Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Profane Justice Removed

The New York Court of Appeals accepted the removal of a village court justice

Petitioner has been a Justice of the Northport Village Court in Suffolk County, a part time position, since 1994. He is an attorney who, during the relevant time period, also maintained a private law practice. The Commission’s formal written complaint alleged, among other things, that petitioner repeatedly used degrading and profane language in communications with his legal clients, whom he represented through his private law practice. The charge against him is based, in large part, on conduct that occurred during his representation of two clients in a Family Court matter against their daughter in which the clients were seeking visitation with their grandchild. Over the course of several months, petitioner sent a series of emails to his clients providing legal advice in which he repeatedly insulted other participants in the legal process, including a litigant, opposing counsel, and the presiding court attorney referee, using vulgar and sexist terms. Among other things, petitioner used an extremely crude gender-based slur to describe opposing counsel.

The court

Here, petitioner’s statements were manifestly vulgar and offensive, and his repeated use of such language in written communications to insult and demean others involved in the legal process showed a pervasive disrespect for the system, conveyed a perception of disdain for the legal system, and indicated that he is unable to maintain the high standard of conduct we demand of judges. Petitioner repeatedly denigrated a litigant, opposing counsel, and the presiding court attorney referee while acting as an officer of the court representing clients in an ongoing litigation—a professional function integral to our legal system. Indeed, his derogatory comments impugned not just the particular referee involved in this case but all judges, and with it, the judiciary. In this context, petitioner’s conduct undermined the dignity and integrity of the judicial system. Moreover, his use of an intensely degrading and “vile” (Matter of Assini, 94 NY2d 26, 29 [1999]) gendered slur to describe a female attorney, as well as petitioner’s demeaning reference to her as “eyelashes,” are especially disturbing; it is critical to our judicial system that judges “conduct themselves in such a way that the public can perceive and continue to rely upon the impartiality of those who have been chosen to pass judgment on legal matters involving  their lives, liberty and property” (Matter of Duckman, 92 NY2d 141, 153 [1998] [internal quotation marks and citation omitted]). Petitioner’s misconduct cannot be explained as an isolated or spontaneous slip of the tongue, as the statements—repeated multiple times— were included in deliberative, written communications petitioner made to these clients relating to their legal representation. Such a pattern of conduct, engaged in over several months and combined with a prior caution by the Commission for making sarcastic and disrespectful comments to litigants during a court proceeding, constitutes an unacceptable and egregious pattern of injudicious behavior that warrants removal.

Under these circumstances, the fact that petitioner’s comments were contained in emails sent to only two clients, which he believed would not be shared, does not excuse the wrongfulness of his conduct. There is no question that judges are accountable for their conduct “at all times,” including in conversations off the bench (Matter of Backal, 87 NY2d 1, 8 [1995] [citations omitted]).

Syracuse.com reported on the conduct

Senzer, who was representing an old acquaintance in a Family Court matter, unleashed a torrent of “vile” language over the course of nine emails in 2014 and 2015, the commission found.

  • Called his client’s daughter a “b*tch” several times, and “*sshole” once
  • Called the daughter’s attorney a “cu*t on wheels” and “eyelashes”
  • Called employees at his client’s grandson’s school “*ssholes"
  • Called the daughter and her ex-husband “two scumbags”
  • Called a “judge” (actually a court referee) an “*sshole”

In one case, Senzer even told his client not to quote his vile language. The other “lawyer is a cu*t on wheels (sorry for the profanity ... and don’t quote me), so be prepared."

Senzer admitted to the “atrocious” language, but argued that he should keep his job because the emails were personal and insisted he was just trying to show empathy for his client. He added that it hadn’t occurred to him that the language had any bearing on his role as judge.

(Mike Frisch)


Judicial Ethics and the Courts | Permalink


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