ALBANY -- A state commission Wednesday determined a Southampton Town judge committed "acts of misconduct," but ordered that Justice Edward D. Burke Sr. be censured instead of removed from office.
The Commission on Judicial Conduct, in a 9-0 decision, said Burke should be sanctioned for four misconduct charges. But it overruled a court administrator who had recommended removing the longtime Republican jurist from the bench. The commission, in a report released Wednesday, said Burke's actions included:
Riding in a police car with a defendant after arraigning him on a charge of driving while intoxicated, and recommending the suspect hire an attorney who was the judge's business partner.
Using his judicial title to promote his law firm.
Imposing fines that exceeded the maximum authorized by law.
Making improper political contributions through his law and business partners.
"The record before us demonstrates that respondent engaged in behavior, both on and off the bench, that was inconsistent with well-established ethical standards prohibiting judges from lending the prestige of judicial office to advance private interests and requiring every judge, inter alia, to maintain professional competence in the law and to avoid even the appearance of impropriety," the commission said in a statement.
The 72-year-old Sag Harbor resident has been a Southampton Town justice since 2008, and had previously served in that post from 1994 to 2000, according to the commission. From 2000 to 2007, Burke was a judge of the Court of Claims and an acting Supreme Court justice. He is a partner at the law firm of Burke and Sullivan in Southampton.
Censure amounts to a public reprimand. Burke could appeal the ruling to the state's highest court -- but he won't, his lawyer said, noting that Burke no longer faces removal from the bench. "These were isolated mistakes in a 20-year career of distinguished judicial service, which Judge Burke is pleased to continue," said Paul Shechtman.
Commission administrator Robert Tembeckjian, who said Burke should be removed from the bench, said he respected the panel's decision. "I prosecute the case and recommend the result. But the commission makes the decision," Tembeckjian said in a statement. "Sometimes we agree and sometimes we do not."
The report said Burke fined suspects more than the maximum allowed on 200 occasions between 2008 and 2011. In most instances, he fined them $200 instead of $150 after they had bargained speeding tickets down to non-moving violations. The report said Burke was notified of the $150 maximum in 2008 but continued to levy the $200 fine.
Burke's law firm and realty business made $7,500 in political contributions from 2004-10, the report said. The judge said he signed two of the checks, but was unaware of the other contributions. The report said Burke "acknowledged that the contributions were improper and that he failed to take appropriate steps to ensure that his law firm and his business adhered to the limitations on making political contributions while he was a judge."