CAMDEN – A state judge here didn’t hide his unhappiness with a temporary assignment last year.
“I have no idea what’s going on in this case, zero,” Superior Court Judge Michael Kassel said from the bench after being assigned to work one day a week in a short-staffed family court.
“So you’re dealing with a judge that is completely inexperienced and untrained in the family division,” continued Kassel, who’s long been assigned to the civil division at the Camden courthouse.
Now, Kassel is facing a different sort of complaint — one from a judicial disciplinary committee.
The Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct contends Kassel acted improperly on 16 occasions during virtual hearings in family court between April 10 and June 15, 2021.
It says Kassel told litigants and lawyers “that he lacked familiarity with the case, was ignorant of the applicable law and incapable of adjudicating family court matters, and expressed dissatisfaction with the temporary assignment … “
It says Kassel compared himself to a high school freshman, a first-year law student, a cardiologist seeing his first patient and an obstetrician treating a broken bone.
At one hearing, he suggested the parties in a dispute seek a mediator.
“Frankly, you could get a guy off the street that’s more experienced than me with this stuff,” said Kassel, according to the complaint.
Kassel did not comment on the complaint, with a call to his chambers being referred to court administrators.
However, the complaint notes the judge preceded one of his criticisms by saying, “I want to be 100 percent transparent.”
In another instance, he said, “I’m not an apologist.”
And Kassel at one point noted his temporary role was required due to the extended absence of another judge.
“The good news is he’s expected back in four weeks,” Kassel told his courtroom. “The bad news is I’m not a family law judge.”
Kassel was admitted to the bar in 1982 and became a judge in 2001. He obtained tenure in 2008, positioning Kassel to remain on the bench until he reaches 70 years of age in 2027.
The April 19 complaint also notes Kassel’s actions at a June 2021 hearing, when the judge “appeared in the courtroom with his feet propped up on the desk and without his judical robes.”
And it asserts Kassel “openly disagreed” with a court rule for some family division cases.
Among other claims, the complaint alleges Kassel’s criticisms of his temporary assignment “impugned the integrity of the judiciary.” It faulted his “willful failure” to familiarize himself with the relevant law and with the facts of cases before him.
The disciplinary committee does not disclose how its cases originate.
Once Kassel responds to the complaint, a public hearing will be scheduled. The ACJC then may recommend action by the state Supreme Court, the only body that can publicly discipline a judge for violating the Judicial Code of Conduct.
Jim Walsh covers public safety, economic development and other beats for the Courier-Post, Burlington County Times and The Daily Journal.
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