Or did a Bergen County judge put his thumb on the scale and influence the Palisades Park mayoral election last fall when he found probable cause to refer a citizen’s complaint to the prosecutor’s office against one of the candidates just two weeks before Election Day?
Stephanie Jang believes Bergen County Municipal Court Judge Anthony N. Galina cost her the election.
“I certainly believe that,” said Jang, a Republican councilwoman who lost by just 256 votes in the Democratic town. Her running mate lost his seat on the council by a margin of 84 votes.
The branch found probable cause for the citation on charges that Jang helped voters at a local nursing home fill out a vote-by-mail ballot during the 2020 primary election, which is a felony.
The Bergen County prosecutor “administratively dismissed” the case on Jan. 3, hours before Democrat Paul Kim was sworn in as mayor, acquitting Jang after a relatively quick hearing.
Galina’s decision was unusual, as judges usually do not approach election campaigns, especially after some ballots have already been cast, except in cases of urgency. It is not clear whether the citizens’ complaint reaches this level.
Galina now faces criticism for not recusing himself because his daughter serves on the Democratic-controlled Bergen County Board of Commissioners and has ties, albeit indirect, to David Lorenzo, the district administrator and local political boss.
Lorenzo was a key participant in the race and a key supporter of Kim.
It was Lorenzo filed a citizen’s application.
“People were worried, saying, ‘What if we elect Stephanie Zhang and she goes to jail?’ she said. “They spread a big rumor that I was going to jail.”
Before Galina’s ruling, key North Jersey Democrats acknowledged that Jang was on track to defeat Kim, the councilman who defeated incumbent Christopher Chung in the Democratic primary.
A a copy of the summons signed by Galina was sent to Palisades Park voters and even turned into giant signs that were displayed in public. Former Mayor James Rotondo, an ally of Lorenzo who lost his seat in the 2018 primary against Chung, was photographed holding one of those giant signs outside the polling station on election day.
The judge’s daughter works for the county commissioners of the Democratic Party
Stephanie B. Galina was hired in 2007 after her father contacted James Carroll, who was seeking re-election to the Bergen County Board of Freeholders at the time, three sources with knowledge of her hiring confirmed. Anthony Galina was serving as an Elmwood Park Municipal Court judge at the time he was looking for a job for his daughter.
The relationship between Galina and the Democrats from Palisades Park consists of chains. It’s about a personal relationship between his daughter and Dennis Urie Jr., who works for the Bergen County Public Works Department. Uri’s co-worker is Laura Ashley, whose husband, Austin, is the deputy administrator of the Palisades Park District and reports directly to Lorenzo.
Stephanie Galina told the New Jersey Globe that she had not discussed the Palisades Park case with her father. Ashley said there was no discussion of Jang with Uri.
“I haven’t talked to him about Palisades Park,” Ashley said. “We talk about other things.”
Uri did not return a call seeking comment.
Anthony Galina did not return four calls seeking comment. A court spokesman said the judge would not comment.
New Jersey Code of Conduct for Judges states that judges “must avoid impropriety or the appearance of impropriety” and that a judge “must not allow family, social, political or other relationships to influence the conduct of judges or their decision.”
“Municipal judges in New Jersey must do everything they can to avoid being drawn into political fights by warring local factions,” said Mika Rasmussen, director of the New Jersey Rebovich Institute of Politics at Rider University. “This is doubly important for issues related to elections and voting, which are by definition so sensitive to questions about neutrality and fairness.”
Jang declined to say whether she plans to file an ethics complaint against Galina, though some speculated that she would.
But she complained that Galina kept postponing the hearing, which was originally set for Aug. 4, then pushed back to Sept. 15 and finally to Oct. 20, nearly a month after county election officials sent out mail-in ballots.
“I’ve never seen a judge so disorganized,” Zhang said.
In municipal court matters, the line between politics and the judiciary is sometimes blurred.
When the 2021 DWI charge against state Sen. Sandra Cunningham (D-Jersey City) was moved from Hudson to Bergen to avoid any conflict, the case was assigned to Galina. The municipal prosecutor was Linda Schwager, the Democratic mayor of Oakland. Fourteen months after her arrest, Cunningham was cleared of the DWI charge and pleaded guilty to reckless driving.
The 68-year-old Galina faces will reach her mandatory retirement age in sixteen months, less time than the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct usually takes to investigate ethics complaints against judges.
Judge is a veteran of Bergen politics
Galina is not a political neophyte.
A registered Republican, Galina ran for a seat on the Bergen County Charter Commission in 1974, finishing 32nd in a field of 40 candidates for seven seats. The following year, he became Rochelle Park’s municipal attorney and then zoning board attorney. He served as an attorney for the Bergen County Animal Shelter, a municipal attorney for Paramus, Tenafly, Edgewater and Elmwood Park, and as a Paramus labor attorney, as an attorney for the Saddle Brook Board of Education before becoming an Elmwood Municipal Court Judge – Park in 2007. .
In 2010, Galina recused himself from a civil suit filed by New Jersey’s 9th District Republican congressional candidate, Michael August, against a volunteer of his primary opponent, John Aslanian. Agosta claimed the volunteer harassed him during the sign incident.
Galina became a Paramus Municipal Court judge in 2011 after the All-Republican Board ousted incumbent Judge Joseph Mack.
He was a modest donor to Republican campaigns, though he stopped giving after he became a judge.
Chief Judge Stuart Rabner appointed Galina to serve as presiding municipal judge in Bergen in 2018 after Judge Roy F. McGeady retired.
McGeady gained national attention in 2016 and 2017 when he refused to dismiss a citizen complaint filed by Bill Brennan, instead citing probable cause that then-Gov. Chris Christie may be guilty of insubordination as a result of his role in the 2013 George Washington Bridge lane closure.
Later, the Bergen County Prosecutor’s Office refused to charge Christie.