More on the Gus Kelly matter

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

More on the Gus Kelly matter

Wading through the rhetoric and the "legalese" of the admonition1 delivered to Westhampton Beach Village Justice Robert A. Kelly Jr. by the New York State Commission on Judicial Con­duct, several points bear highlighting.

The Commission filed their determination on March 31, 2011, which was released yesterday, with this damning statement:

"Such conduct is incompatible with judicial office in that it places the prestige of judi­cial office and the private interests of the judge and the judge's law firm in direct conflict with the interests of the municipal­ity where the judge sits."

Essentially the Commission found that Justice Kelly at the very least broke faith with the resi­dents and taxpayers of the Village by ignoring the Judicial Canon of Ethics.

Reactions to the news of Justice Kelly's official admonition were not all that varied:

"It's just Gus being Gus," one attorney noted.

"As in 'Manny being Manny?'" he was asked.

The response was immediate and unsmiling:

"No! As in arrogant Gus being arrogant Gus! And stupid. How long did he think he was going to get away with the stuff he pulls?"

Another familiar with Kelly's activities both in and out of his judicial robes, was less sanguine:

"That language about 'the prestige of judicial office and the private interests of the judge and the judge's law firm in direct conflict with the interests of the municipality where [he] sits' is very strong."

Equally troubling is this from a local police officer:

"Some of the cops have stopped writing tickets because they know that Gus is going to dismiss them2."

This is given credence by the fact that in nine of the past eleven years, the Village Justice Court loses money... the only Justice Court on the East End, if not all of New York, to do so.

"Everyone is in favor of free speech. Hardly a day passes without its being extolled, but some people's idea of it is that they are free to say what they like, but if any­one else says anything back, that is an outrage."

Winston Churchill said that, and saved me the trouble.

  1. admonition is a public reprimand. Other disciplines the Commission may impose include sanction and removal from the bench.
  2. Disclosure: This February, Justice Kelly dismissed a Parking Ticket given my wife.


1. Ray Overton said...

Dean, I am a little confused. You have often criticized the Village Police Department for not doing their job appropriately. Is it possible that those tickets are dismissed for exactly the same reason? And for full disclosure, why was Jeanne's ticket dismissed? From what I have read of the State's opinion, pretty much the entire determination is based upon on an appearance of impropriety. On my own end, when my son needed to appear before the Village Court and Jim Hulme (I know you are not a fan, but he is a good friend of me and my family) was representing my son in another matter, Gus recused himself. Now, of course, that put us before Gair who I have known for years. The only way to avoid these situations in small villages is to bring judges in from outside the area. Again, from what I have read, there is nothing that indicates that Gus issued inappropriate rulings in his decisions and that should be the focus of the Village's concerns.

Yes, Ray, I have been critical! How can you confuse sleeping on duty in the middle of the morning on Dune Road with any of this? You follow this blog; what inconsistencies can you point to?

For that "full disclosure," I appeared on behalf of Jeanne (who was working in Queens) to plead with an explanation in the hope of reducing the $75 fine to $25. Both the Justice and the Village Attorney had looked at the date and time of the citation and were incredulous that it had even been issued in the middle of a snowstorm where the charge was "Parking outside the White Lines."

Was the issuing Officer over-zealous? Perhaps, but I never had to make a brief... it was dismissed "in the interests of justice." I thanked the Court and left.

As for the State Commission's determination, you can read it however you like, but perhaps you should pay closer attention to Justice Kelly's attempts to intervene with the Building Department.

Take a look around that Judicial Commission's website and note the large number of complaints it receives. Then look at the fraction of those it actually acts on... and the fraction of those which result in public determnations of admonition, sanction or removal. Those are lines you don't have to read between.

We will both acknowledge that this is a small municipality, Ray, and while it's not like the real old days where everyone knew or was related to someone else, but it's still relatively small. Perhaps it's time to cut a tax drain and send everything to Southampton Town Justice Court... four Justices, five days and one evening, just down the highway in Hampton Bays.

Let the howls of indignation (over the back fence, of course) begin!
– Dean

2. Tugboat Bertha said...

An excellent idea: cut the drain on taxpayers and send everything to Southampton Town Justice Court in Hampton Bays. You are indeed brilliant.


