A Nassau County judge is no longer handling criminal cases while being investigated by the court for asking a Muslim defendant to remove a niqab, a religious garment, during a plea hearing last month, multiple sources told Newsday.

Acting Supreme Court Justice Philippe Solages told an attorney for the woman, who wears the garment that covers most of her face for religious purposes, that he needed to verify her identity, the sources said.

The attorney for the 37-year-old woman explained that it would go against her religious custom to show her face to the judge and, after a lengthy exchange, she was eventually identified through other means, according to sources.

Responding to a Newsday inquiry about the incident, a spokesperson for the New York State Office of Court Administration said the “conduct of a judge assigned to criminal matters in Nassau County is being investigated after a correspondence raising concerns about the judge was received by Nassau County Administrative Judge Vito M. DeStefano.”

“While it would be imprudent to publicly address the substantive content of the complaint, Judge DeStefano is actively reviewing the matter to ensure that all appropriate administrative action is taken,” Al Baker, director of communications for the state Office of Court Administration, said in an Oct. 26. statement.

Solages did not respond to requests for comment.

The minutes from the Oct. 24 hearing, which ended with the woman pleading guilty to a sealed violation, were sealed following the disposition, the court clerk’s office confirmed.

An online docket search for Solages shows no pending criminal cases. When asked about the reassignment of cases Nov. 2, the Office of Court Administration said the matter is still “being reviewed.”

“We do not provide commentary regarding the many factors and considerations that must be weighed in making judicial assignment decisions,” Baker said in a statement.

Officials with the Legal Aid Society of Nassau County, which represented the woman, declined to comment. Brendan Brosh, spokesperson for Nassau County District Attorney Anne Donnelly, also declined to comment. 

Isma Chaudhry, co-chair of the Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury, called the incident "Islamophobic."

"There is no other word," Dr. Chaudhry said. "And it's not a concern of one people, it is a concern of all people who follow a faith and ethnicity, who have morality in and are embedded in some kind of a faith tradition."

Chaudhry said some Muslim women choose to wear the niqab, which is similar to a burqa but leaves the eyes uncovered, as "an expression of faith." 

"She was targeted because she covered her face, because that was her expression of her religious identity," Chaudhry said. "It is extremely important for women in Islam to dress up a certain way." 

A New York Court of Claims judge serving as an acting Supreme Court justice, Solages previously worked as a criminal defense attorney and an election lawyer and began his career as a prosecutor with the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, according to an online bio. 

With Craig Schneider

CLARIFICATION: A Nov. 9 article stated that a Nassau judge asked a Muslim defendant to remove her niqab. The interaction was between the judge and the woman's attorney.

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