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Next Time Just Set the Cell Phone to Vibrate

A New York judge should be removed from office after two hours of “inexplicable madness” when he jailed almost everyone in his courtroom in an ill-fated attempt to find a cell phone, a judicial conduct panel recommended.

In an episode resembling an action by Captain Queeg, a domestic violence judge in Niagara Falls revoked the recognizance bonds of 46 defendants when they failed to take responsibility for a cell phone that rang in his courtroom. The judge personally questioned each defendant and acknowledged to some that he knew jailing them “ain’t right” and admitted what he was doing wasn’t fair. It was not until some five hours later, after many of the defendants were transported to jail, that the judge reconsidered what he had done, and that came only after the press started to ask questions.

“In an egregious and unprecedented abuse of judicial power, respondent committed 46 defendants into police custody in a bizarre, unsuccessful effort to discover the owner of a ringing cell phone in the courtroom,” the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct found. “In doing so, he inexplicably persisted in his conduct over some two hours, questioning the defendants individually about the phone before committing them into custody, and ignoring the pleas of numerous defendants who protested that his conduct was unfair and pleaded that he reconsider.”

The episode started when a cell phone rang in the back of the courtroom. The judge asked that the phone be brought to him, but no one admitted to the ringing. “Everyone is going to jail; every single person is going to jail in this courtroom unless I get that instrument now,” the judge told the courtroom. While questioning each defendant individually, the judge repeatedly told them that the person who did not own up to the cell phone was selfish.

“It is sad and ironic that even as respondent was scolding the defendants for their behavior, in a court where trusts and personal accountability were of paramount importance, respondent’s own irresponsible behavior provided a poor example of such attributes,” the Commission found. “It is also ironic that in repeatedly berating the ‘selfish’ and ‘self-absorbed’ individual who ‘put their interests above everybody else’s’ and ‘[doesn’t] care what happens to anybody,’ respondent failed to recognize that he was describing himself.”

In the Matter of Robert M. Restaino, New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct, Dated November 13, 2007.

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