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Justice Frank V. Ponterio has sued the court system for $1 million in damages claiming he was denied an additional two years on the bench because in 1997 he had resisted the efforts of an appellate judge to have him moved from a part where he heard only divorce cases. Justice Ponterio was one of four justices denied certification for an additional two-year term in October by the Administrative Board of the Courts, which consists of Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye and the presiding justices of the four departments of the Appellate Division. In all, 50 Supreme Court justices had applied for certification, a procedure that allows justices 70 years and older to serve additional two-year terms until they turn 76. Justice Ponterio, who is 73, was approved for a two-year term in 2001, but this year when he sought his second out of a possible three two-year extensions, the board turned him down. In addition to damages, Ponterio is asking for an order requiring that he be certified for a two-year term starting Jan. 1, the date he is required to leave the bench. Office of Court Administration spokesman David Bookstaver declined to comment beyond stating that the Administrative Board made its decisions about certification “solely on merit and the need for judicial resources.” Ponterio’s legal claims, filed Tuesday in Staten Island Supreme Court, are based on events that allegedly took place in 1998, about a year after he was elected to the Supreme Court after serving for 10 years as a Civil Court judge. His first Supreme Court assignment was to the matrimonial part. After serving a little over a year in the part, according to the complaint, the court’s administrative judge, Justice Michael L. Pesce, on March 6, 1998, told him he was being reassigned by order of Chief Administrative Judge Jonathan Lippman. The complaint alleges “upon information and belief” that Judge Lippman was removing him because Appellate Division, 1st Department, Justice Betty Weinberg Ellerin, who was chairwoman of the New York State Judicial Committee on Women in the Courts, had accused him of bias against female litigants. The complaint also alleges that Justice Pesce, in the March 1998 conversation, relayed a warning from Judge Lippman that if he were to resist the transfer, his chances for certification would be jeopardized. Ponterio also claims that Justice Ellerin wanted him replaced by a female judge. He said in an interview Wednesday that in September 1998 he was replaced by Justice Patricia M. DiMango, who at the time was an acting Supreme Court justice. Ellerin, through her law secretary, declined to comment. Pesce did not return a call seeking comment. The claims in the complaint, which were sworn to by Justice Ponterio, were amplified in a two-page statement that he issued Wednesday. He is representing himself in the suit. In the statement, he asserted that after learning from Pesce that Ellerin was the source of the complaint against him, he sought to discover the basis of the complaint. He learned that while he was on vacation in September 1997, another judge who had taken over the part had ruled against a woman in a custody dispute. That woman had complained about her treatment to the Office for Women in the Archdiocese of New York, which in turn had complained to Justice Ellerin, according to the statement. Ponterio stated that when he talked to Ellerin about the accusation that he was biased, she said her committee had received complaints and was conducting an investigation, but declined to comment further. Although Ponterio stated he received assurances from both Judge Lippman and Chief Judge Kaye that the “matter was over,” he was subsequently transferred out of matrimonial part six months later. He claims in his complaint that Lippman “misled” him by asserting that his re-assignment had been made “in the ordinary course” rather than because of Justice Ellerin’s complaint. Relying on those allegations, Ponterio claims he is entitled to legal relief because he was publicly humiliated and suffered significant mental anguish; was retaliated against by court officials for having asserted that Justice Ellerin wanted him replaced with a woman; and was mislead by court officials, who owed him a “fiduciary duty” when they assured him no action would be taken against him because of Ellerin’s complaints. BAR RATING ATTACKED Ponterio also complained that he had not been certified despite having consistently been among the two most productive of the eight justices assigned to handle civil matters on Staten Island. The Richmond County Bar Association, however, had recommended that Justice Ponterio not be certified for an additional two-year term this year. Also, sources reported that the OCA was conducting more rigorous evaluations of judges seek certification this year because of the state’s tight financial situation. Ponterio, however, charged in his statement that the Richmond County Bar’s negative rating was the product of a campaign waged by three attorneys, “influential” in the association, whom he had ruled against within the past year. Both the Association of the Bar of the City of New York and the Staten Island Trial Lawyers’ Association recommended that Ponterio be certified for an additional two years.

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