Disturbing picture

A judge’s misconduct, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct recently concluded, presented “a disturbing picture of . . . [his] ‘intolerant, near-obsessive reaction’ to numerous individuals with whom he had a contentious relationship and his complete disregard of his ethical obligations.”  In the Matter of Simon, Determination (March 29, 2016).  The Commission found that the judge repeatedly, over several years, bullied, harassed, and intimidated court staff, his co-judge, village officials, and village employees and threatened them with contempt or arrest over routine personnel or administrative issues and in response to perceived disrespect or shortcomings in their performance.  His conduct included insults, angry diatribes, and “an incident that escalated into a melee” in the clerk’s office after he grabbed an intern’s arm.  During these incidents, the judge was variously described as angry, cursing, agitated, enraged, very aggressive, visibly upset, red in the face, flailing his arms, yelling at the top of his lungs, screaming, and speaking in a loud, threatening, and intimidating tone.  For example, the judge told his co-judge to “have a stroke and die;” screamed at the mayor that he would hold her in contempt unless he got his own office; repeatedly told a court officer to arrest the mayor, the police chief, and the village attorney; threatened to have his co-judge arrested for trespass for walking through his office to use a staff restroom; and told the chief court clerk that if she failed to assign only certain court officers to the courtroom he would “consider it contemptuous and act and punish accordingly.”  At the discipline hearing, the judge maintained that his statements to the clerk, for example, were not degrading, but that she should have felt “empowered,” stating, “if she has any other feeling, I honestly don’t understand it.”

The Commission explained:

It is no defense that respondent — according to his testimony – never intended to follow through on his threats, never held anyone in contempt in his judicial career, and only made such threats in an effort to “motivate people to do what I thought was the right and proper thing.”  Using his judicial position to make baseless threats of contempt in order to intimidate and browbeat, even if the threats were never carried out, is improper since it is inconsistent with the standards of dignity and courtesy required of a judge . . .  Moreover, the recipients of such threats, which were usually delivered with explosive anger, could only assume that respondent, who had the power to act on them, intended to do so . . . .

Compounding these multiple instances of impropriety is respondent’s continued insistence at the hearing that his actions were appropriate under the circumstances and consistent with the required standards of judicial behavior.  With the exception of one or two grudging concessions that “maybe I could’ve done better,” he repeatedly insisted that his actions were justified by his righteous motives and by the misbehavior of others, showing little or no insight into the effects of his own behavior “upon public confidence in his character and judicial temperament” and in the judiciary as a whole . . . .  His “fail[ure] to recognize the inappropriateness of his actions or attitudes,” as evidenced by his testimony over two days at the hearing, provides scant assurance that similar impropriety will not be repeated in the future . . . .

The Commission removed the judge from office, which is final unless he asks for review.

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