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Judge: 'You Want a Piece of Me?'

Today's ABA Journal e-Report describes what happened during a November 2004 hearing in an Albany courtroom:

Judge William A. Carter of Albany County, N.Y., allegedly removed his glasses, threw off his robe and approached an agitated pro se defendant, saying, "You want a piece of me?"

That incident and one other led New York's 10-member Commission on Judicial Conduct to censure Carter Sept. 25. The commission's counsel had recommended the judge's removal from the bench, and two dissenting members agreed. But the commission found suspension too severe and instead censured the judge.

As the New York Law Journal first reported Oct. 4, Carter did not recall making the remark, but he did not deny it. His attorney, Mark S. Mishler (a friend and contemporary of mine at Boston College Law School way back when), told the NYLJ that the incident was an aberration. "He is a great judge, and he shows that every day by how he treats the people who appear in front of him -- defendants, victims, complainants, lawyers," Mishler said.

The second incident came four months later, when an Albany police officer complained that Carter failed to address a defendant's obscene gesture in the courtroom. Carter reportedly replied, "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."

These comments, the commission found, 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." But the conduct was not sufficient to warrant the judge's removal from the bench, the commission concluded. Instead, it urged the state Legislature to allow suspension as a sanction.

"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."

Carter's lawyer Mishler told the ABA Journal: "He’s known as someone who is extremely patient and respectful to the people who appear in front of him. He just lost it that day. I’m not saying that’s an excuse. Judges shouldn’t lose their composure. But judges are human too."

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on October 13, 2006 at 03:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)

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