The state Commission on Judicial Conduct censured a Southampton Town Justice for four acts of misconduct, but will allow him to remain on the bench.
The commission issued a statement on Wednesday announcing the censuring of Judge Edward Burke Sr. of Sag Harbor, who was a town justice from 1994 to 2000 and again from 2008 to the present. He was backed by the Republican, Democrat, Independence and Conservative parties in his last election in 2011. Judge Burke also was a Court of Claims judge and an acting state Supreme Court justice from 2000 to 2007. He is one of four elected judges in Southampton Town.
In a decision that was made in late April, the four acts for which Judge Burke was censured include:
1-riding in a police car with a defendant after arraigning him on a driving while intoxicated charge, and then recommending that he hire an attorney who is a business partner of Judge Burkes’ and then presiding over that man’s case;
2-using his judicial title to promote his law firm on a web site;
3-imposing fines that exceeded the maximum amount authorized by law;
4-making improper political contributions from his law firm while he was in office.
The commission’s administrator, Robert Tembeckjian, recommended that Judge Burke be removed from office. However, the commission only recommended censure, which carries no penalty. Judge Burke is the 216th town or village court justice to be publicly censured since 1978.
Judge Burke’s office sent calls for comment to his attorney, Paul Shechtman, who said, ”I’m happy to say that Judge Burke’s mistakes were minor ones in a 20-year career of distinguished judicial service in which he is pleased to continue.”
According to the commission report, the case involving the DWI goes back to March 14, 2009, when Michael Matus of Amagansett was before the judge for arraignment on a DWI charge. Judge Burke suspended Mr. Matus’s license and released him on his own recognizance. After the arraignment, Mr. Matus had said he left his car at a service station and asked police for a ride home, according to the commission report.
Mr. Matus was driven to his home in a police car with Judge Burke sitting in the front seat, the report states. While in the car, Mr. Matus said the suspension of his license would create a hardship because he needed to drive his wife to the city for cancer treatment. Judge Burke told him he could apply for a hardship from the court, and when Mr. Matus said he didn’t know any lawyers, Judge Burke recommended Amagansett attorney Tina Piette, who is co-owner of two real estate investment properties with Judge Burke.
Mr. Matus did hire Ms. Piette, who told him she could not appear before Judge Burke, but could help him prepare the application for relief, which she did. Judge Burke approved the hardship license to allow Mr. Matus to drive his wife to a medical facility in the city, according to the report.
The issue involving the web page stems from March 2010, when Burke and Sullivan, the judge’s private law firm, had a section on its web site saying that “The Hon. Edward D. Burke is an outstanding and respected jurist,” which is in violation of rules that place limitations on the use of a judicial position to promote his law firm.
The third issue states that between 2008 and 2011, Judge Burke imposed more than 200 fines that were higher that what was authorized by state law.
The majority of these were for parking violations, which carry a maximum fine of $150, and for which the judge was imposing $200 fines, the report says.
The fourth charge claimed that Burke and Sullivan, in which Mr. Burke has a majority ownership, made about 30 campaign contributions to political organizations totaling $6,500 from May 2008 to June 2010, when Mr. Burke was in office as a town judge.
Edward D. Burke Realty Co., a real estate company owned by Judge Burke between 2004 and 2009, also made five political contributions totaling $1,000, the commission report states. The judge claimed that except for two checks that he signed, he was unaware the companies had made the political contributions, but he acknowledged they were improper, according to the commission report.
Mr. Tembeckjian said in a statement that the commission and its administrator play different roles in a formal disciplinary process.
“I prosecute the case and recommend a result, but the commission makes the decision.”
He said he recommended removal from office, but the commission voted only to censure Judge Burke. He said he respects and accepts the commission’s decision and “we move on to other matters.”