Lawrence Township Municipal Court Judge Lewis J. Korngut, who has been cited by the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct, will not seek reappointment to the bench when his term expires in February 2024.
Korngut stated his intention to not seek reappointment in his Oct. 30 response to a three-count formal complaint filed against him by Maureen G. Bauman, the disciplinary counsel for the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct.
Korngut offered several “mitigating factors” in his answer to the complaint, which was filed in July. He cited the fact that he has no prior history of any discipline, both as a judge and as a prosecutor. He formerly worked in the Mercer County Prosecutor’s Office.
Korngut continues to serve as the Lawrence Township Municipal Court judge, pending resolution of the complaint. He was appointed by the Lawrence Township Council to be the part-time judge in 2017. He was reappointed to a three-year term in 2018 and again in 2021.
Despite making the appointment, the Lawrence Township Council does not have oversight on a municipal court judge.
Korngut allegedly violated several standards of the Code of Judicial Conduct between 2020 and 2022, according to the complaint.
The alleged violations included holding “ex parte” or private conversations about pending cases without the presence of both the municipal court prosecutor and the public defender or defense attorney.
He was also alleged to have socialized with police officers at public and private events, and to have used profanity in the presence of municipal court staff – although it was not directed at them, the complaint said.
Responding to allegations that he engaged the municipal prosecutor in “ex parte” conversations about pending court matters between January and June 2022, Korngut admitted to “engaging in administrative/procedural discussions,” but denied having substantive “ex parte” conversations.
The Code of Judicial Ethics prohibits a judge from initiating “ex parte” communications concerning a pending or impending proceeding. “Ex parte” means any contact or discussion with the judge about a pending case that does not include the presence of both the municipal court prosecutor and the public defender or defense attorney.
The complaint also stated that during 2021 and 2022, Korngut allegedly spoke to Lawrence Township police officers who were waiting in the hallway between trials and during downtime while waiting for matters to begin.
Korngut denied holding any conversations with police officers pertaining to any matters before the Lawrence Township Municipal Court. Any conversations were limited to greetings and polite small talk while waiting to enter the courtroom, according to his response.
Korngut allegedly socialized with police officers at public and private events outside of the courtroom, such as National Night Out, according to the complaint.
He allegedly attended the annual “National Night Out” event on three occasions, most recently in 2022. Police officers are present at the event, which seeks to build police/community partnerships.
Korngut admitted to attending National Night Out, but “at no time did (he) advertise himself as a member of the Judiciary,” he stated in his response. He said he was not aware that his attendance was inappropriate until it was raised in the complaint.
Korngut allegedly attended a retirement party for the outgoing Lawrence Township police chief that was held at the municipal building and attended only by Lawrence Township police officers.
He admitted to briefly observing the retirement ceremony while he was at the municipal building on other business, but denied formally attending it. He did not speak to the police chief, according to his response.
Korngut allegedly attended sporting events with Lawrence Township police officers and often went to a Hooters restaurant with them.
In his response, Korngut said he attended two sporting events. He stopped going to sporting events in 2019 – before the complaint was filed – after conducting research on whether it was appropriate for him to do so.
He also denied going to the Hooters restaurant, except for one time with his municipal court staff. A police officer was “incidentally present” at the restaurant, “unbeknownst” to him, according to his answer to the complaint.
“By his conduct in fraternizing with Lawrence Township police officers in the courthouse and at social events, Respondent (Korngut) acted in a manner that cast reasonable doubt on (his) capacity to act impartially as a judge” in violation of the standards of the Code of Judicial Conduct, the complaint said.
Korngut allegedly has a tendency to use profanity, sometimes in relation to his inability to operate his laptop computer, the complaint stated. It was not directed at municipal court staff and was not made in the presence of people who are appearing in Lawrence Township Municipal Court.
Korngut admitted to using profanity on occasion, but denied having a propensity to do so. Profanities were never made in the presence of litigants or attorneys.
Nevetheless, Korngut’s repeated use of profanity violated the Judicial Code of Conduct, “which requires a judge to maintain order and decorum in judicial proceedings, and to treat all those with whom he deals with dignity, patience and courtesy,” the complaint stated.
“(Korngut) has demonstrated a failure to conform his conduct to the high standards of conduct expected of judges and impugned the integrity of the Judiciary, in violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct,” according to the complaint.
Korngut acknowledged violating some of the standards in his answer to the complaint, such as the requirement “to observe high standards of conduct so that the integrity and independence of the judiciary may be preserved.”
He also acknowledged violating the standard that “prohibits a judge from participating in activities that would appear to reasonable, fully informed persons to undermine the judge’s independence, integrity and impartiality.”
In the statement of mitigating factors that accompanied his responses, Korngut admitted to his conduct, expressed remorse and demonstrated a willingness to learn from his mistakes. His behavior, while admittedly inconsistent with judicial standards, did not harm anyone, the statement said.