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Three Niagara Alums Set Standards for New York State Judges

When members of the New York state judiciary question whether or not their conduct is in accordance with the standards and policies established by the Chief Administrator of the Courts, they turn to the Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics, a committee of their peers. Three of the members of this influential group are Niagara University alumni.

State Supreme Court Judge Jerome C. Gorski, ’58, and Town of Lewiston Justice and longtime professor in the College of Education ThomasJ. Sheeran, M.S.Ed.’77, are among the 26 members of the ACJE. Valley Stream Village Justice Robert G. Bogle, ’79, is a faculty advisor. Collectively, they have served for more than a quarter of a century, debating and interpreting the rules that regulate judicial conduct for the state’s more than 3,000 full- and part-time judges and justices and other quasi-judicial officials, including judicial hearing officers,support magistrates, and court attorney-referees.

The ACJE was formed in 1987 to help New York state’s judges and justices adhere to the high standards set forth in the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct. In 1988, the New York State Legislature codified the ACJE’s creation. Since then, the committee has issued approximately 140 to 220 formal opinions annually in response to questions from judges, justices and quasi-judicial officers about the propriety of their own conduct.

Inquiries can range from possible ethical concerns regarding membership in various legal and community organizations to election campaign conduct and contributions. More recently, inquiries have been made concerning issues of the day; for example, may a judge hear a case that involves a Facebook “friend”? While the inquiries are confidential, the decisions are public and offer valuable guidance to the members of the state judiciary, particularly in circumstances that are not specifically governed by a particular rule.

“To my knowledge,” notes Gorski, “no judge in the state has been disciplined by the Judicial Conduct Commission after they have been advised by our committee that the course of conduct about which the judge has inquired comports with the rules and is otherwise ethical.”

Because committee members represent a wide variety of constituencies, from courts in the Bronx and Manhattan to those from the rural parts of the Adirondacks and the Finger Lakes, they often engage in considerable debate and discussion before coming to a decision. Interestingly, the three NU alumni find that, more often than not, their opinions are aligned, something Sheeran attributes to their shared Niagara experience.

“What we see and promote is largely grounded in our NU mission,” he notes. “We are on the same page in our opinions, grounded in the mission’s dignity of the human person, which is the primary focus of what drives our decisions.”

Once made, these decisions are published as formal opinions. Judges who take actions in accordance with these opinions are “presumed proper” for purposes of any subsequent investigation by the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct.

“It is clear that we serve a very serious and vital function for the judges throughout the state of New York and it is well into the thousands in terms of individuals we give guidance to,” says Bogle. “The major concerns that we face would be unaddressed if our committee did not exist, and judges who want to do the right thing would be left to face either impeachment or removal.”