Op-ed column: Hard to get off the bench

What does a judge have to do in order to be removed from the bench for excessive use of alcohol?
Forest Byrd/For The Sunday Gazette
Forest Byrd/For The Sunday Gazette

I hate to dash the hopes of anyone who thinks that Albany County Family Court Judge Gerard Maney will be removed from the bench once he has his day in court on a DWAI charge. However, it has been more than a quarter-century since the State Commission on Judicial Conduct has disrobed a judge for the excessive use of alcohol.

What does a judge have to do in order to be removed from the bench for excessive use of alcohol?

Does the commission recommend a judge’s removal from the bench for DWAI, speeding, and calling one of the arresting officers a “pisspot?” No. The commission only admonished Justice James H. Richardson in 1981 for doing that.

How about a judge whose blood alcohol content was 0.18 and who damaged a police car? Stafford Town Justice John F. Innes Jr. was allowed to plead guilty to DWAI, and in 1984 the commission let him off with only an admonition.

What about a judge whose BAC was above 0.10, and who told the arresting officer he would not cooperate because he was a judge and that the arresting officer had better “watch out from here on in.” Granby Town Justice Edwin B. Winkworth, of Oswego County, was allowed to plead guilty to DWAI and the commission only admonished him.

What if a judge drives with a BAC of 0.19, doesn’t wear a seat belt and causes a three-car accident in which a mother and her 9-year-old daughter are injured?

Grounds for removal, right?

Wrong.

Wells Town Court Justice I. Ronald Siebert was allowed to plead guilty to a DWAI and the commission only admonished him.

Guilt not enough

What about judges found guilty of DWI? David J. Pajak, a town court justice in Genesee County, and John D. Henderson, Jr., a town justice in Orleans County, were only admonished by the commission for DWI convictions.

How about a judge who was arrested twice for DWI, refused a Breathalyzer test, and told the troopers he doesn’t get mad, he gets even? The commission only censured Monroe County Court Judge Culver K. Barr for doing just that in 1980.

A judge convicted of DWI after running into a tree and who also was under the influence of alcohol while on the bench on one occasion surely should be removed from the bench. Not so. The commission only censured Family and County Court Judge Donald G. Purple Jr. for being in his cups before driving his car and donning his robes.

And speaking of judges drunk on the bench, the most interesting case is that of Villenova Town Court Justice, James R. Bradigan Sr. Bradigan was intoxicated twice while presiding over DWI cases. It would be funny if it weren’t so serious, but Bradigan actually found a defendant guilty of DWI while he (Bradigan) was intoxicated. Bradigan was only censured for his behavior.

That brings us to Kingston City Court Judge James P. Gilpatric. Gilpatric appeared drunk in court once as an attorney, and once as a judge when he presided over court after consuming alcohol and taking Benadryl. In 2005, the commission voted to censure Gilpatric. Two commissioners thought censure was too harsh!

What does it take?

Which brings us again to the question, just what does a judge have to do in order to be removed from the bench for excessive consumption of alcohol?

He has to be found asleep at the wheel twice, intoxicated but with the engine off. He has to drive the wrong way on the Northway while intoxicated and plead guilty to a DWAI. After being admonished by the commission, he has to get arrested again for DWI after passing out in the middle of traffic with his car running.

Then he has to use his judicial authority to badger the police, urinate on their car and refuse to be fingerprinted or take a Breathalyzer test. If a judge does all that, the commission will determine that the judge should be removed from the bench, as Supreme Court Justice William J. Quinn, was in 1981. However, after reviewing the commission’s determination, the Court of Appeals changed Quinn’s punishment to censure!

Or a judge has to appear drunk in court, as Dutchess County Court Judge Raymond E. Aldrich did in 1982, telling a defendant, “When they get you behind those cell bars they will rape the sh– out of you…” Then he has to refer to the female county executive as a c— and p—- in a chambers conference with attorneys. Then he has to arrive at the Mid-Hudson Psychiatric facility to conduct hearings, under the influence of alcohol, and hold the point of a knife against a security guard’s body. Three of nine commissioners still thought removal was too harsh! The Court of Appeals, however, upheld Aldrich’s removal.

So I’m afraid Judge Gerard Maney will remain on the Family Court until at least the next election in 2011, directing parents to take drug and alcohol classes if they don’t want to lose their children. Ironically, he will also continue to supervise Family Treatment Court and Juvenile Drug Court.

In the last quarter century, judges have gotten tough and have rid the roads of many drunks. Maybe it’s time to start ridding the bench of them as well.

Daniel T. Weaver lives in Amsterdam and is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.

Categories: Opinion

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