Thursday, April 11, 2013

Possible Conflict of Interest in Middletown and Union Beach Municipal Courts

UPDATE: 

By letter of April 16, 2013, the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct found that Judge Thompson did not violate an Canons of Judicial Ethics.  The letter is on-line here.
 ---------------------------------
April 11, 2013

Hon. Gerald P. Scharfenberger, Mayor, and members of the
Middletown Township Committee
via e-mail only to HBrunt@middletownnj.org

RE:    Possible conflict of interest regarding Municipal Judge Richard B. Thompson, Esq. and Municipal Prosecutor Gerald Massell, Esq.

Dear Mayor Scharfenberger and Committee members:

This is in follow-up to my May 12, 2012 letter, a copy of which is on-line here.   Unfortunately, I received no response from you (nor did I receive any response from Judge Colannino) so I thought that I'd check back with you in hopes that you would grant me the favor of a response--even if it is to simply inform me that you're not willing to entertain any further correspondence on the matter.

As you are aware, Richard B. Thompson, Esq. and Gerald Massell, Esq. serve, respectively, as the Judge and Prosecutor of the Middletown Municipal Courts. In my May 12, 2012 letter, I provided you unverified information that I had obtained from a letter to the editor published in May 11, 2012 Atlantic Highlands Herald.  I have since done my own research and have determined the following to be true.

1.  According to the New Jersey Lawyers Diary and Manual, both Thompson and Massell maintain private law offices at 222 Highway 35 in Middletown.  Their Diary entries on-line here.

2. According to the New Jersey Association of County Tax Boards' web site, the property at 222 Highway 35 is owned by Elizabeth Massell of 34 Concord Court in Red Bank, New Jersey.  The "property card" taken from the NJACT's site is on-line here.

3. According to Prosecutor Massell's Financial Disclosure Statement (on-line here), his wife is Maureen T. Massell, disproving the suggestion in my May 12, 2012 letter that Prosecutor Massell's wife owns 222 Highway 35.

4. According to an obituary published in the August 5, 2011 Asbury Park Press (on-line here), the late Elizabeth Massell, who was presumably the same person who owned 222 Highway 35, was Prosecutor Massell's mother.

I am not informed whether Elizabeth Massell had made a will or whether her estate has been distributed.  Thus, I don't know which of her heirs has an ownership interest in 222 Highway 35.  But, since parents typically make their children heirs of their estates, I cannot rule out the possibility that Prosecutor Massell (and, perhaps his brother Middletown Committeeman Stephen Massell) currently has an ownership interest in 222 Highway 35.  Such would make Prosecutor Massell Judge Thompson's landlord, which I believe would constitute a conflict of interest.

Would you please inquire as to the manner in which Elizabeth Massell's estate was probated or administered?  If it turns out that members of Prosecutor Massell's family (and not the Prosecutor himself) owns or controls 222 Highway 35, I believe that this financial connection still constitutes a conflict even if it is not as stark as the conflict that would arise if Prosecutor Massell himself owns or controls 222 Highway 35

I am sending a copy of this letter to Mayor Paul J. Smith and members of the Union Beach Borough Council since Judge Thompson and Prosecutor Massell also serve in that municipal court.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.


John Paff, Chairman
New Jersey Libertarian Party's
Open Government Advocacy Project
P.O. Box 5424
Somerset, NJ  08875
Voice: 732-873-1251
Fax: 908-325-0129
e-mail: paff@pobox.com


cc. Mayor Paul J. Smith and members of the Union Beach Borough Council
Via e-mail only to ubboroclerk@optonline.net