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Reviewing a tumultuous year in which political activities by state judges came under federal scrutiny and new restrictions were imposed on judicial appointments, the Commission on Judicial Conduct reported it had publicly disciplined 28 judges in 2002. The 11-member commission removed seven judges from office, including Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Reynold N. Mason, City Court judges from Yonkers, White Plains and Lockport, and three town or village justices upstate. Twelve judges were publicly censured in 2002, and nine were publicly admonished for misconduct, the report stated. Those admonished included two Supreme Court justices, Mark C. Dillon of Westchester County and Vincent G. Bradley of Ulster County, as well as a County Court judge and a surrogate from upstate. [See chart .] The commission noted in its report that 10 judges resigned while under investigation or formal charges. (The commission’s report is available at www.scjc.state.ny.us .) Among its private admonitions to judges, two were issued letters of caution and 53 received letters of “dismissal and caution” after the complaints were dismissed but with a warning to the judges, the commission said. Meanwhile, Governor George E. Pataki last week appointed Manhattan matrimonial attorney Raoul L. Felder to fill a vacancy on the commission. Mr. Felder will serve until March 31, 2004, the remainder of the four-year term of former Justice Frederick M. Marshall of Buffalo, who died in last September. Although not named, eight judges were cautioned by the commission for improper political activity in 2002 � a subject of Supreme Court Justice Thomas J. Spargo’s challenge to the state’s judicial ethics code. Justice Spargo of Albany is charged by the commission with violating various restrictions on political activity in the state’s Rules Governing Judicial Conduct. But his hearing, which was to take place in October 2002, was postponed by an injunction from federal court. Justice Spargo won a declaration in February from Northern District Judge David N. Hurd that key provisions of the code were unconstitutionally vague. The commission’s appeal of that ruling, Matter of Spargo v. Commission on Judicial Conduct,will be argued before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on Sept. 29 in Manhattan. The case has generated much interest because New York’s Court of Appeals upheld the judicial code in May in Matter of Watsonand Matter of Raab.That ruling came in two appeals of commission disciplinary determinations. When the commission decides that a judge should be publicly disciplined, its determination is forwarded to the Court of Appeals in Albany, which delivers it to the judge. The judge has 30 days to request a review of the commission’s determination by the Court of Appeals. If no request for review is made, the sanction becomes effective. In one of its last determinations of 2002, the commission called for the removal from office of William Watson, a judge of the Lockport City Court in Niagara County, for making improper statements during his campaign for judicial office, including comments that conveyed the appearance of a pro-prosecutorial bias, its report said. Other Actions Taken Other disciplinary actions taken for political activities in 2002 included the censure of Byron Town Justice Robert A. Crnkovich for endorsing another candidate for judicial office, and the admonition of Justice Dillon for making a post-verdict speech to jurors in which he criticized defense counsel and lavishly praised the prosecutors “at a time when he was a candidate for office,” the report said. Among those privately warned by the commission for their political activity in 2002, two judges were cautioned for attending political events at a time when they were not candidates for judicial office, and four judges were cautioned “for inaccurate, misleading or undignified statements in their campaign literature.” The commission also issued cautions to seven judges for violations of the chief judge’s rules pertaining to fiduciary appointments such as guardians or receivers. New court rules were announced in late 2002 barring the designation of political party leaders and high-level court employees as judicially appointed fiduciaries. The rules extended a ban that had covered only judges’ relatives. The rules were aimed at correcting a special commission finding that judges had made hundreds of fiduciary appointments based on special relationships and not merit, and had failed to monitor the fees they awarded to their appointees. The Commission on Judicial Conduct said it had cautioned the seven judges “for improperly delegating to a receiver the power to make secondary appointments, such as hiring an attorney,” contrary to court rules that require the judge to make such secondary appointment. The commission said it received 1,435 new complaints in 2002 and conducted investigations in 203 � or 14 percent � of the cases.

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