News

Court: judge’s comedy gig no laughing matter

Court: judge’s comedy gig no laughing matter

Vince Sicari, a municipal judge, has been moonlighting as a comedian. Photo: Associated Press/AP Photo/Frank Franklin II, File

(Reuters) – Being a judge in New Jersey is no laughing matter.

That was the conclusion from the state’s highest court on Thursday, when it ruled a municipal judge could not continue to spend his days on the bench and his nights as a stand-up comedian.

Vince Sicari was the judge in South Hackensack, a small town in Bergen County, New Jersey, where he worked part-time ruling on traffic violations and other minor legal matters.

Vince August, his alter ego, is a comic and television actor who has frequently appeared on the ABC show “What Would You Do?” and regularly performs at Caroline’s, a New York City comedy club.

In a 30-page opinion – which, for the record, did not contain a single joke – the New Jersey Supreme Court essentially told Sicari to choose between doling out puns or punishment.

“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 wrote.

A few hours after the court ruled, Sicari, 44, said he accepted the decision and would immediately resign from the bench.

“I am hopeful that all involved feel that I have served the judiciary with the honor and distinction that it deserves,” he said in a statement.

His lawyer, E. Drew Britcher, said Sicari, who earned $13,000 a year as a judge, relies on his comedy for a full-time income and health benefits.

As a regular on “What Would You Do?,” a hidden-camera show that uses actors to re-enact real-life situations to see how bystanders react, Sicari has played numerous offensive characters, including a homophobic bar patron and a racially profiling security guard.

Like many stand-up comics, Sicari also comments on religion, race, politics, sex and other potentially touchy subjects in his routines.

Those off-color comments could make it difficult for residents who appear before him to believe that he can remain impartial and objective, the court concluded.

“To be sure, the routines are designed to be funny,” the court wrote. “We must acknowledge, however, that many regard the maxim ‘Many a true word is said in jest’ as a fundamental truth.”

Sicari had appealed a 2008 decision from the state ethics committee that said he could not pursue both careers at the same time.

He argued that he kept his legal career completely separate from his comedic work, eschewing jokes about lawyers while on stage and never cracking wise while on the bench. Sicari became South Hackensack’s judge in 2008 after 12 years in private practice.

“We felt this raised a unique question,” said Britcher, Sicari’s attorney. “Clearly, municipal judges in small municipalities need to have other employment. We wanted to ask why he could be a carpenter but not a comedian and actor.”

Recent Headlines

in Local Sports

Tanev lifts Canucks over skidding Flames

Vancouver Canucks' goalie Ryan Miller (30) is congratulated by Kevin Bieksa (3) after the Canucks' victory 4-1 victory over the St. Louis Blues in an NHL hockey game, Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014, in St. Louis.

The Vancouver Canucks defeated the skidding Calgary Flames 3-2 Saturday night to snap a five-game losing streak.

in Local Sports

No. 8 Gonzaga struggles past Cal Poly

Gonzaga’s mascot

No. 8 Gonzaga struggled to shake pesky Cal Poly before pulling away for a 63-50 win on Saturday night.

in Local Sports

No. 16 Washington edges No. 15 Oklahoma

Washington head coach Lorenzo Romar, left, hugs guard Andrew Andrews (12) after an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Dec. 7, 2014, in Seattle, Wash. Washington beat San Diego State 49-36.

The Huskies (10-0) led by as many as 20 in the first half.

in Sports

No. 1 Kentucky scores first 24 points, beats UCLA

From left, Kentucky's Aaron Harrison, Tyler Ulis, and head coach John Calipari pause for a moment during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Saturday, Dec. 13, 2014. Kentucky won 84-70.

Devin Booker had 19 points, and No. 1 Kentucky scored the game's first 24 points in an 83-44 victory over UCLA on Saturday.

in Local Sports

Lynden beats King’s & prep hoops scoreboard

Lynden vs. King's bball

Lynden, ranked No. 2 in 2A, improves to 3-0 on the season.