TRENTON — A former Atlantic County Superior Court judge admitted he may have mishandled a 2005 civil case for which he now faces ethics charges, but testified he does not believe those missteps rise to a conduct violation.
Steven Perskie, who retired in February, defended himself Tuesday before the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct, which has accused him of not fully disclosing a personal relationship with a potential witness in a suit filed by Atlantic City’s Flagship Resort against its ousted chief operating officer, Alan Rosefielde. A counterclaim included an allegation that one-time resort power broker Edward DiNicolantonio, known as Eddie DeNic, threatened a bad revaluation for the property unless it rehired his nephew’s insurance firm, Frank J. Siracusa and Son.
Perskie’s refusal to give up the case despite a history with Siracusa, and then sitting in on two days of testimony even after another judge took over, was a violation of the court’s standards, charged Candace Moody, the committee’s disciplinary counsel.
Perskie said he often would sit in on testimony in other courtrooms both as a learning tool or to watch something of interest, something he said many judges do.
But he did concede that it was wrong to refuse the motion to remove himself from the case. Perskie said he did not even need to rule on that motion Sept. 8, 2006, because he had already decided to recuse himself after responding in a “loud, inappropriate, rude and impolite manner” to Rosefielde’s attorney, Steve Fram.
Perskie said he had grown frustrated over the animosity that had grown between both sides in the case, but it wasn’t until his outburst that he realized “how distressed I was.”
“I was holding the defense responsible for more than I was the plaintiff,” Perskie said.
So, he stepped down, but not before denying Fram’s recusal motion.
“I had already decided to (withdraw from the case),” Perskie said Tuesday. “I should have just rendered (Fram’s) motion moot.”
Instead, he said things that he admits now were not true, including that he would not have a problem objectively judging Siracusa’s credibility. In fact, during a reappointment hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee in 2008, Perskie said he did go on record in 2006 saying that if Siracusa was called, the judge may have a problem handling the case.
Perskie said Tuesday that his testimony before the Judiciary was a memory failure, and not an intentional lie.
He also insisted that he has not had a social relationship with Siracusa in at least 10 years, and before then, he was only occasionally a replacement player in a bridge game involving Siracusa, sometimes replacing him.
Perskie said he also would see Siracusa at lunch about twice a month, but the two were merely in the same place, not eating together.
Witnesses who testified for Perskie on Tuesday also countered allegations that on May 21, 2007, Perskie sat in on the hearing, then laughed about defendant Rosefielde with plaintiff Bruce Kaye and his two attorneys in the back of the courtroom during a break.
The judge did not come into the courtroom that day, but the next day, both attorneys — Lou Barbone and Edwin Jacobs — testified.
Barbone and Jacobs also denied either of them “yukked it up” in the back of the courtroom with Perskie after Jacobs allegedly boasted loudly about making Rosefielde squirm during days of questioning on the stand.
“That’s a complete lie,” Jacobs said. “That did not happen.”
He then said “that’s bush league tactic that I would never employ.”
Jacobs said he only acknowledged the judge with a hello as he was leaving the courtroom. Barbone said he was at the plaintiff’s table when Perskie asked to see a document and then left.
Rosefielde testified Monday that he knew it was May 21 because he was testifying. But attorney Carl Poplar said Tuesday that it was May 22, and it was he who was on the witness stand.
But the fact that Perskie showed up at all was wrong, Moody alleged.
“You still don’t appreciate the impropriety of showing up at a case for which you recused yourself?” Moody asked. “Not only going there, but asking to see a document in the case?”
“At the time, I did not fully appreciate what my appearance would mean to someone with an agenda,” Perskie replied.
Moody said no agenda had been proven, and that the retired judge still should be aware that the action was wrong.
Perskie countered that the allegations against him do show an agenda because they are included in an appeal of the verdict handed down by Judge William Nugent, who sided with the plaintiffs on all but one count.
Moody said that was only one of many reasons for appeal.
The committee will likely submit its decision to the court in a couple of months, but that will not become public until the court makes a final determination. A timetable was not given Tuesday.
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