New York’s highest court on Tuesday accepted the recommendation of a judicial disciplinary panel that a Broome County town justice should be kicked off the bench for fixing a traffic ticket for his daughter, and pressuring another judge to uphold restitution orders that he had issued.
The state Court of Appeals issued an opinion that the removal of J. Marshall Ayres, a Conklin Town Court justice, is warranted because it was “improper and a violation of the petitioner’s ethical duty for him to use his judicial position to interfere in the disposition of his daughter’s traffic ticket.”
“It was further improper for the petitioner to tell the prosecutor that in his opinion and that of his colleagues the matter should be dismissed,” the unanimous opinion from the court said.
“By these actions petitioner did more than act as would any concerned parent, as he now maintains. Instead, he used his status to gain access to court personnel under circumstances not available to the general public, and, in his effort to persuade the prosecutor to drop the matter, gave his unsolicited judicial opinion.”
Ayres, who has been on the bench since 2009, could not be reached for comment.
The Commission on Judicial Conduct in May (NYLJ May 18) sought to remove Ayres for interfering in two matters before the court. The commission faulted Ayres, who is not a lawyer, for trying to transfer his daughter’s 2015 traffic ticket to a different judge. When the attempts failed, Ayres advocated for his daughter at a pretrial conference and intimidated the prosecutor and invoked his position on the bench arguing that the ticket should be dismissed, the commission said.
Deputy Administrator Edward Lindner for the commission argued the case in the Court of Appeals. The judge represented himself.
The opinion—in which Chief Judge Janet DiFiore, Associate Judges Jenny Rivera, Leslie Stein, Eugene Fahey, Michael Garcia, Rowan Wilson and Paul Feinman concurred—said that Ayres acted in an “imperious and discourteous manner” toward the prosecutor by referring to her as “girl” and “kid,” “colloquialisms that are disrespectful and inappropriate.”
Ayres had 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 state’s highest court said it was a “violation of a judge’s solemn oath to abandon the role of neutral decision maker or engage in ex parte communications on the merits of a case.”
“[Ayres] continues to minimize the import of his actions, claiming that the commission took his comments out of context and that judges must be allowed ‘to express their individualities.’ Petitioner misses the essential point: that, as a judge, his conduct had to be and appear to be impartial,” the opinion stated.
In a statement, the commission’s administrator, Robert Tembeckjian, said “it is never a pleasant duty to remove a judge from office, but sometimes it is necessary, to protect the public and the integrity of the court system.”
Contact the reporter Josefa Velasquez at email@example.com; Twitter: @J__Velasquez.