ROCHESTER, N.Y. — The New York State Judicial Conduct Commission has begun the formal process of removing embattled Rochester City Court Judge Leticia Astacio from office.
"There's a tale of two Rochesters and only the people that live in the city of Rochester can vote for me. I would love for you guys to go talk to some of them," Astacio told a group of reporters outside of her house on Tuesday.
Astacio has 30 days to accept the decision, or appeal the commission's ruling, according to Robert Tembeckjian, administrator and counsel with the NYS JCC.
"If a judge doesn’t recognize their wrongdoing, doesn’t accept responsibility for the wrongdoing, than there is every likelihood to expect that that misconduct will reoccur," Tembeckjian said.
According to Tembeckjian, her removal from bench stems from probation violations related to her DWI charge in 2016. Also included in their announcement to take her off the the bench were alleged instances of misconduct during several court cases she presided over. The arrest stemming from Leticia Astacio’s alleged attempt of purchasing a gun from a Henrietta store was not factored in.
“Whatever the motivations she may have — and some of them I can’t even fathom — for evading or refusing to accept that it was her own behavior that got her into the trouble that she’s in is the kind of thing we look for when a judge is in trouble before the commission and in this case, it was wanting," Tembeckjian said.
Craig Doran, Astacio's Administrative Judge in the Seventh Judicial District, issued a statement about today's ruling saying in part:
"For more than two years, one matter has overwhelmingly dominated the public's attention while hundreds of judges and staff in our region's courts have come to work each day (and night), quietly and diligently upholding the law, while delivering justice in thousands of cases in our neighborhoods, schools and businesses. This has been an unfortunate distraction from the critically important work done, on a daily basis, by the highly competent and caring judges and court staff serving the people of this community. We are grateful for the honor to serve in the Judiciary."
Astacio, whose highly-publicized legal saga began two years ago, returned to work on March 1 for the first time since August. Despite her not working, she received a pay raise of more than $11,000 on April 1, bringing her yearly salary to $187,200.
Astacio was initially arrested in February 2016 for DWI and her comments in and outside of court, her missing court because she was overseas, and subsequent probation violations have garnered her extensive media attention.
More recently, Astacio was arrested and charged earlier last month for allegedly trying to purchase a shotgun. The terms of her probation prevent her from possessing a firearm. She was charged with attempted criminal purchase of a weapon. Court paperwork says Astacio was denied the purchase of the gun by Dick's employees because they said she seemed, "very distraught and upset." Special prosecutor Zach Mauer said two of the violations stem from the attempted firearm purchase and the third is for failing to continue mental health treatment as required.
The Court of Appeals previously announced that it suspended Astacio with pay pending the resolution of the felony charge against her.
“The court has already suspended her, they are now considering now whether to continue that suspension and whether it should be with or without pay and we expect the court to make that decision relatively shortly and then technically whether or not she’s exercising the powers of her office, she is still a judge until finally removed by the Court of Appeals," Tembeckjian said.
In a lengthy open letter addressed to administrative Judge Doran, Astacio detailed the reasons she says she's been in and out of work since August. The judge previously cited a medical issue for her absence. In the recent letter, however, Astacio explained that she has been mentally unwell because of a "hostile" work environment at City Court.
Astacio says she has been barred from the Hall of Justice since that time, and according to her letter posted to Facebook, has been doing office work and has been kept from any judicial duties. The judge also says she's been forced to come in from the back of the building and go through metal detectors, even though no other court employees do so. She requested to have a meeting with Judge Doran to discuss returning to her judicial work.
Doran says it's not appropriate for him to comment on social media posts from those he supervises, but did say, "If Judge Astacio contacts me and asks for a meeting, I would, as I would with any Judge I supervise, respond to concerns quickly and appropriately."