Losing one's temper and composure can get a judge defrocked according to a recent decision by the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct.
The rules governing judicial conduct require judges to be an "exemplar of dignity and decorum and to preside over disputes in a lawful, orderly manner." Those standards were not met by William A. Carter, a Judge of the Albany County City Court, who on several occasions reportedly "crossed the line" of acceptable behavioral norms.
In one instance, the Judge became so agitated with a criminal defendant that he "angrily left the bench, threw off his glasses and judicial robes, and proceeded rapidly towards the defendant." A witness reported that the Judge then asked the defendant, "You want a piece of me?" While officers removed the defendant from the courtroom, the Judge reportedly needed to be restrained or "blocked" from pursuing the defendant. This loss of self control was perceived by the Commission as "inimical to the role of a judge."
Several months later, another defendant made a crude gesture to a police officer and when the officer asked what the court what it intended to do about the behavior, the judge reportedly responded, "If you are so upset about it, why don't you just thump the shit out of him outside the courthouse, because I am not going to do anything about it."
The Commission viewed the judge's remark as "outrageous" since it advocated the "use of violence as an acceptable means of retaliating against unruly defendants." Although the Judge asserted that he was attempting to assuage the officer with "cop speak," it was the Commission's view that such a statement had "no place in a judicial forum where emotions should be tempered and issues resolved in a peaceful, orderly manner."
Since the Judge's lapses were "antithetical to a judge's obligation to be 'patient, dignified and courteous' to litigants and others and to observe and maintain appropriate standards of decorum," the Commission recommended that he be censured for his misconduct.
Interestingly, the Commission's decision reveals that the Judge narrowly escaped being removed from office. And, in addition, the Commission suggests that had it been empowered to suspend a judge without pay, it would have done so in this particular instance. Here's how the Commission's decision phrased it:
We have previously urged the legislature to consider a constitutional amendment providing suspension from office without pay as an alternative sanction available to the Commission ... We believe that such a sanction is appropriate for cases in which the judge's conduct is truly egregious but does not irretrievably damage the judge's effectiveness on the bench. Were suspension available to us, we would impose it in this case to reflect the severity with which we view respondent's conduct. Absent that alternative, we have concluded that a censure should be imposed.One can only hope Judge Carter will heed this warning and will keep his machismo in check.
This disposition should not be read as suggesting that conduct similar to respondent's could never rise to a level warranting removal. As the Court of Appeals recently stated, "Judicial conduct cases are, by their very nature, sui generis" ... Indeed, such decisions "are essentially institutional and collective judgment calls based on assessment of their individual facts" ... along with mitigating or aggravating factors.
This decision places respondent on notice that any future ethical lapses will be viewed with appropriate severity.
For a copy of the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct's decision in the Matter of Carter, please click on the following link:
For a copy of the Judicial Commission's press release (dated October 2, 2006), please click on the following link: