N.J. Judge’s Comedian Job No Laughing Matter, Court Rules

Vincenzo A. Sicari may get laughs on stage from self-deprecating jokes about his sex life and his Italian family, but the New Jersey Supreme Court isn’t amused.

Sicari, a municipal judge in South Hackensack, can’t continue with his part-time job as a comedian and reality show star because the side gig demeans his judicial post, the seven-judge panel ruled unanimously today, affirming a review board’s decision. Sicari resigned after the decision against him.

“It is what it is,” Sicari, 44, said in a phone interview. “I respect the Supreme Court’s decision but I was honest and open from day one.”

Sicari, who performs under the name Vince August, was appointed to the $13,000-a-year judicial post in January 2008, 11 years after he began his stand-up routine at a New York City comedy club, according to court documents. Sicari told the Bergen Record in a June 2007 interview that he refuses to make fun of lawyers or the law, according to court records.

His moonlighting career isn’t compatible with the code of conduct for judges, even those who sit on the bench part-time, the panel said.

“The focus of his comedy and his decision to participate in a pseudo-reality television show in situations that demean, ridicule, or embarrass others based on their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, or physical characteristic are simply not consistent with the high standards of conduct expected of a judge,” the court said.

Reality Show

The state’s Advisory Committee on Extrajudicial Activities didn’t see the humor in jokes that focused mostly on his Italian-American heritage and sexual experiences. The committee concluded in May 2010 that Sicari’s second career couldn’t be entertained and neither could his appearance on the television reality show “What Would You Do?”

The Supreme Court agreed, saying that the possibility existed for people to associate Judge Sicari with Vince August.

“Once a person makes that association, the concern is whether an ordinary member of the public can divorce the comedy routine or the roles played by Vince August from Judge Sicari,” the court said in its ruling.

Sicari’s alter ego, Vince August, finds kids creepy and boasts that real Italian names are handed down through generations by the FBI witness protection programs. Vince August has appeared on at least 17 episodes of “What Would You Do?” playing a homophobic bar patron and a person who engaged in racial profiling.

Demeans Office

Such humor by a sitting judge demeans the office, the court ruled.

It’s “imperative that the judge conduct his or her personal and professional life in a manner to avoid disparaging the role of the municipal court in our system of justice,” the court said.

Sicari said that while he expected the ruling against him, he was surprised it was unanimous.

“I thought maybe a few of the justices would see my side,” Sicari said. “I had complete candor with the court at all times. I blew the whistle. No one filed a complaint.”

Municipal judges in New Jersey are appointed by their local governing body. The judges, who handle traffic violations, determine bail and issue temporary restraining orders, are the “face of the judiciary,” the Supreme Court said. Such courts handled more than 6.1 million matters in the state in the 2011-2012 court year, according to the ruling.

“I never left comedy and I never left the law,” said Sicari, who performs weekly at Carolines on Broadway, a stand-up comedy club in New York’s Times Square. “The only thing that’s going to change tomorrow is that I’m no longer a judge.”

The case is In the Matter of Advisory Letter No. 3-11 and Opinion of No. 12-08 of the Supreme Court Advisory Committee on Extrajudicial Activities (A-23-10/A-26-11)

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.