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Should Judge Who Jailed 46 Defendants for a Ringing Cell Phone Get a Second Chance?

Should one bad decision by a judge -- O.K., make that one egregiously horrendous decision that resulted in locking up 46 defendants because no one would take responsibility for a ringing cell phone -- cost him his career?   The New York Commission on Judicial Conduct thinks so.  As we reported back in November, the Commission recommended removal of Niagara Falls City Court Judge Robert Restaino, who sent a room full of defendants in domestic violence cases to jail after a cell phone went off in the courtroom. Only Raoul Felder, chair of the Commission, dissented, concluding that "one bizarre incident" of misconduct did not justify the destruction of Restaino's career. 

Restaino appealed the removal recommendation to the New York Court of Appeals.  And now, as the New York Law Journal reports, support for Restaino is piling up, with ten amicus curiae briefs filed by various legal, judicial and civic groups.  The gist of  supporters' arguments is that Restaino's otherwise spotless 12 year judicial record, his standing in the community and the isolated nature of his "cell phone purge" militate in favor of reducing the punishment to censure.  However, the odds don't favor a respite -- since 1978, the Court of Appeals has approved 63 of of 72 removal recommendations by the Judicial Commission and reduced only nine to censure.

Dan Slater at WSJ Law Blog asked readers whether Restaino should face removal for "two hours of inexplicable madness" -- and the commenters aren't very sympathetic towards the judge.

As for me, while I feel badly for Judge Restaino, ultimately, he's getting the punishment he deserves.  The 46 defendants who showed up for court to appear in domestic violence cases and wound up in jail didn't get a second chance.  Why should the judge who put them there?

Posted by Carolyn Elefant on February 20, 2008 at 02:39 PM | Permalink | Comments (0)


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