Judge not sanctioned in Williams case

Updated: March 27, 2009, 5:00 PM ET
Associated Press

NEWARK, N.J. -- A New Jersey Supreme Court justice will not face sanctions for revealing in court the name of an investigator in the Jayson Williams manslaughter case who uttered a racial slur, but the high court faulted him for an exchange that followed.

The Hunterdon County Prosecutor's Office, which is prosecuting the case against the former NBA star, had filed an ethics complaint against Justice Roberto Rivera-Soto after Rivera-Soto said the name of the investigator in open court during oral arguments last month.

The identity of William Hunt had been kept under seal since 2007 when Hunterdon County prosecutors divulged that an employee had used a racial slur to describe Williams during the investigation in 2002.

During oral arguments, Rivera-Soto asked Hunterdon County Assistant Prosecutor Bennett Barlyn if the unidentified person Barlyn was referring to was "Captain Hunt." Hunt's attorney, William Courtney, later confirmed his client as the officer in question.

Rivera-Soto said he was not aware of the sealing order at the time.

"We accept that representation," New Jersey Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner wrote in a letter Friday that was sent to Rivera-Soto and to Hunterdon County Assistant Prosecutor Bennett Barlyn, who filed the complaint this month with the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct.

Rabner wrote that the sealing order that prohibited using Hunt's name was "entered administratively" by the court's clerk without involvement of the justices, and that some legal briefs also mentioned Hunt by name.

However, the letter faulted Rivera-Soto for engaging in a subsequent discussion about Hunt that became contentious. At one point Rivera-Soto accused Hunt of "trying to hide behind a seal." Rivera-Soto "expressed regret" for the exchange, according to the letter.

Barlyn did not return a phone message left at his office Friday. Attorneys in the case are under a gag order imposed by state Superior Court Judge Edward M. Coleman.

Williams played nine seasons in the NBA for the New Jersey Nets and Philadelphia 76ers before retiring in 2000.

Hunt did not testify at Williams' 2004 trial, when he was acquitted of aggravated manslaughter in the February 2002 shooting death of hired driver Costas "Gus" Christofi but was convicted of trying to cover up the crime. Williams faces retrial on a reckless manslaughter count.

Williams' defense team has pushed for access to documents relating to the slur to gauge whether racial bias pervaded the investigation.

Last month the Supreme Court ordered prosecutors to furnish to the defense and to Coleman the identity of all those present when Hunt made the remark.

They also were required to produce Hunt's complete personnel file and the results of an investigation into the incident.

Prosecutors have said that Hunt played a peripheral role in the investigation of the crime, which was led by the New Jersey State Police. However, defense attorneys contend that he was present at Williams' mansion within a few hours of the shooting and assisted in the coordination and supervision of the investigation.

Hunt has since retired from the prosecutor's office.


Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press