Felder Feels For “Challenged” Judge (plus Another!)

Raoul Lionel Felder still isn’t on the same page as the rest of the Commission on Judicial Conduct.  This time, the Chairman’s issue was over-empathy, according to the New York Lawyer.

“We cannot claim to be a civilized and caring society, and yet, in our actions, not enfold into our judgments, where pertinent, the terrible burdens that others must bear in order to traverse the landscape of life,”

Now this is the sort of statement that would warm the heart of any defense lawyer, since it so dearly reflects our concern for the human condition.  But Raoul was a bit misguided in the target of his concern.  You see, he was writing about non-lawyer Valatie Village and Kinderhook Town Justice Edward J. Williams, who was before the Commission after four prior public disciplinary actions, this time for engaging in ex parte communications with a state trooper on a case before him.

Raoul’s chairmanship of the Commission has been rocky from the start.  He is, of course, a well-known flamboyant New York City matrimonial lawyer (who occasionally claims to be a criminal defense lawyer as well, when needed to justify a TV appearance).  And the Commission has shown its tendency to  beat up on non-lawyer Village Justice, because they’re such easier targets than Supremes.  But that doesn’t mean that they don’t deserve the discipline.

Here, Chairman Felder complains that the rest of his Commission refuses take into account the “human condition” when doing its job.  Justice Williams, you see, is “a quadriplegic facing ‘often insurmountable, sometimes humiliating’ challenges in daily life.”  What did the others think?

The rest of the commission, in a footnote to the majority decision released yesterday, found that Mr. Felder’s concurring opinion “inappropriately relies on matters not in the record regarding Judge Williams’ personal life.”

In other words, even Judge Williams knew better than to argue that his quadriplegia somehow made him engage in ex parte communications. 

There was one dissenter to the Commission’s decision to censure Judge Williams, member Richard Emory.  No, he didn’t “share his pain.”  To the contrary, he voted for removal, based upon the fact that this was the fifth time the Commission sustained charges against Judge Williams.  As for his disability, Emory found that Williams’ decision not to play the disability card was the judge’s most redeeming virtue.  “Regrettably, Mr. Felder has inappropriately chosen to play that card for him.”

Lest we forget about the bottom line while pondering Raoul’s concern for the human condition, the guy is a judge who seems to never learn a lesson about how behave.  We’re all sorry that he’s a quad.  We’re sorry that anybody is a quad.  But a judge is still a judge, even if he’s a quad, and there’s simply no connection between being a quadriplegic and having ex parte’s with cops.

The concept was summed up best by the Commission’s administrator, Bob Tembeckjian:

“It made no difference to the victims of the judge’s misconduct that he is in a wheelchair,” Mr. Tembeckjian said. “This case was simply about the judge’s ethical, not physical, limitations.”

While one can well admire Raoul’s fully developed sense of empathy for Judge Williams, one would hope that he would have a similarly well developed sense of concern for Judge Williams’ victims.

ADDENDUM:  And then there’s Robert Restaino, the Niagra Falls Judge who held everybody in contempt and actually jailed 46 people when a cellphone rang in his courtroom.  And again, Chairman Raoul’s sole dissent, accepting Restaino’s argument that he had personal problems that caused him to “snap”.  Uh, and does the good judge feel sorry for the defendants he locked up who might have had “personal problems” because he snapped?

I am informed by a reliable source that Restaino, contrary to Raoul’s views, was a major hump, and no one will be sorry to see him off the bench.  Except Raoul.