TRENTON - An ethics hearing is under way against former Atlantic County Superior Court Judge Steven Perskie.
Perskie, who retired Feb. 1, is accused of failing to fully disclose his relationship with a witness in a case he presided over in 2005 through 2006. The charges before the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct also claim that, after transferring the case for another reason in late 2006, Perskie twice showed up during proceedings in another judge's courtroom, once speaking with plaintiff's counsel.
In the case that was before Perskie, the owners of the Flagship Resort in Atlantic City's Northeast Inlet sued the resort's former chief operating officer, Alan P. Rosefielde. One issue was insurance, which involved the firm Frank J. Siracusa and Son. Siracusa was also named by the defense in a counterclaim, the defense attorney in that case, Steven Fram, testified this morning.
But he said Perskie never mentioned a relationship with Siracusa until an Oct. 12, 2005, appearance before the judge, and then said only that the firm provided some of his insurance and that "at one point in my career, many years ago, Siracusa was associated with me in some of my endeavors in public office."
In a subsequent mention of the prior relationship, Fram said Perskie again downplayed a prior relationship, and that the defense "trusted him at his word."
However, later Fram said he became concerned about the depth of the relationship, including a Sept. 8, 2006, hearing where Perskie mentioned seeing Siracusa at lunch twice a month. Fram then filed a motion to have the judge recused.
That was denied Oct. 6, 2006, with Perskie then mentioning having played bridge with Siracusa until a few years before.
"That sort of amplified our concerns that appropriate disclosure had not been made," Fram said.
Fram also testified that after Perskie transferred the case, Perskie showed up on two separate days during the testimony of plaintiff Bruce Kaye before Superior Court Willliam Nugent.
The first time Perskie just sat in the back of the courtroom, but the second appearance included Perskie talking with Kaye's attorneys, Edwin Jacobs and Lou Barbone, Fram said.
In his opening remarks, Perskie's attorney, Frank Corrado, said most of the facts are not contested in the case, but that the second date Perskie was in the courtroom was off and that Perskie only came to get papers and left without any big discussion.
But Fram said he heard Jacobs boasting about an aspect of his case.
Committee Chair Alan Handler then asked why Fram never put the appearances on the record.
The judgment at that point was that we would not make a scene and put it on the record
"But you felt it necessary to make very careful notes?" Handler asked.
Fram indicated that a mistrial filing was considered, but that they trusted Nugent's ability to fairly try the case.
Corrado has not yet had a chance to cross-examine Fram.
Also at issue is Perskie's testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2008. During that hearing, he said he had told the parties that, if Siracusa was called as a witness, Perskie may not be able to judge him objectively. But transcripts show Perskie said at the time he would have no problems handling the case, even if Siracusa took the stand.
Corrado, during his opening statement, admitted that Perskie's 2008 testimony differed from what he said from the bench at the time, but said it was a matter of memory failure, and that Perskie would address that when he testifies.