Saturday, February 07, 2009

Judge George Korpita Convicted of of Making Threats to Officers While Drunk

The New Jersey Supreme Court has suspended from law practice a former municipal court judge convicted of making threats to officers during a drunken-driving arrest.

Though the Disciplinary Review Board had recommended only a reprimand for George R. Korpita, of Dover, finding his actions stemmed from his drunken state, not dishonesty, the court said a three-month suspension was the appropriate quantum of discipline.

His threats of harm to public servants constituted a criminal act that reflects adversely on a his honesty, trustworthiness or fitness as a lawyer under Rule of Professional Conduct 8.4(c), the court said in an order issued Feb. 2.

Korpita, who had been a sitting judge in Rockaway Borough, Dover and Victory Gardens, was arrested in Roxbury, N.J., on Nov. 6, 2007, after a passing motorist called police to report a man passed out at the wheel of a car at a traffic signal on Route 46. Patrolman Jonathan Edmunds, as he arrived at the scene, observed Korpita's car drift slowly from the right to the left lane. When the officer put on his overhead lights, Korpita veered into the right lane, turned onto a side road and pulled into a driveway.

Edmunds approached the car and asked for a driver's license. Korpita handed him a state judiciary identification card and said, "I'm a judge." When the officer again asked for the license, Korpita said, "I'm OK, bro, I'm OK."

Edmunds took Korpita to the police station and said later, in a letter to Morris County Assignment Judge B. Theodore Bozonelis, that Korpita made "statements that caused [him] great concern as a police officer."

Korpita told Edmunds he was a supporter of law enforcement and "when the cops beat the shit out of a guy, I do the right thing ... . I'll never take care of cops again. After tonight, I'm done," according to Edmunds' letter. Korpita then said he had cases that could have gone either way and he had always decided in favor of the police. But, he added, "never again, I'm going to stick it up their asses. Get the Vaseline out and bend over."

When another officer, Sgt. Kevin Carroll, asked Korpita whether that statement was a threat, Korpita said no, and then asked whether he could be charged with reckless driving instead of drunken driving, the letter continued.

Korpita resigned his municipal judge posts shortly after he was arrested, and on Dec. 28, 2007, he pleaded guilty to N.J.S.A. 2C:27-3A(3), which makes it a crime to threaten a public servant. He admitted saying to the police officers that he would take some adverse action against them in the future, if the arrest process were to continue.

Judge Salem Vincent Ahto sentenced Korpita to three years' probation and 100 days community service instead of the two-year prison term the statute prescribed. Morris County Prosecutor Robert Bianchi had told Ahto that the mandatory incarceration was aimed at cracking down on corruption, which he said was not present in Korpita's case. However, Korpita was banned for life from holding public employment. He also pleaded guilty to drunken driving and had his license suspended for one year.

During proceedings at the DRB, Korpita said he was rehabilitated from his alcohol problem, had attended more than 200 Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and had been sober for 200 days.

The DRB concluded last Dec. 4 that Korpita's conduct "was not the result of dishonesty or a flaw in his character, but the product of severe intoxication."

The panel said that Korpita "paid a high price for his offenses. He lost his position as a judge in three municipalities, reportedly his principal source of income, and is barred from ever holding public employment. In view of the foregoing, we believe that a censure sufficiently addresses the extent of respondent's conduct and, at the same time, preserves the public's confidence in the disciplinary system and the judiciary as a whole," the DRB said.

Korpita did not dispute the Supreme Court's decision to suspend him, says Blair Zwillman, who represented him at the DRB level. Zwillman says the court likely gave Korpita a stiffer penalty because it did not want him to get off free after committing a crime. "I think the penalties he paid are enough. He's a lifetime felon," Zwillman said.

The suspension is only the latest setback for Korpita, who practices with his father at Dover's Korpita & Korpita.

On May 4, 2007, he had a confrontation with Warren Hartzman at a restaurant in Rockaway Borough. When Hartzman joined a woman friend outside the restaurant while she smoked a cigarette, he leaned against Korpita's Maserati and caused a scratch. After Korpita and Hartzman argued, Rockaway officers arrived and took Hartzman into custody, allegedly at Korpita's request.

