State halts legal fee support for Judge Thomas Estes

Judge Thomas H. Estes is now paying his own way as he fights to keep his job and fend off a harassment lawsuit.

Judge Thomas H. Estes is now paying his own way as he fights to keep his job and fend off a harassment lawsuit.

When named in a complaint last July linked to his service on the Pittsfield Drug Court, Estes was defended at no cost to him by a lawyer with the Executive Office of the Trial Court.

But that initial Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination sexual harassment complaint later was referred to the state panel that monitors judicial conduct. After several months of study, the Commission on Judicial Conduct recommended that Estes no longer serve on the bench — and that the executive and legislative branches could elect to consider his impeachment.

Estes is working to save his judicial career and to rebuff a civil action that's moving forward in U.S. District Court in Springfield.

"The court is not paying for the judge's legal expenses in either matter," said Erika Gully-Santiago, a public information officer for the state court system.

Now, as an April 24 hearing on his future approaches before the Supreme Judicial Court, Estes is relying on a private attorney, David P. Hoose of the Northampton firm Sasson Turnbull Ryan & Hoose, to defend him before the top court.

At that hearing, Hoose must persuade justices not to adopt the commission's recommendation that Estes be suspended indefinitely without pay.

"The Commission ... respectfully submits that the gravity and nature of Judge Estes' misconduct is such that it renders him permanently unable to command the respect and moral authority essential to serve as a judge," the panel's chairman, Howard V. Neff III, wrote in a Jan. 17 finding made public in March.

Estes, a former public defender, was tapped to start Pittsfield's drug court in 2016. He admits that he engaged in "serious misconduct" by entering into a sexual relationship with Tammy Cagle, a clinical social worker hired by the Behavioral Health Network to work with the specialty court.

Cagle alleges that she lost her job with the network in March 2017, after she told Estes she wanted to end their sexual contact. The judge has denied that Cagle told him she wanted out of the relationship.

In documents submitted to the SJC, Estes expresses remorse but says his punishment should be less severe than an indefinite suspension without pay.

"I will regret it for the rest of my life," he wrote. "Professionally, I have been unfair to the court and my colleagues. I've brought disrepute to the bench that I am so proud to be part of."

In his commission's filing, Neff wrote that Estes engaged in "willful and egregious judicial misconduct that brings the judicial office into disrepute, as well as conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice and unbecoming a judicial officer."

Until the SJC acts, Estes continues to receive his $172,194 yearly salary and is assigned to administrative duties in Holyoke.

Separate suit

Cagle withdrew her earlier MCAD complaint in favor of filing a sexual harassment lawsuit in federal court, naming Estes and her former employer, Behavioral Health Network.

In the separate U.S. District Court action brought by Cagle, the question of who would represent Estes has resulted in delays.

Last Wednesday, two attorneys with a Springfield law firm notified the court that they would appear on the judge's behalf, not Hoose.

The court had been waiting to receive a required "consent to proceed" after the case, filed Jan. 22, was assigned to Magistrate Judge Katherine A. Robertson in the federal court's western division.

On March 29, lawyers notified Robertson that, due to questions about who would represent Estes, the case was in limbo.

Leonard H. Kesten, the Boston attorney representing Cagle, said Hoose recently told Kesten's firm that he wasn't sure who would represent the judge in the civil action.

"That is why we cannot inform the judge as to what all parties agree to," Kesten said. "We are giving him time to clear up representation."

That came this past week, when Nancy Frankel Pelletier and Jeffrey J. Trapani of the firm Robinson Donovan filed appearances with the court.

Meantime, one early development in the case has gone Cagle's way.

The attorney for a co-defendant, Behavioral Health Network, last week withdrew a motion to dismiss Cagle's complaint.

Kathryn S. Crouss, of the Springfield firm Bacon Wilson, had moved for that dismissal in two February motions. But after receiving documentation from Cagle's attorney, the company's representatives acknowledged that Cagle has the right to bring the complaint.

Larry Parnass can be reached at, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.