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New Jersey judge quits, just for laughs

By Lorenzo Ferrigno, CNN
updated 9:11 PM EDT, Thu September 19, 2013
Vince A. Sicari, a South Hackensack, N.J., Municipal Judge, performs at Carolines on Broadway comedy club in New York.
Vince A. Sicari, a South Hackensack, N.J., Municipal Judge, performs at Carolines on Broadway comedy club in New York.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Vincent August Sicari held down two careers -- one as a comedian, the other as a judge
  • New Jersey's Supreme Court ruled unanimously that he must choose one or the other
  • Sicari -- until today a municipal court judge in South Hackensack -- chose comedy
  • Court ruled that parts of his act could cast doubt on his impartiality; Sicari disputed that

(CNN) -- So, a judge walks out of a bar ...

When the New Jersey Supreme Court decided that Vincent August Sicari must choose between his career as a municipal judge and his other career in the entertainment industry, he decided it wasn't yet the time to have a last laugh.

Vincent August Sicari has practiced both law and comedy for over 15 years, and in January 2008 he became a part-time municipal judge in South Hackensack. While a judge, he continued to pursue his entertainment career as a standup comedian and actor, including appearing on the TV show "What Would You Do?" under the name Vince August, according to court documents.

Sicari resigned in person from his judiciary position Thursday, just a few hours after the high court issued its unanimous decision.

"I'm disappointed. I'm proud of being a judge; I take great pride in it. It is a great life accomplishment, a great career accomplishment," Sicari told CNN Thursday. "I don't like being forced to make a decision."

Though no longer a judge, Sicari will continue to be an attorney -- which is permitted -- and moonlight as an actor and comedian. He says that over the years he made the decision specifically not to work for big law firms so he could designate his hours as he saw fit and not neglect one career over the other.

"I'm going to keep doing what I was doing, but now I'm not a judge," Sicari said.

According to court documents, Sicari provided information about his standup routines to the Advisory Committee on Extrajudicial Activities following his municipal court appointment. After the panel determined that his comedy career was a conflict, he appealed to the state's high court.

Sicari argued that his two careers were completely independent of one another and never overlapped, according to statements put forward in court. The Supreme Court judges pointed, however, to a writeup in the Bergen Record newspaper in which they associated Vince A. Sicari, the lawyer, and Vince August, the actor and comedian.

"Vince Sicari, the lawyer, may be free to pursue a parallel career as an actor and comedian. Once he chose also to serve as a municipal court judge, however, he became subject to the Code of Judicial Conduct," the judges wrote.

One canon of the Code of Judicial Conduct requires judges "to conduct any extrajudicial activities in a manner to avoid casting reasonable doubt on the judge's capacity to act impartially as a judge."

Sicari could be seen in various roles on "What Would You Do?" -- a show that features social experiments to capture public's reactions to real-life scenarios played out by actors.

The judges noted that his roles portraying homophobia, racial profiling and other forms of discrimination could be misleading to someone catching a glimpse of the show before changing the channel. His routines at comedy clubs often involve politics and religion.

"In the course of his routines, Sicari has demeaned certain people based on national origin and religion and has revealed his political leanings," the judges wrote. "The court cannot ignore the distinct possibility that a person who has heard a routine founded on humor disparaging certain ethnic groups and religions will not be able to readily accept that the judge before whom he or she appears can maintain the objectivity and impartiality that must govern all municipal court proceedings."

Sicari maintains that his careers that he loves equally, were always separate.

"When I'm a lawyer I'm focused on that, when I'm on stage, on set, I focus on that," he told CNN. "I thought I've done it pretty well."

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