Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Did Municipal Judge Impugn Court's Integrity?

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Did Municipal Judge Impugn Court's Integrity?

Article excerpt

What does it take to impugn the integrity of New Jersey's judiciary?

In the coming weeks, a state judicial panel is anticipated to weigh this question in connection with an Essex County Municipal Court judge's 2016 arrest on drunken driving charges.

Wilfredo Benitez, who serves as a Municipal Court judge in Belleville, Bloomfield and East Orange, could be in trouble after his 2016 traffic stop on Route 80 in Teaneck, court filings show.

Benitez, who last October began his work in Bloomfield's Municipal Court, was found not guilty of drunken driving during a Superior Court hearing in Bergen County on May 11, 2017.

However, Benitez may face legal ramifications for his exchange with state troopers during the police stop that led to that hearing, the court documents show.

The New Jersey Supreme Court Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct alleges in a Jan. 24 complaint that troopers found the judge sleeping in the driver's seat of his vehicle on the highway's right-hand shoulder in Teaneck.

One of the officers smelled alcohol on Benitez's breath, noticed his eyes were bloodshot and asked him if he had had anything to drink, to which Benitez replied, "Not at all, sir," the complaint alleges.

While conducting a field sobriety test, Benitez told the trooper, "What are you trying to do? ... I'm a judge?" according to the complaint.

While being handcuffed, Benitez told the troopers, "I can't believe you're doing this. I'm not a [expletive] addict. I'm not a drunk! I can't believe you're doing this," the complaint states.

Benitez further asked, "You're not going to give me any courtesy?" according to the complaint, which alleges that by using profanity toward the troopers, identifying himself as a judge and requesting preferential treatment during the arrest, Benitez impugned the judiciary's integrity.

The complaint claims that Benitez "used the power and prestige of his judicial office to advance his private interests" in violation of the state code of judicial conduct.

In a Feb. 9 answer filed with the court, Benitez admits he pulled over to the shoulder of the road to "get some rest," and that while being handcuffed, he told the officers he was a judge. …

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