An unprecedented fit of pique has cost a U.S. judge his judicial career. Last week, New York state’s commission on judicial conduct recommended the removal of Niagara Falls, N.Y., city court Judge Robert M. Restaino, who jailed 46 people after a cellphone went off in his courtroom—and no one confessed to the interruption. The 10-member panel said Justice Restaino “became a petty tyrant,” acting “without any semblance of a lawful basis” in the March 2005 incident.
The 48-year-old judge was presiding over a slate of domestic-violence cases when the phone disturbed the morning proceedings. Restaino, an ll-year veteran of the court, ordered the owner of the ringing phone to identify himself. When no one came forward, the city judge snapped. “Everyone is going to jail—every single person is going to jail in this courtroom unless I get that instrument now,” he said. “If anybody believes I’m kidding, ask some of the folks that have been here for a while. You are all going.” True to his word, Restaino imprisoned 46 members of the audience, repeatedly admonishing the “selfish” person who refused to take responsibility for the phone.
“This is not fair to the rest of us,” one defendant told the judge, who replied, “I know it isn’t.” Another complained, “This ain’t right.” The judge responded: “You’re right, it ain’t right. Ain’t right at all.” At one point, Justice Restaino even hopped from the bench to pat down a man wearing
a black trench coat, hoping to find the phone.
Though most posted the $1,500 bail,14 people did not. They were handcuffed, shackled, and shipped to the nearby Niagara County Jail. The judge did not order their release until 5 p.m.—after fielding calls from local media—allowing them to languish in prison for over six hours. Restaino, a one-time public defender who blames “stress in his personal life” for his behaviour, will appeal the ruling. The owner of the ringing phone was never identified. M
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