Vince A. Sicari is a municipal judge in South Hackensack, N.J. who moonlights as a stand-up comic, and a fairly successful one at that, named Vince August.
He is now sending his lawyer to argue before the New Jersey Supreme Court that he should be allowed to continue his night and weekend job, overturning a 2008 ethics ruling that for a judge to do stand-up creates “an appearance of bias, partiality or impropriety or otherwise negatively affect the dignity of the judiciary,” in violation of the Judicial Conduct Code. The issue is complicated by the fact that municipal judges almost have to moonlight as something—they earn only $13,000 a year. Sicari argues that his comedian gigs generate the bulk of his income, and that the two careers are separate. He says doesn’t make jokes about his cases or lawyers, nor sensitive issues involving race and gender, and on the bench he is as serious as, well, a judge.
Thus, your Ethics Quiz of the Day gives you an opportunity to judge “Judge Shecky”:
Is it ethical for a judge to moonlight as a stand-up comic?
Law professor/blogger Ann Althouse thinks so, writing:
“What a drag it is to be a judge! The requirement of sobriety is easy for some, a terrible burden for others. I hope Sicari wins his case, but if he loses, I hope he dumps his day job and lets us hear all the lawyer jokes he’s been keeping to himself in his effort to avoid confusing the public and reflecting badly on the judiciary. If you’re really good, Mr. Sicari, bust loose and confuse the hell out of us with all the bad reflections you’ve got.”
The professor’s point is that people should have no trouble keeping the judge and his funny alter-ego separate, contrary to the expressed fears of Judge Sicari’s critics, and that a man shouldn’t be barred from making a living because people are stupid.
As a lawyer and ethicist who has always had at least one foot and sometimes two in the world of show business, even during law school, I am certainly sympathetic to the judge’s plight. I am not a judge, however. The judge is both an authority figure in the nation’s justice system and a living symbol of it. Lawyer ethics rules don’t prohibit the “appearance of impropriety”, but judges, like government officials, must be concerned with appearances because they must do everything in their power to build and maintain the public’s trust in their wisdom, competence, diligence, and, yes, seriousness.
I think it’s unethical to only pay a judge $13,000. Nonetheless, there are some completely legal occupations that such a judge simply cannot engage in to pay the bills while he or she is on the bench daily, and among these are:
- circus clown
- sideshow geek
- fart musician
- Farrelly Brothers movie actor
- pitch man for Extens
- professional wrestler
- female impersonator
- underwear model
- porn star
..and yes, stand-up comic. The fact that the judge performs under an assumed name suggests to me that he understands this too.
It’s not so much that a judge can’t be a good stand-up comic, but rather that a stand-up comic can’t be a trustworthy judge.
Judge Shecky needs to find a more appropriate day job.
Facts: ABA Journal
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