By Mara Certic
Southampton Town Justice Edward D. Burke Sr., has been censured by the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct for four acts of misconduct, it was announced Wednesday, May 28.
Mr. Burke has been cited for using his position to promote his law firm; imposing fines in excess of the maximum amount authorized by law; making improper political contributions; and riding in a police car with a defendant after arraigning him on a drunken driving charge, recommending that the defendant hire his business partner, and then presiding over the case.
Robert H. Tembeckjian, the commission’s administrator, had argued that Mr. Burke be removed from office. “I recommended removal, but the commission voted to censure the judge,” he wrote in a statement issued on Wednesday morning. A censure is an official reprimand of a public official for inappropriate conduct.
Nine members on the commission agreed to the censure in a determination dated April 21. A 10th did not participate. Coincidentally, it was the same day that a New York State Supreme Court ordered former East Hampton Town Justice Catherine Cahill to pay back $1 million in misappropriated funds.
Mr. Burke, who was admitted to the New York State Bar in 1970, has held his post on the Southampton Town Court since 2008—his term expires on December 31, 2015. He previously served in the same position from 1994 to 2000 and as a judge on the Court of Claims and a Supreme Court justice from 2000 until 2007.
In its determination, the commission found that Mr. Burke’s conduct while presiding over a D.W.I case “breached the appropriate boundaries between a judge and a litigant and thereby created ‘a very public appearance of impropriety,’ which adversely affects public confidence in the judiciary as a whole.”
According to the determination, over the span of two years Mr. Burke had imposed excessive fines in over 200 traffic cases involving plea agreements, undeterred by the court clerk’s advice that they were unlawfully high. The commission stated that the clerk’s warnings should have put Mr. Burke “on notice of an important issue and should have prompted him to make sure he was acting in compliance with the law.”
The judge was cited for improper political contributions made by both his law firm and business, which amounted to $7,500. The commission also condemned him for “laudatory descriptions of his ability and reputation as a judge” on his law firm’s personal website.
Mr. Burke’s attorney, Paul Schechtman of Zuckerman Spaeder LLP, said “these were isolated mistakes in a 20-year career of distinguished judicial service that Judge Burke is pleased to continue.”