A jailed Rochester City Court judge could face an additional set of disciplinary actions if an investigation by the Commission on Judicial Conduct finds that she violated ethical standards.
Judge Leticia Astacio on June 8 was found guilty of violating the terms of her conditional discharge on a DWI sentence and led from the courthouse in handcuffs. Acting Canandaigua City Court Judge Stephen Aronson ordered that Astacio be held without bail until her next scheduled court date July 6.
Astacio had been ordered to stop drinking and submit to random urine tests. Because she was out of the country in Thailand last month when she was scheduled to submit a urine sample and appear in court, she violated the terms of her conditional discharge, the judge ruled.
While the Commission on Judicial Conduct couldn’t comment directly as to whether Astacio is under investigation, citing a confidentiality mandate of proceedings, the commission’s administrator said that judges can be publicly admonished, censured or removed if he or she is found violating ethics standards.
In an interview, Robert Tembeckjian, the administrator for the commission, said a judge could be removed if he or she is found guilty of a felony; if the commission determines that the judge should be removed; or if the judge is charged with a crime that involves “moral turpitude.”
A prosecutor in neighboring Ontario County, who was brought in as a special prosecutor because Astacio is a judge in Monroe County, said the commission has been in touch with the District Attorney’s Office.
“They’ve been in touch with our office to ask questions, but they don’t give any insight to a time line or anything,” assistant district attorney Zachary Maurer said.
Astacio, who was elected to a 10-year term in 2014, continues to earn her nearly $174,000 yearly salary despite doing little to no work. The only way she could be removed from her position and forfeit her salary is if the commission orders her removal, said Office of Court Administration spokesman Lucian Chalfen.
Astacio herself has acknowledged that she had been interviewed by commission personnel for the panel’s inquiry (NYLJ, March 28).
An investigation into a judge would only be made public if the judge waives confidentiality or if the commission publicly disciplines the judge. “There is no judge under investigation who has waived confidentiality,” Tembeckjian said.
In 1983, the Court of Appeals agreed with the commission’s decision that then-Dutchess County Judge Raymond Aldrich was unfit to hold office after drinking, making sexual references and using profane language.
“I can’t discuss the specifics of what Judge Astacio did or didn’t do,” Tembeckjian said. “But I can say, as I have said publicly … an alcohol-related driving offense will at least result in a public admonition.”
“Any judge who is arrested and incarcerated will be investigated by the commission for the conduct that resulted in that circumstance” he added.
Astacio was arrested in February 2016 for a DWI on Interstate 490 in Rochester. In March of that year, she was pulled from hearing cases by the supervising judge and ordered to do chamber work, according to Maurer.
Last August, Astacio was found guilty of a DWI, given a conditional discharge and ordered not to drink for a year. She was also ordered to have an ignition interlock device installed on her car. But that fall, according to Maurer, the ignition interlock device in her car registered Astacio as showing alcohol on her breath.
In November 2016, Astacio was accused of being intoxicated at a mall restaurant when she refused to leave an employee bathroom and was seen in photos published on Facebook holding a beverage at a Thanksgiving gathering. Aronson, in March, found that Astacio didn’t violate the terms of her conditional discharge during the incidents at the mall or Thanksgiving, and he ruled that the Facebook pictures weren’t proof of violation (NYLJ, March 28). But on April 29, the interlocking device on her car again registered positive for alcohol.
Less than a week later, Astacio booked a one-way ticket to Thailand. While there, Aronson ordered that Astacio take a urinalysis. Edward Fiandach, Astacio’s Rochester-based lawyer, said she didn’t know about the urine test order because she was at a Thailand monastery and unreachable by phone.
When she failed to show up for a May 30 court date, Aronson issued a bench warrant for her arrest.
Astacio was arrested June 5 after being summoned to a meeting with her boss, Justice Craig Doran of the state Supreme Court.
“She has kind of continually thumbed her nose at the expectations put on her as part of the sentence,” Maurer said. “It should be made clear to her the significance and the importance of how serious this is.”
At the June 8 hearing, Astacio told the court she had gone to Thailand to “de-stress” and had limited cellphone service. She said she hadn’t planned to return until August.
Fiandach, a partner at Fiandach & Fiandach, said he plans to appeal, noting that Astacio had never been in legal trouble before.
“Arguably, she’s being punished for something bad she did,” he said outside the courtroom June 8. “But by the same standpoint, I think she deserves some credit for living such a good life.”
After graduating from of the University at Buffalo Law School in 2006, Astacio worked for the Monroe County Legal Assistance Center. She joined the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office in 2007, where, according to the Democrat & Chronicle, she worked in the drunken driving bureau before rising to senior assistant district attorney in the domestic violence and child abuse bureau. She started her own criminal defense practice in 2011.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.