NY commission fields record number of complaints against judges

The New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct released its annual report today, showing more New Yorkers filed complaints against judges last year than in any year since the agency was founded.

The commission received and processed 2,025 complaints in 2010 — 170 more than were filed in 2009, according to its annual report. But although there were more complaints in 2010, there were fewer investigations. The commission launched 225 full-fledged investigations  last year, compared to 257 investigations in 2009.

From those investigations, 15 judges were publicly disciplined, 36 were confidentially cautioned and 14 resigned, the commission reported. There are about 3,500 judges in the state unified court system.

Commission Administrator Robert H. Tembeckjian said the numbers for 2010 were on par with those from the last five years.

Of the 15 judges who were disciplined, one was from Westchester: Ossining Village Justice Raymond R. Barlaam, who was admonished for scheduling trials in traffic cases based solely on the availability of the officers who made the arrest or issued the ticket. The commission said his actions from 2003 to 2008 resulted in long delays in hundreds of cases and forced defendants “to wait years for their day in court.”

Barlaam, a village justice since 1983, had allowed more than 500 traffic cases to languish — some more than five years — so that he could schedule trials when the issuing officer was available. The commission noted that Barlaam acknowledged his actions were wrong, that he has discontinued the practice and now schedules calendar matters in a timely fashion and considers requests for adjournments on a case-by-case basis. Barlaam has since “disposed of virtually all of the approximately 500 cases at issue, by conducting trials, accepting guilty pleas or entertaining motions to dismiss by the prosecutor,” the commission said.

The admonishment was the least severe of three possible sanctions the commission can issue. The most severe is removal from office, followed by censure. The admonishment results in no penalty against Barlaam but serves to advise the public of his actions.

In the commission’s annual report Tembeckjian renewed a call for state legislation to make the commission’s formal disciplinary proceedings open to the public for the first time since 1978.

“It may be unusual for a government agency to invite more scrutiny of its work,” he said in a written statement, “but that has been the Commission’s unwavering position for more than three decades.”

The Report, which details the Commission’s activities in 2010, is available http://www.cjc.ny.gov/