Judge Admits Conflict Hiring Lawyer But Denies Knowledge of a Cover Up

, New Jersey Law Journal


Melanie Appleby
Melanie Appleby

She says she still does not know who signed and sent the letter to Christopher Donahue, her ex-husband.

After receiving the letter, Donahue retained Catherine Tambasco of DeNoia & Tambasco in Toms River. She contacted Biel, who told her he did not represent Appleby and knew nothing about the letter, according to the ACJC. Donahue lodged the ethics complaint.

Appleby notes she went to Grasso of her own volition in September 2012 to have Louis put on her conflicts list.

She admits that before then, she heard matters in two of his cases during June and July of 2012, entering an order of divorce, conducting an early settlement conference, signing a consent order for mediation and ordering the release of medical records Louis sought.

She claims, however, that she "made no independent findings nor decided any contested issues," since the parties were in agreement in each instance.

She asks for the chance to submit evidence "in explanation or mitigation" and to request the sealing of any materials relating to personal, family, medical or other confidential information.

Appleby is charged with violating the Code of Judicial Conduct by facilitating or acquiescing in Louis' attempt to conceal the conflict and consulting with him despite knowing he had cases before her. She allegedly violated requirements to uphold the judiciary's independence and integrity (Canon 1), avoid impropriety and its appearance (Canon 2A) and conduct extrajudicial activities so as not to put impartiality in question, demean the judicial office or interfere with judicial duties (Canons 5A(1), 5A(2) and 5A(3)).

By not taking herself off Louis' cases right away, she also allegedly violated Canon 3C(1)'s requirement for disqualification where a judge's impartiality might reasonably be questioned because of a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party or lawyer.

Biel comments that, like Appleby, he does not know for certain who drafted and sent the letter but "it wasn't me nor any member of my law firm." He also states that he has never met or spoken with Appleby or appeared before her.

During an earlier interview, shortly after the ACJC complaint was filed, Biel also stated that given his busy schedule he believed Louis—whom he described as a "longstanding friend and colleague" —would expedite things by outlining the facts in a draft letter, following which Biel would speak with Appleby and possibly be retained as her lawyer. That "never happened," he added.

What's being said

  • Ruby2008

    Isolated case? I think not.

  • Ruby2008

    How can an inexperienced judge make expert judicial decisions that affect families and lives forever? How can a family law attorney be so corrupt? Are you done snickering? The actions of Mr. Louis should not be tolerated. His opposition to reforming alimony should not be taken seriously for his intentions are obviously self-serving as is his opposition to guidelines that could limit litigation and the fees that line his pocket.

  • Ruby2008

    Isolated case? I think not.

  • not available

    The judiciary is well aware that Family Court is the training court for newly appointed Judges. As such they are on the Job trainees, upon their swearing in, they are given unfathomable power and authority to make decisions without prior review or approval of their superiors. The potential for errors and actual errors made by the trainees could and often wreck the lives of NJ families. In this case the Family Court Judge wish to site inexperience on the job as cause for her actions. I say if she is too inexperienced to make valid decisions on her own case, she is too inexperienced to make decisions on the lives of NJ citizens. She must be removed no second chance to destroy our citizens.

  • Tom Leustek

    Frank Louis is a vocal opponent of alimony reform and of the concept of statutory guidelines to help judges make fair alimony determinations. I wonder if there is a connection between his opposition to guidelines and his alleged attempt to curry favor with Judge Appleby?

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