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New Jersey Judge Removes Himself from Case after Allegedly Calling Spouses "Tomatoes"

A Morris County, New Jersey, Superior Court Family Judge has removed himself from a case in which he allegedly made derogatory remarks about a husband's Italian ancestry, called him a "jerk" behind his back, and referred to divorcing spouses as "tomatoes."

Judge Philip Maenza granted the motion for recusal brought by Tobia Ippolito, who said that the judge's comments showed he was biased against him. Ippolito is involved in divorce proceedings with his wife Lisa.

Maenza denied any record of bias or racial hatred in the case but said that it was best to remove himself to maintain "respect for the judiciary."

The judge said that he was actually referring to someone else unrelated to the Ippolito case when he was recorded during a break calling someone a jerk, saying that he hated him, and wishing he was in jail.

At a hearing, Judge Maenza allegedly asked Lisa Ippolito if she had "an Italian background."

After she said, "yes," the judge reportedly said, "And I do too, and obviously so does Toby."

Judge Maenza then allegedly added: "You're the tomatoes in the case. The lawyers are the strainer. I'm the bottle."

Mr. Ippolito interpreted the remark as anti-Italian. The judge himself is of Italian ancestry.

Mr. Ippolito's counsel said that it was inappropriate for the judge to comment upon the ethnicity of a party to a case before the court.

Under New Jersey law, a party can seek to remove a judge from a case, or the judge can remove himself or herself. Common reasons for recusal of a judge include:

  • The judge is closely related to one of the parties or attorneys in the case. ("Closely related" means second cousin or closer.)
  • The judge has represented one of the parties as an attorney.
  • The judge has a personal or financial interest in the outcome of the case.

If you have questions about family law issues, contact an experienced family law attorney at the New Jersey Law Offices of Greenberg, Walden & Grossman, LLC.

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