New Jersey's Supreme Court has censured a municipal judge after finding he fraternized with an exotic dancer he had met while presiding over her domestic violence case.
A court opinion published on Wednesday found that Roman A. Montes, a judge in municipal courts in Elizabeth and Rahway, violated three canons of the judicial code of conduct in pursing an inappropriate relationship with a victim in a case pending before him before its final disposition.
The infractions serve to "seriously weaken the public's confidence in the integrity and independence of the Judiciary, and demonstrate a disturbing lack of good judgment," according to the decision by the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct.
A message left Friday for Montes at municipal court was not returned. A listing for him in a state law directory had no answering machine.
The censure was the result of an investigation that was triggered by an ethics grievance filed against Montes by the man charged in the domestic violence case. The man complained that Montes has pursued his girlfriend at the time after meeting her in court, and had gone to the club where she worked as an exotic dancer.
Court papers show that Montes first encountered the woman on November 29, 2012, when she appeared in his Rahway courtroom and unsuccessfully tried to get the domestic violence charges against the boyfriend dismissed.
Investigators confirmed that days later, Montes went to the Breathless Men's Club in Rahway where the woman worked. Montes told investigators he didn't recognize the woman from court, even after tipping her for performing a dance and buying her drinks, according to court papers.
Montes claimed that immediately after the woman reminded him of her identity and they exchanged numbers, he requested the case be transferred to another court due to conflict of interest.
The case wasn't transferred until two weeks after their encounter, during which time, investigators found Montes continued to exchange calls and text messages with the woman, who was seeking to use her relationship with the judge to "manipulate the outcome of the case," according to court papers.
A censure does not affect a judge's position and they are allowed to remain on the bench.