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In a divided decision taken on May 4 and released this Thursday, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct recommended that Glen George, an upstate town justice, should be removed from the bench for dismissing a seatbelt ticket for his former employer. Glen George had also received a warning previously for presiding over cases of personal friends and failing to disclose his relationships with the litigants. He has served for almost 30 years as a town justice in Middletown, Delaware County.
The commission also mentioned that in another case, Glen George had had improperly discouraged a litigant from filing a suit in the small claims court. In that case, George had ex parte discussions with a man who was planning to sue one of George’s friends over a property dispute.
Even though George disqualified himself from the case when the man ultimately filed suit, the commission found the behavior unacceptable. The commission observed on the matter: “It is a judge’s role to adjudicate matters in court proceedings, not to screen cases or otherwise pre-judge them out of court.”
Robert Temberckjian, the chief counsel and administrator of the commission issued a statement saying, “Dispensing favors from the bench distorts the essence of the judicial role and undermines public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary.”
In the instant matter before the commission, the panel found that George had presided over a case in 2009 involving his friend and former employer. In that case, George’s friend Lynn Johnson had been issued a ticket for not wearing a seatbelt. In the absence of the prosecutor, George had dismissed the ticket on grounds that it contained erroneous information about the vehicle.
Also in 2000, the commission had cautioned George in writing for presiding over a DUI case of the former daughter-in-law of Lynn Johnson. In that case, the commission strictly warned George from presiding over cases involving members of the Johnson family without disclosing the nature of his relationship with the litigant.
Two members of the panel dissented finding “the realities of the state’s town courts” and George’s informal style of working did not rise to the level of misconduct that required a removal instead of a censure.
Joel Cohen, a member of the panel observed, “If we remove this judge on the facts presented, we are charting a new course that would make it too easy to reject the weighty sanction of censure in future cases and to require the sanction of removal in any case that involves serious misconduct.”