Judge accused of ordering handcuffing, jailing of litigants should be removed, commission says

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The New York Commission on Judicial Conduct has recommended the removal of a Sullivan County judge accused of ordering the jailing and handcuffing of litigants for contempt without following procedural safeguards.

The commission recommended the removal of Judge Michael McGuire in a March 18 determination, according to a March 26 press release.

According to the commission, McGuire abused his contempt powers in six cases, including two cases in which he sent people to jail for 30 days without following the proper procedures.

In one instance, a litigant asked McGuire to recuse himself because he knew the judge’s son, prompting a “startling outburst” and the month-long sentence, the commission said.

McGuire said he had regarded the statement as a threat to his son.

In the other case, a litigant said she wanted to “get out of this f—ing courtroom” after McGuire “berated” her about her parenting, the commission said.

The commission also found McGuire ordered the handcuffing of three mothers and a grandmother in family court proceedings. The litigants were detained for periods ranging from 15 minutes to almost two hours.

In one case, an unrepresented litigant said she would not send her daughter to her father’s house if she did not want to go. After McGuire ordered the woman to be taken into custody, she was held for nearly two hours.

When the woman returned to the courtroom, McGuire asked, “How’s the handcuffs feeling?”

The woman said the cuffs hurt her wrists and she was sorry.

“You’re not going to come into this courtroom or any other courtroom in this county and behave like this,” McGuire said. “This is not The Jerry Springer Show.”

Another handcuffed woman complained of chest pain and shortness of breath in custody, prompting a call to paramedics, the determination said.

Paramedics were called in another matter when a grandmother complained of shortness of breath after McGuire yelled at her and said something about handcuffs, witnesses told the commission.

The commission also found that McGuire:

• Demonstrated an inappropriate demeanor toward litigants, lawyers, staff and others.

In one instance, McGuire became upset when a staff member told him there was no one in the information technology department at 7:50 a.m. to help him with a computer problem. McGuire shouted and threw a computer jump drive across the desk toward the staff member, according to the determination.

• Failed to disqualify himself in cases in which his close friend appeared as counsel.

• Occasionally practiced law while he was a full-time judge.

The commission said McGuire “abused his authority in an especially egregious way” when he deprived litigants of their liberty.

“It is most troubling that [McGuire], who lectured litigants about freedoms available in the United States, violated those very freedoms when he ordered six litigants to be detained without any basic due process let alone strict compliance with the mandatory procedural safeguards in summary contempt matters,” the determination said.

“Furthermore, although respondent purported to be concerned with decorum in his courtroom and respect toward his judicial office, the record is replete with instances of respondent’s angry outbursts toward both litigants and court personnel.”

McGuire’s lawyer, Stephen Coffey, did not immediately respond to an ABA Journal voice mail requesting comment.

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