Judge censured for being at poker games

Judge Paul Hensley is shown on Tuesday, August Judge Paul Hensley is shown on Tuesday, August 12, 2008 in Central Islip. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp, 2008

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A state commission has censured Suffolk County District Judge Paul M. Hensley for participating in illegal poker games in 2008, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct announced Friday.

Censure is a public reprimand for the judge, who has sat on the bench since 2002.

The judge played in several "Texas Hold 'em" games for money that were held at the Fraternal Order of Eagles facility in Northport in the summer and fall of 2008, according to the commission.

Hensley's "conduct showed insensitivity to the high ethical standards incumbent on judges and detracts from the dignity of judicial office," the commission wrote in its censure determination. "Such conduct affects public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary, even though it is unrelated to [Hensley's] performance on the bench."

Playing in an illegal poker game is not a crime, but running one is. That means that Hensley was witnessing a crime take place every time he played or attended games in which he didn't play.

"A judge should not be in a venue where illegal activities are taking place," said Robert Tembeckjian, administrator and counsel for the commission. "He was very cooperative and contrite and realized that even though he was not personally organizing or profiting from these games that as a judge, he shouldn't have been there because he knew that they were illegal."

Hensley's attorney, David Besso, said the judge accepted responsibility for his actions.

"He recognized that he showed poor judgment and nothing within the committee's report reflects on his integrity on the bench," Besso said. "He basically took his punishment and now he's going to go on with his career."

Suffolk County police raided the fraternal order's facility on the night of Nov. 5, 2008, when Hensley was celebrating his re-election victory from the day before. Hensley was not gambling at the time of the raid, but a game was going on and he had played in previous tournament games. At those games players paid entry fees of $120 and could win prizes up to $1,250.

Hensley, a member of the Conservative Party who also ran on the Republican ticket, was appointed to the bench in the summer of 2002 to fill a vacancy. He won an election for the post in the fall of 2002. His current term runs through 2014.

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