Hartzman, who was held for several hours but was not charged, sued Korpita and Rockaway for civil rights violations in U.S. District Court. The suit claimed that his arrest was in retaliation for scratching Korpita's car.

U.S. District Judge Susan Wigenton dismissed the civil case, Hartzman v. Korpita, 2:07-cv-03848, as settled on Jan. 21. The defendant's attorney, Robert Greenbaum of Greenbaum & Flanagan in Roseland, N.J., and the plaintiff's attorney, William Pinilis of Kaplan, Fox & Kilsheimer in Morristown, N.J., decline to discuss the settlement.

While the Roxbury drunken-driving arrest was pending, Korpita was charged with drunken driving on Feb. 18, 2008, after his car was pulled over on Route 181 in Sparta, N.J. He was also charged with careless driving, failure to keep right and refusing to take a breath test. If convicted of a second DWI charge, Korpita could face another $1,000 in fine, loss of his license for an additional period of up to four years and up to 90 days in jail.

Judge David Cooper Arrested for Being Drunk at Sporting Event

The Yuma County Attorney's Office has filed a motion asking a local judge to recluse himself from all current and future drunk driving cases following his arrest for an alcohol-related offense. Prosecutors are targeting Judge David Cooper after his December arrest in San Diego where police say he was intoxicated at a sporting event.

"A lot of judges on the bench now, I've went up against them in the past," says Attorney at Law, John Minore who has gone head-to-head with Cooper on many occasions. He says the justice of the peace is at the center of a witch hunt.

"I think it crosses ethical lines, and in viewing the motion and the attachments to it, it's pretty offensive that they went in there and attached police reports it," says Minore. The motion includes embarrassing details about the arrest-- details that say Cooper was so drunk that he fell down and wet himself. It also comes with a police report on Cooper's 2001 DUI arrest which took place before he was appointed,

Defense attorneys for more than two dozen active DUI cases have until the end of next week to respond to the motion.

"It says he breached judicial ethics and canons and how do I respond as a defense attorney to the judge's conduct outside?"

The motion further questions Cooper's rulings on past drunk driving cases. Formal proceedings will now determine whether a judge with a history of alcohol-related arrests can be fair and unbiased in the courtroom.

Officer Troy Giovengo Arrested for Stalking


Fort Pierce police Officer Troy Giovengo, 42, was arrested by the Port St. Lucie Police Department Friday night and charged with aggravated stalking according to Fort Pierce Police Chief R. Sean Baldwin.

Giovengo has been suspended pending the outcome of the investigation and is being held in the St. Lucie County Jail.

Giovengo is a school resource officer assigned to Lincoln Park Academy in Fort Pierce, and has been with the department since 2007, police said.

Deputy Jeremy Richardson Arrested for Domestic Violence

A former Clare County sheriff's deputy was in the Isabella County Jail Friday - the second time he spent time behind bars in two days.

Jeremy Brickey Richardson, 31, was arrested Thursday for violating a bond condition. On Wednesday night he was arrested for domestic violence, Isabella County Sheriff Leo Mioduszewski said.

Richardson apparently was fired from his job at the Clare County Sheriff's Department after the first arrest on Wednesday.

Richardson is alleged to have assaulted his wife Wednesday, Mioduszewski said.

Deputies were called to the home in the 2000 block of West Beal City Road in Nottawa Township at 7:48 p.m. Wednesday.

Richardson's wife had left the residence after the alleged assault in the couple's bedroom, calling for help from her parents' home, Mioduszewski said.

"They had gotten into a pretty heated argument prior to the (alleged) assault," Mioduszewski said. "She had no serious injuries; nothing that required medical attention."

After deputies went to the home and interviewed Richardson, they arrested him for domestic violence, a 93-day misdemeanor, Mioduszewski said.

Richardson posted bond and was released from jail, but was arrested again after deputies were called back to the home at 4:16 p.m. Thursday, the sheriff said.

Richardson broke a bond violation by returning to the home; he had been ordered not to go near his wife, Mioduszewski said.