TRENTON - Atlantic County Superior Court Judge Steven P. Perskie may have repeatedly lied to a state Senate panel about a potential conflict of interest, according to a three-count complaint from a state judicial conduct committee.
The complaint, filed earlier this week, could result in anything from the complaint's dismissal to removal from the bench for Perskie, the man who drafted the Casino Control Act that brought legalized gambling to Atlantic City.
The 11-page complaint from the Supreme Court's Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct alleges Perskie did not properly disclose a long-standing relationship with Atlantic City businessman Frank Siracusa, a potential witness in one of Perskie's cases.
Even after he later recused himself, Perskie visited another judge's courtroom while the case was being heard and talked with one of the attorneys and the defendant , potentially creating the appearance that he was trying to influence the outcome, according to the complaint.
Then, when Perskie was reviewed last year for a permanent seat on the bench, he exercised a "lack of candor while testifying under oath to the Senate Judiciary Committee about his conduct," the complaint alleges.
State Sen. Jennifer Beck, who posed the questions to Perskie, said that if the charges are proved she wants him suspended and forced to return to the Senate Judiciary Committee for a second tenure hearing.
"It certainly appears as though he may have perjured himself before the Judiciary Committee," said Beck, R-Mercer, Monmouth.
Siracusa downplayed his friendship with Perskie, saying that after 58 years in business he knew practically everyone in Atlantic City.
"The Perskie family and the Siracusa family go back generations in this area," Siracusa said. "How can I not know somebody?"
Perskie has 20 days to respond, after which the committee would hold a hearing and suggest that the state Supreme Court do anything from dismiss the complaint to remove Perskie from the bench.
Perskie issued a statement saying he would formally respond to the complaint next week.
"I believe that my only appropriate comment is to assure the public, as well as my colleagues and co-workers in the Judiciary and the members of the Bar, that I am fully confident that, at the hearing, the committee will be presented with the facts that will clearly demonstrate that at all times I discharged my responsibilities in an appropriate fashion," he said.
Perskie, the son and grandson of New Jersey judges, has twice been named to the bench.
He also has long been active in Democratic politics, representing Atlantic County in the Assembly and state Senate in the 1970s and playing a lead role in legalizing gaming. He also served on former Gov. James Florio's campaign and later as his chief of staff. Perskie also formerly chaired the Casino Control Commission.
At issue is a case filed in February 2005 in which 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, with Rosefielde alleging that one-time resort powerbroker Edward J. DiNicolantonio threatened the property with a significantly higher municipal revaluation unless it rehired DiNicolantonio's nephew's insurance firm, Frank J. Siracusa and Son.
DiNicolantonio and Siracusa have consistently denied that, but it led to Siracusa being called as a witness.
Siracusa and Perskie had a long relationship that the complaint said included Siracusa contributing to Perskie's bids for the Assembly in 1975 and state Senate in 1977, where Siracusa served as Perskie's treasurer. The complaint says the pair also worked together to bring legal gambling to the resort.
Rosefielde's attorney, Stephen Fram, filed separate motions for Perskie to recuse himself, or have a jury hear the trial, among other things.
The complaint said Perskie denied the separate motions, but over the course of several hearings revealed he had obtained insurance from Siracusa and jointly owned, with others, Little John's, a former restaurant and bar in a remodeled Pacific Avenue church. Perskie and Siracusa had lunch together a couple times a month, the complaint said, and had played bridge in each other's homes.
Perskie eventually recused himself Oct. 6, 2006, citing an "inappropriate reaction" to Fram at a hearing, and was replaced by Superior Court Judge William E. Nugent.
Perskie reappeared in the courtroom May 16 and 21, 2007, watching testimony of one of the owners. Perskie spoke with the owner and his attorney at a break during the second hearing.
Nugent eventually awarded the owners nearly $1 million in fees and penalties that October, siding with them on all but one issue.
Fram did not return calls seeking comment Thursday.
Perskie was nominated for judicial tenure last year, meaning if confirmed he would hold his $165,000-per-year seat until he reached mandatory retirement age in 2015.
At a hearing in front of the state Senate Judicial Committee, Beck questioned him about why he sat in on the two hearings after he left the case.
Perskie said his calendar was open on both days, and wanted to hear an expert testify on the second day.
While his calendar was open for the first day, the complaint said his calendar listed an unspecified matter on the second day that Perskie left to attend the other hearing. Furthermore, the complaint said the expert did not testify until days later.
Beck was outraged Thursday.
"There has to be some reprimand," she said. "We can't have folks who are going to serve on our judiciary telling falsehoods just so they can get approval."
She also called for more time for the judicial committee to vet prospective candidates, saying the committee received a complaint letter over the Rosefielde matter only days before the hearing.
Staff writer Lynda Cohen contributed to this report.
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What is the advisory committee on judicial conduct:
The Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct is a state panel set up in 1974 to investigate allegations of judicial misconduct and assist the state Supreme Court in deciding whether there should be punishment.
Violations of the state Code of Judicial Conduct include a wide range of conduct, according to the state Judiciary web site, from improper language in the courtroom and simple discourtesy all the way up to bribery.
The commission has nine seats, requiring that at least two members be retired judges, while no fewer than three members be attorneys and no more than four be people with neither a law background nor a public position.
If a person complains, the committee investigates and, if the grievance is more serious, issues a formal complaint. The person named in the complaint has 20 days to respond.
Once the committee issues a complaint, it holds public hearings and makes a recommendation to the state Supreme Court, which oversees judicial conduct. Those recommendations can be to dismiss the complaint or to publicly reprimand, censure, suspend or institute removal proceedings against the judge.
What he said:
The complaint filed against Superior Judge Steven Perskie uses previous court testimony, along with court calendars to counter statements Perskie made before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Oct. 16, 2008, including attending portions of the trial before Superior Court Judge William Nugent.
Here are some of their findings:
On Siracusa as a witness:
"I indicated that if he, indeed, had been a party or a witness in the case that I would not hear the case."
Oct. 6, 2006: Perskie said he felt "perfectly comfortable retaining responsibility for the matter even if Mr. Siracusa were to testify."
On attending trial after he gave up case:
"I was just finishing a jury trial. So when the jury was out deliberating, and I was waiting for the verdict, I had some time."
COURT CALENDAR: Indicates there was no activity in Perskie's courtroom, and that jury verdict had returned previous day.
"When ... the expert on legal fraud ... came in to testify, I had nothing that morning on my schedule."
COURT CALENDAR: The legal expert did not testify on either date Perskie was there. Instead, the plaintiff was testifying at that time. During a break in testimony, he spoke with Flagship Resort co-owner Bruce Kaye and his counsel in full view of the defendant and his lawyer.
Steven P. Perskie's bio
- Born in Philadelphia on Jan. 10, 1945, the son of Atlantic County Judge David M. Perskie and grandson of state Supreme Court Justice Joseph B. Perskie.
- Attended Atlantic City High School, graduated from Yale University in 1966 and earned a law degree at the University of Pennsylvania in 1969 and a masters in taxation from New York University in 1970
- Elected to the Assembly in 1971 and state Senate in 1977
- Was an early advocate for Atlantic City casino gaming, writing what became the Casino Control Act while in the Assembly.
- Was an Atlantic County Superior Court Judge 1982-89, left to run Gov. James Florio's successful gubernatorial campaign and served as chief of staff from 1989-90.
- Chaired the Casino Control Commission 1990-94, leaving to represent Players International, a gaming firm without state interests, from 1994-96, afterward in private practice from 1996-2001.
- Reappointed to the bench in 2001.
- Confirmed by the state Senate for permanent tenure in December