Monday, March 27, 2017

The Full Ginsburg

The New York Commission on Judicial Conduct has censured a Supreme Court Justice who gave three interviews in one day about a mistried murder case.

Crimesider reported on the eventual dismissal of the charges brought against a former Cornell student accused of murdering his father.

Tan was charged in February after sheriff's deputies called to the family's home in an upscale neighborhood in Pittsford, a Rochester suburb, found his father dead from multiple shotgun wounds. The elder Tan owned an imaging technology company in nearby Canandaigua.

Prosecutors said Charles Tan killed his father because he was abusive to his wife. The younger man was enrolled at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, at the time of the slaying.

The judge's decision to dismiss the charges incensed Gargan and District Attorney Sandra Doorley. Gargan said Piampiano failed to look at the evidence presented during the trial. Doorley said her office is researching whether the decision can be appealed, she said.

During the trial, prosecutors said Charles Tan called a high school friend in early February and had him purchase a shotgun at a Wal-Mart in Cortland, near Ithaca. Authorities said Tan's mother, Qing "Jean" Tan called 911 on Feb. 9 to report that her son had shot her husband.

When deputies arrived, they discovered Jim Tan had been shot as he sat behind a desk in the second-floor office of the family home he also shared with his wife and their younger son. Charles Tan was arraigned on second-degree murder charges the next day.

The order tells the story of the judge's star turn.

...on or about October 8, 2015, at a time when he was a candidate for election to the Supreme Court, respondent gave three separate media interviews during which he made prohibited public comments about People v Charles J Tan, a pending murder case over which he was presiding in Monroe County Court.

...after [a] mistrial was declared, respondent was contacted by personnel from three media outlets: WHEC-TV, Channel 10, the NBC-affiliated television station in Rochester; WHAM-TV, Channel 13, the ABC-affiliated television station in Rochester; and the Democrat & Chronicle, a daily newspaper in Rochester. Respondent agreed to engage in one-on-one interviews about People v Tan in his chambers with reporters from each of the three media outlets.

On or about October 8, 2015, at approximately 4:00 PM, respondent met in his chambers with a reporter from WHEC-TV, Channel 10. The resulting interview was recorded and portions of it were broadcast on October 8, 2015, and subsequently available on the television station's website at http://www.whec.com. 

On or about October 8, 2015, at approximately 4:30 PM, respondent met in his chambers with a reporter from WHAM-TV, Channel 13. The resulting interview was recorded and portions of it were broadcast on October 8, 2015, and subsequently available on the television station's website at http://13wham.com/. 

On or about October 8, 2015, respondent met in his chambers with a reporter from the Democrat & Chronicle. The resulting interview was recorded and portions of it were posted on October 8, 2015, on the newspaper's website at http://www.democratandchronicle.com/. The audio portion of the interview was posted at the website https://soundcloud.com/democrat-and-chronicle/judge-james-piampianointerview-oct-8-2015.

And in court

On or about November 5, 2015, while presiding over a post-trial proceeding in People v Charles J Tan, during which respondent granted the defense motion for a trial order of dismissal, respondent, as set forth below, failed to be patient, dignified and courteous when he denied Monroe County Assistant District Attorney William T. Gargan's attempt to be heard and threatened to have Mr. Gargan arrested if he spoke.

MR. GARGAN: Judge, may I briefly speak?

RESPONDENT: No, you may not. If you speak I'm going to put you in handcuffs and put you in jail.

The Commission

Although respondent's comments indicate that he was aware of the ethical prohibition (at one point he stated, "I'm not at liberty to discuss the prosecutor's remarks or this case in particular") and he was also aware that there would be further proceedings in the case, including a potential re-trial, he granted three one-on-one media interviews in which he proceeded to discuss the case at length. While he often responded to the reporters' questions about the Tan case with general statements about procedures and the legal system, he should have recognized that any statements he made in that context would be understood as pertaining to Tan and therefore were problematic. His statements, however, went well beyond general explanations of the law. He discussed legal issues in the case (including his denial of a request for an accomplice charge), and he provided a description of his interactions with the jury and his sense of the jury's deliberations. Especially troubling is his description of the defendant as a "sympathetic" figure. Even if viewed in the context of the reporter's question about the "possible impact" of the defendant's "supporters," his comment could convey an appearance that respondent viewed the defendant sympathetically, raising doubts about his impartiality and thus undermining public confidence in the impartial administration of justice. This is especially so since the case was still before him and since, a month later, he granted the defense motion for a trial order of dismissal. The fact that respondent made these statements in media interviews at a time when he was a candidate for election to Supreme Court raises a question as to whether his public comments were motivated by political concerns...

It was also improper for respondent, in a post-trial proceeding a month later, to threaten to have the prosecutor placed in handcuffs and put in jail when the attorney asked to speak as respondent was announcing his decision on the defense motion to dismiss. (The record indicates that respondent had previously afforded the prosecutor an opportunity to be heard on the motion.) By asking to speak, the prosecutor was simply doing his job, and even if respondent believed that the attorney was interrupting or speaking out of turn, his response was a substantial overreaction to the attorney's conduct...

In accepting the jointly recommended sanction, we note that respondent has admitted that his conduct was inconsistent with the ethical standards and has pledged to conduct himself in accordance with the Rules for the remainder of his tenure as a judge.

The commission's determination is linked here.

WHAM Rochester had a recent story on the appeal of the dismissal in the Tan case. (Mike Frisch)

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/legal_profession/2017/03/the-new-york-commission-on-judicial-conduct-has-censured-a-supreme-court-on-or-about-october-8-2015-at-a-time-when-he-w.html

Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink

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