Charles Centinaro was removed from his longtime position as director of the Office of Attorney Ethics, the New Jersey state judiciary confirmed.
“On Sept. 19, an allegation was raised that Charles Centinaro engaged in an intimate relationship with an employee under his supervision and failed to report the relationship as required by Judiciary policy,” according to a statement on Thursday from Peter McAleer, spokesperson for the New Jersey Administrative Office of the Courts.
“The Judiciary then commenced an investigation that confirmed the allegation. On September 23, the Chief Justice removed Mr. Centinaro from his position with the Judiciary,” the statement continued.
“A new director of the Office of Attorney Ethics will be named shortly,” according to the statement.
Centinaro took the helm of the OAE, which prosecutes attorney ethics matters in the state, in 2009.
Attempts to reach Centinaro for comment Thursday weren’t immediately successful.
In 2018, Centinaro was named a defendant in a sex discrimination suit brought by Melissa Urban, who claims she was passed over for the job of first assistant ethics counsel in favor of a less-qualified male applicant. The complaint alleged that he runs the agency like a “boys club” and shows open hostility to women employees. The OAE itself also was named as a defendant in Urban’s suit. In a responsive pleading, Centinaro and the OAE denied her claims that the selection process was discriminatory, and disputed the suit’s other contentions.
In 2019, a ruling by Mercer County Superior Court Judge Janetta Marbrey dismissed Centinaro from the case after his lawyer argued that Centinaro could not be found individually liable under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination for his decision not to promote Urban. The law provides that an employer is liable for acts of discrimination, and Centinaro wasn’t considered Urban’s employer under the language of the statute, his attorney, John Mueller, argued in court papers.
Since then, the OAE has remained the sole defendant left in the case. A July pretrial pleading filed by Urban’s attorney, David M. Koller of the Koller Law Firm, alleged that she was denied the position of first assistant ethics counsel because of her sex in violation of the Law Against Discrimination. A November trial date is scheduled in Urban’s case, though several prior trial dates have been rescheduled, according to electronic court records.
Before becoming OAE director in 2009, Centinaro held the position of director of juvenile defense services for the New Jersey Public Defender’s Office, where his service began in 2007. He also worked in private practice as an assistant Hudson County counsel, an assistant Hudson County prosecutor and assistant counsel to Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, and also helped manage the public defender’s regional office for Mercer County. He has an undergraduate degree from Rutgers and a law degree from Brigham Young University.