BLOOMFIELD, NJ — Bloomfield’s chief municipal judge,Wilfredo Benitez, has been censured by the NJ Supreme Court for ethics violations stemming from a roadside arrest by the NJ State Police while he was suspected of a DWI offense.
The incident occured Nov. 12, 2016, in Teaneck. In censuring Benitez, the court ruled he would continue to be disqualified from hearing DWI matters until Sept. 7, 2019. The decision was made public Friday, Sept. 6.
In a complaint filed with the NJ Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct in January 2018, Benitez was alleged to have been found asleep behind the wheel of a car Nov. 12, 2016, by two NJ State Police officers patrolling Route 80. His breath allegedly smelled of alcohol and his eyes were bloodshot and watery.
According to the complaint, Benitez identified himself as a judge. Failing a field sobriety test, he was arrested and handcuffed at which time he allegedly asked for “a courtesy,” began using expletives, and told the arresting officer he was wasting his time. The complaint alleged that Benitez sought preferential treatment from the state troopers because he was a judge. It requested that he be found in violation of not observing high standards of conduct; creating an appearance of impropriety; and lending the prestige of his office for personal gain. Following the arrest, a subsequent blood/alcohol test administered at a State Police substation, according to police documents, determined that Bentez’ blood/alcohol level was .16. This is twice the .08 level at which a person is considered DWI.
But Benitez was acquitted of the DWI charge by a Bergen County Superior Court judge in May 2017 after it was acknowledged by the defense and prosecuting attorneys that he had been left unattended at the State Police substation for a short time during a legally required, uninterrupted 20-minute observation period.
Formally responding to the complaint, Benitez acknowledged to the ACJC that he had told the state troopers he was a judge and wanted preferential treatment because he took “umbrage at being treated like a common criminal.” He apologized for his use of profanity.
In its decision submitted to the Supreme Court, the ACJC supported all complaints of ethics violations and recommended that Benitez be publicly censured.
A call to his private law office requesting a statement was not returned.