In this case, Justice wears a blindfold out of shame.
Superior Court Judge Feinberg has cleared Trenton Municipal Judge Renee Lamarre Sumners to return to the bench after a one week suspension.
City Council has voted, six to one, in favor having Judge Sumners resign.
Mayor Tony Mack seems to be taking the approach of wiping his hands clean of the mess his appointment turned into.
Trenton suffers another hit on its image.
When you analyze the situation, here's what you have:
Sumners is an attorney with a history of twice having her license suspended (2004 and 2006) for non-payment into a state fund.
Either she doesn't have the money, is a poor money manager, or feels she is above the law.
If she doesn't have the money, we have to wonder why. She's an attorney. If she's not making money at her chosen profession is it because she is taking work that doesn't pay or is she not working enough? Just how good of an attorney is she?
If she is working hard, and a lot, but still doesn't have any money to pay the required fee ($258 was the amount I believe) than maybe she is a poor money manager.
We'll concede that keeping a balanced check book is not every one's favorite pastime. But the woman holds herself out to be a professional; someone with advanced and specialized training in a line of work that requires her to be able to analyze and reason through problems. Like keeping track of her finances and meeting her responsibilities.
If she can't manage her finances and doesn't realize she needs to find someone who can than we have to question her ability to analyze and reason her way through the problem. If she can't comprehend that this is a problem after twice having her license to practice suspended, then we might infer her skill set is not up to the standards of her chosen profession.
Now we look at the fact that Sumners bounced two checks paying the dues this year. If she knowingly wrote bad checks, it's criminal. If it was due to an inability to keep a checkbook, she's incompetent. If she just doesn't care, she's arrogant. None of the three are good traits in any line of work...especially so in the practice of law.
And then there is the issue of unpaid income taxes. Reports indicate that Sumners and her husband owe $15,808 from 2003 and 2006. Why? Was they money there but they didn't feel they needed to pay? Did they screw up their tax returns? Or was there no money? Didn't they both have jobs? They must have had income if they owed taxes?
This brings into question Judge Sumners' approach to meeting her legal responsibilities. Did she think she didn't have to pay? Did she place herself above the law?
Then there is the matter of the unpaid credit card bill. Seems Judge Sumners owed $2214.22 on a credit card from 2008. The creditor filed and received a judgement against Sumners in December of 2009 and Sumners received the notice to pay in January of this year. She failed to return the paperwork, the creditor filed a civil action complaint and a bench warrant for Sumners arrest was issued on September 29.
Um, she's an attorney by trade. Right? She should know better. Right?
Judge Sumners is the cause of her problems. Through ignorance and arrogance, she has demonstrated quite plainly that she is incapable of serving as a judge.
The New Jersey Supreme Court decides ethics cases. This, in and of itself, is not necessarily a bad thing as it can somewhat mitigate politics from influencing the tenure of a judge. Only the Supreme Court can remove a judge from the bench.
Unfortunately the State of New Jersey seems to have a fairly liberal interpretation of what constitutes ethical behavior by attorneys. Sanctions in ethics cases more often result in suspensions than removals or disbarment's.
In layman terms: Judge Sumners would need to be found with a smoking gun in her hand, standing over the still warm body of her victim before she is likely to be sanctioned for breach of ethics. Even then she'd probably only get what amounts to a slap on the wrist.
The fact that once a judge takes the oath only the state supreme court can remove her might explain another little piece of this puzzle.
On the night that Mayor Mack convinced six members of council to approve the appointment by lying about Sumners having completed a background check the would be judge and family were present. Upon being confirmed by city council, Sumners immediately sought out Superior Court Judge Paulette Sapp-Peterson to be sworn in.
Hmm. If it's so difficult to remove a judge once he or she has taken the oath and a newly appointed judges has some questionable baggage, why not hurry up and get sworn in. Maybe she's not so incompetent after all.
Sumners needs to resign. Period.