The New York Law Journal by Joel Stashenko - October 21, 2009
ALBANY, NY - The state Court of Appeals today removed Joseph S. Alessandro of Westchester County as state Supreme Court justice, but reduced to an admonition a removal recommendation against his brother Francis M. Alessandro, a Bronx Civil Court judge. In a pair of 6-0 rulings in one per curiam decision, the judges distinguished the severity of wrongdoing by Joseph from that of his brother Francis. The brothers ran afoul of ethics rules in connection with a loan Joseph took out while seeking a Westchester County judgeship in 2003 and subsequent omissions on loan applications and financial disclosure forms filed by both brothers. Joseph failed to repay the $250,000 loan to his former campaign manager Barbara Battista within the promised time period, "strung ... along" the manager's lawyer about meeting the obligation and failed to accurately disclose the loan as required by law, the Court concluded today. "His failure to disclose the Battista mortgage in these documents is consistent with an ongoing pattern of shirking his obligation to repay her," the Court held.
The judges said they agreed with the state Commission on Judicial Conduct that Joseph's actions were far worse than "mere carelessness" and should result in Joseph's removal as judge. As to his brother, the Court held that Francis was not obligated to repay the $250,000, Joseph was. Omissions on Francis' subsequent financial disclosure forms and loan applications did not appear to be intentional or designed to conceal obligations to gain Francis any advantage, the Court held. "We emphasize that judges should adhere to the highest standards of honesty and integrity in all matters; however, we are unwilling to remove a Judge from office for completing loan applications in a sloppy fashion where there is no evidence of intent to deceive," the Court held. The Commission on Judicial Conduct had voted 9-0 to recommend Joseph's removal and 8-1 for Francis' ouster. In separate decisions containing nearly identical findings, the commission determined that the two men's actions had "irretrievably damaged" their ability to remain as judges (NYLJ, Feb. 24). Francis co-signed for the 30-day loan brother Joseph accepted from his campaign manager. But Joseph told the commission he renegotiated a 15-year loan—which he alone signed—when he realized that not repaying the obligation within the 30-day period would represent receipt of a campaign contribution far in advance of acceptable limits. The campaign manager ultimately sued and Joseph settled for $274,000.
Both brothers subsequently were charged by the Commission on Judicial Conduct with failing to report the loan and the suit on various loan applications and court financial disclosure forms they filled out from 2003 to 2005. Joseph won the 2003 election and, in 2005, was elected to the state Supreme Court in the judicial district covering Westchester, Putnam, Dutchess, Orange and Rockland counties. Francis, 70, has been a Civil Court judge in the Bronx since 1990. At oral arguments before the Court of Appeals in September, Francis' attorney Robert P. Roche noted that Francis is facing mandatory retirement at the end of this year due to his age. Mr. Roche pleaded with the judges not to allow Francis' judicial legacy to be overshadowed by removal from the bench in the twilight of his career. Counting today's rulings, the Court of Appeals had upheld 66 removal recommendations by the commission and in 10 other instances reduces removals to lesser sanctions. Both brothers had been suspended with pay since appealing the commission's removal recommendations. firstname.lastname@example.org