September 20, 2010
"A Person I Would Like To Get To Know Better"
The New York Appellate Division for the Second Judicial Department imposed a three year suspension of a former Department of Motor Vehicles administrative law judge who engaged in misconduct in a case assigned to him that involved a police officer. The court found the following facts:
On March 31, 2004, at the DMV offices, the respondent had an ex parte conversation with[the police officer] outside the hearing room prior to the start of the hearing. He then conducted the DMV hearing at which [the police officer], the operator of the other vehicle involved in the accident, and a New York State police officer testified. At the hearing, the respondent had before him a notarized letter dated July 10, 2003, from [the police officer] to the DMV in which she denied knowledge of the accident and asserted that her car was inoperable and parked at her residence on the date of the accident. She also provided written documentation to the respondent that the vehicle was in storage at a repair shop on the date of the accident.
After the hearing and before a written decision was provided to [the p[olice officer], the respondent began placing telephone calls to her and either spoke with her personally or left voice-mail messages. The respondent acknowledged placing the calls, noting that [she] was "a person I would like to get to know better." During those calls, the respondent discussed the content of his decision with [her]. In a telephone conversation of April 20, 2004, the respondent discussed his decision with [her] and acknowledged having had previous discussions with her regarding the decision being on his desk. He acknowledged his attraction to her and indicated that he did not want to pressure her to feel that she owed him anything or might have to do something with him. During that conversation, the respondent made the following remark: "Frankly, I wasn't even sure that you were not guilty . . . but that's neither here nor there." In that same conversation, the respondent admitted having previously told [her] that he was not supposed to have contacted her. He then confirmed plans to meet her for dinner the following evening.
In a decision signed by the respondent on April 7, 2004, he found in favor of [the police officer] and directed the DMV to remove the record of the accident from her driving record.
In an interview by investigators from the New York State Office of the Inspector General on July 22, 2004, the respondent falsely stated that he had had no contact with [the police officer] outside the hearing.
As to sanction:
As set forth in the Inspector General's report, an exhibit in the disciplinary proceeding, the respondent not only acted improperly in pursuing a personal relationship with the subject of an administrative hearing over which he presided, but also engaged in a selective view of the evidence presented at the hearing, ignored prior warnings about ex parte communications from the DMV, and made false denials about his conduct to the Inspector General's office. The respondent's conduct clearly served to lessen public trust and confidence in the system and justly led to the termination of his employment with the DMV. Under the totality of circumstances, the respondent is suspended from the practice of law for a period of three years.
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