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William C. Altreuter
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Thursday, May 07, 2015

I ran across this news in the New York Law Journal. There's a Utica City Court Judge named Gerald Popeo who was recently investigated by the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct, which concluded that he'd committed a series of acts of misconduct against prosecutors, defense counsel and defendants who appeared before him. This misconduct included that he spoke the phrase "country niggers"; referred to a prosecutor as a "cigar store Indian"; stated that he wished he could slap a grin off of a defendant's face; told a defense attorney to shut up; told a prosecutor that he was more concerned with getting a conviction to add another notch to his belt rather than doing justice; suggested that the prosecutor sought forfeiture of illegal proceeds in order to buy a new couch for his office or a new laptop; and improperly summarily held two defendants in contempt of court and sentenced them to jail time in violation of their due process rights. The Commission rejected the finding of the referee that the judge had spoken the racially offensive words "country niggers" to two young attorneys, one of whom was African American. This last part is kind of weird: basically the panel accepted all of the other findings, but cherry-picked the last out of consideration. It also apparently missed that the "cigar store Indian" crack was racially offensive, probably because the Commission consists of ten white guys and one Hispanic.

I try to avoid calling out judges here on Outside Counsel because who needs the tsuris, you know? However, Judge Popeo, who remains on the bench, is going to be an exception. I have heard some jaw-dropping stuff coming from the bench and the robing room and from chambers, but finding that a judge said these things and then allowing him to continue on the bench is shocking. Of course, undue deference to sitting judges is nothing new, and as far as I can tell it is always political, but the guardians of the credibility of our institutions should be more scrupulous.

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