There is good reason to believe that Staten Island Justice Judith N. McMahon is under investigation by the New York State Judicial Conduct Commission, the only official body with the power to punish judges for misconduct.
On Dec.19, the New York Law Journal reported that Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence K. Marks ended any hope that McMahon might have had of returning to her old job as the Administrative Judge in charge of civil cases at the Staten Island branch of the Supreme Court when he named Justice Desmond Green as the court’s next administrative judge in charge of both criminal and civil cases.
That decisive and irreversible step could have telegraphed a Commission investigation for two reasons. First, the Commission has the authority to commence investigations on its own initiative without first receiving a complaint. The Commission has also frequently undertaken such investigations after press reports have surfaced indicating judicial misconduct.
The Office of Court Administration (OCA) had directed McMahon to relinquish her authority over any criminal cases in her court after her husband, Michael E. McMahon, received the Democratic nomination to run for Staten Island District Attorney in 2015. He was subsequently elected in November of that year. OCA further required the appointment of a second judge to take command of all criminal cases at the St. George courthouse.
Michael J. Pulizotto, the chief clerk of the Staten Island court, apparently working undercover with the Inspector General’s (IG’s) office, however, covertly taped conversations with McMahon and others at the courthouse, which indicated that, despite the division of administrative authority, McMahon continued to take action in some criminal matters.
In Justice McMahon’s situation, there have been three prior new articles written disclosing that McMahon was under investigation by OCA Inspector General Sherrill Spatz. On Sept.7 the Staten Island Advance reported that Pulizotto, the court’s chief clerk, had “sparked a months-long probe by court officials” after supplying information that McMahon was undermining a OCA rule to protect the integrity of the court. The New York Times published a similar report on Sept. 16
WiseLawNY also reported on Dec. 14 that the IG’s probe continued, even though more than a month earlier the court system’s chief spokesperson had indicated that OCA probe had been completed, but made no mention of any action being taken.
In addition to the possibility that those news reports prompted the Commission to start a probe, the Commission and the IG’s office often conducts parallel probes, even though they have different tasks. The IG’s office’s mission is to preserve the integrity of the state’s courts. The Commission, on the other hand, is responsible for punishing judicial misconduct.
Since both agencies may be conducting parallel investigations, it is altogether conceivable that they may be consulting with each other and sharing information they collect. Such information, which the Commission may have received from the IG’s office, could likewise have prompted action by the Commission.
McMahon’s lawyer John D. Connors has not returned calls seeking comment made on Monday afternoon (Jan. 8).