Schenectady County Family Court Judge Polk admonished by state judicial commission for workplace violations

FILE - Schenectady County Family Court Judge Jill Polk in August 2019
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FILE - Schenectady County Family Court Judge Jill Polk in August 2019

SCHENECTADY – A Schenectady County Family Court Judge, who is also an acting State Supreme Court Justice, has been admonished by the state Commission on Judicial Conduct for workplace violations after the judge used her court secretary to conduct her personal business. The judge was not removed from the bench.

Judge Jill S. Polk was reprimanded by the 11-person commission after it determined that between autumn 2015 and May 2016 Polk had her confidential secretary perform personal tasks for her while at work, according to a news release sent Wednesday on the matter. She was also scolded for allowing her daughter to walk through the courthouse and distract security guards on many occasions between 2015 and 2017. 

Polk was served with the complaint alleging wrongdoing on Sept. 22, 2019. Commission-appointed referee Michael J. Hutter was assigned to hear the case and in his report he concurred with the complaint. The commission’s administrator, Robert H. Tembeckjian, recommended to the commission that Polk be removed from office.

Polk asked that Hutter’s findings and conclusions be rejected. However, Polk’s attorney argued that if the complaint couldn’t be dismissed that she would not receive repercussions greater than admonishment. Admonishment is the least severe repercussion, said Marisa E. Harrison, the public information officer for the commission. 

The commission decided that admonishment was the right penalty in the matter because “the judge had no prior disciplinary history and was a new judge at the time of the misconduct,” according to the the news release. 

“Although the Commission and I disagreed on the appropriate sanction in this case, the Commission made clear that it was wrong for Judge Polk to have her court-paid secretary perform extensive acts of personal assistance, using court resources, on court time,” Tembeckjian said. “It was also wrong for Judge Polk to allow a security issue to fester, despite specific notice from a ranking officer that her young child’s regular, unsupervised presence at courthouse magnetometers was problematic. Judge Polk knew better, having been an attorney at the Commission when two other judges were publicly disciplined for similar misconduct.”  

According to the court commission, Polk’s confidential secretary, Chana Ritter, helped plan a bat mitzvah for Polk’s daughter during work hours, during which she used her @nycourts.gov email address to contact people. 

 

“Those emails from Ms. Ritter’s ‘@nycourts.gov’ email address lent the prestige of judicial office for respondent’s personal benefit and gave at least the appearance that court resources were being used for respondent’s personal purposes,” commission documents state. “All judges must be mindful that court resources are to be used for court purposes and that any appearance that they are not undermines public confidence in the judiciary.”

The commission also found that Ritter performed other non-work related personal tasks and non-bat mitzvah related tasks for the judge. Ritter was asked to schedule personal appointments for Polk and her daughter, research vacation rental options, determine vehicle service options, find a locksmith for the judge and procure price quotes from a landscaper, according to the documents. 

Those actions occurred from autumn 2015 through early 2017. 

“Commission precedent prohibits a judge from allowing court employees to repeatedly perform personal work for the judge,” the documents state.

The commission said the judge should have been aware of this fact considering she was employed by the commission as a senior attorney from 2008 to 2014 and received judicial training in 2015 during which the topic was covered. 

The commission noted that Ritter was not coerced into performing the work but had offered to help the judge with the bat mitzvah. 

The commission also concluded that the the judge’s daughter should not have been at the security checkpoint. 

“As three court officers testified, respondent’s child’s presence was a distraction and a complication to the performance of their duties,” documents state. “The magnetometer area was not an appropriate place for respondent’s daughter who was 12 and 13 at the time, particularly since the Family Court security checkpoint was a location where court officers were responsible for confiscating potential weapons and preventing or responding to disputes between Family Court litigants in the nearby waiting area.” 

Polk took office in 2015. Her current term expires at the end of 2024. Polk’s attorneys, Stephen Coffey and Cristina Commisso of O’Connell and Arnonowitz could not be reached for comment.

Reach Shenandoah Briere at [email protected]

 

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1 Comments
courtcopphil February 24, 2022
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Funny that the Commission forgot to mention that before Schenectady Family “Judge” Polk (the most arrogant, self absorbed Judge I had dealt with in some 28 years on the job) became a Judge after working in the Judicial Ethics Commission (I may have the nomenclature wrong, but you get the idea) and whether or not she had a prior record, she clearly knew that her “I’m the Queen” attitude was not allowed. Famous for demanding Officers not have a full lunch hour because she had told attornies to be back at such and such a time, and then thoughtlessly not showing up after lunch until more than an hour late……thoughtless.