January 4, 2005
Section: National/World
Edition: Schenectady Albany; Final
Page: A-01

Panel says state judge should be censured Report cites improper involvement in case


Gazette Reporter

ALBANY - State Supreme Court Judge Joseph C. Teresi of Albany should be censured for an improper conversation with a prospective witness in a drunken-driving case, a state commission has determined. The state Commission on Judicial Conduct said Teresi talked to the witness without telling attorneys in the case, and the conversation apparently caused the witness to decide against testifying. Teresi also was censured in 2001 for misconduct in several cases, one of which involved discussions with a witness that the commission said forced a settlement in the case. The other cases involved "injudicious" use of language and improper determinations to send people to jail. The case that prompted the new determination that Teresi should be censured involved the judge's talking to a nun who was director of the Albany Honor Court, an alternative to the regular court system. The nun, Sister Phyllis Herbert, told Teresi in June 2003 she planned to testify on behalf of a defendant in the drunken driving case. Teresi expressed surprise, saying he thought Herbert "normally remained 'neutral,' " according to the commission's decision. Herbert then declined to testify, telling the attorney representing the defendant it might cause a conflict of interest. The attorney, Randall Kehoe, then sought an adjournment of the case to find another witness, but Teresi ordered the trial to go forward. The defendant was convicted. The commission said Teresi's conduct "creat- See SUPREME, Page A2 Supreme Court judge also was censured in 2001 Continued from Page A1 ed an appearance of impropriety and shows insensitivity to the high ethical standards required of judges." The report noted Teresi had been sanctioned before, and "should have been especially sensitive to the high standards of conduct expected of judges and, in particular, the prohibition against improper ex parte discussions." Teresi has 30 days to appeal the decision to the state Court of Appeals. The censure otherwise will go into effect. Neither Teresi nor his attorney, Robert Roche, returned calls Monday seeking comment. Last year, Teresi stepped down from a case against the Albany diocese after an attorney said Teresi had improper contacts with the diocese. Attorney John Aretakis, who represents several Capital Region residents who claim they were abused by clergy, said he later complained to the Commission on Judicial Conduct and testified before it several times. Aretakis said the commission's determination was a "slap on the wrist." He said he did not know whether the commission was actively investigating Teresi's contacts with the diocese. Commission chairman Lawrence Goldman and counsel Robert Tembeckjian said they could not comment on whether they conducted another investigation into Teresi's conduct or whether the commission conducted one on the diocese matter and determined no sanction was warranted. Teresi has presided over high-profile cases, including the 2000 trial of four New York City police officers who shot and killed immigrant Amadou Diallo. Teresi earned praise from the legal community for his handling of the racially sensitive trial, which ended in acquittal for the officers. Teresi also has made decisions on important matters of state law, including a 2003 ruling that upheld an expansion of state-sanctioned gambling and a ruling in December that the state constitution does not give same-sex couples the right to wed.

Reach Gazette reporter Shirin Parsavand at 462-2499 or sparsavand@dailygazette.net. Teresi

Copyright 2005, 2006 The Daily Gazette Co. All Rights Reserved.

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