N.J. Supreme Court to decide if part-time judge, full-time comedian can keep both jobs
Vincenzo A. Sicari has maintained a successful career in comedy since first performing stand-up routines at New York City clubs in the late 1990s — despite never making a joke about lawyers.
How he's successfully circumvented one of the easiest targets in all of comedy is another story. The reason he's done it? He's a part-time municipal judge in New Jersey.
And for all the power and prestige that comes with the $13,000-a-year position as overseer of traffic tickets and misdemeanor crimes in South Hackensack (population: 2,249), Sicari has walked a thin line between his law and comedy careers.
Tomorrow, the New Jersey State Supreme Court will decide if he can walk that line any longer, answering the oft-asked question: "Can a part-time municipal court judge also pursue a career as a comedian and actor, including appearing on a weekly television program, using a fictitious name?"
New Jersey's justices apparently take their judicial system extremely seriously and a funny judge who goes by the showbiz name "Vince August" is at the center of this nearly five-year-old question.
It all began over a request for an interview by a North Jersey newspaper.
Sicari worked in private practice as an attorney for several years after graduating from New York Law School in the mid-1990s and first hit it big as a comedian in 1997 when he appeared at the well-known Caroline's nightclub in Manhattan.
All the while working as a lawyer, his career in entertainment gathered steam.
"As an entertainer, Vince August has performed in clubs and venues from coast to coast and Canada and does not do jokes about lawyers," his attorney E. Drew Britcher said in a brief filed before the Supreme Court in 2010. "His comedy has always been, and continues to be, a self-deprecating view of his non-professional personal relationships, family life and observations of current affairs."
As his fame on the comedy circuit rose, The Bergen Record wrote a story about Sicari in the spring of 2007: the North Jersey lawyer who had risen to Broadway comedy club headliner.
Later in 2007, South Hackensack officials approached Sicari about his nomination to the part-time municipal bench. He eventually became municipal judge in January 2008.
Shortly after, the Bergen Record request another interview with Sicari. He sought advice from the judicial system's Advisory Committee on Extrajudicial Activities.
A few months later, Sicari received a letter from the committee. Put bluntly, it told him he should quit comedy and acting while sitting on the bench in South Hackensack.
Over the next few years, Sicari sought clarification from state judicial officials about his dual careers while continuing his judgeship. He also appeared in recurring, non-credited roles on ABC's nationally televised hidden camera news show, "Primetime: What would you do?" from 2008 through 2011, according to a letter filed by an attorney for the Advisory Committee on Extrajudicial Activities.
Sicari continued to appear on the TV show in 2012 and 2013, according to his IMDb.com profile.
"The Committee was of the view that despite Judge Sicari's purported efforts to separate his two careers by using a different name ... 'What Would You Do?' views could recognize him as a local Municipal Court judge," the letter said. "The Committee based this finding on the facts that staff located articles on the internet, as well as Judge Sicari's 'LinkedIn' profile."
Finally, in February this year, the Supreme Court heard arguments about whether Sicari should be allowed to keep his night job, the Record reported in a story that included the phrase 'joking judge' in the headline.
The justices appeared skeptical that Sicari could keep his job on the bench and his job in the clubs separate, according to the Record.
On Thursday, Sicari will find out if it's all simply been one long joke or a punch to the gut for one of his careers.