Legal Ethics

Top New York court affirms removal of judge who admitted 1972 sexual misconduct with child

New York’s highest court has affirmed the removal of a family court judge accused of sexual misconduct with a 5-year-old child in 1972, a year before he became a lawyer.

The court ruled in an appeal by former Judge Bryan Hedges of Onondaga County, who sought to overturn his retroactive removal in August 2012 by the state Commission on Judicial Conduct. The Syracuse Standard and the Legal Profession Blog note the opinion (PDF).

Hedges resigned in April 2012 after the accusation surfaced. “While the exact events are subject to dispute,” the Court of Appeals said, “petitioner has admitted to sexual contact with the child, which he has described as indefensible.”

The judicial commission had alleged the encounter unfolded when the girl entered a bedroom where Hedges, then 25 and a law student, was masturbating, according to prior coverage of the case by the New York Times and the New York Law Journal. Hedges and the now-grown woman differ on whether he encouraged her to touch his hand during the incident. He told the commission he was “half asleep” when the child entered the room and stopped when he realized what was happening.

The Court of Appeals said the admitted conduct undermined the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary, making Hedges unfit for judicial office.

“It is troubling that the petition is based solely on conduct that occurred 40 years ago—13 years before petitioner was elevated to the bench,” the Court of Appeals said. “Nevertheless, the misconduct alleged is grave by any standard. Further, the significant danger of fading memories is tempered somewhat under the circumstances of this particular case, where petitioner admits that conduct of this nature in fact occurred.”

We welcome your comments, but please adhere to our comment policy and the ABA Code of Conduct.

Commenting is not available in this channel entry.