State judge who told parties he had ‘no expertise in family law’ faces discipline

Emily Parkin

A Camden County Superior Court judge is in hot water over a temporary assignment in the vicinage’s family division.

The Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct filed a formal complaint Tuesday against Judge Michael J. Kassel, saying he violated court rules and impinged on the judiciary’s integrity by failing to familiarize himself with family law, complaining about his temporary assignment, and repeatedly telling parties he lacked the expertise to adjudicate their cases.

Kassel, who has been a judge for 20 years, was assigned to Camden County’s family division once a week for roughly two months, from April to June 2021.

During his brief stint in family court, Kassel repeatedly complained to parties about his temporary assignment and said he “knew very little about the applicable laws” because he last served in the division 18 years ago, according to the complaint. Kassel has handled civil cases for most of his judicial career.

“Frankly, you could get a guy off the street that’s more experienced than me with this stuff,” he said in one family court case, according to the complaint.

On another occasion, the complaint said, Kassel asked attorneys to treat him “like I’m a ninth grader in high school.” In another, he requested “both sides walk me through the case like they were walking a fairly well-educated first-year law student,” warning them against assuming he knew anything about the law or their case.

Kassel also failed to recuse himself from a case involving an attorney who defended him on an 11-year-old drunk driving charge that ultimately was dismissed, and he also disparaged a court rule allowing defendants in summary family cases to forgo filing court documents if they appear in-person at a hearing, according to the complaint.

Complaints filed by the committee rarely result in judges being suspended or terminated. Most often, judges are issued a reprimand or a censure.

Judge shortage prompts reassignments

Kassel was assigned temporarily to the family division because of a shortage of judges there.

New Jersey’s judiciary has been grappling with a staggering number of vacancies. By May, 75 seats on the Superior Court will be vacant, Judge Glenn Grant, the Courts’ administrative director, told the Assembly Budget Committee earlier this month. Another 22 retirements are expected by the end of the year.

Those shortages, coupled with a pandemic-fueled slowdown in court proceedings that is just starting to abate, have forced the judiciary to temporarily reassign judges to the criminal and family divisions to more quickly clear priority caseloads.

Kassel’s case appears to be the first reassignment to result in disciplinary proceedings.

There are just three vacancies in Camden County Superior Court, and Gov. Phil Murphy has three nominations to the county’s bench awaiting approval from the Senate.

The chamber’s Judiciary Committee, which must approve gubernatorial nominees before they reach a floor vote, is expected to reconvene in May.

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State judge who told parties he had ‘no expertise in family law’ faces discipline

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