Judith N. McMahon and Judge Stephen J. Rooney (Tim Roske)
The Staten Island judicial system was thrown into upheaval Thursday following reports that a court clerk surreptitiously recorded conversations with judges and turned them over to investigators, a development that preceded an announcement that two administrative judges resigned their posts.
Staten Island Supreme Court Justice Judith McMahon, the administrative judge for civil matters on Staten Island; and Acting Supreme Court Justice Stephen Rooney, the administrative judge for criminal matters, both resigned from their administrative positions on Wednesday, but did not step down from the bench, said Lucian Chalfen, a spokesman for the Office of Court Administration.
McMahon, who is married to Staten Island District Attorney Michael McMahon, is being transferred to a Manhattan civil court, and Rooney will continue to preside over criminal cases on Staten Island, court administrators said.
According to sources and media reports, Michael Pulizotto, chief clerk of the state Supreme Court on Staten Island, began recording conversations around the courthouse about two years ago and that some of the recordings were turned over to the OCA’s inspector general.
Pulizotto, who is also an attorney who was admitted into the bar in 1998, did not respond to a message left with his office requesting comment.
On Thursday, Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Marks and George Silver, the OCA’s deputy chief administrative judge for New York City courts, went to the courthouse on Staten Island to speak with judges there and “fill them in as much as possible,” Chalfen said.
Chalfen said that Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Deborah Kaplan will be brought in to serve as administrative judge on an interim basis until a permanent replacement is named and that Pulizotto will be transferred to Silver’s office.
“When you have some upheaval like this it’s best to have your senior management come out and assuage any concerns,” Chalfen said.
On Thursday, Dennis Quirk, head of the New York State Court Officers Association, posted a large, inflatable rat outside the courthouse bearing Pulizotto’s name, as well as that of Forbes Irvine, the facilities manager for the court.
Quirk said that Pulizotto secretly recorded conversations with judges as well as lawyers and court officers in various locations around the courthouse, which he said was “totally improper.”
Mario Gallucci, a Staten Island-based defense attorney who was at the courthouse on Thursday said that he—like anyone else who appeared at the courthouse—noticed the inflatable rat outside, but said it was generally business as usual inside the courthouse. With respect to the news about the clerk’s recordings, he said that there are “so many rumors” about the situation “that it’s hard to tell what’s truth.”
“Everyone’s kind of wanting to know ‘what’s next?’” Gallucci said.
Judith McMahon formerly served as administrative justice of both civil and criminal matters in the state Supreme Court on Staten Island.
When her husband clinched the Democratic nomination for his office in May 2015, she announced that she would recuse herself from criminal matters; Rooney was then tapped to handle the role of administrative judge for criminal matters.
In a letter of resignation submitted on Wednesday to top court system officials and forwarded to the Law Journal, McMahon said that she wanted to end her six-year tenure as an administrative judge because it had “always been my passion” to preside over a trial part.
“It was never truly my intention to stay in this administrative position for any particular length of time, as the reason I became a lawyer and a judge was to be in the courtroom,” she wrote.
In a statement to the Staten Island Advance, Rooney said that his position—which was created to remove any conflict between McMahon and her husband’s office—was eliminated because McMahon is transferring to Manhattan, which negates the need for a dual role.