Judge Investigated Over His Profane TikTok Videos


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For two years, a judge in New Jersey used a pseudonym to post TikTok videos of himself lip-syncing lyrics from popular rap songs.

In some, he was wearing judicial robes or shown walking through a courthouse, according to the state’s Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct. Others included explicit references to violence, sex and misogyny. At least one was taken in bed.

On Monday, the court system said it had filed a complaint against the Superior Court judge, Gary N. Wilcox, who will now face a hearing that could lead to discipline ranging from a reprimand to dismissal from the bench.

The complaint argues that Judge Wilcox’s decision to post the TikTok videos showed “poor judgment and demonstrated disrespect for the judiciary and an inability to conform to the high standards of conduct expected of judges.”

The case, which will likely involve free speech arguments, was filed a day after the New Jersey Supreme Court issued a potentially precedent-setting decision related to privacy protections when using social media. The court ruled that the police needed to prove more than basic probable cause to continuously monitor Facebook to investigate crimes, concluding that the surveillance was the “functional equivalent” of tapping a person’s phone.

Judge Wilcox, who presides over criminal cases in Bergen County, N.J., will reach the mandatory retirement age of 70 next year, a spokeswoman for the court said. He was admitted to the New Jersey bar more than three decades ago and has been a Superior Court judge since 2011. He is not permitted by judicial conduct rules to discuss the matter. His lawyer, Robert Hille, said that he was reviewing the complaint and would be filing a response.

“I don’t think that at the end of the day anybody is going to believe there was any desire to do any harm here,” Mr. Hille said. “Hindsight is 20-20.”

According to the complaint, he used an alias, “Sal Tortorella,” to post roughly 40 publicly available videos on TikTok from 2021 to March 2023. Eleven were deemed inappropriate by the judicial conduct committee.

Several were recorded in his court chambers and included songs that contained “profanity, graphic sexual references to female and male body parts, and/or racist terms,” according to the committee.

In one video cited in the complaint, which appears to have been removed from TikTok, Judge Wilcox recorded himself wearing a “Beavis and Butt-Head” T-shirt while walking through a courthouse as “Get Down” by the rapper Nas plays in the background.

The complaint noted that the song contains explicit lyrics about a criminal case and a courtroom shooting, as well as drug and gang references, including the killing of a doctor who treated a rival gang member.

Another video showed Judge Wilcox in a car, wearing a T-shirt bearing the words “Freedom of Speech,” while mouthing lyrics about spilling cognac on a “$200 suit.”

“You think you can run up on me and whip my monkey ass? Come on. Come on!” he lip-synced in another video, which was recorded in a judge’s chambers in front of law books.

Many of the songs cited in the complaint are from mainstream musicians. One video included “Jump” from the artist Rihanna; others featured “Sure Thing” by the R&B singer Miguel and “Touch It” by the rapper Busta Rhymes.

Alexander Shalom, a senior lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey, noted that there was often a distinction between conduct that an employer can mandate and speech that was constitutionally protected.

“Judge Wilcox is entitled to due process,” said Mr. Shalom, who has interceded in other prominent free-speech cases in New Jersey. “As he goes through that process, there will be lots of significant issues raised about free speech and free expression and what actually does impugn the stature of the judiciary.”

He said the A.C.L.U., which is not involved in the case, would be watching as the case progresses and would be “eager to delve into those issues.”

The complaint against Judge Wilcox comes as New Jersey’s Superior Court has so many judicial vacancies that civil and matrimonial trials have been halted in six counties.

Lawmakers have stressed the value of a diverse bench as they approve the slow trickle of Superior Court nominees. And on Friday, Michael Noriega become the first former public defender to be confirmed to serve on the New Jersey Supreme Court, a step the governor said restored “representation from the Hispanic community at the highest level of our judiciary.”

Mr. Hille said the focus on appointing judges from varied backgrounds was a noble pursuit.

“The idea of diversity is that you have a link to the community, so you have developed a frame of reference,” said Mr. Hille, who made clear he was speaking generically and not about Judge Wilcox’s case.

“These are mainstream performers,” he said about the music cited in the complaint. “This is music that’s out there in the public. And clearly it elicits a different response depending on who is listening.”


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