Complaint alleges Clark judge was out of line

CLARK – A complaint filed by the state accused Clark Municipal Judge Antonio Inacio of overstepping his bounds by intervening in a matter that was not in his jurisdiction, a matter that involved the daughter of an elected official in a nearby town.

The complaint, filed against Inacio by the New Jersey Supreme Court Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct, maintained a Garwood borough council member reached out to Inacio about his daughter, a senior at Arthur L. Johnson High School, who was arrested on a DWI charge earlier this year.

Although she appeared in juvenile court on an alcohol possession charge and was ordered by the court to attend two Alcohol Anonymous meetings, the complaint said, the municipal judge tried to intervene in that process.

Inacio, a part-time judge in Clark, Garwood and Scotch Plains municipal courts, made a recommendation that the issue be resolved by the teenager “fulfilling certain obligations designed to aid in her rehabilitation.”

The teen, from Garwood, was arrested on Jan. 29 on a DWI charge in Clark. Playing a significant role here was the fact Inacio was the municipal judge in Garwood during the period of time the teenager’s father was serving as an elected councilman in the same town.

According to the complaint, the Garwood councilman, whose name was not released to protect the identity of his underage daughter, “reached out” to Inacio after receiving the order from the court for his daughter to attend two AA meetings. Inacio said he would look into the matter, specifically the fact that the teenager had to attend the two AA meetings.

Inacio then voluntarily invited the teen and her mother to the Clark Municipal court Feb. 27 where in his chambers he spoke with the girl about his own experiences with underage drinking and driving. However, according to the complaint, the girl’s mother never asked Inacio to take any action on the teen’s behalf.

The municipal judge, the complaint said, violated state code when he then contacted Clark police detective William Byczynski to inquire whether juveniles charged with underage drinking could observe court proceedings in lieu of attending AA meetings as a condition of punishment. The detective, according to the complaint, told Inacio that he had no authority over the decision, referring the municipal judge to the juvenile court.

On April 1 Inacio wrote a letter to the juvenile court on his official municipal court stationary asking whether the teenager could observe court proceedings instead of attending the AA meetings. The municipal judge explained in the letter what steps he took to “educate the councilman’s daughter on the consequences of underage drinking, driving while intoxicated and the ultimate consequences of death.”

Inacio concluded by writing “forgive me for being so bold but I think my telling the councilman’s daughter of the tragedy that occurred in my life was infinitely more compelling to her than any attendance at an AA meeting would have been.” Byczynski was copied on this letter.

“By his conduct in composing a letter on his official judicial stationary that identified himself as a judge for the purpose of interceding in a juvenile matter over which he had jurisdiction and attempting with that letter to alter the terms of a court order,” Inacio attempted to use “the power and prestige of his judicial office to advance the private interests of the Garwood councilman.”

Further, the complaint indicated that by injecting himself into a juvenile court matter, Inacio “created the appearance that he was attempting to curry favor with the councilman in violation of Canon 2B of the Code of Judicial Conduct.”

According to the complaint, Inacio has known the councilman in question since 1993 when he legally represented him in the purchase of a home. In 2004 the councilman also retained Inacio to represent his company, Accent Electric Corporation, for debt collection matters.
In Jan. 2011, following the councilman being elected to the Garwood governing body, the municipal judge continued to represent his interests involving the debt collection matter, which then was in court.
The complaint pointed out that by Inacio acting as counsel for the councilman in a private legalmatter while the councilman served on the Garwood governing body, this violated yet another rule in the New Jersey Rules of Court.

By engaging in such conduct Inacio “failed to observe the high standards of conduct expected of judges and engaged in improper conduct,” the complaint read.

Although LocalSource attempted to reach Inacio, he could not be reached by press time.