Rivera-Soto's fellow justices will now make the final decision on whether or how he gets punished. They can reprimand, censure, suspend, or remove him from his seat - or do nothing. A judiciary spokeswoman said there was no time line for their decision, though Rivera-Soto has waived a seven-day waiting period.
The justice has maintained that he was only looking out for his son, Christian, during the boy's dispute with the captain of the Haddonfield Memorial High School football team. Handler acknowledged yesterday that Rivera-Soto's actions "were prompted by his sincere and understandable concern for the safety and well-being of his son."
However, the panel said that it was inappropriate for Rivera-Soto to contact judges, the acting county prosecutor and the cell phone of the Haddonfield police chief, and to hand out business cards with his title.
Doing so violated judicial rules against using his office for private gain and "blurred the line between his role as a justice and his role as a parent," Handler wrote.
Bruce McMoran, Rivera-Soto's attorney, did not return calls for comment yesterday.
Handler wrote that Haddonfield Police Chief Richard Tsonis had given Rivera-Soto his cell phone number during an earlier conversation about the protection of the justice and his family, who live in the Camden County borough.
Therefore, Handler wrote, it was inappropriate for the justice to call that phone number to complain about his son's dispute. Rivera-Soto should have called a general police number or visited the police station, Handler said.
Handler also condemned a letter that Rivera-Soto wrote to Charles Rand, the presiding judge of Camden County Family Court, complaining that a hearing in the case had been postponed.
He said that language the justice used in the letter, such as "I trust" and "I am certain that," "could be misconstrued as attempting to exert authority or influence."
"The tenor of the letter . . . is authoritarian, it reflects not only indignation, but, by implication, respondent's superior judicial office," Handler wrote.
Handler added that Rivera-Soto used the letter to question why the family of Haddonfield football team captain Conor Larkin wanted the hearing postponed and "impugned the . . . family's credibility" and "had the potential to influence improperly the underlying case as it proceeded."
Larkin, now 18, has notified Rivera-Soto that he may file a tort-claims lawsuit against him, saying the charges the justice pursued against him resulted in embarrassment and damage to his reputation.
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Contact staff writer Elisa Ung at 609-989-9016 or firstname.lastname@example.org.