f/k/a archives . . . real opinions & real haiku

December 8, 2005

acerbic family court judge censured

Filed under: pre-06-2006,Schenectady Synecdoche — David Giacalone @ 10:56 am

Jo Anne Assini has been a Family Court judge for Schenectady County, NY,
where I reside, since January 2001. In those five years, I have not heard even
one positive thing about her work as a judge from lawyers or court personnel.
Instead, her foul mood and temper have been a source of regret for those who
make a living and/or seek justice, fairness, and solutions from that court. [Assini
was an Assistant District Attorney prosecuting sex crimes when I last
practiced at Family Court, and I have no memory of interactions with her.]

witch brew It was not at all surprising to learn, last week, that the NYS Commission on Judicial Conduct had filed formal charges against Judge Assini earlier this year, after receiving five formal complaints from litigants, and had concluded — based on stipulated facts and outcome — that she deserved censure for her conduct on the bench. In re Jo Anne Assini (NYSCJC, Nov. 18, 2005) (See
North Country Gazette, “Judge Assini Censured for Intemperate Behavior, Rights Violations,” Dec. 2,2005)

In addition to the frequent failure to apprise parties of their right to counsel, Judge Assini was very often rude and disrespectful to those who appeared before her. Like a bully, she was especially likely to show her foul mood to parties appearing without counsel. The SCJC opinion notes:

“Every judge has an obligation to respect and comply with the
law and to act in a manner that inspires public confidence in the
fair-mindedness and impartiality of the judiciary. . . In Family Court,
“where matters of the utmost sensitivity are often litigated by those
who are unrepresented and unaware of their rights” . . . such a duty
is self-evident and compelling. In several cases respondent violated
these ethical standards by neglecting to inform litigants of their statutory
rights and by addressing them in an intemperate, demeaning manner.”

” . . As the Commission and the Court of Appeals have repeatedly held, a pattern of failing to advise litigants of the right to counsel and assigned counsel is serious misconduct.

“The record also establishes that respondent violated her duty to be
“patient, dignified and courteous” to litigants in her court (Rules, �100.3
[B][3]). The transcripts depict a series of rude, demeaning remarks by
respondent to litigants in custody and visitation proceedings who came
to Family Court seeking a fair hearing before an impartial jurist. In one
case respondent told the litigants that she was “so bored” and “so sick”
of the case and spoke to the litigants angrily and impatiently when they
could not agree on a visitation schedule. In another case she criticized a

litigant who was wearing his college security [guard] shirt, telling him thathe looked like a “slob,” that “normal people” would have worn something “decent” and that he could buy a shirt or tie at the City Mission for fifty cents.


“It appears that respondent was particularly harsh towards unrepresented
litigants, addressing them in an intimidating, sarcastic manner. Indeed, in two cases (Charges I and IV) the parties actually discontinued their proceedings because of respondent’s impatience and discourtesy, apparently despairing of receiving a fair and just hearing in respondent’s court.”

The Commission pointed out that Judge Assini came on the 2-judge court
at a time when it was temporarily short one judge and facing a large backlog.
Nonetheless, it pointed out::

“While court congestion and the stress of dealing with a large backlog she inherited may have adversely affected respondent’s judicial performance, these factors do not excuse her demeaning comments to litigants and her disregard of important statutory procedures.

“In mitigation, we note that respondent has expressed remorse for her actions and that she now appropriately advises all statutorily eligible litigants of the right to counsel and assigned counsel.

“By reason of the foregoing, the Commission determines that the appropriate disposition is censure.”

coyote moon small Some readers will say that Judge Assini is really not much different from other judges, but I disagree — at least if my own experience is a guide. Here in Schenectady County, there have been three other Family Court judges since I arrived in 1988, and I have often been quite impressed with their judicial temperament and patience, in the face of very trying situations. Litigants who are not successful will always gripe about this or that judge, and I believe lawyers and staffers are a better gauge of a judge’s propriety on the bench. The Family Court community’s universal disappointment over Judge Assini suggests that she was indeed an outlier. Whether censure — the second most serious form of discipline for judges — is sufficient, I will leave for others to decide.

Let me make a few quick points:

  • Family Court judges need to be especially sensitive and respectful, and able to deal with parties who are under great personal stress.
  • Judges dealing with pro se litigants also need to be on their best behavior — extra training is now offered in many jurisdictions. I hope that the Internet can help make judges aware that lack of respect for litigants and displays of temper can get you disciplined — or, at least, shamed.

In a speech given when she was inducted into her high school’s Hall of Fame in 2004, Jo Anne Assini emphasized that “in order to succeed, you have to TRY. And you’ll probably have to fail, as I did so many times. You must never, never, never quit.” (“The Courage to Fail,” 2004 Niskayuna High School Graduation)

gavel neg She showed a bit of her prickly nature in the speech, when she noted ” I didn’t win any moot court competitions, though I came very close, and in senior trials, the judge told me I was too aggressive (something he didn’t tell any of the men in the competition…);”.

However, Judge Assini ended the speech with advice I hope she takes to heart now for herself. After noting that “The first time I ran for judge, I didn’t just lose, I was crushed,” she wisely points out:

“I realized that what people remembered about you was HOW you handled losing.”

The public and the legal community in Schenectady County hope Judge Assican greatly improve her behavior. If not, we hope she’ll decide that she can do more for the community and the profession off the bench.

 


contempt of court lawyer cellphone small
the lawyer hopes Her Honor
can’t read his mind

…….. by dagosan at simply senryu

2 Comments

  1. after appearing in front of judge assini it left me feeling out of reality, like a nightmare and disbelief of how cruel and unfair the system really is.

    Comment by timothy febbie — July 6, 2006 @ 8:42 am

  2. This womand should be off the bench and in no way should be judging people in which she makes such huge decisions. She is unfair, and literally a b_ _ _ _ .

    Comment by Terri — September 9, 2008 @ 2:16 pm

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