Judge LaBuda ()
Both a state judge and his brother acted like children in allowing their dispute to get physical, but the evidence does not indicate the judge intentionally ran his brother down with an all-terrain vehicle, a Family Court judge has determined.
Delaware County Family Court Judge Gary Rosa dismissed a family offense petition filed last fall against his colleague, Sullivan County Court Judge Frank LaBuda, by LaBuda’s brother, Peter.
The petition alleged a series of offenses against the judge, including harassment, assault, menacing and reckless endangerment.
Rosa found that Peter Labuda, 71, did not cause the 2016, accident by leaning over and trying to shut off the ATV that Judge LaBuda was operating on Peter Labuda’s property, as Frank had claimed. Rosa also determined that Frank LaBuda, 67, was not drunk nor was he trying to run over his brother, who had placed himself in the path of Frank’s ATV and refused to move.
“This incident is the unfortunate result of arrogance and childishness,” Rosa ruled from Delhi on March 8 in Labuda v. LaBuda, O-00903-16.
Rosa said the accident caused serious physical harm to Peter Labuda and “public embarrassment” to both men.
“All of this because two well-educated, grown men acted like a couple of adolescents,” Rosa wrote. “Failure to act one’s age, however, is not a family offense.”
LaBuda has been prohibited from hearing cases by court administrators as they and law enforcement officials have tried to sort out the events of Sept. 25, 2016. As Rosa recounted, Peter was hospitalized for two days with a fractured tibula and fractured ribs (NYLJ, Oct. 4).
Michael Coccoma, the state’s chief administrative judge for courts outside of New York City, assigned Rosa to adjudicate Peter Labuda’s Family Court petition in a special proceeding.
Rosa’s decision traced how the accident stemmed directly from an incident the week before, when the brothers ran into each other at a local coffee shop and Frank LaBuda apparently refused to speak to his brother.
On Sept. 25, when Peter Labuda found his brother operating an ATV on Peter’s property, where Frank had long understood he had permission to ride, Peter told his brother he could no longer use his land and placed himself in front of Frank’s vehicle, Rosa wrote.
Rosa said it appeared that Frank became startled and released the hand brake and/or hit the throttle on the ATV, striking Peter.
“While in retrospect, either turning off the ATV or putting it in park would have obviously been prudent, failure to have done so does not rise to the level of recklessness under the facts of this case,” Rosa wrote.
Since the criminal investigation by the New York State Police and the state Attorney General’s Office into the incident continues, state Office of Court Administration spokesman Lucian Chalfen said Thursday that LaBuda remains on restricted duty.
Chalfen said LaBuda is doing some court work from his chambers, but the prohibition on his hearing cases on the bench that has been in effect since last fall continues.
Casey Aguglia, a spokeswoman for state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, declined to comment Thursday on Rosa’s ruling or on an investigation of the incident by Schneiderman’s office.
Benjamin Ostrer, a Chester, New York, attorney representing Frank LaBuda, said Thursday that the Rosa ruling brings the case a step closer to being closed.
“We are pleased with the result and hopeful that this will provide some guidance to the attorney general as he brings his investigation to a conclusion,” Ostrer said.
Peter Labuda’s attorney, Barbara Strauss of Strauss & Kallus in Goshen, New York, noted that Rosa criticized Sullivan County authorities investigating the incident for showing “deference” to Judge LaBuda while treating her client like a “suspect.”
“That said, it appears that Judge Rosa gave Judge LaBuda the benefit of the doubt with regard to whether his actions in causing the incident rose to the level of criminal conduct,” Strauss said Thursday. “To Peter Labuda, this was a frightening and life-altering event. He has significant physical injuries that affect his quality of life on a daily basis. He has not yet decided whether or not to appeal.”
LaBuda, was first elected as Sullivan County Court judge in 1996 and has been re-elected in 2006 and 2016. He has also been designated as an acting Supreme Court justice.
The brothers spell their last name the same, but capitalize it differently.