Judicial Conduct Commission’s special request

The state board that investigates and punishes misbehaving judges released its annual report today, and among the statistics were some interesting recommendations for state government.

First, the commission wants the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, to review all of their decisions — not just the ones that disciplined judges want them to review. Here’s the explanation:

“While it may be unusual for a government agency to encourage review of its decisions by a higher authority, the Commission believes this proposal promotes the public policy of checks-and-balances and the independence of the judiciary,” said Robert H. Tembeckjian, the Commission’s administrator.

The commission also restates its long-held request to open judicial disciplinary proceedings to the public. As a professional open government watchdog, three cheers to this request! It would be nice if New York joined 35 other states who already allow the public to attend such hearings. State Sen. John L. Sampson has introduced legislation to make such hearings to be public.

Some of the statistics in the report:

• 1,855 complaints received in 2009 – the second highest number ever, after last year’s 1,923.
• 5,489 complaints received since 2007 – 878 more than in any other 3-year period.
• 471 preliminary inquiries conducted in 2009, the most ever, up from 354 last year.
• 257 new investigations authorized in 2009 — the third highest ever.
25 public decisions rendered in 2009, up from 21 last year:
• 2 Removals from office
• 10 Public Censures
• 9 Public Admonitions
• 4 public stipulations in which judges under investigation or formal charges agreed to leave the bench and not to hold judicial office in the future
• 19 judges resigned while under investigation or while formal charges were
pending.
• 47 confidential cautionary letters were issued, up from 37 last year.
• 243 matters were pending at year’s end.

Alessandros in trouble

We’re talking BIG trouble here for the Alessandro brothers, Judge Joseph of Orange County and Judge Francis of the Bronx. The state Commission on Judicial Conduct wants both Alessandros to be kicked off the bench and has recommended as much to the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, which will have the final say on the matter.

Click here for a summary of the Alessandros’ problems.

The commission’s beef with the brothers involves a $250,000 loan to Joseph Alessandro’s cash-strapped 2003 campaign for Westchester County Court. It also involves the brothers not being completely forthright with their financial disclosures to the court’s ethics board. Click here to read more about the commission’s ruling.

So why do we care? The $250,000 helped Joe Alessandro, a Republican, win the county court seat in Westchester, which led him to run for state Supreme Court two years later. He won that seat as well, thanks to a 2005 cross-endorsement deal that tied his candidacy to — wait for it — Judge Jonathan Lippman, who was running for a state court seat as a Democrat.

Lippman, as you may know, continued to rise and this month became Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals. That means Lippman, who lives in Rye Brook, now heads the same court that must decide if Alessandro gets to keep his job. No word yet as to whether Lippman will recuse himself from the matter.