The Journal News by REBECCA BAKER - February 23, 2009
NEW YORK - A state judicial watchdog group today said former Westchester County Judge Joseph Alessandro should be kicked off the bench for trying to cheat his former campaign manager out of $250,000. The state Commission on Judicial Conduct said Alessandro, now a state Supreme Court justice in Orange County, should be removed from office from trying to defraud Barbara Battista out of a loan to his 2003 campaign. According to the commission, Alessandro had told Battista he would repay the loan in nine months. After Battista sued him for nonpayment, he claimed he had told her he would repay the money in 15 years.
"He later gave misleading and evasive testimony about the transaction," the commission said, concluding that he showed "a level of dishonesty which is unacceptable for a member of the judiciary." The lawsuit was settled in February 2006 when Alessandro and his brother, Judge Francis Alessandro, a New York City civil court judge in the Bronx, agreed to pay Battista $273,000. The commission said both brothers filed loan applications in 2004 and 2005 that omitted certain assets and liabilities - including the Battista loan - and that the brothers' "deceptive, deceitful and dishonest behavior" makes them unfit for office. Both brothers filed an incomplete financial disclosure statement to the Ethics Commission for the state Unified Court System in 2004, the commission said, noting that Francis Alessandro also filed an incomplete statement in 2003. The panel recommended that Francis Alessandro also be removed from the bench.
The commission's recommendations are now in the hands of Judge Jonathan Lippman, chief judge of the state's highest court, the Court of Appeals. The Alessandros must ask the court to review the commission's report or they will be removed from office. If the Court of Appeals reviews the report, the court can remove them from the bench, censure them or impose no sanctions. Lippman, a Democrat, and Alessandro, a Republican, benefitted from a cross-endorsement deal in 2005 that got them both elected to state Supreme Court - even though Alessandro was rated "not qualified" by the Westchester County Bar Association. The deal, brokered by the political leaders in the 9th Judicial District counties of Westchester, Rockland, Putnam, Dutchess and Orange, virtually guaranteed their election to two of the four open seats.