Judge censured for asking staffers to pray, run errands
Posted Jan 13, 2014 5:49 AM CST
By Debra Cassens Weiss
A Bronx County judge has been censured for asking staffers to participate in religious activities and to run errands for her.
According to an agreed-upon statement of facts cited by the commission, Brigantti-Hughes:
• Asked her secretary and a court attorney to pick up her daughter and babysit the child.
• Brought her child to court and asked staffers to watch her.
• Asked her secretary drive her to the hair salon and to shopping.
• Directed staffers to type or copy religious material for her personal use.
• Asked a court attorney to accompany her to Home Depot to buy and pot plants for a church function.
• Asked court staff to join her in prayer in court chambers, and asked staffers to attend religious events after regular business hours.
On average, Brigantti-Hughes asked staff to help her with personal tasks fewer than five times a year, according to the Dec. 17 commission determination (PDF). The alleged misconduct occurred between 2006 and 2011.
Brigantti-Hughes had obtained permission to hold a Bible study and prayer group during lunch hour at the courthouse, but the requests for staff prayers were made at other times during regular business hours, the determination says. Brigantti-Hughes believed the staff help maximized her time in the courtroom, but “such a belief is neither mitigating nor acceptable,” according to the determination.
Brigantti-Hughes had asserted that she didn’t intend to coerce any staffers into participating in religious activities. She “now recognizes, however, that such requests are inherently coercive when made by a judge to her personal appointees or other court employees,” the determination says.
Brigantti-Hughes referred a request for comment to her lawyer, Ben Rubinowitz. "Obviously, she wants to put this behind her," Rubinowitz tells the ABA Journal. "She has learned from her mistakes" and looks forward to continuing in her job as a trial-level judge on the state's supreme court.