There’s just no earthly explanation for the actions of New York Judge Robert Restaino on March 11, 2005. Judge Restaino was dealing with a group of domestic violence defendants who were there to report to the court, as they are required to do each week. Things were going okay … until a cell phone rang. Per The New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct: “At approximately 10:00 AM, a device that appeared to be a cell phone rang in the back of the courtroom. Addressing the defendants in the courtroom, respondent stated:”
Now, whoever owns the instrument that is ringing, bring it to me now or everybody could take a week in jail and please don’t tell me I’m the only one that heard that. Mr. Martinez, did you hear that ringing?…
Everyone is going to jail; every single person is going to jail in this courtroom unless I get that instrument now. If anybody believes I’m kidding, ask some of the folks that have been here for a while. You are all going.
He was kidding, right? Wrong! He committed all 46 defendants into custody. (Oh, and “He did not question any of the prosecutors, defense attorneys, court personnel, program representatives or others who were present in the courtroom.”!!!)
So what does committing the defendants involve? Per the Commission:
After being committed into custody, the 46 defendants were taken by police to the booking area in the City Jail, where they were searched and their property was confiscated. They were then placed in crowded “holding” cells or jail cells. Thereafter, 17 defendants were released from custody after it was determined that the court still held bail that had previously been posted on their behalf, and 15 defendants were released after posting the bail set by respondent. The remaining 14 defendants could not post bail and were committed to the custody of the Niagara County Sheriff.
And what about those 14 folks?
The 14 defendants who could not post bail were shackled; their wrists were handcuffed to a lock box attached to a waist chain; and they were transported by bus to the County Jail in Lockport, a ride that took about 30 minutes. The defendants arrived at the jail between 3:00 and 3:30 and were searched again and placed in cells.
Then the Judge was paged by his clerk, who told him the media was asking questions about the incident. Wouldn’t you know it? The 14 remaining defendants were released about 2 hours later! Do you think Judge Restaino paid a price for his actions? He did. He’s no longer a judge. Here’s what the Commission concluded:
[Judge Restaino's] behavior was such a gross deviation from the proper role of a judge that it warrants the sanction of removal, notwithstanding his previously unblemished record on the bench and the testimony as to his character and reputation.
The Judge’s conduct was much more outrageous than I have described above. (For example, “… one defendant said that he had a doctor’s appointment that day and might need surgery; another said that his mother was having surgery that day. One defendant, who had previously appeared four times as required, told respondent, “My little girl is coming home at 3:00. Can I be sanctioned next week so I can get my girl?” Respondent committed each of these defendants into custody.”) If you want to read the full Commission opinion, click here.