Astacio should be removed from bench, NYS Judicial Conduct Commission says
Rochester, N.Y. (WHAM) - The New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct announced Tuesday that Rochester City Court Judge Leticia Astacio should be removed from the bench.
"This particular case, for our experience, is in a class by itself," said Commission administrator Robert Tembeckjian.
Judge Astacio was first arrested for DWI more than two years ago. We learned Tuesday the commission that has the powers to remove her from office has been investigating nearly all of that time. It even looked at complaints from earlier court cases.
Standing in front of her driveway, Judge Astacio said, "I've always wanted to do my job and that's why I ran for it. The City of Rochester voted me in." Yet in at least three cases in 2015, the commission called into questions her actions on the bench.
In one case she told a court deputy to "tase" "punch" or "shoot" a 16-year-old girl who was struggling and did not want to be brought into the room. "They (the cases) came to our attention as a result of the DWI. We were not aware of them until after we were already investigating the DWI," said Tembeckjian.
According to Tembekcjian, in another case, she failed to disqualify herself from conducting the arraignment of a former client. In another case involving sexual abuse, Astacio, "laughed when the defendant’s attorney said that the alleged victim had 'buyer’s remorse' and later said she thought the comment was 'freakin hilarious' even while acknowledging that the prosecutor was 'offended.'"
The morning she was arrested for DWI, Judge Astacio used profane language with police and also tried to use her position as an elected judge to make the arrest go away. The commission also found she consumed alcohol, tried to drive her car and ignored court orders before jetting off to Thailand.
The full decision by the Commission can be read here.
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"[Astacio's] behavior has undermined trust in the administration of justice, which we hope in some measure to restore with this decision to remove her from office," Tembeckjian said in a statement.
Astacio said she's had a target on her back. "I have my opinion of why they made the decision. Sometimes the more media attention the case gets, the more punishment is given," she said.
Astacio was convicted of DWI in October 2016, but has been accused of violating her probation at several different junctures. Not all of the violations were part of the commission's investigation.
Most recently was Astacio's alleged attempt to purchase a shotgun at two Dick's Sporting Goods stores in the Rochester area. As a result, Astacio was charged with a felony - attempted criminal purchase of a firearm - which violates multiple terms of her probation. According to the Commission, the felony charge was not considered because they had already made the decision to recommend she be removed from office.
Judge Astacio appeared before the commission and cooperated with the investigation. Yet she did not take responsibility for her actions. "That does make an impressionm, because if a judge doesn't recognize their wrong-doing then there's every possibility that the misconduct will reoccur," said Tembeckjian.
The New York State Court of Appeals suspended Astacio with pay earlier this month. She continues to draw her $187,200 annual salary. A letter sent to her house today requires her to submit by April 30th in writing why she should continue to receive pay.
Astacio will have 30 days to appeal the decision by the Commission.
If she chooses to file an appeal, the appeal will be submitted to the New York State Court of Appeals, which is the highest court in the state. Once the case is submitted, the judges will review it and decide whether or not to hear the case. If they do take it up, it can take up to five months for a decision.
If Astacio accepts the decision of the Commission, it takes effect on the day she accepts. Her current term expires on December 31, 2024. Asked if she will fight the decision Astacio replied "I don't know. We'll see." She added "It is a very odd thing to see when the voter's will is subverted by a group of individuals who decide they know what the voters want better than they do."
New York State Administrative Judge for the 7th Judicial District Craig Doran released a statement after the Commission issued its recommendation.
13WHAM News will continue to update this story as more information becomes available.