Friday May 11, 2012

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) -- The New York Commission on Judicial Conduct has recommended removing a Rensselaer County town justice from the bench for her involvement in two ticket-fixing cases.

In a decision released Thurs day, the commission said East Greenbush Town Justice Diane Schilling improperly intervened in the disposition of a speeding ticket issued to the wife of another town judge in 2009. Four years earlier, the commission said she returned her own speeding ticket to a state trooper who said he would void it.

"After the commission uncovered a widespread pattern of ticket fixing throughout the state in the late 1970s, more than 140 judges were disciplined for engaging in this misconduct," the commission said. "Subsequent incidents of ticket fixing were regarded with particular severity, since judges now had the benefit of a significant body of case law concerning the impropriety of this behavior."

The panel of judges and attorneys noted that under state traffic law, disposing of a ticket in any way not prescribed by statute is a misdemeanor, noting there was no indication Schilling herself committed a crime. Town justices generally handle low-level crimes, preliminary hearings for felonies, and traffic violations.

Attorney E. Stewart Jones said the decision is "enormously disproportionate" to the offense, and he is recommending Schilling file an appeal at the New York Court of Appeals.

"It ignores an otherwise remarkably distinguished and remarkable career as a justice and a lawyer," he said.

A spokesman for the state Office of Court Admin istration, where Schilling was a staff attorney who advised town justices, said she resigned that post Thursday. According to the commission report, an East Greenbush police officer issued a speeding ticket May 30, 2009, to Lisa C. Toomey, wife of Sand Lake Town Justice Paul Toomey. She was driving his car. Schilling soon learned of the ticket and emailed Paul Toomey, "No (sergeant) due in until tomorrow then it should be corrected" and twice discussed it with him after that.

Lisa Toomey sent a copy of her ticket to the court with a plea of not guilty after that, and followed it months later with a certified letter to query its status. Her copy was placed in the "orphan" file. The ticket was never prosecuted.

Judge Toomey in 2010 reported the incident to the conduct commission, which found the court copies, police copy and letter are missing.

In the earlier case, the commission said Schilling was issued a speeding ticket June 23, 2005, by a state trooper, who subsequently went to her office and asked for the ticket back. She returned it. Later that day, the ticket was voided by the trooper's sergeant.

The commission says in both incidents, the ticketing police officers didn't initially know that the SMA on each vehicle's license plate stood for State Magistrates Association.

State police spokeswoman Julie Santiago said the agency "does not condone the adjustment of tickets for any member of the public." She declined to comment on this specific case or whether any troopers were disciplined.

Calls to East Greenbush police were not immediately returned Thursday.