TOMS RIVER – Melanie Donohue Appleby, the Ocean County Superior Court judge who was suspended in 2014 for her role in an alleged plot to conceal conflicts of interest, has retired from the bench earlier this year, officials confirmed.
Winnie Comfort, the spokeswoman of the New Jersey Judiciary confirmed news of Appleby’s retirement, and stated that the retirement was effective October 1st, 2016 in an email to OCP. Appleby was originally assigned to the family division of the Ocean County Superior Court, before later being assigned as a judge in the criminal division in February of this year, according to an order signed by New Jersey Supreme Court Chief Justice Stuart Rabner.
Before being appointed to the bench by Governor Chris Christie in 2011, Appleby was an associate at the law firm of Ocean County Republican chairman George Gilmore, Gilmore & Monahan, where she was known to have worked closely with the chairman.
With the backing of Gilmore and the Toms River Republican organization’s political clout, Appleby was elected as a Toms River councilwoman in 2007, and occupied that seat until being appointed to serve as a judge by Governor Christie.
Republican Al Manforti would later be chosen by the Toms River Republican club to fill the vacancy as Appleby’s replacement after the former councilwoman accepted the judgeship, with Manforti remaining on the Toms River council to this day.
Appleby’s tenure as an Ocean County judge was dominated by the scandal that would eventually lead the New Jersey Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct to file a formal judicial ethics complaint against then-Judge Appleby that alleged violations of state judicial ethics rules.
The complaint contained allegations – some of which Appleby would later admit to – that accused the judge of presiding over cases in which an attorney that was providing her with legal assistance related to a child support issue with ex-husband Christopher Donohue, Frank Louis, was appearing in Appleby’s courtroom for family law matters, a clear conflict of interest.
Forged Letterhead To Mask Conflicts
Also at issue in the complaint were steps taken to cover up the conflict of interest, in which the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct alleged that Louis prepared a letter, but used the letterhead of another law firm in order to hide the conflict of interest. Donohue’s lawyer discovered that the attorney named on the letterhead wasn’t actually representing Appleby in the matter after he called the phone number listed on it in order to discuss the contents of the letter. After that, it was discovered that the letter was actually prepared by Louis, seemingly in an attempt to mask the conflict of interest associated with Louis’ representation of Appleby.
The then-Ocean County Superior Court family law judge would later submit an answer to the complaint in which she asked for leniency. Attorney Guy Ryan represented Appleby through the disciplinary proceedings and filed the answer on her behalf. Ryan, for his part, is now a Burlington County Superior Court judge.
After a hearing, the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct recommended that Appleby suspended without pay for 30 days as punishment for violating the Canons of Judicial Conduct, the code of ethics that bind state judges, with the committee’s recommendation being adopted by the state Supreme Court, and Appleby’s suspension began November 10, 2014.
Appleby, according to sources, has returned to private practice after leaving the bench, and the former judge was recently spotted attending the New Jersey League of Municipalities convention held in Atlantic City this past November.