Cell time for cell phones?

November 30th, 2007 by

Judge Robert Restaino of Niagra Falls NY has given new meaning to the concept of “judicial restraint.” On March 11, 2005, the judge was presiding over a roomful of domestic-violence cases when he heard a cell phone ring. He told the roughly 70 people in the courtroom that “every single person is going to jail in this courtroom” unless the phone was turned over. (For a detailed description of the incident, see the New York Times here.)
“This troubles me more than any of you people can understand,” Judge Restaino said, in what turns out to be an understatement. “This person, whoever he or she may be, doesn’t have a whole lot of concern. Let’s see how much concern they have when they are sitting in the back there with all the rest of you. Ultimately, when you go back there to be booked, you’ve got to surrender what you got on you. One way or another, we’re going to get our hands on something.”
One defendant told the judge, “This is not fair to the rest of us.” To which the judge replied, “I know it isn’t.”
All of the defendants were in the courtroom under a program in which domestic-violence offenders agree to undergo drug and alcohol testing, as well as counseling, in lieu of jail time. Participants make weekly appearances in court to have their progress monitored and are released after each appearance unless they have violated terms of the program. They were all quite familiar with the judge and his courtroom protocol.
Eleven of the defendants had already appeared before the judge that morning and were waiting for the proceedings to end. Someone’s cell phone went off, so Judge Restaino decided to rescind everyone’s release. The defendants were taken to the city jail en masse. Fourteen who could not make bail were taken to the county jail. After receiving inquiries from the local news media, the judge ordered their release in the late afternoon.
Just Following (Unjust) Orders
I find it interesting that the officers of the court carried out what was obviously a whacked out directive from the judge. They were just “following orders.”
Judge Restaino’s actions were reviewed by New York’s judicial oversight commisson. They were not amused. The commission said that Judge Restaino acted “without any semblance of a lawful basis” and behaved like a “petty tyrant.” It said his conduct “transcended poor judgment.” They voted 9-1 to fire him.
The judge has hired a lawyer and is appealing his termination. He knows his rights! He has apologized for his actions and has asked for reinstatement. When Restaino finally gets his day in court, we can reasonably assume that his cell phone will be in the mute or off position.