A judge from Western New York was publicly admonished by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct on Tuesday for failing to immediately recuse himself from three criminal cases involving his neighbor, whom he spoke to informally about the matter months before the litigation.
David Porter, a justice of the Allegany Town Court in Cattaraugus County, did not disqualify himself from the cases, even though they were prompted by a land dispute he previously discussed with his neighbor at home, the commission said. Porter is not an attorney.
“The moment that respondent welcomed his neighbor into his home and began to discuss the dispute, he should have realized that he was engaging in an ex parte conversation that would require his disqualification if the matter came to his court,” the commission’s decision said. “Yet, instead of immediately stepping down when three cases arising out of the dispute came before him, or even disclosing his earlier discussion with his neighbor, respondent issued a criminal summons, conducted the arraignments and made determinations regarding the issuance of an order of protection.”
According to the decision, Porter’s neighbor came to his home in May 2015 to ask for his assistance as a judge with a boundary dispute between the neighbor’s daughter and her neighbors. Porter told his neighbor that the court couldn’t do anything about the problem until law enforcement brought charges in the land dispute.
After a state trooper visited their home, the daughter’s neighbor sent a letter to Porter and the daughter alleging harassment by Porter’s neighbor. Porter issued a criminal summons for his neighbor in July 2015.
The day before that summons was issued, Porter’s neighbor, his daughter and her neighbors were allegedly involved in an altercation that led to two additional indictments. At some point during that altercation, Porter’s neighbor allegedly struck his daughter’s neighbor with a hammer. The daughter’s neighbor had also removed signs posted by his daughter.
The daughter’s neighbor was arraigned by Porter about a week after that altercation for allegedly cursing at the daughter during the altercation. Porter arraigned his neighbor in September 2015 for allegedly striking his daughter’s neighbor with a hammer.
Porter did not recuse himself from those criminal cases until more than a week later and more than four months after he spoke with his neighbor about the land dispute, according to the commission.
Robert Tembeckjian, the commission’s administrator, said in a statement that Porter’s actions undermine the public confidence of his ability to be impartial as a judge.
“It undermines confidence in the court’s impartiality when a judge presides over a matter despite having prior, private, substantive conversations about it with an interested party,” Tembeckjian said. “To his credit, Judge Porter acknowledges his error and pledges to avoid such conduct in the future.”
Porter has been a justice of the Allegany Town Court since 2006. He was represented before the commission by Vincent Doyle III from Connors in Buffalo.
“Judge Porter has an unblemished record,” Doyle said. “He’s a non-lawyer, and he did recuse himself, but the issue was that he should have done it sooner than he did. He understands that and accepts the commission’s decision.”