Thursday, May 15, 2008

Judges Not Inmune fromAbuse of Power

The exercise of the enormous power of summary contempt requires strict compliance with statutory safeguards, including giving the accused an appropriate warning and the opportunity to desist from the supposedly contumacious conduct and preparing an order setting forth the basis for the ruling (Jud Law §§750, 755; Doyle v. Aison, 216 AD2d 634 [3d Dept 1995], lv den 87 NY2d 807 [1996]; Loeber v. Teresi, 256 AD2d 747 [3d Dept 1998]). Here, respondent not only wielded the power without reasonable basis, but failed to adhere to mandated procedures. Such conduct constitutes an abuse of the summary contempt power and warrants discipline. Matter of Teresi, 2002 Annual Report 163 (Comm. on Judicial Conduct); Matter of Meacham, 1994 Annual Report 87 (Comm. on Judicial Conduct); Matter of Recant, 2002 Annual Report 139 (Comm. on Judicial Conduct).

As an experienced judge, respondent should be familiar with statutory procedures and should understand that his duty to act in a patient, neutral, judicious manner must always take precedence over impulses arising from personal pique or offense. Here, respondent’s disregard of due process in both matters resulted in a travesty of justice and was inconsistent with the fair and proper administration of justice.

By reason of the foregoing, the Commission determines that the appropriate sanction is censure.

Mr. Goldman, Judge Ciardullo, Mr. Coffey, Ms. DiPirro, Mr. Emery, Mr. Felder, Ms. Hernandez, Judge Peters, Mr. Pope and Judge Ruderman concur as to respondent’s misconduct, except that Mr. Goldman, Judge Ciardullo, Mr. Coffey and Mr. Pope dissent as to Charge I, paragraph 5, alleging that respondent failed to prepare a mandate as required by law, and vote to dismiss the allegation.

Mr. Goldman, Judge Ciardullo, Mr. Coffey, Ms. Hernandez, Judge Peters, Mr. Pope and Judge Ruderman concur as to the sanction and vote that respondent be censured. Ms. DiPirro, Mr. Emery and Mr. Felder dissent as to the sanction and vote that respondent be removed from office.

Tyrants come in more varieties than Baskin-Robbins has flavors. The ultimate protection a free society has against a tyrant, is a judicial system that acts as the last barrier to a tyrant’s will. Therefore, it is immeasurably worse when the tyrant is the judge himself. Our sensibilities are even more offended at a time when our treasure and youth have been spent to remove a far-away tyrant on the simple premise that in the modern world, the velocity of events is such that evil in one place eventually becomes evil touching everyplace. Just as there is no small death, there is no small tyranny.

Respondent acted in tyrannical fashion. His will was the law, and to the degree that his law conflicted with the actual one, he was above the law.

I strongly believe that respondent is not fit to remain a judge. Arrogance and narcissism are not uncommon human qualities, but this judge’s sense of self is so inflated that he chose to fuel his ego by burning the fundamental rights of citizens in his courtroom. I can think of no greater transgression by a jurist entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring that justice is dispensed with basic fairness. Respondent is not just an embarrassment to his fellow jurists. He is dangerous, and he should be removed.

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