ALBANY, N.Y. (CN) – Niagara Falls City Judge Robert Restaino was removed from office in an apparent case of telephone rage. Frustrated that no one owned up to the cacophonous cell phone that rang in the back of his courtroom, Restaino sent 46 defendants to jail.
The New York Court of Appeals said removal was proper, because Restaino acted in a way that eroded confidence in his ability to render fair, rational judgments.
When the cell phone went off, Restaino told the defendants in his courtroom, “Now, whoever owns the instrument that is ringing, bring it to me now or everybody could take a week in jail and please don’t tell me I’m the only one that heard that.”
After a fruitless inquiry to find the owner, he reiterated, “Everyone is going to jail; every single person is going to jail in this courtroom unless I get that instrument now. If anybody believes I’m kidding, ask some of the folks that have been here for a while. You are all going.”
He questioned the 35 remaining defendants and recalled 11 defendants whom he had previously released before the phone rang. Dissatisfied with their responses, he revoked their recognizance release and imposed bail. He even set bail for a petitioner who had been standing next to the judge when the phone rang in the back of the room.
He then ranted about the breach of courtroom decorum. “You know, for some of you folks, this hurts me more than you imagine because someone in this courtroom has no consideration for you, no consideration for me and just doesn’t care,” he said. “Some of you people may not be in the (same) economic situation (as) this selfish person … (is who) put(s) their interests (sic) above everybody else’s. They don’t care what happens to anybody.”
The 46 defendants were transported to the city jail, booked, searched and placed in holding cells. Thirty-two defendants posted bail, while the remaining 14 who could not post bail were shackled and bused to the county jail.
The state court said the circumstances qualified as “truly egregious” to merit removal from office. “(I)t is ironic that petitioner displayed the very attributes by which he accused and summarily punished each defendant,” the court added. Restaino had “more than 46 chances to correct himself and failed to do so.”