Disturbing News from the State...

Monday, April 25, 2011

Disturbing News from the State...

...but not entirely unexpected, as the State of New York Commission on Judicial Conduct has released its determination following an in­quiry into Village Justice Robert A. Kelly, Jr.

Its core finding is that Gus Kelly "should be disciplined for cause," and that "the appropri­ate disposition is admonition."

Nine members of the Commission concurred and no one dissented.

Captioned "In the Matter of the Proceeding Pursuant to Section 44, subdivision 4, of the Judiciary Law, in Relation to robert a. kelly, jr., a Justice of the Westhampton Beach Village Court, Suffolk County..."

"The respondent, Robert A. Kelly, Jr., a Justice of the Westhampton Beach Village Court, Suffolk County, was served with a Formal Written Complaint dated July 19, 2010, containing four charges."

They include:

  1. Respondent represented clients be­fore the Westhampton Beach Build­ing and Zoning Department, which enforces the local building code, over which respondent's court has jurisdiction;
  2. Respondent's name appeared on papers filed by his law firm in connection with lawsuits against the Village of Westhampton Beach;
  3. Respondent failed to disqualify him­self in two cases involving a party who was a client or former client of his law firm;
  4. Respondent made or permitted polit­ical contributions through his law firm.

The four cases upon which the Commission ultimately based its findings occurred between August 1999 and February 2007, and are doc­umented in the 17 page determination.

The Commission on the Judiciary's filing also stated:

"On March 10,2011, the Administrator of the Commission, respondent's counsel and re­spondent entered into an Agreed State­ment of Facts pursuant to Judiciary Law §44(5), stipulating that the Commission make its determination based upon the agreed facts, recommending that respon­dent be admonished...."

(Such "admonishment," while harsher than a Notice of Private Censure, with which, upon information and belief, Gus Kelly has already been hit once, falls short of Disbarment.)

This news could not have come at a less propitious time for Justice Kelly, presently campaigning for his fourth four year term on the local bench.

(He was appointed by Mayor Bart Wilenski in 1996 to succeed his father, the late Robert A. Kelly Sr. who was retiring)

One key element of the Commission's determination reads:

"The Advisory Committee issued Opinion 10-149, which restates the need for part-time judges practicing law in the munici­palities where they sit to avoid conduct which lends the prestige of their judicial office to advance the private interests of others, to act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the judiciary and to avoid the appearance of impropriety in their representation of private clients."

That "Caesar's Wife" clause cuts to the quick of the issue, and likely led to the informal 2008 dis­solution of the "Law Firm of Kelly & Hulme."

Item #27 reads:

"Respondent was aware that his law firm did not have separate letterhead without respondent's name for use in litigation against the Village and in matters before the Zoning Board of Appeals."

(See also "A New Cloud Darkens Vil­lage Hall" and "More of 'The Story'")

A particularly egregious instance cited by the Commission was addressed here in February 2009, having caught the attention of State Supreme Court Judge Tanenbaum in 2007.

It is not known whether Justice Tanenbaum's action played any part in the Commission's determination.

Especially distasteful is Determination Item #27 reads:

"Respondent was also aware that he received a share of the fees earned from lawsuits against the Village of Westhamp­ton Beach."

...which could be construed as a form of "double dipping."

Gus Kelly is at the moment running unopposed in the June 17th Village Election but the dead­line for nominating petitions is May 13th.

Comments

1. Mrs. Genetics said...

What astounds me, after reading the determination, is that Justice Kelly claimed ignorance on matters that anyone with an iota of common sense could see as conflict of interest, either real or perceived.

There's an old legal principle to the effect that "Ignorance of the law is no defense."
Dean

2. Frank Wheeler said...

Why do you say that this determination was "not entirely unexpected?" Were you the one, or one of the ones, who made a complaint to the State?

Nope... nor do I know who did.

But some of what's gone on for years in the Village has been fairly flagrant, and it's good of the under-staffed State of New York Commission on Judicial Conduct to finally take note of the situation and act. If you read carefully, Kelly could have been removed from the bench.
– Dean

3. Dune Mind said...

That is disturbing news. The disciplinary action does not even amount to a reprimand.

The Commission should have removed Gus from the bench immediately and forbidden him from wearing a robe ever again. (That would be hard on Gus. The robe allows him to externalize his inner Darth Vader.)

I think removal is reserved for the most extreme cases.
Dean

4. Suzanne Kelly said...

Dean;

You know not the facts. You will stab anyone to be elected.

What I based this blog entry on is what was contained in the State of New York Commission on Judicial Conduct's determination. You will note that what they published stated:
"On March 10,2011, the Administrator of the Commission, respondent's counsel and respondent entered into an Agreed Statement of Facts pursuant to Judiciary Law §44(5), stipulating that the Commission make its determination based upon the agreed facts...."
If you have issue with that, then please direct your complaints to Gus Kelly and his attorney.

While I can understand that you are upset, your ad hominem comment is silly and ill-considered. I'm not running for Village Justice, so this does not advance my campaign for the Village Board in the slightest.
– Dean

5. Watching Them said...

Thanks Dean!! Without you we would have never heard about this.

Sure you would have... just not as quickly.
Dean

6. Crabby said...

OK, so this guy is running UNOPPOSED for Village Justice. If he alone votes for himself, he's re-elected!

How much does it cost to maintain this position?

And frankly, to me, "admonition" reeks of a kindergarten "time out." Which is EXACTLY what this amounts to if he runs unopposed.

Aren't there other attorneys with no "admonitions" against them who have kept their affairs above board, who are willing to run -- or other options to address our disturbing absence of choice?

This is awkward.

Take a look at the budget which just passed for what maintaining the Village Court costs the taxpayers!

Not for nuthin', but there's no requirement that the Village Justice need be an attorney, only that the position be filled by a resident of Westhampton Beach.
Dean

7. Eyes on 6 Corners said...

I know the local police haven't been a very sympathetic bunch over the past several years, but one legitimate beef they have is that Kelly regularly dismisses the summonses and violations they write. Many of them have actually stopped writing tickets because of this.

Didn't know that, but I can believe it... I had the same problem with Kelly Senior during the brief time I was Code Enforcement Officer back in 1996.
Dean

8. The Mighty One said...

OK, some things could be viewed as inappropriate. But the bottom line for me is this: "38. There is no evidence that the judge committed misconduct with respect to the disposition of any case in his court."

Acknowledged and addressed.
– Dean

9. Bird Weasel said...

Weren't you guilty of misconduct on your last-ever column in The Southampton Press?

  1. Never wrote for The Southampton Press, only the old Hampton Chronicle-News.
  2. I have never been guilty of "Misconduct" in regard to anything... guilty of bad behavior and poor judgment at times, sure! (And newspaper columns don't fall within the Penal Law.)
  3. What are you trying to say, anyhow?
Suggestion: if you're going to carry someone else's water, find out what you're talking about before going public.
– Dean

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