Sunday, March 23, 2008

Judicial Censure with Concurring And Dissenting Views

The New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct censured a justice of the Queen's County Supreme Court based on a number of instances of improper conduct. In medical malpractice case, his 'bullying tactics were directed towards an attorney who had been sent by his firm to request an adjournment. In another case, he "granted an adjournment of nearly three months in an eviction action for a punitive retaliatory purpose." He also failed to disclose his relationship with an attorney in a matter before him. The attorney had represented (and the judge had paid the fee) his sister and given the judge baseball tickets.

The commission majority concluded: that the judge "engaged in conduct demonstrating insensitivity to the high ethical standards required of judges. Every judge is required to be an exemplar of dignity and patience in presiding over disputes."

A concurring opinion would find some but not all of the alleged misconduct, asking a question that has often occurred to any trial lawyer: "When does a judge's imperious and arrogant behavior cross the line from judicial independence into the realm of misconduct that merits removal?  Here, the concurring member would find that the judge did not cross that line in forcing the medical malpractice claim to trial or in delaying resolution of the eviction matter.

A dissent by Member Coffey would find that censure is an insufficient sanction: "The man who appeared before us at oral argument was a far different individual from the one who presented himself at the hearing and investigative appearance. Personally unimpressed and believing that the majority of the charges against respondent were serious and proven, I vote to remove him. I am deeply troubled by respondent's testimony at the hearing, which was evasive and inconsistent, and I am unpersuaded that he will modify his conduct in the future."

These commission reports have been quite interesting of late, with spirited disagreement concerning both findings of misconduct and appropriate sanction. (Mike Frisch)

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