Schoharie County

Schoharie town justice resigns amid allegations of bias in Facebook posts

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SCHOHARIE – The New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct on Wednesday announced that Town Justice Kenneth C. Knutsen has resigned amid a commission investigation into allegations he made anti-LGBTQ posts on Facebook “and other misconduct.”

“The Commission apprised Judge Knutsen in April 2021 that it was investigating complaints alleging anti-LGBTQ bias and content on his personal Facebook page,” reads a news release from the commission. “His Facebook page also revealed numerous other posts containing: partisan political content; expressions of bias in favor of law enforcement and against criminal defendants; expressions of anti-Muslim bias; and prohibited public commentary on pending cases, including the murder trial of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin. The Facebook posts no longer appear publicly visible.”

Knutsen is not an attorney, and has served as both the elected justice of Schoharie Town Court and the elected associate justice of the Schoharie Village Court since 2002. Neither position requires a law degree. His current terms of office would have expired on Dec. 31, 2022 and Dec. 31, 2021, respectively.

According to the news release from the commission, Knutsen was originally scheduled to give testimony concerning the allegations regarding his use of social media on May 26.

“Instead, on that date he tendered his resignation, effective July 1, 2021, agreed never to seek or accept judicial office at any time in the future and signed a stipulation to that effect,” reads the commission news release. “On June 10, 2021, the Commission accepted the stipulation and closed its investigation.”

This is not the first time the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct has agreed to drop investigations in exchange for an elected justice agreeing to give up office and never run again. According to its news release, the commission has accepted 106 such stipulations since the procedure was instituted in 2003.

“Since 1978, the Commission has issued 278 determinations of admonition against judges in New York State, 339 determinations of censure and 175 determinations of removal,” reads the release. “The [New York state] Court of Appeals has reviewed 101 Commission determinations. The Court
accepted the Commission’s sanctions in 85 cases, 76 of which were removals, six were censures and three were admonitions. Of the remaining 16 cases, two sanctions were increased from censure to removal, and 13 were reduced: nine removal determinations were modified to censure, one removal was modified to admonition, two censures were modified to admonition, and one censure was rejected and the charges dismissed. The Court remitted one matter to the commission for further proceedings.”

During Knutsen’s judicial conduct hearings he was represented by attorney John R. Seebold and the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct was represented by Robert H. Tembeckjian, Cathleen S. Cenci and Kathleen E. Klein. Senior Investigator Ryan Fitzpatrick was assigned to the case.
“Public confidence in the integrity of the courts requires judges to avoid even the appearance of bias,” stated Commission Administrator Robert H. Tembeckjian in the news release. “Social media posts that exhibit anti-LGBTQ, anti-Muslim, pro-police or other biases are abhorrent and inimical to the role of a judge. In these circumstances, Judge Knutsen’s departure from office is warranted.”

Categories: Fulton Montgomery Schoharie, News

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