NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – The chief judge of Middlesex County has been censured after he suggested a woman testifying in his court sell naked pictures of herself to Playboy Magazine founder Hugh Hefner.
State Superior Court Judge Alberto Rivas has agreed to step down from his position as Middlesex County's assignment judge, the state Supreme Court said Monday in a press release. He will continue to serve on the bench in civil cases.
In a filing last month, the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct (ACJC) recommended Rivas be censured after he “demonstrated a lack of self-control” during a January 2019 case involving the girlfriend of a married man and the man's wife.
The girlfriend was seeking to have the man’s wife return explicit photos, which the girlfriend feared would be shared with her employer and on social media
The comment to the woman about selling the photos to the late founder of Playboy magazine and other comments were cited in a seven-page complaint filed by the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct.
According to the complaint, Rivas told the woman, "The only person you should be sending naked pictures to are to Hugh Hefner. He will pay you $100,000 for the use of them."
Hugh Hefner, who founded Playboy Magazine 1953, passed away in 2017.
After the complaint came to light, Rivas released a statement through njcourts.gov, saying, "I regret the comments I made during the proceeding. I felt the court was being manipulated, but I let my feelings about the case influence my language, tone and demeanor, all of which were inappropriate.”
The complaint references other statements made from the bench. The woman, who was seeking t have the photos returned, repeatedly told the judge she did not know where the boyfriend's wife worked and therefore could not have mailed the photos.
Rivas repeatedly said it was "baloney" that she didn't know where her boyfriend's wife worked.
"That's not true," Rivas said according to the complaint. "If you're screwing him - let's be frank now, because I should not be wasting judicial resources on this kind of malarkey. If you have been screwing him for these years, there's no question that you know where she works. That's how affairs work."
Rivas also referred to the woman's boyfriend, who was present in court, as a "knucklehead" and suggested that the wife divorce him and "talk half his pension.
Chief Justice Stuart Rabner has appointed Superior Court Judge Michael Toto, criminal presiding judge in the Middlesex Vicinage, to serve as assignment judge, effective immediately.
Toto, 62, has served as a Superior Court judge in Middlesex County for 14 years. He was named presiding judge of the criminal division in 2017 and also served in the civil and family divisions. Prior to that, Toto served as a municipal judge for 17 years. He was the presiding judge of the Jamesburg Municipal Court and also served in the East Brunswick and Manalapan courts.
Toto is a graduate of Rutgers University Law School.