Thursday, March 4, 2010

IMPROPER CONVERSATIONS BRING CENSURE (a/k/a new pilot for next fall)

NYLJ 5-31-07


1. You could call it “ex-partie discussions with counsel.” Or, as the State Commission on Judicial Conduct administrator Tmebeckijan argued it, this was the latest incident of a type for which the subject was admonished less than a decade ago. Oh, and that his repetition of same undermined the integrity and impartiality of the system. Which statement was freely interpreted by the members of the commission as having “displayed an insensitivity to the appearance of bias.”

Or you could simply call it Folk Justice. And seeing as how the town of Hamden, in Delaware County, has seen fit to keep this court official in place since 1989 and being that he is both a non-lawyer and a farmer, we could—and shall—call him Justice Folkes.

(I know. This sounds like a pitch for a new TV show. Something that might have been a vehicle for Andy Griffith way back when.)

One would not expect Hamden to need extreme measures of rigor from the bench when, like as might, he will be settling nothing too drastic in the way of consequences. The 1998 action was by way of attempting to mediate in a tenant-landlord dispute, then failing to recuse himself while eviction proceedings went on. There was another one where he predetermined he would not issue a protective order against one of the parties in a property dispute before him. He also arraigned a defedant in that case without the DA being present, though the commission found he ultimately did the right thing in disqualifying himself when he found the counsel for the defense also happened to be the same attorney who represented Justice Folkes himself in his first disciplinary proceeding. Who also happened to be the local dairyman. So, Dairy Esq., was not only the only milk-&-butter man around, he was close to a local monopoly on legal matters, appearing before Folkes in six other cases from ’02 to ’05. and, again, Folkes gets a citation from the commission for both failing to recuse himself and not informing the other parties about the prior attorney-client relationship.

The latest incident evolved from his attempt to mediate a dispute between his neighbor and an auto body repair shop owner over a $3,000 bill, and the repairman holding the neighbor’s two cars as a hedge. Justice Folkes tried to get the mechanic’s lean to accept a partial of $800 to release one of the cars, which Folkes accepted, as the commission saw it, as an appearance of advocacy. Not that an arbitrator from the county seat, of Albany even, would have done it any different. But, hey—it didn’t work out for anyone in the end, the neighbor choosing the Dent King for a sparring match, the dust-up getting the Ring King a bout call against himself.

And wouldn’t you know it, again, guess what came up before the mediating magistrates bench? Yup, the assault warrant and two rather sheepish-looking dudes. So what does our boy do? Offer to let someone else adjudicate the matter. But he must have been doing something right because the two combatants did waive the option, and let the wayward weigher continue to preside over the dispute.

It is exactly this sort of behavior, of getting last minute reprieves, holding out ‘til the cows come home, that was getting the goat of the hot-blooded Armenian administrator. He’d recommended removal of judges in 16 cases in 4 years, getting his thumb’s-down approved 10 times and even reduced sanctions on the rest. Between censure and admonishment, there doesn’t lie a lot of room, but enough for Tmebeckjian to drive a HumVee through, loaded with stormtroopers out for revenge. And that he considers the former as little more than a bitch-slap to the latter’s finger-wave of tsk-tsk, also means the statement, “it is the proper role of a judge to preside in court proceedings, not to mediate disputes out of court,’ won’t cut the mustard.

But that’s Justice Folkes, and his “just folks”.

(Can't wait for the next installment.)

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