A Granville judge was officially admonished by the state’s judicial watchdog for inappropriately inserting himself into proceedings before a judge in a nearby town.
Justice Roger Forando of the Granville Town Court and the Granville Village Court in Washington County was given a formal written warning by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct on Friday. The commission found that the judge made repeated contact with both the judge and the prosecutors handling a case in the town of Argyle, about a half hour away.
“When one judge with a personal interest in a case tries to influence another judge’s decision in that case, public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of our courts is undermined,” SCJC Administrator Robert Tembeckjian said in a statement. “After decades on the bench, Judge Forando should have known better.”
Forando’s interest came from his role as a veteran member of the local basketball referee association that is responsible for assigning referees to officiate girls’ high school basketball games in the area.
In January 2016, two referees at a junior varsity game in Argyle were allegedly accosted by a spectator. One of the referees notified Forando after, letting him know that police had been called. The spectator was charged with second-degree unlawful imprisonment and harassment. He was set to appear in Argyle town court a few weeks later.
According to the commission’s report, Forando admitted to calling the Argyle Town Court to inquire about the status of the defendant’s case. Justice Robert Buck, the sole judge in the town, and Forando had a standing, cordial relationship, the commission noted. Buck told the commission Forando expressed the concerns of the referees’ association, which didn’t want the defendant’s alleged actions to be condoned or tolerated.
The two then spoke after the defendant’s initial arraignment, with Forando telling Buck he might attend a later proceeding in the case. Buck went on to alert the Washington County DA’s office of Forando’s interest in the situation. The prosecutor’s office then disclosed the judge’s interest to attorney Thomas Cioffi, who was retained by the defendant in the Argyle matter.
Cioffi appeared before Forando a few weeks later. The two discussed the case back in Argyle during that appearance, with the judge telling the attorney he may be at the defendant’s next hearing. Forando then proceeded to follow up with the DA’s office to learn of the status of the case as it proceeded.
Ultimately, the case was dismissed following community service and other requirements. While Forando never appeared in court as a spectator, the commission found that his contact with the judge overseeing the case “lent the prestige of judicial office to advance private interests in violations of established ethical standards,” while the communications with the attorneys involved in the case were inconsistent with judicial ethics.
According to the commission, Forando was contrite at the end of the investigatory process and acknowledged his conduct was improper. While averring that he had no ulterior motive, he acknowledged that he “let the referee hat probably supersede the judge hat.”
A message seeking comment was left for Forando at the Granville court.