Warhit on track to be county judge

Indefatigable Greenburgh attorney Barry Warhit has been nominated by Gov. David Patterson to be a Westchester County Court judge.

Warhit, a longtime criminal defense lawyer who began his career as a young prosecutor in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, would replace Judge Jeffrey Cohen, who moved up to Orange County when he was elected to the state Supreme Court last year.

Warhit has to be confirmed by the New York State Senate before he dons the black robe. He’s been a part-time acting judge in local courts, including White Plains City Court, where I once appeared before him with an expired vehicle inspection ticket. The look he gave me can only be described as “What are YOU doing here?!” But in all fairness, I received no special treatment. My ticket was dismissed with several others once we showed proof of inspection.

If approved, Warhit would have to run for judge in the next election to keep the job permanently. And he may already have competition. A Mount Vernon lawyer named Doug Martino is campaigning to get on the Republican and Conservative ballot lines. Whoever wins, I hope they give me good quotes at sentencings.

UPDATE: Irvington Village Justice Lawrence Ecker also has been nominated to serve as a state Supreme Court Justice, according to the governor’s office. He would replaced Joseph Alessandro, who was removed from the bench last year for alleged misconduct relating to a loan to his 2003 campaign. Ecker is a partner in in his own law firm.

The judge’s warning

During former NYPD commish Bernard Kerik’s pre-trial conference today, federal Judge Stephen C. Robinson issued what for him has become the standard warning to lawyers about to go before a jury in his courtroom.

Robinson noted in federal prosecutors’ and defense lawyers’ filings leading up to the trial skedded to start Oct. 13 “there tends to be an edge in some of the writing.”

“This is going to be a hotly contested trial, I’m sure,” he said.

That led Robinson to tell defense lawyer Barry Berke and prosecutors Michael Bosworth and Elliott Jacobson to keep things calm and cordial in front of the jury – or else.

The judge gave them his three-step curative for unruly behavior by lawyers. First, he said, he warns them out of ear shot of the jury. Second, he warns them  “with a rising level of anger.” Then there’s the final step, what amounts to the judicial equivalent of a public flogging.

“I’m going to call you out in front of the jury,” he said.

Robinson’s not fooling around about this stuff. It all stems from the first trial the judge oversaw after becoming a federal judge in late 2003. In December that year, while Robinson was still getting used to the fit of the new black robe, he was assigned the criminal trial of  lawyer Donald Roth and private investigator David St. John, accused of witness tampering. The trial was a raucous two-month affair with Robinson engaging in what seemed like almost daily battles with defense lawyers Bill  Aronwald and Larry Hochheiser, two veteran bulldog attorneys who used to be prosecutors. Ever since that case – Roth and St. John were convicted – Robinson has laid down the law to attorneys appearing for trial before him. He makes it clear that he’s the boss and that the jury will be on his side in any conflict with the attorneys.

“My juries like me,” he said today.

Rate your judge on “Robe Probe”

There’s a website called Robeprobe.com, and if enough attorneys and their clients in the Lower Hudson Valley find out about this, things could get very interesting.

Basically, it’s a rating system for judges at all levels, from U.S. Supreme down to municipal judges. Even judges from other countries are listed.  Billing itself as “the world’s most trusted judge rating site” (like there are so many others), the site’s search engine asks you to choose the jurisdiction (state, county, municipal, appellate, etc.) then type in the name of the judge and give them one to 5 stars. If your judge isn’t listed, you can add him/her to the list.

I typed in a few names of judges from Westchester County. The only ones who were listed were State Supreme Court Justices Lester Adler and Richard Molea, and county Judge Barbara Zambelli. Judge Francis Nicolai, the court administrator for the 9th Judicial District, was listed, as was Court of Appeals Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman – the top judge in New York state.

No one has rated them yet, so if you’re so inclined, you know where to find them.

Logo courtesy of RobeProbe.com

You are cordially invited …

To attend the swearing-in ceremony for Westchester County Judge Susan Capeci at 4 p.m. Thursday in Courtroom 200 at the county courthouse in White Plains. It’s open to the public.

Capeci was elected to a full 10-year term in November. She had been appointed to the bench in April by Gov. David Paterson to fill a vacancy left by Judge Francis Nicolai, who was elected to the state Supreme Court.

Capeci was a lawyer for the Mount Vernon Water Department and a defense lawyer for more than 20 years. She is on the board of the Legal Aid Society of Westchester and was campaign manager for county Judge Susan Cacace, a former Westchester prosecutor, in 2005.

County Court judges generally preside over felony criminal cases. The annual salary for county and state judges is $136,700.