Censure urged for judge over Playboy remark to plaintiff

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A New Jersey ethics panel has recommended a high-ranking judge be censured over his behavior in court, including comments in which he told a woman that she should send nude pictures of herself to Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner.

The state panel on judicial conduct made its recommendation Wednesday in the case of Alberto Rivas, the assignment judge in Middlesex County. The state Supreme Court will make a final determination on punishment.

The panel found Rivas “demonstrated a lack of self-control” during a January 2019 dispute involving the girlfriend of a married man, and his wife. The girlfriend was seeking to have the wife return explicit photos of herself that she feared would be shared on social media.

Rivas raised doubts about the claim and felt the woman was trying to embarrass the wife. He called the man “despicable” and “a knucklehead” and told all three he was “just dying to whack one of you.”

Rivas also told the girlfriend that the only person she should be sending the pictures to was Hefner, who “would pay you $100,000 for the use of them.”

Rivas has apologized and has indicated he is seeking counseling.

The panel’s report also noted that Rivas was privately reprimanded in 2013 and 2014 for his conduct in court.

A voicemail message left Thursday for Rivas was not immediately returned, and it wasn’t known if he has a lawyer to speak for him.

Rivas is one of several judges whose behavior in cases involving women has put them in hot water with the state in the last year.

State Superior Court Judge John Russo Jr. faces possible removal from the bench after he asked a woman in 2016 why she didn’t “close your legs” to prevent a sexual assault.

Last summer, the state Supreme Court terminated the temporary assignment of retired Judge James Troiano after he declined to order a 16-year-old rape suspect tried in adult court because the youth came “from a good family.”

East Orange Municipal Judge Steven Brister faces discipline for suggesting to a domestic violence suspect that men should treat women “as if you’re holding a feather, just to let them know you’re the man and you’re in control.”

This month, the Supreme Court issued a public censure of Newark Municipal Judge Marvin Adames for jailing a woman on a disorderly persons offense involving a landlord-tenant dispute for what he called disrespectful behavior in court.

The state suspended all court proceedings one day in October so all state court judges could take part in training on gender violence and bias.

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