Thu, Aug 8, 2013
A municipal judge faces ethics charges for fraternizing with an exotic dancer who appeared before him as a litigant — and as an entertainer.
Roman Montes, who sits in Rahway and Elizabeth, was hit Wednesday with a formal complaint alleging he violated judicial canons by getting personally involved with the dancer and answering her questions about her case.
According to the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct, Montes met the dancer on Dec. 11, 2012, at Breathless, a go-go bar in Rahway, where they talked and drank and she danced for him.
The dancer, anonymous in the complaint, allegedly told Montes she knew he was a Rahway judge because her domestic violence case against her boyfriend was pending before him, and she asked that it be dismissed.
She had appeared before him less than two weeks prior to their meeting, but it was not until after she told him about the case that he remembered her, according to the complaint.
They continued talking and she gave him her telephone number. The next day, they allegedly exchanged text messages.
On Dec. 13, a regular court day in Rahway, Montes ordered her case transferred to another court because of the conflict, according to the complaint. Conflict cases in Rahway are routinely sent to Clark.
The two allegedly continued to speak about the case through text messages and telephone calls, with the dancer asking whether there was anything Montes could do about the case, whether he could be the judge and whether he could speak to the judge in Clark.
Montes, according to the complaint, entertained her questions because he did not want to offend her and was “afraid of just cutting [the dancer] off and not speaking to her anymore.”
During those conversations, she allegedly invited Montes back to Breathless and he invited her to dinner.
Her case was transferred on Dec. 27, 2012. On Feb. 27, 2013, a plea agreement was reached and the case was dismissed.
At some point afterward, Montes told the Clark judge that the case had been transferred because he was involved in an “intimate relationship” with the dancer that was “sexual in nature.”
In the ACJC complaint, Disciplinary Counsel Tracie Gelbstein charged that Montes “knowingly engaging in a personal relationship with a victim in a matter pending before [him] and prior to the final disposition of that matter.”
In doing so, he violated Code of Judicial Conduct Canons 1 and 2A “in that he did not personally observe high standards of conduct so that the integrity of the Judiciary is preserved and did not act in a way that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the Judiciary,” Gelbstein continued.
“By engaging in extra-judicial activities with a victim of a legal matter pending before Respondent and prior to its final disposition in Clark, Respondent demeaned the judicial office in violation of Canon 5A(2) of the Code of Judicial Conduct,” Gelbstein wrote.
Gelbstein did not recommend any specific discipline.
Montes, a Rahway solo admitted to the bar in 1992, was appointed to the Elizabeth court on Feb. 17, 1998, and named chief judge the same day. He still holds that position, according to the city clerk’s office. He was appointed a judge in Rahway on Jan. 12, 2009, according to its clerk’s office.
Calls to Montes’ law office went unanswered on Friday, and employees taking calls in the Rahway and Elizabeth courts said he was not available.
SEXUAL HARASSMENT CLAIM
Montes had an earlier brush with the court system: a 2010 suit filed by a clerk in the Elizabeth municipal court who accused him of sexual harassment.
Mary Londono claimed that Montes, on various occasions, shot rubber bands at her buttocks, hit her buttocks with a stack of papers and grabbed scraps of paper from her pants leg. He also made unsolicited, derogatory comments about her choice of men and style of underwear, she alleged.
Londono raised claims under the Law Against Discrimination and of intentional tort. Hudson County Superior Court Judge Mark Baber dismissed both.
In September 2010, Appellate Division Judges Jane Grall and Carmen Alvarez affirmed as to the LAD count, noting Montes was not the plaintiff’s employer nor an “aider and abetter.” But they said Baber was wrong to throw out the intentional tort count, finding the allegations of wrongful touching, if sustained, would constitute a viable claim for battery.
Nevertheless, the case was dismissed in January 2012 when Alvarez and Judge William Nugent found Londono had failed to comply with the Tort Claims Act’s 90-day notice requirement.
Londono’s lawyer, Kristen Welsh of Hackensack’s Schiffman, Abraham, Kaufman & Ritter, says the suit against Montes is no longer active because of the second Appellate Division ruling.
Montes’ lawyer in that case, Robert Renaud of Palumbo & Renaud in Cranford, did not return a call.