Quick and Questionable Justice Lands Municipal Judge in Soup
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Summary: The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit has ruled in favor of the lower court which held that former Municipal Judge Louis DiLeo of Linden, NJ, cannot have a lawsuit against him dismissed on grounds of absolute judicial immunity. The lawsuit accuses DiLeo held an unusual trial without the presence of any prosecutor or defense counsel and and tried and convicted two defendants on charges of theft, possession of burglary and marijuana possession.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit refused to uphold the claims of absolute judicial immunity of a municipal judge who tried and convicted two defendants for theft and marijuana possession, without the presence of either prosecutor or defense counsel at the trial.
Former Municipal Judge Louis DiLeo was not reappointed by the City of Linden after the incident, but the defendants have now brought a civil lawsuit. DiLeo pleaded judicial immunity, but a trial judge denied his motion to dismiss the lawsuit. He went on appeal, but the 3rd Circuit refused to side with him.
The 3rd Circuit commented that the plaintiffs had a plausible claim that DiLeo's actions "went beyond legal error, such that he was no longer functioning in his judicial capacity."
At the trial, apparently DiLeo advised the defendants of the charges against them, the possible consequences of conviction and their right to counsel and to the services of the municipal defender. The defendants said that they would retain private counsel in their first appearance. But, during their second appearance, both defendants requested a public defender. Judge DiLeo determined that by representing they would appoint private counsel the defendants had waived their rights to have a public defender. However, he told the defendants that the public defender would be there to represent them in the trial.
The 3rd Circuit notes, when the defendants returned to face trial on the next date, "they were not advised to speak with the Public Defender, nor were they assigned any counsel."
Judge DiLeo presided over the trial without any prosecutor or defense counsel and wrapped up the proceedings within an hour finding the defendants guilty. DiLeo conducted direct examination of the arresting officer and then allowed the defendants to cross-examine him. Despite the charges were about possessory offences and theft, the officer informed the court the law enforcement had no physical evidence. However, DiLeo decided to find the defendants guilty on all charges, and did so.
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