who has made racist comments outside of the courtroom even if you new they were in jest?

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