Acting village Justice Brian Mercy received an admonishment from the state Commission on Judicial Conduct after he wrote legal correspondence to a pair of Niskayuna judges and called the court in his capacity as a private attorney.
The commission found Mercy, who also serves as a Glenville town justice, wrote letters on the behalf of his law firm’s clients in seven separate cases over a year ending in April 2009. Judicial rule prohibits a judge from practicing law in any court in the same county before another judge who is permitted to practice law, according to the determination issued Friday.
“The record establishes that [Mercy] violated this well-established ethical rule by representing clients in seven cases in the Niskayuna Town Court before judges who, like [Mercy], are part-time lawyer-judges who are permitted to practice law,” the determination states.
An admonition is the lowest level of public reprimand issued by the commission. Justices can also be subject to censure, which is a stronger reprimand, or the harshest sanction: removal from office.
Mercy has served as acting village justice since being appointed in December 2007 and was sworn in as a Glenville justice in January 2011. Scotia’s acting justice exists only to fill in on the bench when the elected village justice is unable to attend proceedings or is in conflict on a case.
Mercy acknowledged he misinterpreted the rules of judicial conduct regarding part-time judges. He said he initially thought the law prohibited him only from appearing as an attorney before fellow part-time judges who also practice law. “I thought I was doing the right thing by not physically going,” he told The Gazette. “But I was told it was wrong, and that was it.”
Mercy contacted the Niskayuna Town Court about a client’s speeding ticket roughly 10 months after he was appointed to the position in Scotia. Mercy wrote various correspondences to the Niskayuna court and its justices — Stephen Swinton Jr. and Paul Zonderman — on behalf of his firm’s clients. The infractions included five traffic violations, a code violation and a felony charge.
Mercy represented six clients before the conflict was recognized. Swinton wrote a letter to Mercy alerting him of the judicial rule and informing him that the court would no longer respond to his letters.
The commission found Mercy appeared to adhere to the rule after receiving the letter from Swinton. The rules do allow Mercy to take cases that appear in city or county courts, as well as any that come before the county’s lay judges.
In an odd loop in the law, town and village court justices are allowed to litigate cases before practicing lawyer-judges in neighboring counties. Mercy, for instance, could take a case in Ballston Town Court in Saratoga County even though it neighbors his justice seat in Glenville.