In discussing Bauer, it is necessary to discuss the issues that propelled him off the bench. His behavior as a judge must be placed into context. To do this, we'll look at other judges and what behavior landed them in hot water.
Not surprisingly, judicial misconduct comes in a variety of shapes and sizes. Judges are investigated for procedural problems (ie. setting high bail, not setting bail...). They are admonished for their behavior on the bench (such as attacking an attorney, or berating an attorney, defendant or complainant). They are admonished for a combination of the two. Sometimes it is an isolated incident, sometimes they exhibit a long pattern of misconduct.
It should also be noted that many good judges get a slap on the wrist from the Committee. Judges are human and can make mistakes. Some of the areas finest judges have been admonished for isolated problems and mistakes. This in no way diminishes their ability or service.
Assini was East Greenbush Town Court Judge from 1986 until 1999. He is also a licensed attorney and a member of the Family Values Party.
Here's a random sample of Mr. Assini's problems as a Town Court Justice.
On June 18, 1996, Michael Poorman, a town councilman who was liaison to the court, investigated the situation and found that a restitution check had not been deposited and that there were two tables piled with case files, cash, outdated money orders and outdated checks that had not been processed. The town board brought the situation to respondent's attention and asked that he acknowledge his responsibility for handling the cases. He did so in writing.
In August 1996, the state comptroller began an audit of the court. Before issuing a report in October 1996, an examiner advised respondent that approximately 120 case files required action. The situation was again discussed with respondent by the auditor on December 9, 1996.
Respondent failed to work on the files until February or March 1997.
Ms. Reno was suspended after difficulties and complaints by respondent's fellow judge, Catherine Cholakis. After Judge Cholakis had demanded that the town board fire Ms. Reno, Councilman Poorman met with respondent and Judge Cholakis on April 2, 1996. Respondent arrived 30 minutes late for the meeting, which, because of his attitude and conduct, lasted only a matter of minutes. Respondent directed questions at Judge Cholakis in a confrontational manner, without allowing her to respond. Judge Cholakis left in frustration.
After her departure, respondent turned to Mr. Poorman and referred to Judge Cholakis as a "fucking cunt."
In or after June 1996, respondent stopped at the court to tell clerk Jay Amodeo that respondent was not well and intended to cancel a court session scheduled for that day. When Mr. Amodeo inquired whether respondent would like him to ask Judge Cholakis to substitute, respondent referred to her as a "fucking bitch."
In the late summer of 1997, respondent suggested to Mr. Amodeo and the court officer, Ray Ingoldsby, that the Democratic party should run a candidate against that "fucking cunt," referring to Judge Cholakis. A third person was also present.
On another occasion, Mr. Amodeo asked respondent whether he should move a case to Judge Cholakis's calendar. Respondent replied that he did not want to give anything to that "fucking bitch."
Prior to May 1995, respondent allowed E. Robert Duffy, the director of a private defensive-driving program, to make recommendations outside of court as to which defendants should be sentenced to take a defensive-driving program. During courtroom sessions, Mr. Duffy was allowed to sit at the bench next to the bailiff. When respondent sentenced defendants to a defensive-driving course, he gave them pamphlets advertising Mr. Duffy's course, stating in bold letters that defendants were required to contact Mr. Duffy's program and, "No other course is acceptable."
In 1994 and 1995, Commission staff investigated a complaint concerning this conduct. On January 7, 1995, respondent testified and acknowledged Mr. Duffy's role in the court and that he had allowed Mr. Duffy to write and warn defendants who had failed to attend the program as directed.
On May 3, 1995, the Commission cautioned respondent that his conduct violated the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct. "By these practices, you have lent the prestige of your office to private interests," the Commission advised respondent. "Defendants would reasonably believe that Mr. Duffy and his program were an adjunct to the court and that they had no choice of programs. You should not permit Mr. Duffy to sit near you as you preside. Nor should you permit Mr. Duffy to speak for the court or write letters that are distributed by the court as the court's letters."
After receipt of the Commission's Letter of Dismissal and Caution, until at least March 1996, respondent continued to allow Mr. Duffy to sit at the bench, and respondent continued to distribute his pamphlet. Until Mr. Duffy closed his program sometime in 1996, respondent continued to allow him to make ex parte recommendations as to whom should be required to take the defensive-driving program.
After Mr. Duffy no longer appeared in the court, respondent began distributing the pamphlet of another local driving school, E&E. Only if a defendant asked respondent whether a different course could be taken would respondent concede that any certified course was acceptable.
Bad stuff, that. Need we say that Mr. Assini was removed from the bench. Is there any doubt he should have been removed?
Bauer's transgressions are in marked contrast to Assini's. Assini had ethical violations as well as personal problems. He also had problems following procedure, but the unheeded warnings and the constant attack on his fellow judge sealed his fate.
Assini is one example of an out of control judge. Next week we'll look at another area judge and his problems. Then, on to Henry Bauer. Again, we do think it important that allegations against Bauer be put into some type of context. It's also important to know what happens in our courts. They are, after all, our courts.
Also next week, "Why are the Democrats So Damned Wimpy?" We'll speak to an expert (unless he chickens out).
Have a safe weekend.