“Anyone but a judge”

Adopting most of the findings of a 3-judge panel, the New Jersey Supreme Court removed a former judge from office and permanently barred her from holding judicial office in the state for her “defiant trespass” at her children’s school, her untruthful testimony at her criminal trial, and her failure to appear for a court-ordered deposition in her husband’s lawsuit against the school.  In the Matter of Mullen, Order (New Jersey Supreme Court March 8, 2023).

In December 2016, the judge’s husband filed suit against St. Theresa School where their 2 daughters attended.  On February 1, 2017, the school asked the family to withdraw their children because the lawsuit violated school policy.  “In defiance of that request,” the judge and her family arrived at the school the next morning.

The school deacon told the judge that she had to leave or she would be “considered trespassing.”  The judge’s own videorecording confirms that she told the officials that they could “bring criminal charges against” her, but she was not going to leave.  School officials repeatedly directed the judge to exit the property, and she consistently refused. 

The school officials called the police.  When Office Sean Kaverick appeared, he asked the judge to leave.  Instead of complying, the judge indicated that she wanted to be handcuffed.  Officer Kaverick testified that the judge made no effort to leave for 5 minutes, but he persuaded her to go outside rather than be arrested and handcuffed in front of her children.

The panel found that the judge “created a scene for nearly an hour” and her “interactions with police and school administrators took place on a busy morning, in offices, a reception area, and school hallways.”

The judge was charged with defiant trespass.  After a 2-day bench trial, Judge Alberto Rivas concluded that the prosecution had proven “beyond a reasonable doubt . . . that [respondent] remained in the school knowing she was not licensed or privileged to do so after actual notice to leave was communicated to her several times.”  Explaining in detail why Officer Kaverick’s testimony was credible, Judge Rivas found that Judge Mullen had testified falsely when she “specifically testified that she had absolutely no contact with Officer Kaverick, in direct contravention with the Officer’s unequivocal testimony.”

The judge filed a motion for a new trial “based upon her theories of vindictive prosecution, entrapment, and failure to establish the elements of defiant trespass beyond a reasonable doubt.”  The appellate division affirmed her conviction, and the supreme court denied the judge’s petition for certification.

During the discipline hearing, the judge denied speaking with Kaverick and denied giving false testimony at her trial.  Instead, she maintained that Kaverick “did not tell the truth” at her trial and to the Committee and had filed a false police report.  The judge said that she did not believe that she “cause[d] a scene” at the school and denied refusing to leave the premises.

The panel concluded:  “Had anyone but a judge” acted as she had at the school that morning, “that person would have been swiftly and unceremoniously ejected from the building, and/or arrested and removed on the spot.”  The panel found that the judge’s “refusal to leave the school building, while in the presence of numerous school officials, law enforcement officers, and students and parents entering and leaving the school, could only erode public confidence in the judiciary.”  The panel noted that the judge’s “emotional stress over the conflict with school administrators, which involved her children” did not excuse her violations and that she “knew she had better alternatives than an in-person confrontation.”  The panel also stated that “when a judge’s credibility is publicly called into question, there is a patent and significant risk that the public’s confidence in the judiciary will be eroded.”

The panel also found that the judge’s failure to appear for a court-ordered deposition in her husband’s lawsuit against the school was misconduct.  Noting that there was no valid reason in the record for the judge’s failure to appear, the panel explained:  “Respondent is not entitled—by virtue of her judicial appointment—or for any other reason—to disregard court orders.”

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