ROCHESTER, N.Y. (CN) – After 15 years as judge in western New York’s Monroe County, Matthew Rosenbaum agreed in a stipulation with the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct to never again seek or accept a judicial position in the state’s judiciary.
Dated Jan. 13, the 2-page stipulation notes only that Rosenbaum “made improper and at times abusive personal demands of court staff, directly or indirectly conveying that continued employment required submitting to such demands, and creating a hostile workplace environment.”
Though details of the decision remain carefully guarded, commission administrator Robert Tembeckjian noted in a statement Wednesday: “The matter against Judge Rosenbaum was of such magnitude that, notwithstanding his resignation, it was important to make sure he would never return to the bench.”
The initial investigation began last November by the state’s Office of Court Administration after Rosenbaum was re-elected to his judgeship. Rosenbaum was later relieved from hearing any cases, and he voluntarily vacated his seat on Dec. 31.
The 11-member Commission on Judicial Conduct, which began looking into the matter in late December, voted unanimously in favor of the stipulation. One of the commissioners, a town justice from Monroe County named John Falk, recused himself. It is not clear whether he did so because he knew Rosenbaum personally.
A spokesman for the OCA declined to comment on the allegations against Rosenbaum, citing an investigation by the state’s Inspector General, and did not say whether criminal charges could or would be referred to county or state district attorneys.
The details of what exactly Rosenbaum allegedly did — or indeed, whether the complaints allegedly involved criminal behavior — are still under wraps due the terms of the stipulation itself. Rosenbaum agreed only to allow the commission to release the brief stipulation itself.
Such stipulations typically come after lengthy investigations by the commission, and several of the commission’s 89 stipulations remain essentially sealed.
In Rosenbaum’s case, however, the investigation was done far quicker than usual.
State law specifies that the commission has 120 days after a judge’s resignation to conclude all proceedings, far less time than the independent agency typically takes for such matters. By agreeing to resign, Rosenbaum avoided having to go through a potentially arduous investigation — and nullified the possibility the underlying investigative report would become public.
“This was very early in the process,” Tembeckjian said in an interview, noting that typically the commission would call witnesses and examine documents except in cases where there was irrefutable proof of wrongdoing.
“Whatever the calculation was on his side, I can’t speak to,” Tembeckjian said, adding later in the interview that “one of the tradeoffs in entering into such a stipulation is that it closes off our ability to maintain a record.”
The commission can only censure and remove judges and has no power to issue civil penalties or file criminal charges, so the stipulation is the maximum penalty Rosenbaum could have received anyway. “It certainly leads to a certainty of results and accomplishes all that we could have if we played the matter out,” Tembeckjian noted.
If Rosenbaum decides later to defy the stipulation, the Commission on Judicial Conduct could publicly censure him and then forcibly remove him from office, essentially the same punishment he currently faces.
Meanwhile, Rosenbaum will continue to draw a pension. Under state law, judges continue to receive pension benefits regardless of whether they resign or are removed from the bench, Tembeckjian said.
Under the stipulation Rosenbaum acknowledges knowing about the complaints but did not admit to engaging in the conduct.
Rosenbaum’s attorney, Robert Julian, did not return calls or emails seeking comment. Julian, a retired justice with the New York State Supreme Court, has represented other state justices who had faced discipline.
Administrative Justice Craig Doran has since reassigned Rosenbaum’s case load to three other justices in the 7th District.