LIVINGSTON COUNTY – The latest battle in one man’s legal war against Livingston County has inspired him to start an online petition asking a state representative of Connecticut to remove the Livingston County, NY judge who accepted a guilty plea from him in 2014.
Joseph Harris, 47, has directed his online petition towards CT Representative Theresa Conroy to remove Judge Dennis Cohen from the bench. The petition was created in May and has garnered 37 signatures thus far. No judicial conduct entity has accused Judge Cohen of any wrongdoing.
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“JUDGE COHEN HAS HURT MANY PEOPLE LIVES IN THE WAY HE RUNS HIS COURT ROOM,” posts Harris in the petition. “THIS MAN IS PURE EVIL!!!! HE HAS DONE MORE HARM THEN GOOD SINCE HE’S BEEN ON THE BENCH IN LIVINGSTON COUNTY.JUDGE COHEN IS PART OF THE CORRUPT LIVINGSTON COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEPT !!T THIS HAS TO STOP HOW LONG ARE WE GONNA LET THIS HAPPEN!!!”
Conroy does not have the authority to remove any judge or justice from any jurisdiction, even in her own state.
According to judicialselection.com, in Connecticut, Conroy could bring a Judge’s conduct to the attention of other representatives, who would then vote on removing the judge:
Judges may be impeached by the CT House of Representatives and removed by two thirds of the CT Senate.
Judges may be removed by the Governor of Connecticut on the address of two thirds of each house of the general assembly.
The judicial review council investigates complaints of judicial misconduct. If the investigation indicates that there is probable cause that the judge is guilty of misconduct, the council conducts a hearing and makes a recommendation to the supreme court. The supreme court may suspend or remove the judge.
However, in New York State, representatives have even less to do with judicial discipline:
Judges may be admonished, censured, retired, or removed from office by the NYS Commission on Judicial Conduct. The Commission’s disciplinary actions are subject to review by the NYS Court of Appeals.
Judges may be impeached by a majority vote of the NYS Assembly and removed by a two-thirds vote of the court for the trial of impeachments. The court consists of the president of the NYS senate, the senators, and the judges of the NYS Court of Appeals.
Harris’ battle began in 2013 when he says he nearly overdosed on mental health medication and was involved in an altercation with Mount Morris Police and arrested for felony Menacing a Police Officer and several misdemeanors. Sheriff’s Deputies who were booking him at the Livingston County Jail found pieces of broken plastic in Harris’ clothing, which they considered contraband and charged him with felony Promoting Prison Contraband. He admits that he is guilty of the misdemeanors but maintained throughout his court appearances that he is innocent of the contraband charge.
Harris refused to work with the Livingston County Public Defender’s Office and repeatedly said that he was not afraid to sit in jail awaiting a trial.
“You want to go to trial, go without me I’ll be in the Livingston County Jail,” said Harris in 2014. “I like it in there, it’s great, they have pizza, ice cream, and you can do your laundry every other day.”
Judge Cohen accepted a guilty plea from Harris in 2014 to Promoting Prison Contraband in the First Degree in satisfaction of all eight charges and sentenced him to two years of local jail instead of state prison.
Upon appeal, the Fourth Department overturned Cohen’s decision, saying that even though no colloquy was required as part of the plea, Judge Cohen should have continued to question Harris on whether he was truly guilty before accepting the plea. Harris was recorded in court transcripts saying that he was not guilty of Promoting Prison Contraband at the time of the plea.
Harris has since filed multiple law suits against Livingston County. He alleges that the county Health Department overprescribed him mental health medication, which he says underlies the incident with Mount Morris Police in 2013. He also alleges that he suffered abuse at the Livingston County Jail.
The Livingston County District Attorney’s Office has restored all eight original criminal charges against Harris, including felony Promoting Prison Contraband in the First Degree and a higher level felony, Menacing a Police Officer. They are pursuing a state prison sentence.