Promises get judge in trouble - The Daily Freeman News: Serving the Hudson Valley since 1871(DailyFreeman.com)
By KYLE WIND
KINGSTON — A state commission has admonished state Supreme Court Justice Patrick J. McGrath for misrepresenting his jurisdiction over pistol permits and making “improper pledges and promises” in a letter to 7,000 pistol permit holders during his 2008 election campaign.
McGrath, of Rensselaer County, serves in the state’s Third Judicial District, which includes Ulster and Greene counties. The state Commission on Judicial Conduct, which issued a unanimous decision to admonish McGrath last week, said he has 30 days to appeal the decision to the state Court of Appeals.
McGrath was served with a complaint containing a single charge dated Aug. 11, 2009. According to an agreed-upon statement of facts, he wrote, signed and distributed the letter on “Judge McGrath for Supreme Court” letterhead.
“As your county judge for the past 14 years, I have been responsible for all pistol permits in Rensselaer County,” the letter read. “My pistol permit is very important to me, as I know yours is to you. I work closely on a daily basis with the pistol permit clerk … to make sure all permits and amendments are handled in a timely fashion. Since 1994, I have signed more than 20,000 permits and amendments. I also work closely with all of the Rod and Gun clubs.…”
The letter, sent to people whose addresses were provided by the state Rifle and Pistol Association, later read: “As a Supreme Court justice … I will still be responsible for all pistol permits in Rensselaer County,” and “I ask for your support and vote on Nov. 4 and look forward to serving pistol permit holders for another 14 years.”
The Commission on Judicial Conduct said “the campaign activities of judicial candidates are significantly circumscribed” and that candidates cannot knowingly misrepresent the identity, qualifications, positions or other facts.
The panel said McGrath knew at the time that any “judge or justice of a court of record with an office in the county” can issue a pistol permit, and the campaign letter misrepresented that, if elected, he would maintain exclusive jurisdiction over the permits.
In addition, the commission said, McGrath “improperly conveyed that he would favorably consider future applications” for pistol permits. The commission said his statements, viewed in their entirety, “conveyed bias and the appearance of bias” when a judge’s role is to be impartial.
After having already been admonished in 2004 for speaking to reporters about his decision-making process during a murder trial, the commission said, McGrath should have been “especially sensitive” to ethical rules.
Neither McGrath nor his attorney, Peter Moschetti Jr. of Latham, could be reached for comment Tuesday.
Before McGrath, a Democrat, unseated one-term incumbent Republican Justice Anthony Carpinello in 2008, he had served as Rensselaer County judge since 2004 and as the Troy city judge from 1985 through 1993.
An admonishment from the commission is less serious than a censure, but neither action carries any punishment or fine. The most serious form of discipline is removal from the bench.
The commission has admonished 237 state judges since 1978. In recent years, McGrath is the third justice in the Third Judicial District to be disciplined by the commission.
In 2006, Thomas Spargo, a Republican, was removed from the bench amid an extortion investigation. Former Kingston City Judge James Gilpatric, a Democrat, was admonished for being under the influence of alcohol while on the bench in 2005, and again last year for taking too long to render decisions in City Court.
Gilpatric, who was elected to the state Supreme Court last year, appealed the more recent decision. In December, the Court of Appeals ordered a hearing on the matter, which still is pending.