The New York judge who bragged about pulling a gun on a Black defendant has finally been removed from the bench — more than six years after the incident. In an 11-1 vote on Thursday, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct commission ordered that Whitehall Town Court Justice Robert J. Putorti be removed from the bench for “an incident that had the appearances of racial bias,” the local website Syracuse.com reported.
The Washington County justice, who is white, exaggerated the man’s stature, describing him as 6-foot, 9-inches tall, and built like a football player. In fact, the man was 6 feet tall and 165 pounds, the commission found.
Though the exact date wasn’t revealed, the incident reportedly took place in late 2015, or early 2016 — less than two years after Putorti took office in 2014.
At a judge’s conference in 2018, the former justice bragged about an incident that had been largely forgotten — or ignored, depending on how you look at it. Putorti also shared details with a cousin and his judicial supervisor. The commission opened its investigation shortly after.
“A courtroom is no place for a judge to brandish or point a gun at a litigant,” the commission stated in its report. “It also faulted the judge for repeating the defendant’s race for no reason, as well as exaggerating his stature to explain why he needed to pull the gun,” Syracuse.com wrote.
“But for the fact that it happened in this case, it would otherwise be unfathomable for a judge to brandish a weapon in court, without provocation or justification.,” Robert Tembeckjian, a commission administrator, said in a news release. “To then brag about it repeatedly with irrelevant racial remarks is utterly indefensible and inimical to the role of a judge.”
The defendant appeared before then-Justice Putorti after being charged with a felony for allegedly pulling a knife on his wife and another male. A plea was entered without incident, but a later appearance by the same defendant wouldn’t go so smoothly.
Allegedly stepping over the courtroom stop line, Judge Putorti told colleagues that “he had pulled a gun after fearing for his life at the hands of a large Black man.”
In subsequent conversations, Putorti admitted that he really had no reason to believe that his life was in danger when he pulled the gun.
There was a lone dissenter, attorney Ronald Rosenberg, who doesn’t believe Putorti’s actions were racially motivated because of the plea he originally agreed to. Unless the state’s high court reverses the removal, the commission’s decision is binding.
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