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Atlantic County Superior Court judge - accused of screaming at a woman during a custody hearing - apologizes but denies ethics violation

Atlantic County Superior Court judge - accused of screaming at a woman during a custody hearing - apologizes but denies ethics violation

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An Atlantic County Superior Court judge has apologized for his conduct in a Family Court case that now has him facing ethics charges.

Judge Max Baker was charged last month with screaming at Dana Pilla during a temporary custody hearing in December, and threatening to jail her if she did not comply with his order. He faces a possible hearing before the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct.

In his response, Baker denies he screamed at Pilla or called her a bad parent, but "acknowledges that his words could have been so interpreted." He says he was trying to get her to understand the detrimental nature of denying the child's father access.

He "has sincerely apologized to Dana Pilla in writing, acknowledging that the manner in which he spoke to her and the words he utilized were wrong and were embarrassing to him," Baker's attorney, Mark Biel, wrote in his reply. The apology "represents the unconditional recognition of inappropriateness of his behavior."

But Baker denies anything he did prejudiced the case and says his actions were only a result "of his desire to do justice to children," Biel wrote.

Candace Moody, counsel for the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct, claimed in her filing that Baker violated three canons of the Code of Judicial Conduct, including one requiring "judges to be patient, dignified and courteous to all those with whom they deal in an official capacity."

Baker's conduct did not rise to that level, the response states.

The "remarks to Mrs. Pilla demonstrated an inappropriate level of patience and courtesy, all of which was unintentional," Biel wrote. "It is denied that his remarks were insulting."

Baker left Family Court in June and is now assigned to the Criminal Division in Mays Landing. Assignment Judge Valerie Armstrong confirmed last month that the transfer was at Baker's request and predates the ethics allegations.

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