Whether removal or censure is the appropriate sanction for a judge who has engaged in various acts of misconduct, both in court proceedings and case dispositions, given that his misconduct only came to the attention of the Commission of Judicial Conduct via a highly charged public and political tragedy for which this judge was inappropriately blamed.
Removal from office is the appropriate sanction. The evidence on record demonstrates that the judge not only engaged in biased and injudicious behavior but also that he failed to recognize, in some instances, his errors which suggests that if kept in office he would neither control nor change his behavior. The public deserves not only impartiality but also the appearance of impartiality.
Petitioner, Judge Duckman, became the subject of public scrutiny after his routine bail release of Benito Oliver resulted in a murder-suicide by Oliver. The State Commission on Judicial Conduct, upon the request of the State Senate, and Governor Pataki investigated petitioner's judicial conduct. After the Governor's investigation uncovered disturbing but unrelated evidence, the Commission brought a formal proceeding against the petitioner (in which the bail decision on Oliver was not included). A referee to the proceeding produced a comprehensive report documenting petitioner's acts of name calling, bias toward the defense, racial and sexual comments, and improper case dismissals. The Commission ruled that petitioner violated Canons 1, 2A, and 3 of the Code of Judicial Conduct and the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct. It voted seven to four to remove rather than censure petitioner.
The New York Court of Appeals agreed with the determination of the majority of the Commission to remove the petitioner from office. The court relied heavily on petitioner's own comments regarding his behavior. While the petitioner claimed that these incidents were "isolated and subjective," the court asserted that the petitioner " lacks the insight and self control to make fundamental chang[e]."
The dissent argued that but for the sensational news coverage of the Oliver tragedy the petitioner would still be on the bench. The majority answered that the removal does not sacrifice the independence of the judiciary and that it better serves the public.
Prepared by the liibulletin-ny Editorial Board.