New Jersey Judge’s TikTok Escapades: A Question of Ethics or Free Expression?”

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USA Herald — In today’s digital age, where the lines between personal and public frequently blur due to social media, even distinguished members of the judiciary find themselves caught up in the maelstrom. Judge Gary N. Wilcox, of the Superior Court in Bergen County, New Jersey, is now embroiled in an ethics probe due to his foray into the world of TikTok.

Videos of Judge Wilcox, some filmed within his own chambers or the courthouse, feature him lip-syncing to a mix of popular songs, including those with explicit lyrics. While Wilcox argues that his actions were light-hearted expressions of free speech, critics argue that they tarnish the image of the judicial system.

Adding a layer of complexity, Wilcox’s choice of wardrobe, varying from his solemn judicial robe to a “Beavis and Butt-Head” tee, has exacerbated the debate. Operating under the pseudonym “Sal Tortorella,” Wilcox uploaded a series of 40 videos from April 2021 to March 2023. The judge expressed surprise at their widespread availability, assuming they would remain within his close-knit circle.

The committee’s stance is clear, with the complaint stating, “By sharing such videos on TikTok, the respondent’s actions were seen as lacking discernment, potentially demeaning the judicial system, and not aligning with the expected behavior standards for judges. The behavior raises concerns about public trust in the legal system and breaches various judicial guidelines.”

Yet, in his defense, Wilcox has emphasized the innocent nature of most of these videos, which ranged from moments at sporting events to memories with family. He says his limited familiarity with TikTok, may have contributed to the oversight.

His professional journey, including an illustrious career as a partner at McCarter & English LLP and a law degree from Harvard Law School, stands in stark contrast to the current controversy.

While some videos, such as his performance to Rihanna’s “Jump,” have raised eyebrows, others, like the one featuring him in a cheeky t-shirt lip-syncing to Nas’s “Get Down,” have particularly been in the spotlight due to their explicit content.

Judge Wilcox’s stance is firm, as he asserts in his statement, “Respondent seeks, for the reasons stated, a finding of no violation or if a violation is determined, that no discipline be imposed as it would serve no legitimate purpose but to punish. Alternatively, if discipline is to be imposed, then it should be no greater than an admonition.”

Amidst the Committee’s concerns, Wilcox plans to summon legal colleagues to vouch for his judicial track record.

In a world where the boundaries of personal and professional life increasingly blur in the digital realm, Judge Wilcox’s case serves as a poignant reminder of the responsibilities held by those in positions of authority and public trust. While the ethics and standards for online behavior continue to be defined, this incident underscores the importance of discretion, even in moments deemed ‘personal’ or ‘casual.’ As the New Jersey Supreme Court Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct deliberates on this matter, the broader society watches keenly, reflecting on the ever-evolving nature of public conduct in the digital age.

Robert B. Hille of Greenbaum Rowe Smith & Davis LLP is representing Judge Wilcox. The underlining sentiment of their defense? The absence of malice.

For more details on this unfolding saga, read our previous coverage here.

For more about the author visit Samuel Lopez.

The case in question is Docket No ACJC 2023-218, In the Matter of Gary N. Wilcox, Judge of The Superior Court, before the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct of the Supreme Court of the State of New Jersey.