State judge rebuked for writing letter on inmate's behalf

Justice Nancy E. Smith

A New York State judge has been rebuked by a legal commission for attempting to use her position to get a convicted drunk boat driver out of jail early.

In a decision issued on June 19, State Appellate Division Justice Nancy E. Smith was given a public admonition after she wrote a letter to the state parole board on behalf of Craig Cordes.

The 38-year-old Cordes was sentenced to state prison in May of 2008 for driving a boat drunk on Skaneateles Lake and crashing it, causing the death of a couple from Richmond, Virginia. His guilty plea on a charge of vehicular manslaughter carried a sentence of three to ten years in prison, making him first eligible for parole in 2011.

In their decision, the commission decided that, â??A request by a judge to a public official or agency for special consideration for any person â??is wrong and always has been wrongâ??â??.

The commission went on to say that, â??Upon assuming the bench, a judge surrenders certain right and must refrain from some conduct that would be permissible for others. Even other laudable actsâ?¦ must be avoided if they use the prestige of judicial office to advance private interests.â??

The commissionâ??s report states that Judge Smith wrote a letter to the parole board on her judicial letterhead identifying herself as a judge and stating she was a â??friendâ?? of Cordes, but did not disclose that they had never met. Smith wrote the letter at the request of Cordesâ?? mother.

The public admonition will be Smithâ??s sole punishment for the incident.

Cordesâ?? parole was denied in 2011. His next conditional release date is December 2014.

Read the court document.
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