Justice Task Force Grows as Its Mission Expands

, New York Law Journal

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The New York State Justice Task Force was established in 2009 to recommend ways to avoid wrongful convictions. Chief Judge Janet DiFiore has now asked the group to address bail reform and speedy trial issues, and appointed four new members.

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  • Michael Friedman

    Former New York Justice Barry Kamins was once one of five Executive Officers of the Unified Court System. In the weeks prior to that ascension, Judge Kamins was the Administrative Judge for Criminal Matters in Kings County. During that time in a series of e-mail exchanges, Justice Kamins advised his friend, Kings County District Attorney Charles Hynes on Hynes’ reelection campaign. Judge Kamins also offered legal advice and discussed matters that the district attorney’s office was actively prosecuting. In telling Mr. Hynes how to attack his opponent in a debate, Justice Kamins wrote that he should “focus on the nitty-gritty of what the D.A. does each day to run the office — of course Thompson has no clue and that will come out.” Justice Kamins offered to speak to people at the New York Times and New York Law Journal editorial boards about Hynes’ endorsement, and sent, among 300 e-mails, this ditty: “Btw, I tried to pump the Brooklyn Bar Pres for info about the debate.” Many of Judge Kamins’ e-mails were improper ex parte communications about pending criminal matters and investigations of the Kings County District Attorney’s office. It was all spelled out in a City of New York Department of Investigation Report called “Regarding Misconduct by Former Kings County District Attorney Charles J. Hynes, Justice Barry Kamins and Others.” The Rules provide that a sitting judge “shall refrain from inappropriate political activity.” Prohibited political activity includes “engaging in any political campaign for any office.” Engaging in political activity usually justifies removal from office as do improper ex parte communications with counsel. Although Judge Kamins was stripped of his administrative appointment and an investigation was ordered by the Commission on Judicial Conduct, nothing happened. Then, Judge Kamins went on vacation. Many months later, on September 9, 2014, the Administrator of the Commission on Judicial Conduct and Judge Kamins signed a “stipulation” which is an agreement that Judge Kamins would retire. No admission of guilt, no finding of inappropriate conduct, but Judge Kamins would get to stay in office for another three months. So, where is he now? New York’s Chief Judge has just appointed former jurist Kamins to the New York State Justice Task Force so he can “address wrongful convictions in the United States.” Why not? I wonder if former Judge Kamins will e-mail former District Attorney Hynes for some advice. I also wonder if he’ll get his Office of Court Administration car and driver back.

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