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N.J. Judge Who Played Prosecutor, Denied Counsel Gets No Immunity

By William Peacock, Esq. | Last updated on

Prosecutor? No need. How about defense counsel? Nah, they can represent themselves.

Meet Judge Louis DiLeo. Back in 2010, in the Linden, New Jersey, municipal court, DiLeo held a "trial" consisting of himself as the judge and prosecutor, the two defendants representing themselves (after denying their request for a public defender), and the police witness, who cross-examined them.

Unsurprisingly, the two convictions were later reversed, Judge DiLeo was reprimanded, and last week, the Third Circuit upheld the district court's holding that he had lost his judicial immunity by going all Judge Dredd on the parties.

Back in January: Reprimanded

In case you're still wondering what the big deal is, here is the New Jersey Supreme Court's recap of how the trial went down, from its opinion reprimanding Judge DiLeo for his conduct:

"Judge DiLeo conducted this trial on his own terms. He denied the defendants' request for counsel, forced them to go to trial pro se after refusing their request for a public defender, prosecuted the case with the help of the arresting police officer, personally cross-examined the defendants, and found the defendants guilty based on testimony that he himself had elicited during his cross-examination. Furthermore, at the conclusion of those proceedings, Judge DiLeo sent these two pro se defendants to jail where they remained for 124 days for non-violent disorderly persons offenses. Not only the defendants but also the judicial system were victims. The judge violated basic principles and procedures of our judicial system that people have a right to expect a municipal court to follow when prosecuting a citizen for a disorderly persons offense."

DiLeo was removed from the bench in 2012, and later filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the city, reports The Star-Ledger.

Immunity Shield Lost

Last week, the Third Circuit, in an unpublished opinion, held that Judge DiLeo had waived his judicial immunity when he stepped beyond his role as a neutral judge and into the shoes of a prosecutor.

The court noted that there is an exception to immunity for nonjudicial actions -- "actions not taken in the judge's official capacity." And by conducting a trial in the ludicrous manner described above, DiLeo clearly went beyond his judicial capacity, shedding any immunity he may have had.

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