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Long IslandPolitics

Smithtown judge fails to get qualified rating, officials say

Barbera-Dalli was accused of texting prosecutors from the bench to advise them how to charge and try a case.

Suffolk County District Court Judge Janine Barbera-Dalli failed to get a qualified rating Wednesday night from the Suffolk Bar Association’s board of directors, blocking her nomination for a second term, Republican and Conservative party officials say.

The ruling came after Barbera-Dalli was accused in December of texting prosecutors from the bench to advise them how to charge and try a case against a defendant in apparent violation of judicial ethics that bar judges from communicating privately with one side in a case.

The 21-member board acted after a hearing at association headquarters in Hauppauge. Its ruling upheld earlier decisions of the association’s screening committee, which initially declined to give Barbera-Dalli a qualified rating and, after a rehearing, declined to change its position.

Barbera-Dalli declined to comment.

Patricia Meisenheimer, bar association president, also declined to comment, saying the information is confidential.

Both Republican and Democratic officials have voluntarily agreed not to nominate candidates for judicial positions who fail to get a qualified rating from the bar association. The association’s final action came on the eve of the Suffolk Republicans’ county convention, scheduled Thursday night at the Selden Fire Department. Conservative officials are expected to finalize their nomination during the weekend.

Barbera-Dalli is expected to be replaced on the GOP ballot line with Paul Hennings, 57, a St. James Conservative who is a law clerk for State Supreme Court Justice Linda Kevins, also a Conservative, said Bill Ellis, Smithtown GOP chairman.

The salary for a District Court judge is $193,500 a year.

Barbera-Dalli, 57, a Conservative judge elected in 2012, oversaw court cases related to human trafficking. She sent messages to prosecutors shortly before a trial was to begin in Central Islip for a defendant charged with heroin possession and loitering. Barbera-Dalli drew widespread condemnation from lawyers and legal ethicists for her actions, which included advising how to get Legal Aid removed from the case.

Prosecutors disclosed the texts to the defendant’s Legal Aid attorney, who then asked that Barbera-Dalli recuse herself, which she did. Shortly after the incident, Barbera-Dalli was reassigned to Small Claims Court.

At the time of the incident, former acting Suffolk District Attorney Emily Constant said Barbera-Dalli’s actions should be reviewed by the state Commission on Judicial Conduct. A commission spokeswoman declined to comment Thursday.

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