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Case of alleged underwear-stealing judge drags on in Suffolk County

Suffolk County District Judge Robert Cicale, right, is

Suffolk County District Judge Robert Cicale, right, is escorted out of Suffolk County District Court in Central Islip on March 30, 2018. Credit: Barry Sloan

The pace of justice in the curious case of Suffolk’s alleged underwear-stealing judge has been painfully slow and even more painful for taxpayers — costing $258,180 so far.

Since his arrest in March 2018, suspended District Court Judge Robert Cicale, is facing felony charges for breaking into the home of a neighbor in East Islip and stealing her underwear.

Although he was relieved of his judicial duties within days of his arrest, Cicale has collected his full salary for the past 16 months without working. At the time of his arrest, his annual salary was $193,500 a year. On April 1, Cicale, like other judges, got a raise, bringing his salary to $196,000 a year.

Cicale, 50, of East Islip, pleaded not guilty to second-degree burglary, a Class C felony, in the Cohalan Court Complex in Central Islip where he once presided.

Police said Cicale broke into a neighbor’s home in East Islip, ran away when he realized someone was home, but was apprehended when a patrol officer saw him knocking on another neighbor’s door. Cicale had women's underwear taken from the first home when he was arrested, authorities said. Prosecutors said Cicale later wrote out a confession: “I went into the house to take the panties again but left when I heard someone home. The panties I had on me are from the other times I went into the house.”

For taxpayers, the snail-like pace of the case may seem unfathomable given the confession and a letter of apology Cicale wrote to the neighbor, now 24.

“It reinforces the perception that that’s a two-tiered system of justice — one for the regular people and those who have some kind of political connection,” said Paul Sabatino, a former Suffolk chief deputy county executive. “Repeatedly, judges have been recycled after strange behavior or left in a state of suspended animation like Cicale at full pay.”

For example, former GOP District Court Judge Paul Hensley lost renomination in 2014 after his censure for attending and playing in several Texas Hold ’em games in 2008 at the Fraternal Order of Eagles in Northport. But Hensley got a job as court system attorney and later was resurrected as a County Court judge in a cross-endorsement deal.

Former District Court Judge Janine Barbera-Dalli did not run for re-election after she was accused in 2017 of texting prosecutors from the bench to advise them how to charge and try a case against a defendant. Judicial ethics rules bar judges from communicating privately with one side in a case.

Before his election to the bench three years ago, Cicale had served as Islip Town attorney. At one time he was considered a contender for Suffolk County executive when Republicans were scouring their ranks for a sacrificial lamb to run against Steve Levy, when he was a Democratic incumbent. Ultimately, the GOP backed Levy, who later became a Republican and tried to run for governor before his own exit from office.

The delay in Cicale’s case was due to a motion brought by his former attorney, William Wexler, who in May 2018 asked for appointment of a special prosecutor. Wexler said some on the DA’s staff were interested in Cicale’s judgeship for themselves. Acting state Supreme Court Justice Christopher Quinn later denied the request as baseless.

Justin Block, who with Michael Brown are Cicale’s current attorneys, said, “There have been discussions with the district attorney’s office over possible resolution.” At some point, Cicale, who has a wife and three children ages 10 to 14, will have to decide whether to take whatever prosecutors are offering, or go to trial.

Cicale’s next scheduled court appearance is Sept. 13, but it’s unclear whether there will be any plea agreement by then. Taxpayers will keep paying Cicale’s salary until the case is resolved.

Sheila Kelly, spokeswoman for the Suffolk district attorney's office, declined to comment, saying it is office policy not to comment on pending cases.

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