Fair Courts E-lert: NY Judge Pleads Guilty to Corruption Charges; Court Expected to Rule on Forced Recusal Case

July 8, 2016

JUDICIAL ETHICS

NY Judge Pleads Guilty to Corruption Charges

Last week, former New York trial court judge John Michalek plead guilty to two charges of corruption, writes Justin Sondel for City and State. Raids of state politicians’ homes, including that of political operative Steve Pigeon, “showed arrangements between Michalek and Pigeon, who had business before the judge, as did Pigeon’s political and business allies.” According to Sondel, “Michalek asked Pigeon to help him get appointed to the [court] and to help relatives find jobs, something Pigeon said he would try to do.” Sondel continues that “Pigeon gifted box tickets to Buffalo Sabres games to the judge and secured a seat to a $1,000-a-plate fundraiser for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, taken by one of Michalek’s relatives. In exchange, the judge passed along information and advice on trials he was overseeing to Pigeon.” Attorney General Eric Schneiderman called the relationship “clear corruption from the bench” and added that “[t]he facts alleged in these cases are exactly why so many New Yorkers have lost faith in government institutions and their representatives.”

RECUSAL

Court Expected to Rule on Forced Recusal Case

A federal court is expected to issue a ruling soon on whether the forced recusal of Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Jeff Hughes violated his First and 14th Amendment rights, writes Nancy Crist for the Louisiana Record. Crist explains that “defendants in the legacy lawsuits Bundrick v. Anadarko and Walton v. Exxon Mobil filed a motion to recuse Hughes from hearing the cases” because attorneys for the plaintiffs had allegedly contributed to his gubernatorial campaign through a political action committee. The state supreme court “granted recusal orders…for Hughes and Justice Jeannette Theriot Knoll without assigning reasons.” Hughes subsequently filed suit, claiming he was “singled out for recusal without any stated reason or justification, and certainly without recourse.” His fellow justices responded that they are protected by judicial immunity and that the First Amendment “does not prohibit speech restrictions related to Plaintiff’s professional responsibilities.” Melissa Landry, executive director of Louisiana Lawsuit Abuse Watch said the case “illustrates the toxic influence that a very small cadre of trial lawyers has had -- or attempted to have -- on Louisiana’s judiciary.”

JUDICIAL VACANCIES

Obama Nominates Public Defender to D.C. Superior Court

President Obama has nominated Jason Tulley, who currently serves as the training director of the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia, to the D.C. Superior Court, writes Suzanne Monyak for The National Law Journal. Monyak writes that “Tulley has served in the public defender office for the past 13 years, first as special counsel heading the Forensic Practice Group, and, since 2015, as the training director.” Michael Satin, who previously served as the training director, said “Tulley would make a great judge and would bring to the bench an understanding of the circumstances facing low-income individuals and people of color, who make up a large proportion of criminal defendants, victims and witnesses.” Monyak also highlights Tulley’s previous experience as the deputy capital defender at the Capital Defender Office in New York, where he “represent[ed] indigent people facing the death penalty.” She adds that Tulley also has experience as a law clerk and as an attorney in private practice.

JUDICIAL INDEPENDENCE

U.S. District Judge Strikes Down MS Religious Objections Law

A federal judge struck down a Mississippi law providing for religious objections to same-sex marriage on the grounds that it “unconstitutionally establishes preferred beliefs and creates unequal treatment for gay people,” writes the Associated Press. According to the article, the law would “allow clerks to cite religious objections to recuse themselves from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and would protect merchants who refuse services to lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people,” with potential implications for “adoptions and foster care, business practices and school bathroom policies.” In his opinion, U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves wrote that through the law “[t]he state has put its thumb on the scale to favor some religious beliefs over others.” While state attorneys “argued that the Mississippi law provides reasonable accommodations for people with deeply held religious beliefs that gay marriage is wrong,” Roberta Kaplan, an attorney for Campaign for Southern Equality who filed one of the lawsuits challenging the law, said the ruling “enforced the fundamental constitutional principle that the government cannot establish any religion.”