November 30, 2007

Cell time for cell phones?

Judge Robert Restaino of Niagra Falls NY has given new meaning to the concept of "judicial restraint." On March 11, 2005, the judge was presiding over a roomful of domestic-violence cases when he heard a cell phone ring. He told the roughly 70 people in the courtroom that “every single person is going to jail in this courtroom” unless the phone was turned over. (For a detailed description of the incident, see the New York Times here.)

“This troubles me more than any of you people can understand,” Judge Restaino said, in what turns out to be an understatement. “This person, whoever he or she may be, doesn’t have a whole lot of concern. Let’s see how much concern they have when they are sitting in the back there with all the rest of you. Ultimately, when you go back there to be booked, you’ve got to surrender what you got on you. One way or another, we’re going to get our hands on something.”

One defendant told the judge, “This is not fair to the rest of us.” To which the judge replied, “I know it isn’t.”

All of the defendants were in the courtroom under a program in which domestic-violence offenders agree to undergo drug and alcohol testing, as well as counseling, in lieu of jail time. Participants make weekly appearances in court to have their progress monitored and are released after each appearance unless they have violated terms of the program. They were all quite familiar with the judge and his courtroom protocol.

Eleven of the defendants had already appeared before the judge that morning and were waiting for the proceedings to end. Someone's cell phone went off, so Judge Restaino decided to rescind everyone's release. The defendants were taken to the city jail en masse. Fourteen who could not make bail were taken to the county jail. After receiving inquiries from the local news media, the judge ordered their release in the late afternoon.

Just Following (Unjust) Orders
I find it interesting that the officers of the court carried out what was obviously a whacked out directive from the judge. They were just "following orders."

Judge Restaino's actions were reviewed by New York's judicial oversight commisson. They were not amused. The commission said that Judge Restaino acted “without any semblance of a lawful basis” and behaved like a “petty tyrant.” It said his conduct “transcended poor judgment.” They voted 9-1 to fire him.

The judge has hired a lawyer and is appealing his termination. He knows his rights! He has apologized for his actions and has asked for reinstatement. When Restaino finally gets his day in court, we can reasonably assume that his cell phone will be in the mute or off position.


| 3 Comments

3 Comments

Read the article and note the dissenting opinion. To me it seems more reasonable. I would hate to think all of us could be fired for one snap in a long career. And any one of the attendees could have prevented the incident by turning in the cell phone. I think the personal responsibility of the cell phone user speaks of more social ill concern than the judge, that person let all the other innocent people suffer because he would not come forward. And those who were near the phone, let their neighbors suffer because they would not identify the phone. The whole courtroom should take a long hard look at what let him act like a petty dictator. But then again, it was a room full of convicted abusers, wasn't it.

Rosie, I just have to point out one small bit of hypocrisy in your comment. First you state, "I would hate to think all of us could be fired for one snap in a long career," implying that we all make mistakes, so one mistake in a long career shouldn't result in a lifetime consequence.

But your final statment, "But then again, it was a room full of convicted abusers, wasn't it," shows that you don't seem to be willing to offer that same forgiveness to "convicted abusers." Perhaps the one person with the cell phone should have ponied up, but I don't think you can necessarily paint the whole room with the brush of "social ill concern" just because they've been convicted of a crime once in their life.

I personally know Judge Restaino an all who know him know he is about the most decent person they will ever meet. It's a shame that the people he sees in his courtroom day in and day out, abusers, degenerates and the like will get more leniency than this man will. Of course what he did wasn't the right choice to make but to be honest, the people he held should have all been in jail to begin with, not in some counseling program. Give this man the benefit of the doubt, his entire career should not be over because of one obvious lapse in judgement. I know he should be held to a higher standard becuase of his postion but to fire a good judge like him would be a travesty. Just ask anyone who lives in Niagara Falls if the city is better off with him or without him.....the city is a stinkhole full of criminals, degenerates, etc, used to be a great place to live. And its because of the people he sees every day, that's only one of the reasons I left.

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This page contains a single entry by Jon Coppelman published on November 30, 2007 1:26 PM.

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