3. Ray Overton said...

Dean, I think it is very important that in addition to the complaints that Gus was found to be responsible for, it should also be noted that under an Additional Finding, it clearly states "Additional Finding: 38. There is no evidence that the judge committed misconduct with respect to the disposition of any case in his court." The main focus on these complaints deal with sloppiness and not intent. They do not deal with cases that appeared before his court. They rely primarily on advocating for a few clients for corrected certificates of occupancy, filing letters regarding legal action involving the village on the regular letterhead of Kelly and Hulme, and issuing checks supporting the candidacy of Sundy Schermeyer, Skip Heaney and Chris Nuzzi out of the firm account with both names on it. In the cases of the letters and the checks, Gus did not sign those documents. Again, as stated numerous times in this document, the focus is on the appearance of impropriety. Appearance of impropriety is a very subjective measure, one which you will need to consider yourself when it comes to your candidacy based upon comments you have made about certain residents/taxpayers of the Village. Will you be able to legislate fairly regarding these folks if you are elected? Will you discontinue the blog because of the unfair publicity you may provide certain issues? Will a record of your often strong opinions provide grounds in the future of action against the Village if you are elected. We have to be careful about addressing appearance of impropriety as it is a very broad term leaving things open for varied interpretations. Could it be that Judge Kelly was aware of your blog it rendering his dismissal of Jeanne's ticket and desired to stay out of the crosshairs or was he simply correcting a really dumb ticket that lacked any common sense? This could also present an appearance of impropriety and favoritism. As far as town court, I think you need to go sit there for a couple of days. Town court is in NO WAY able to handle any additional case load even with four judges and multiple court rooms. Gus cooperated with this investigation, accepted the decision of the Judicial Commission and waived any appeal of its findings. Even the Commission recognized that he and his firm have taken steps to correct the problems. Attempting to make more of this story than is actually stated in the findings is, IMHO, unnecessary.

A rejoinder may be found at "Me 'n' Ray fuss about Gus."
– Dean

4. Jeanne Speir said...

Mr. Overton, Dean did fully disclose the facts of my parking ticket. Then, you seemed to also want the details of the court appearance, so Dean also supplied them. He's a disclosing kind of guy. I would have been in court myself – except I work late on Wednesdays. It is a hardship to miss work for a parking ticket.

I realize from your post you are a friend of the admonished attorney. It is commendable you are trying to stand up for him, and he doubtless has many fine qualities.

However, you are attempting to kill the messenger because you don't like the news; a/k/a the "fully disclosed ... truth." Did you even READ the cited determination that Gus Kelly himself signed off on? With his attorney?

Politics can get so intimate in a tiny community like this that lines of propriety are sadly crossed with a wink and a nod. The actions that initiated the determination were problems of a gross magnitude.

As a father yourself, by excusing or misleading others regarding these actions, what are you teaching our children?

Rules of law are the human attempt to maintain a stable society. If we allow this locally, what does that portend for the larger body politic?

You are taking issue with the wrong party. READ the determination again. Dean started reporting on this years ago. Please go to the previous post and follow his links.

I'm sorry it was your friend. I'm glad he wasn't disbarred... the attorneys in this burg are falling like flies.

Yes dear.

5. Ray Overton said...

"Additional Finding: 38. There is no evidence that the judge committed misconduct with respect to the disposition of any case in his court." My one question becomes, why has this key finding in the commission's report been omitted from any of the discussions on this blog. By refusing to include it in your two articles and in a reply I sent in yesterday, I have no other choice but to question the motives. Appearance of impropriety is a very subjective and broad brush to operate. While I consider Gus a friend, I am replying in an attempt to balance the rhetoric that has been posted with the full facts of the commission's report. Unfortunately, in cases like this and audits of school districts, findings focus on the negative elements of the person or group being investigated. To be clear, Dean only disclosed the dismissal of the parking ticket at the very end of his article and it was only after I asked for details that full story was known. The fact of the matter was the judge seemed to use common sense to your benefit (as opposed to adhering strictly to the V&T regs). Without the full story, it made it sound like Gus regularly dismisses tickets in an act of revenge against the PD. In addition, as I pointed out in a reply that was not posted, Gus accepted the findings of the commission, made the changes required and did not appeal their decision (which, of course, he was within his rights to do). I expect incomplete, selective reporting of an issue from Newsday and the Southampton Press. I guess I need to accept it from this blog now as well. I know this blog is an opinion piece, but I hope you recognize the impact it has on some and while it condemns the over the back fence chatter by some, it contributes to the same behavior by others.

Acknowledged and addressed. Regret that it was not done as quickly as you would have liked.

Now stop snivelling!
– Dean

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