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NY State Commission says Erie County Family Court Judge should be Censured

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The New York State Commission On Judicial Conduct has determined that Erie County Family Court Judge, Paul G. Buchanan, should be censured for making an ex parte visit to a hospitalized teen who was involved in a juvenile delinquency case he was presiding over. According to a December 27 press release, the recommendation was also based on incidents when Buchanan shouted at, demeaned and berated an attorney and a probation officer who had appeared before him.

Buchanan's visit to a 14-year-old girl in 2009 after she overdosed and was hospitalized appears to have been well-intentioned. According to the Commission's decision, he gave her an age-appropriate book and cookies and "told her that her mother and grandmother loved her and that she had a lot to live for." However, Buchanan did not notify or seek authorization for the visit from the girl's mother, doctor, attorney or the attorney for the presentment agency. Nor did he recuse himself from the case, when the attorney for the presentment agency filed a motion seeking his recusal.

Concerning the visit to the girl, the commission wrote:

"Respondent should have recognized that such an unauthorized, private visit, however well-intentioned, would create an appearance of impropriety and compromise his impartiality (Rules, ยง1OO.2[A]) and thus was inconsistent with the proper role of a judge. A judge is not a therapist or social worker and has a responsibility, especially when dealing with vulnerable, troubled litigants, to ensure that appropriate boundaries are maintained. Respondent's misconduct is exacerbated by his failure to disclose the ex parte meeting and his failure to recuse himself promptly thereafter."

The incidents involving Buchanan acting discourteous to professionals appearing in his courtroom went beyond simply acting discourteous on at least one occasion. According to the commission's determination:

"In Farrar v. Kinne, a custody and visitation matter, respondent not only was discourteous to the law guardian who was attempting to assert his rights as the attorney for the child, but also foreclosed the attorney from exercising his rights. Respondent conducted an abbreviated hearing that deprived the parties of a full right to be heard and created an appearance that he engineered the result. By foreclosing cross-examination, he failed to afford an essential element of due process. Foreclosing the mother's attorney from cross-examining the father seem's to indicate that respondent had already decided he would rule in the mother's favor."

Buchanan acknowledged "that his actions were inconsistent with the ethical standards and the procedures required by law." He co-operated with the commission and pledged "to conduct himself in accordance with the Rules in the future."

The commission's full determination can be read here.

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