Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility
Home / Law / Judicial watchdog received record high complaints in 2022, report says

Judicial watchdog received record high complaints in 2022, report says

Annual complaints reach historic level

The New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct received more complaints last year than in any previous year, according to the agency’s annual report for 2022.

The Commission received and processed 2,439 new complaints last year. The Commission conducted 549 preliminary inquiries and 344 full-fledged investigations.

Of those, 170 were new investigations, while 174 were carried over from 2021. And 187 cases were still pending at the end of 2022.

According to the 336-page report, 25 public decisions were issued, which is the most since 2009.

Three judges were removed from office, 12 resigned, seven were censured, and three were admonished, according to the report.

Six judges resigned while complaints were pending, and 27 were issued confidential cautionary letters.

In addition to providing statistics on the activities of the Commission, the report comments on the dangers of social media, courtroom decorum, ethical obligations of judges and judicial candidates, town and village justices’ fiduciary obligations, and the misuse of parking placards.

“Faith in the integrity of the courts is fundamental to the rule of law.  The work of the Judicial Conduct Commission promotes public confidence in a judiciary that is both independent and accountable,” Commission Chairman Joseph W. Belluck said in a news release.

The previous report included a section on the perils of social media for judges. Because of a continuing stream of complaints in that area, the Commission decided repeated the discussion in the latest report.

“The hasty or improvident post that is quickly withdrawn may endure and be seen far longer and wider than the creator intended or imagined,” the Commission wrote in the report.

The Commission also included a section on courtroom decorum.

“As the devastating impact of the pandemic’s early months receded, and the pace of court calendars picked up again, the Commission began receiving complaints about judges and lawyers who were dressed inappropriately casual for court proceedings, particularly those occurring virtually,” according to the report.

Some complaints alleged that some judges overreacted to what they considered an attorney’s inappropriate attire.

“In one such situation, a judge took it out on the client by dismissing a lawsuit — rather than, say, calling a recess — because the plaintiff’s attorney appeared without a necktie for a proceeding conducted via video,” according to the report.

The Commission also cautioned town and village justices about their fiduciary responsibility. In New York state town and village courts the responsibility for handling funds collected by the court rests with the individual justices.

Money collected by town or village court justices from fines, fees, bail, and other sources must be deposited promptly into official court bank accounts, recorded promptly in court record books, and reported and remitted promptly to the state Comptroller, according to the annual report.

“While improper financial management and record keeping most often results from honest mistakes, inadvertent oversight or insufficient clerical assistance, they sometimes indicate serious misconduct, either by the judge or by the court staff in whom the judge has reposed significant responsibility to track the court’s finances,” the Commission wrote.

The Commission has publicly disciplined approximately 125 town and village justices for significant violations of rules on handling court funds. About 250 more have been cautioned for relatively minor violations, according to the annual report.

The Commission also cautioned judges about the misuse of their parking placards.

“Every year, the Commission receives and investigates complaints alleging that individual judges are inappropriately displaying official looking placards on the dashboards of their cars for personal purposes,” the Commission wrote.

Placards are intended for use only when on official business, but some judges use them to evade parking costs or restrictions near their homes, while shopping or dining out, the Commission wrote.

[email protected] / (585) 232-2035