N.J. Superior Court judge suspended for using lawyer with cases before her
TRENTON — A
state Superior Court judge was suspended for one month without pay today
for seeking help with a child support dispute with her ex-husband from a
lawyer who had cases before her, according to an order handed down by
the state Supreme Court.
Melanie Appleby, a family court judge in Ocean County, violated six
ethics rules for state judges, including one that requires judges to
disqualify themselves from proceedings in which their impartiality might
reasonably be questioned.
In 2012, Appleby sought help from Frank Louis, a lawyer with two
cases before her at the time, to respond to a letter from her ex-husband
seeking to terminate child support payments because their son was
graduating college, according to a decision issued in September by the
Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct.
Appleby and Louis met in the judge’s chambers to discuss the letter,
during which time Louis expressed concern about being disqualified from
appearing before her because of a conflict of interest, according to the
“Given these concerns, Mr. Louis offered to ‘work something’ out
whereby he would assist (the judge) with the legal issues” raised by the
letter, “while still maintaining his ability to appear before (the
judge) on behalf of his other clients,” the committee decision said.
Six weeks later, Louis sent a response to Appleby’s ex-husband on
letterhead of another law firm and with a forged signature, according to
the committee. Only after that law firm objected did Louis declare he
was representing the judge in the matter.
A complaint was filed with the committee by Appleby’s ex-husband
accusing her of engaging in a conflict of interest. The committee’s
finding said she acknowledged as much, but denied attempting to conceal
it and denied violating any judicial rules.
The committee, however, disagreed, and the Supreme Court agreed with the findings.
“The evidence demonstrates, clearly and convincingly, that (the
judge) failed to conduct herself in a manner consistent with these high
ethical standards, and in at least one instance did so intentionally,
for which public discipline is necessary,” the committee wrote.