A village justice in Chautauqua County has agreed to be admonished for failing to advise a domestic violence defendant of his right to legal representation, and for criticizing the alleged victim when she declined to press charges, the Commission on Judicial Conduct announced Monday.
The commission said that while Fredonia Village Justice David Prince was rightly concerned about the domestic incident in 2012, his responsibilities as a judge require him to remain “impartial and avoid making any statements that convey the appearance of bias or prejudgment.”
According to the commission, Prince called the woman to the bench at the defendant’s arraignment and challenged her in open court over her decision not to pursue charges of harassment and criminal mischief. The judge also threatened to have her children, who were fathered by the defendant, taken from her.
“If you don’t want to put your children first, then we will,” the commission quoted Prince as saying.
The commission said Prince violated judicial canons requiring judges to display impartiality. “A judge is required to protect the defendant’s rights and to preside in each case as a neutral arbiter, not as an advocate or therapist,” the commission ruled.
Prince also failed to tell the defendant that he had a right to legal representation under Criminal Procedure Law §170.10(3)(c).
The commission voted 9-1 to admonish Prince. Commission member Joseph Belluck dissented on the grounds that the sanction was too lenient.
Prince, a non-lawyer, has been a village justice in Fredonia since 1997. He has also been a justice in the nearby Pomfret Town Court since 1990.
Barry Nelson Covert of Lipsitz, Green, Scime, Cambria in Buffalo represented Prince. John Postel and Kathleen Martin represented the judicial conduct commission.