Judge Faulted for Using Staff as Babysitters, Prayer Sessions

, New York Law Journal

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A State Supreme Court justice from the Bronx should be censured for using her staffers to watch her child while she was on the bench and inviting them to pray with the judge in her chambers, the state Commission on Judicial Conduct recommended unanimously on Thursday.

See Determination and Agreed Statement of Facts.

By having her court employees look after her daughter on at least five occasions between 2006 and 2011, and probably more often, the commission said Mary Ann Brigantti-Hughes (See Profile) "engaged in conduct that was implicitly coercive and inconsistent with the ethical rules."

Commission administrator Robert Tembeckjian said he recommended censure to the commission instead of removal because Brigantti-Hughes was "immediately contrite and ceased the offending behavior" when notified about the commission's inquiry in 2011.

The panel also found that Brigantti-Hughes during business hours had staff members drive her on personal errands, including shopping trips, and to perform non-work-related tasks such as copying religious materials.

"The record before us amply demonstrates that these extra-judicial services were not de minimis and went well beyond the professional courtesies or occasional acts of personal assistance that might ordinarily be provided in emergency situations by subordinates to supervisors, or vice versa," the commission stated.

Instead, the panel continued, they reflected an "egregious misuse of court resources" and violated the judge's obligation to always act in a way that "promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary."

The justice's daughter was between the ages of 6 and 11 during the time in question, according to the commission.

It cited at least 22 instances from 2006 to 2011 in which Brigantti-Hughes' secretary Maria Figueroa or court attorney Marguerite Wells picked up the judge's daughter from school and looked after her in chambers or at the judge's or the court attorney's home.

The commission also recounted an incident in which it said Brigantti-Hughes had Wells accompany her to a Home Depot during regular business hours so the judge could buy soil and plants for a function at the judge's church. She had the court attorney help her re-pot the plants when they returned to chambers.

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