ROCHESTER N.Y. — Removing a judge for any cause is not as easy as it sounds. Administrator and Counsel to the Commission on Judicial Conduct, Robert Tembeckjian, says it is not meant to be a process that happens overnight.
“It is not unusual at all to see the disciplinary case of a judge go on for a year and a half to two years,” said Tembeckjian.
Last week, Rochester City Court Judge Leticia Astacio was suspended with pay by the court of appeals, the highest court in New York, after she was arrested for allegedly trying to buy a shotgun in violation of her probation.
“I believe the court, as soon as she was charged, suspended her with pay and now have given her an opportunity to express her view, to the court, on whether that suspension should continue with or without pay,” said Tembeckjian.
In the past, the commission could suspend a judge. Tembeckjian says that's no longer the case.
“It did before 1978, but the law changed,” he said. “We have been advocating for that to be reinstated, so when we say there were five suspensions without pay, four of those were before the law was changed in 1978 and the fifth was, as to a judge who had been charged of a crime in Brooklyn was acquitted of that crime and subsequently had his salary restored, with interest.”
The commission is responsible for investigating complaints against New York judges. With three offices, and a major case load, Tembeckjian says the lack of funding is an impediment on their active investigations.
“We can’t be handling 2,140 cases simultaneously without setting priorities and without assigning staff to investigate, try and ultimately to reach conclusions on all of these matters that we have before us. It’s just not possible,” he said.
Tembeckjian also says there are three circumstances where a judge is removed from office: a felony conviction, being charged with a crime involving moral turpitude or when the commission issues that decision to the court of appeals.
“That is an option that’s available to the commission whenever there is a matter involving a judge who has been convicted of a crime even less than a felony,” said Tembeckjian.
Astacio was convicted of a DWI in 2016 and since then has violated her probation and served time in jail.
For all judges, it is ultimately up to the New York State of Appeals whether or not to suspend a judge with or without pay.