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DivorceLocal Justice in New York The Abuse of Law and Power

September 26, 2006

Imagine, you have been kicked and choked by your spouse, your life has been threatened, you summon the strength and courage to seek intervention, you call the police and, when you finally go to court to press charges, you hear a judge say "Every woman needs a good pounding now and then." 

According to a special report in the New York Times, this actually happened in an upstate New York village court. Alarmingly, according to the report, this type of ignorant justice is not an isolated incident.  It may be typical of the local courts statewide. 

In alarming detail, William Glaberson details how "local justice" is dispensed by unqualified and untrained judges, some barely possessing a high school education.  The article points out that New York demands more training for its manicurists and hair stylists than for the local judges. The judges are not screened for competence, temperament, or even reading ability.  (In the second part of the series,  one judge’s reading comprehension is questioned.)  Worse, yet, there is little, if any, oversight of the local judiciary.

In areas outside of New York City, these local courts may be the court of first instance in domestic violence cases. The defendant may be arraigned in these courts and a temporary order of protection issued. While some allegations of domestic violence may be suspect, many others are well founded. Domestic violence matters require particular sensitivity. Unquestionably, a victim of domestic violence and abuse must be protected. On the other hand, safeguards must be in place to protect the falsely accused.

Unfortunately, the article demonstrates, often a judge’s ignorance, bias and prejudice becomes the rule of law:

In 20 years in office in Haverstraw, north of New York City in Rockland County, Justice Ralph T. Romano drew attention for his opinions on women, state files show. Arraigning a man in 1997 on charges that he had hit his wife in the face with a telephone, he laughed and asked, “What was wrong with this?” Arraigning a woman on charges that she had sexually abused a 12-year-old boy, the justice asked his courtroom, “Where were girls like this when I was 12?”

Across the Hudson, Joseph Cerbone, the Mount Kisco justice with the miniature violin, persuaded a young woman to drop her abuse case against the son of a couple he had done legal work for. She told the commission that while she did not believe the justice’s claim that the son was “a decent guy” who had “made a mistake,” she had no choice.

“I kind of felt I had no one behind me, no support,” she said. “And by getting a phone call from a judge, I felt that maybe I was making a mistake by going through with these charges.”

Quite simply, this article is a wake up call and a reminder that we have not evolved as far as we think we have.

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