|Panel gives judge a ringing rebuke
CNN | November 28, 2007
NEW YORK (CNN) -- A judge in Niagara Falls, New York, has apologized for jailing nearly four dozen people over a ringing mobile phone in his courtroom, his attorney said Wednesday.
In removing City Court Judge Robert Restaino from office Tuesday, the state Commission on Judicial Conduct called his decision to lock up 46 people after no one claimed ownership of the phone "a gross deviation from the proper role of a judge."
But Restaino's lawyer, Terrence Connors, said Wednesday the judge "profoundly apologizes for his actions" during the March 2005 hearing and will appeal the panel's ruling.
"It is our hope that the Court of Appeals will measure those few hours against a decade of exemplary conduct on the bench," Connors said in a written statement.
But the commission found Restaino's conduct so egregious that his 11 years of service and clean record did not matter.
"We conclude that respondent's behavior ... warrants the sanction of removal, notwithstanding his previously unblemished record on the bench and the testimony as to his character and reputation," the panel ruled.
According to the commission report, Restaino was presiding over a domestic-violence case when a ringing mobile phone interrupted proceedings. When no one took responsibility for the ringing phone, Restaino ordered that court security officers search for the device.
About 70 defendants were in the courtroom that day to take part in a monitoring program for domestic violence offenders. When no one admitted to owning the phone, Restaino heard the remaining cases and then recalled the cases of defendants who had already been released to question them about the phone, according to the commission report.
After all the defendants denied having the phone or knowing who it belonged to, Restaino sent 46 people to jail. Fourteen who were unable to make bail were handcuffed and jailed for several hours.
According to the report, Restaino decided to release defendants only after learning reporters were inquiring about their incarceration.