Conklin Town Court is in the Town Hall ()
A Southern Tier town justice who tried fixing a traffic ticket for his daughter and pressuring another judge to uphold restitution orders that he had issued should be kicked off the bench, a judicial disciplinary board has said.
The Commission on Judicial Conduct announced its recommendation Thursday to remove Conklin Town Court Justice J. Marshall Ayres for his “repeated interference in two matters pending in other courts.”
If Ayres does not request review by the Court of Appeals, the high court will remove him in accordance with the determination. His term expires Dec. 31, 2020.
He could not be reached for comment Thursday.
The commission faulted Ayres, who is not an attorney, with using two “back-channel attempts” to transfer his daughter’s 2015 case to a different judge. She had been issued a traffic ticket for using a cellphone while driving.
When those attempts failed, Ayres attended a pre-trial conference with his daughter and acted as her advocate, attempted to intimidate the prosecutor and invoked his judicial position while arguing that the ticket should be dismissed, the commission said.
Ayres, who has been on the bench since 2009, had insisted that he was “acting as a parent” and not as a judge, but the commission found that his actions “demonstrate[d] an unacceptable degree of insensitivity to the demands of judicial ethics.”
Ayres also sent eight unauthorized letters, five of which were ex parte, to a Broome County Court judge who was handling the appeal of restitution orders Ayres had issued.
The commission ruled that Ayres’ conduct was “highly improper” and that he “abandoned his role as a neutral arbiter and became an advocate, repeatedly telling the court that the appeal lacked ‘merit’ and should be dismissed and advancing factual and legal arguments in support of his claims while making biased, discourteous and undignified statements about the defendant and his attorney.”
In determining that Ayres should be removed from office, the commission noted that Ayres, when he appeared before the panel, “still lack[ed] an understanding of why his conduct was improper.”
“His inability to concede that his behavior was wrong makes it likely the conduct would recur, rendering him unfit to remain on the bench,” Commission Administrator Robert H. Tembeckjian said in a statement.
Commission member Richard Stoloff, in a concurring opinion, noted several procedural errors in the handling of Ayres’ restitution orders.
“The exacerbation of respondent’s misconduct might have been avoided if the proper procedures had been followed,” he said. “That does not mitigate the misconduct demonstrated in the eight letters, which were ethically and procedurally improper.”
In another concurring opinion, commission member Akosua Garcia Yeboah said she was “not entirely persuaded” that Ayres’ conduct was “irredeemable.” She noted that Ayres, citing financial restraints, represented himself before the commission, and “his inconsistent presentation and responses to questions that might have tipped the scales in his favor clearly fell short.”
But given the commission’s two choices—public censure or removal— she said his actions warranted something stronger than censure. She recommended that the state Legislature consider allowing the commission to mete out a third punishment—suspension of a judge without pay.
“If such a sanction was available, I might consider it in this case,” she said.