June 9, 2008

There Goes the Judge

Back in November we blogged the saga of Judge Robert Restaino, a City Court judge in Niagra Falls NY. He apparently was having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day on March 11, 2005, when a cell phone went off in his courtroom, in violation of his judicial protocols. When no one fessed up to the crime, he jailed 46 people, most of whom had been waiting for disposition of domestic violence cases.

At the time of our first blog, New York's judicial oversight commission had voted 9 to 1 to fire Restaino. He appealed. Now the State Court of Appeals, with a vote of 6 to 0 with one abstention, has upheld the termination. The Appeals Justices said they have "serious doubts that this breach in trust is reparable."

Restaino is not without his supporters (two wrote in to comment on our original posting). It appears that his work, prior to this incident, was satisfactory. Niagra Falls District Attorney Michael Violante (excellent name for a DA!) was disappointed in the outcome. "He had a bad day and it's cost him the bench...I think that it's very unfair, frankly." Even one of the judge's critics, David Jay, a Buffalo civil rights attorney, thinks the outcome was too harsh. He believes that the courts need a disciplinary option between the extremes of dismissal and censure.

Aaron Besecker, author of the article in the Buffalo News, points out that at the time of the incident, Judge Restaino did not have a cell phone. Now that he is out of a job (and a comfortable salary of $113,900), he might want to invest in one. You always want to be accessible when someone calls with a lucrative job offer.



Judges are supposed to be beyond reproach. He should not let his "bad day" have such a negative influence on his determinations from the bench. Everyone has bad days. Does he routinely consider the "bad day" the person in front of him for sentencing might have been having when he/she committed whatever offense that they are being tried/sentenced for? Sentencing can lead to harsh results. So should his sentencing lead to harsh results.

I agree that the punishment was "harsh", but I applaud the NY judicial oversight folks. What people seem to forget is that we rely on the judiciary to stand between the excesses of the Bar and society - to act as an active filter through which frivolous lawsuits and the progressive tortification of our society must pass, before it gets to a jury with the judge's implied approval. While this instance is hardly on point with respect to the specific trend mentioned, ANY disciplinary efforts toward the judiciary aimed at requiring them to conform to societal expectations is a positive development....

Maybe the courtroom wasn't posted about having cell phones on during court sessions. Even still, this is excessive and should not be condoned....there are more than enough unstable and egocentric people appointed and elected to these positions and we should be relieved of them as expeditiously as possible.


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This page contains a single entry by Jon Coppelman published on June 9, 2008 11:03 AM.

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