An Erie County Family Court judge should be censured for visiting a teen in a psychiatric hospital who was a party in a pending delinquency proceeding and for being discourteous in court, the state Commission on Judicial Conduct said yesterday.
In two separate determinations, the commission also recommended admonishment for a Buffalo City Court judge for "crude and offensive" comments he made in court during a profanity-laced exchange with a defendant and admonishment for a town court justice who had a public physical altercation with his girlfriend.
The judges in all three matters have 30 days to appeal their recommended sanctions to the Court of Appeals, or their punishments go into effect.
The charges brought by the commission against Paul Buchanan (See Profile), an Erie County Family Court judge since 2004, include an ex parte visit he made in 2009 to a 14-year-old when she was the subject of a juvenile delinquency proceeding before him.
The commission said Buchanan failed to receive permission from the teen's mother, doctor, attorney or the attorney for the presentment agency before visiting the girl in the psychiatric unit of the Erie County Medical Center. The teen was in the unit after taking an overdose of prescription medication.
Buchanan said he visited the teen for about 15 minutes, brought her gifts of an "age-appropriate" naturea book and cookiesand told her that her mother and grandmother both loved her and that she had a lot to live for.
In the following month, the attorney for the presentment agency filed a motion seeking Buchanan's recusal because of the visit. In a subsequent hearing, Buchanan did not acknowledge his private meeting with the teen and reserved decision on the recusal motion.
A day after that hearing, according to the commission, Buchanan had the court's clerk transfer the case to another judge.
The commission concluded in a 9-0 decision with one member, Joseph Belluck, not participating, that while his contact with the teen "was motivated by concern for her well-being," the visit "violated the well-established prohibition against ex parte communications and overstepped the appropriate boundaries between a judge and a party in a pending matter."
"A judge is not a therapist or social worker and has a responsibility, especially when dealing with vulnerable, troubled litigants, to ensure that appropriate boundaries are maintained," the commission said.