An acting state Supreme Court justice in the Bronx was publicly sanctioned on Friday after she repeatedly identified herself to police officers as a judge when she struck their vehicle more than three years ago, according to the state Commission on Judicial Conduct.
The decision will likely mean that Justice Shari Michels, who has been elected twice to the New York City Civil Court, will have her status as an acting state Supreme Court justice revoked for two years, according to the Office of Court Administration.
Michels will, instead, return to sit in New York City Criminal Court. She was elected to the New York City Civil Court in 2006, but was assigned to the criminal court. She was re-elected to the position in 2016.
It’s the second time Michels has been under the scrutiny of the judicial conduct commission. She was also admonished after her first election to the court for telling voters she had been endorsed by the New York Times when she had not.
Michels was accused during the more recent investigation by the commission of trying to avoid the consequences of a traffic accident in which she drove into a van carrying four police officers on their way to an assignment at Yankee Stadium. Michels was stopped behind the van at a red light, according to the commission.
When the light changed from red to green, Michels drove forward and hit the back of the van. There were no injuries and no property damage, but an accident report had to be done because a police vehicle was involved, according to the commission.
When the officer driving the van approached Michels, she allegedly immediately told him she was a judge and that there was no damage to either vehicle. She told the officer that since the accident was blocking traffic and no harm was done, they should “just keep it moving,” according to the commission.
The officer took down her information and told her that they had to do an accident report because a police vehicle was involved, but Michels continued to try and persuade the officers that a report wasn’t necessary because there were no injuries or damage, the commission said.
At a hearing on the commission’s investigation, Michels said she repeatedly identified herself as a judge so the police officers would be convinced she wasn’t going to flee the accident if they allowed her to move her vehicle so traffic could continue. She said she regretted the behavior and acknowledged that identifying herself as a judge “could be perceived as even threatening.”
She also testified that she did not attempt to “convince” or “persuade” the police to forgo doing an accident report. She said she only brought it up to understand why one had to be made when there were no injuries or damage.
There were apparently other claims made by the officers on Michels’ conduct that were not included in the commission’s public documents. Those claims were rejected, according to David Godosky, an attorney with Godosky & Gentile, who represented Michels before the commission.
“We reviewed the commission’s determination and we can state we are definitely gratified that the commission and the referee rejected the claims that were disputed in this matter,” Godosky said. “And we are pleased to have this resolved with the commission’s lowest possible sanction.”
Robert Tembeckjian, the administrator of the commission, said Michels’ alleged actions undermined the public confidence in her ability to serve on the bench.
“It is wrong for a judge to seek a private benefit or special treatment by proclaiming she is a judge, and wrong to pressure police officers or other public servants from performing their duties,” Tembeckjian said. “The resulting harm to public confidence in the judiciary is significant, even where the underlying event is a relatively minor traffic accident.”
Michels is currently presiding over a criminal trial in Bronx Supreme Court, but the Office of Court Administration said a decision regarding her status as an acting state Supreme Court justice will be evaluated when that trial has wrapped up. Unless there are exceptional circumstances, that status will be revoked for two years, according to OCA.
That will involve a pay cut. Her current salary as an acting justice of the state Supreme Court is $208,000. That will drop to $193,500 if she returns to sit in the New York City Criminal Court.