Atlantic County Surrogate James Curcio

Vernon Ogrodnek

Atlantic County Surrogate James Curcio said he has quit drinking after his April drunken-driving incident, his second in a two-year span.

The surrogate, who faces new conduct charges from the state filed this week, said he has new ways of handling issues that come up in his life.

“I felt it was affecting me differently than when I was younger,” he said. “I thought it was something I could handle. I’m better off without alcohol in my life.”

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But Curcio knows he will have to face the consequences from a state judicial oversight body, which on Friday announced it added to its existing complaint against Curcio to include his two incidents of drunken driving — one April 27 in his hometown of Hammonton and one Oct. 3, 2010, in Hamilton Township.

Curcio pleaded guilty to charges in municipal courts in Cape May County after each incident.

The state Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct says Curcio “impugned on the integrity of the judiciary” and “demeaned the judicial office,” the complaint states.

Curcio said Friday that the new charges were expected but that he has changed his lifestyle and wishes he had taken the step after the first drunken-driving incident. Curcio, who was elected surrogate in November 2010, said he thinks those two incidents do not outweigh many of the good things he has done in his nearly 30-year legal career.

The state also filed a complaint against the surrogate Oct. 3, 2011, saying he overstepped his bounds by formally supporting Assembly candidate Chris Brown at a fundraiser in March of that year. The complaint states Curcio, a Republican, signed a letter as the “host committee chairman” inviting people to the $100-per-person March 19 fundraiser at Chickie’s and Pete’s restaurant in Egg Harbor Township for Brown, a Republican.

Curcio said he will “have to deal with that” charge as well but said the drunken-driving charges were more serious. He declined to say what type of punishment he felt he deserved.

The complaint is the first step in a process that can result in various disciplines, including Curcio’s removal from the bench.

In New Jersey, county surrogates sit as the judge of the probate court, handling wills, estates, incapacitated people and adoptions. Judges are required to observe high standards of conduct so that the integrity and independence of the judiciary may be preserved, according to the state’s Code of Judicial Conduct.

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