YORK – The NYS Commission on Judicial Conduct’s investigation into now former Judge Walter Purtell alleged four instances of illegal and/or inappropriate conduct on the bench in 2013 and 2014.
Purtell resigned before the Commission on Judicial Conduct made a formal ruling on whether or not he actually violated the judicial code of conduct in these ways. However, the allegations, based on his recorded statements on court transcripts, were that he sentenced the following criminal defendants without informing them of their right to have a lawyer present: Addison Morris; Shiesha Balkman; Joseph Benson; James Johnson. It was also alleged that he made disparaging remarks about women while on the bench.
“I know a lot of women; they aren’t too good on, on keeping an eye on inspection stickers and getting cars inspected … So, that doesn’t surprise me that she may have not, have overlooked that,” Purtell said according to court transcripts from April 8, 2013, while he was presiding over the arraignment of Addison Morris on Aggravated Unlicensed Operation in the Third Degree, a violation.
Then, on June 25, 2013, Purtell was alleged to have made more disparaging remarks while arraigning James Johnson. From the bench before addressing Mr. Johnson’s charges, Purtell allegedly engaged in a conversation about an unrelated matter with the Deputy Sheriff who had
arrested Johnson. Respondent commented that he had spoken to another judge about a woman who had ‘a reputation as a biter.’ Purtell allegedly recounted that he told that judge, ‘It’s a wonder she’s got any teeth left,’ continuing:
“She’d bite me about once and I’d haul off and whack her teeth out…of her mouth on her,” transcripts quote Purtell.
In making his formal written complaint against the judge, Robert Tembeckjian, Administrator and Counsel for the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, asked the committee to find the following:
“Respondent should be disciplined for cause, pursuant to Article 6, Section 22, subdivision (a), of the Constitution and Section 44, subdivision 1, of the Judiciary Law, in that Respondent failed to uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary by failing to maintain high standards of conduct so that the integrity and independence of the judiciary would be preserved, in violation of Section 100.l of the Rules; failed to avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety, in that he failed to respect and comply with the law and failed to act in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary, in violation of Section 100.2(A) of the Rules; and failed to perform the duties of judicial office impartially and diligently, in that he failed to be patient, dignified and courteous to those with whom he deals in an official capacity, in violation of Section 100.3(B)(3) of the Rules.
‘WHEREFORE, by reason of the foregoing, the Commission should take whatever further action it deems appropriate in accordance with its powers under the Constitution and the Judiciary Law of the State of New York.”
Because Purtell resigned and agreed not to run for judicial office again, an agreement was made that the Judicial Conduct Committee would suspend its investigation and not issue any punishment.