Sunday, December 8, 2013

“Justice” in the Red Bank New Jersey Municipal Court; Is there a double standard in the Red Bank Municipal Court for Police Officers?

On May 14, 2007, Red Bank municipal court judge, William Himelman (case was transferred to Red Bank for possible conflict) found the Wall Township Police Chief, Bernard Sullivan not guilty of driving while intoxicated.  The evidence against the police officer, as testified by the arresting officer, was that the chief was driving recklessly by failing to maintain lane, going through a red light, reckless driving and failing a breathalyzer test, blowing double the legal limit.  Sullivan admitted having four to five beers when stopped, but contested that he failed the field sobriety tests that were administered to him at the scene.

After the verdict the Star Ledger quoted Red Bank Municipal Prosecutor James N. Butler as saying he was shocked by the judge’s decision, and stated, “To me, it set the criminal justice system back a long way, because what it said is, Don't arrest a cop.” 

In the judge’s oral decision he stated, "I didn't see (Sullivan) staggering, I didn't see him falling, I saw him walking around," Himelman said. "What I saw on that surveillance tape was a man who had five beers, not someone who had 10 beers."  However, as this judge knows whether someone can handle their liquor is no defense to a DWI charge, and rarely if ever, will a municipal court judge find a defendant not guilty when he fails the field sobriety tests?  Sullivan’s failure on the field sobriety tests was also witnessed by superior officer Lancellotti who was called to the scene.

Further, the municipal court judge completely ignored the testimony of Patrolman Verrecchia who testified that when he pulled Sullivan over at 12:35 a.m. after he saw Sullivan's car, headed north on 16th Avenue in the West Belmar section of town, run a red light at Route 35, nearly colliding with a car on the highway.  Further, he testified that Sullivan continued across Route 35 and headed up Belmar Boulevard toward his Wall home on the wrong side of the road until Verrecchia pulled him over near Marconi Road, Verrecchia testified.

Further, the municipal court judge completely ignored officer Verrecchia testimony that Sullivan breathalyzer reading was for the first test .19 and for the second test, .20 (double the legal limit for that time).

According to the Asbury Park Press interview of the judge after the verdict, Himelman was not embarrassed to say that it was the first not guilty verdict he has made in the last five years in a DWI case while sitting on the bench in Red Bank. I wonder how many individuals were found guilty in Red Bank by him and how many lost their jobs because of their loss of a driver's license?

This unfortunately is not an isolated incident and further reinforces the need for municipal courts in New Jersey to be consolidated in joint municipal courts in which a number of towns join their municipal courts into a joint municipal court.  Further, that these joint municipal court judges be appointed by the governor as Governor Christi has proposed. Not only will this save taxpayers money, by consolidation, but also eliminate some of the conflict of interest, which is rampant in municipal courts throughout the state.  Specifically, because the municipal court judge receives his or her paycheck from the town in which he must generate revenue, and hence, the inference that he or she must find everyone guilty to generate revenue.  Or as this judge admitted never find anyone not guilty in the last five years in every DWI case, except in one case in which an law enforcement is charged with DWI, notwithstanding all the evidence against the police officer?  Nobody is questioning the integrity of the municipal court judge in this case, however, it surly makes you wonder.  Is there any justice in municipal court in Red Bank?

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277 North Broad Street
Elizabeth (Union County), New Jersey 07207
(908) 354-7006

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