Michael Santo, village court justice for South Floral Park, fined...

Michael Santo, village court justice for South Floral Park, fined himself after he missed his own court session. He wrote a court order directing himself to pay the $150 fine as well as forfeited his $100 monthly salary. (April 19, 2012) Credit: Newsday/Danielle Finkelstein

Judge Michael Santo was sorely displeased -- with himself.

After 17 years dispensing justice every third Monday of the month on matters of traffic, civil and zoning in the Hempstead village of South Floral Park, he had failed to appear at court.

On the March night in question, he said, he had been preparing for a trip; he had simply forgotten. That was an excuse that was no excuse, Santo found. So, he fined himself $150 and ordered himself to forfeit the $100 he would normally be paid for sitting on the bench that month.

Reaction from officials of the 1,601-resident village was unanimous and swift: You realize you don't have to do this, right?

"We insisted to him that it was not necessary for him to fine himself," said Mayor Geoffrey Prime. "We all forget dates sometimes," said Marlene Melendez, the court clerk.

But Santo, whose four-year term expires in 2014, would not be swayed. As the New York Law Journal reported this week, he issued a court order offering an apology "to all in a manner as public as possible in order to demonstrate the sincerity of his position." He also gave himself 10 days to pay his fine.

Santo, a Bellmore resident and medical malpractice lawyer in Uniondale, explained the circumstances surrounding the matter Thursday.

He was preparing for a 6 a.m. trek to Washington, D.C.'s Smithsonian Institution to view documents related to what is believed to be an original print of Pablo Picasso's "Woman With Cape," an oil painting from the artist's early 20th century blue period.

If authentic, he said, "it would be one of the very first to be copied in terms of a master like Picasso."

Nevertheless, the matter of the court was "really embarrassing," he said. With Prime's consent, Santo later dismissed the cases he was to have heard.

He said he felt he'd let down the community and his colleagues on the court. "The village residents should know their judge, who they elected, made a mistake, and he admits it."

Santo plans to be back on the bench on the third Monday of May, and warned that laws will be enforced, penalties assessed. "Don't speed, don't use a cellphone while you're driving, don't go through stop signs. The pass is up; there are too many kids in the area."

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