Wednesday, October 26, 2011
The New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct has removed from office a justice of the Macomb Town Court. The justice had presided over a number of matters involving his girlfriend's relatives without disclosing the relationship, engaged in ex parte contacts and improper political activity by serving as a local party caucus chair.
The justice lived with the girlfriend and "grew up with members of her family, socialized with her relatives and attended some family gatherings."
In one matter, the complaining witness was his girlfriend's daughter. In another, the complainant was her mother.
The justice handled a criminal case in which the defendant was her nephew. He discussed that case with several relatives at a family picnic. The relatives complained that he had been too easy on the nephew. Later, two relatives contacted him "and asked [him] to send [the nephew] to jail." He did. The judge dismissed a case against a different nephew.
The commission found removal appropriate:
By presiding over numerous cases involving his girlfriend's relatives, respondent showed an insensitivity to his ethical obligations, even after the conduct was brought to his attention. The fact that the misconduct continued even after the respondent was on notice of the potential impropriety is a significant exacerbating factor. Compounding the misconduct, respondent took action in four cases after entertaining ex parte communications from his girlfriend and/or her relatives, ignoring statutorily mandated procedures and rendered dispositions in several instances that conveyed the appearence of favoritism. Such misconduct undermines public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.
A concurring opinion would find the political activity protected by the First Amendment. (Mike Frisch)