HOT-TOPIC_03Rumson’s former municipal court judge has pleaded guilty to a five-year scheme in which he diverted to local coffers more than $500,000 that should have gone to Monmouth County, according to an announcement Friday by the county prosecutor.

Richard B. Thompson, 62, a Middletown attorney who also served as municipal judge in eight other towns, pleaded guilty to falsifying records in more than 4,000 cases as part of a scheme of fixing municipal court dispositions to benefit several municipalities where he served as a judge, Prosecutor Christopher J. Gramiccioni said in the announcement.

His apparent aim: to curry favor with local officials who appointed him, Gramiccioni said.

Appearing in court before presiding Criminal Court Judge David F. Bauman in Freehold, Thompson admitted that on numerous from January 2010 to October 2015, he suspended fines he issued in connection with the disposition of motor vehicle tickets and improperly converted those monies to contempt of court assessments, Gramiccioni said.

“Thompson further admitted that the purpose of this scheme was to steer monies to the municipalities that employed him as a municipal court judge, and these actions deprived Monmouth County of monies it would otherwise be entitled to under state law,” he said.

From the announcement:

Thompson was suspended from his judicial duties in Bradley Beach, Colts Neck, Eatontown, Middletown, Neptune City, Oceanport, Rumson, Tinton Falls and Union Beach by Monmouth County Assignment Judge Lisa P. Thornton on October 23, 2015.

A two-year investigation by this Office’s Financial Crimes and Public Corruption Unit revealed that Judge Thompson suspended fines and converted monies to contempt of court in approximately 4,000 municipal court matters throughout his nine towns.  To effectuate the scheme, Thompson improperly converted fines adjudged on motor vehicle citations to contempt of court sanctions when there was no legal basis to do so.  In certain instances, Thompson would inaccurately state that a defendant issued a traffic citation was held in contempt of court, and write such findings on citations when there was no legal basis to do so. In an effort to conceal the scheme and prevent its detection, Thompson committed these acts after citizens and, in some cases, attorneys had already departed the courtroom.

New Jersey law permits a judge to hold an individual in contempt for various reasons including failure to appear before the court and disrupting court proceedings.  The law further provides specific requirements that must be followed before a judge may hold someone in contempt of court, including giving the individual an opportunity to be heard.

According to state law, monetary fines levied in municipal court for motor vehicle offenses are split equally (“50-50”) between the municipality and county.  However, contempt of court fines are fully retained by municipalities. In instances where motor vehicle citations are issued by New Jersey State Police troopers, 100 percent of the monetary fines are given to the state treasury, according to the law.

Thompson’s conduct unfairly benefitted the towns where he served at the expense of the county’s treasury. As a result, between January 1, 2010 and the date of his suspension on October 23, 2015, Thompson unlawfully diverted more than half a million dollars in fine money from Monmouth County to the municipalities where he sat on the bench. As such, Thompson’s conduct was likely to curry favor with the municipalities that continued to employ him as a judge, allowing him to retain his seat on the various municipal courts for many years.

“County residents who appear before judges do so with the rightful expectation that those entrusted with black robes will be honest and forthright, and uphold the highest principles of integrity.  Our legal system depends on this public trust and confidence, and we reference judges as ‘Your Honor’ for this very reason.  Thompson’s persistent disregard for these principles, and manipulation of the municipal court system, betrayed this sacred trust,” Gramiccioni stated.

Judge Thompson could face a sentence of eighteen months in prison, but his plea agreement calls for non-custodial probation and allows him to apply to the Pre-Trial Intervention (PTI) Program. As part of his plea, Thompson is forever disqualified from being a municipal court judge or holding any other public employment.

Thompson was suspended from all nine benches in October, 2015 pending an investigation by New Jersey’s Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct. The underlying reason for the suspensions was not publicly known at the time.

According to an Asbury Park Press report at the time of the suspensions, Thompson sat in Bradley Beach, Colts Neck, Eatontown, Middletown, Neptune City, Oceanport, Tinton Falls and Union Beach, in addition to Rumson, and  earned $217,500 from judgeships in 2014, when he was on the bench  in six municipalities.