The Stern Commission is a part of the Office of Court Administration or OCA. I like to refer to them as the Office of Courtroom Atrocities. The OCA is supposed to make sure things run smoothly. They are mostly a bunch of bean counting, neverbeens, who couldn't find the front door of a courtroom, if they had a guide dog, a sherpe, and a map... make that a GPS device! OCA sets arbitrary rules and they try to thwart any attempt that can be made to individualize the courtroom experience of litigants. They would call that justice, I call it a denial of a fair day in court.
The Stern Commission is OCA's answer to the Gesatopo ( the secret police force used by the Nazi's in Germany in WWII) They answer only to the Court of Appeals. When a judge misbehaves, they "investigate", bring the charges, and try the case,in front of a hand picked group of lawyers and judges selected by??... The Office of Court Administration. Oh yeah did I mention that they do all of their work behind closed doors? And let's not forget that they can remove a judge who has been elected, not just the appointed ones.
Most Judges live in abject fear of the OCA and especially of the Stern Commission. Until now, that always seemed to me to be rather paranoid. After all the Stern Commission has never ever disciplined a judge for an error in judgement that was not of the self-interest or venal type. Nevertheless Judges tend to shutter at the thought of losing their Robes to a Stern Commission investigation.
I have never seen judge who was the subject of a defense attorney complaint ever EVER sanctioned, much less debenched. I am aware of instances where judges called defense counsel names, didn't show up for trial, said inappropriate things to and about defense attorneys in open court, and of course before juries, and even incarcerated people illegally. They never were removed from office. In fact just last week, the OCA and the Stern Commission only censured two judges who could not follow the law of contempt. These now disgraced jurists allowed their anger and frustration to spill over into their decision making. They incarcerated two people, illegally held them in jail because they were upset with them, and remembering that they are popularly elected these judges were only "censured."
That must have made those two guys that were illegally held feel better. That they could have their civil rights stripped from them for merely uttering a sigh in a courtroom then having the offending judge merely censured must engender a lot of confidence in New York and OCA's ability to punish the venal.
Let a judge do something that is at worst a mistake and at best a good use of her judicial authority, and let that negitively impact a police officer, well then the Union gets involved and Lord knows we can't let the NYC PBA get in a snit.
I handled a case a number of years ago where an off duty patrolman was drunk and armed in a bar. He shot a patron and then when police arrived they arrested the patron and 3 of his friends. At one point during the scene the cop dropped his weapon. My client picked it up and handed it to his friend (another off duty) and they also charged him with possession of a Weapon. The judge let the client out on Five Thousand Dollars bail. The PBA never forgave him and he has not won an election since. Forget the fact that the defendants were acquitted... but I digress.
In the case I am speaking of, a defendant showed up to court on the date of his schedualed court appearance. (This is what we want, defendants to show up to court.) A cop and prosecutor decided that since the defendant had to go to court they would lay in wait and arrest him on a trumped up charge and put him back into jail even though he was doing well on release.
The judge refused to allow it in her court. She felt that if the client came to court he should be allowed to go home. She had him escorted from the courthouse and the detective and the DA had to arrest him elsewhere. It seems the Judge didn't want to discourage people from keeping their court dates.
Right decision? Probably not. Even though it seems that the judge wanted to do something good, she really increased the chance that the defendant, or the police officer who had to arrest him, could get hurt. Surrenders are always the better way to go. Moreover this was a really weak case and the defendant was AQUITTED ANYWAY!!
Was it however a power grab by the court? Was the court being venal and petty? NO WAY. She ran her court the way she saw fit. What she did was not illegal (when done by a court for the rest of us it would be aiding an escape or obstruction of justice a misnomer but that's what they call it.) She had a countervailing concern. To wit: people will not come to court if they think they are going to be arrested. Moreover She was running her courtroom. She felt like she had made a promise that if the defendant showed up for court he could come there and be safe from police harrassment.
It is interesting to note that the Judge in this case is black and was a civil rights attorney she worked for the NAACP. I remember that during the 1960's Blacks in the south used to congregate on the lawns and steps of the federal courthouses to be protected from the harrassment of white police officers in the cities. I wonder if that thought had entered into the courts decision in this case.
It doesn't matter that the court here made, at worst an error of judgment. That sanctimonious unelected Stern Commission and it's appointed rubber stamp of a board said "to hell" with precedent. We want her out. She made the police and the DA's office unhappy. She made a mockery of Justice. She favored an accused over the lying accuser who just so happened to be a NYC Police Detective. Forget scolding her. We save that for the Judges that unfairly incarcerate innocent people because they had the temerity to utter a sigh in court. For running her courtroom and keeping her promise to the defendant, and for causing no harm at all (except for a little inconvienence which could have been avoided if the ADA had the brains to arrange a surrender with the guys attorney to begin with) We are going to thwart the will of the people who elected this judge and remove her. After all those voters don't know anything about the judges they vote for. We as the appointed henchmen of the All-knowing and Powerful OZ, we say who should stay and who should go.
The board that oversees the Stern Commission prosecutions should be ashamed of itself (except for the 2 members who dissented from the decision who should now be named chair and vice chair. It would figure that the author of the dissent was Richard Emory, one of NYC's great defense and civil rights attorneys and an all around decent human being). Someone remind me... If I ever become Governor remind me to defund the OCA and send a handwritten pink slip to Stern, Tembeckian and the rest of the boys in that band. It will give me a chance to remind them that when the people have spoken you better have a damn good reason to undo what the people have done.
That's what I think. If you have a different opinion leave a comment here or write to me at www.colleluorilaw.com