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Albany Supreme Court Justice Thomas J. Spargo, whose battle over disciplinary charges last year made national news, is now under investigation by the New York Commission on Judicial Conduct for allegedly soliciting donations from attorneys appearing in his court to cover the cost of his legal defense. Sources close to the investigation confirmed that at least three attorneys in Ulster County, N.Y., have given statements to the commission and that the judge has disqualified himself from cases involving those lawyers and others who attended an event last month hosted or organized by Spargo. The commission itself declined comment through its administrator and counsel, Robert H. Tembeckjian. Last year, Spargo pursued a highly publicized battle where he challenged the free speech and political activity restrictions imposed on judges and judicial candidates. A former Republican political consultant and elections lawyer who continued to serve in those roles while simultaneously holding down a part-time job as a town judge, Spargo convinced a federal district judge that bedrock portions of the Code of Judicial Conduct are unconstitutional. In December, however, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the federal court wrongly intruded on what should be a state court action. The latest investigation involves Spargo’s activity during his ongoing battle with the commission. It is alleged that Spargo solicited contributions from personal injury and matrimonial lawyers who appear in Supreme Court in the 3rd Judicial District, where he sits, to pay his attorney, David F. Kunz of DeGraff, Foy, Kunz & Devine in Albany. Justice Spargo on Wednesday declined comment. Kunz was not available. Earlier this week, and after attorneys in New Paltz and Kingston, N.Y., gave statements to the commission, Spargo recused himself from cases involving several lawyers and at least three law firms. The commission is looking into allegations that Spargo not only enlisted others to raise funds on his behalf, but personally solicited money from attorneys with cases pending in his court. The investigation apparently was launched on a complaint from Bruce D. Blatchly of Blatchly & Simonson in New Paltz. Blatchly, the town justice in Gardiner, Ulster County, alleges that he was directly approached by Spargo on one occasion and indirectly solicited at a social function or event sponsored by the judge, sources confirmed. Other attorneys also told the commission that they were asked to contribute to Spargo’s legal defense, according to sources. Spargo was served with notice of the investigation on Jan. 2. On Monday, he declared a mistrial in a divorce case Blatchly was arguing in his court and also recused himself from any other cases involving several other lawyers after meeting with Administrative Justice Thomas W. Keegan. Blatchly was not available for comment Wednesday or Tuesday. Another attorney cooperating with the commission, Alfred B. Mainetti of Mainetti, Mainetti & O’Connor in Kingston, said he is legally barred from discussing any judicial conduct matter. “Any information concerning that issue, which is the subject of a judicial investigation, would be confidential,” Mainetti said. “I can’t comment one way or the other.” UNDERLYING CASE The underlying case against Spargo arose after the commission last year charged the judge with five counts of judicial misconduct. Justice Spargo is accused of inappropriately taking part in a boisterous political demonstration as a consultant to the Bush/Cheney ticket during the 2000 Florida recount when he was a part-time judge in the town of Berne, N.Y. He is also accused of accepting as a client in a disputed election the Albany County district attorney-elect even though that office regularly appeared before him in criminal court; improperly speaking at a Conservative Party fund-raiser; wrongly giving out cider, doughnuts and coupons for gasoline to potential voters while running for Supreme Court; and paying $5,000 each to two political operatives who helped ensure that he would run unopposed. One of them was a woman who was given $5,000 on the same day that she nominated Spargo for the Democratic ticket. Spargo was endorsed by the Democratic Party, ran without opposition and was elected to a 14-year term. Northern District of New York Judge David N. Hurd, relying on Republican Party of Minnesota v. White, 536 U.S. 765 (2002), where the U.S. Supreme Court shot down on free speech grounds a Minnesota canon barring judicial candidates from announcing their views on disputed political or legal issues, struck as facially unconstitutional several provisions of the New York Rules Governing Judicial Conduct. However, the 2nd Circuit, while expressly taking no position on the merits of Justice Spargo’s position, on Dec. 12 remanded to the district court with instructions to abstain.

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