On Tuesday, August 23, 2022, the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct of New Jersey recommended that Theresa Mullen, former judge of  Vicinage 12 Superior Court in Union County, be removed from the bench following ethics complaints over a dispute with her daughter’s school. The case is styled as ‘In the Matter of Judge Theresa Mullen’ with case number #ACJC 2017-364.

The judge was charged with violating Canon 1, Rule 1.1 and 1.2; Canon 2, Rule 2.1 and 2.3(A); and Canon 5, Rule 5.1(A) of the Code of Judicial Conduct, which states:

A judge shall participate in establishing, maintaining, and enforcing, and shall personally observe, high standards of conduct so that the integrity, impartiality, and independence of the judiciary are preserved.

A judge shall respect and comply with the law.

An independent and honorable judiciary is indispensable to justice in our society.’

A judge shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.

A judge shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the independence, integrity, and impartiality of the judiciary, and shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety.

Judges shall conduct their extrajudicial activities in a manner that would not cast reasonable doubt on the judge’s capacity to act impartially as a judge, demean the judicial office, or interfere with the proper performance of judicial duties.

Judge Mullen was found in violation of judicial conduct rules by the committee in May 2018 after she filed a complaint against her daughter’s Catholic (“St. Theresa”) school for refusing to allow the girl to play on the boys’ basketball team.

When St. Theresa School in Kenilworth disbanded the girls’ squad following the 2015–16 academic year, Judge Mullen’s daughter, who was then a seventh grader, requested to play on the boys’ team but the school refused. Taking their case to court, the family began what would become a bitter, protracted legal struggle.

The couple’s two daughters were expelled from the school in February 2017. St. Theresa cited school rules that require families with pending litigation against the school to unenroll them. In spite of this, Mullen drove her girls to school. She then refused to leave, defying police attempts to arrest and remove her. They did, charging her with petty disorderly conduct and defiant trespass. She was later found guilty by a judge.

On September 29, 2021, the Supreme Court filed the pending Complaint for Removal from Office and an Order to Show Cause. Respondent’s seven-year judicial appointment expired on October 22, 2021, and she was not re-nominated.

Her actions during the trial were criticized in the complaint. She allegedly skipped a court-ordered deposition, and when she did show up at other times, the panel claims she was distracted by her phone, dressed casually for exercise, and declined to answer numerous questions. The panel noted that she once appeared to counsel her husband’s attorney. The alleged conduct does not live up to the high expectations placed on judges.

The opinion reads:

“Respondent continues to deny wrongdoing and blames everyone but herself for her current predicament. We note that we provided respondent multiple opportunities to provide mitigating evidence, including character references and judicial performance evaluations, but she submitted nothing.”

The opinion continues:

“Respondent expresses no regret for these events and does not acknowledge committing any wrong. Respondent’s errors in judgment accumulated, and she neither learned from the experiences nor understood they violated the Canons. Respondent’s refusal to take responsibility, and stunning lack of remorse, demonstrate there is no hope she could exercise better judgment in the future. Removal is the only option to preserve public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary.”

The Supreme Court ordered the clerk to schedule an oral argument for the November 28-29 argument session.

The Judge earned a law degree from Albany Law School.

A copy of the original filing can be found here.