WELCOME GUEST  |  LOG IN
hamptons local events, express news group
27east.com

Story - News

May 28, 2014 12:35 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Southampton Town Justice Censured By State Commission On Judicial Conduct

Jun 4, 2014 11:27 AM

A veteran Southampton Town justice has been censured by the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct, which said he acted inappropriately for a sitting judge.

According to the censure document, issued on Wednesday, May 28, the commission found that Town Justice Edward D. Burke Sr. committed four acts of misconduct. They include riding in a police car with a defendant after arraigning him on a charge of DWI, and recommending that the defendant hire an attorney who was his business partner, using his judicial title to promote his law firm, imposing fines that exceed the maximum authorized by law, and making improper political contributions.

Calls to Judge Burke’s office were referred to his attorney, Paul Shechtman of New York-based firm Zuckerman Spaeder LLP, who did not return several calls seeking comment over the past week.

A censure is the most severe form of written punishment that the commission can authorize against a practicing judge.

There were several hearings held before the commission before the censure document was released. As a result of those proceedings, the commission’s administrator, Robert H. Tembeckjian, recommended that Judge Burke be removed from his position—a motion the commission rejected.

Judge Burke has been a Southampton Town justice since 2008, and had previously served in the same position from 1994 through July 2000. His current term expires on December 31, 2015. From 2000 to 2007, he was a judge of the Court of Claims and an Acting State Supreme Court Justice.

The first charge of riding in a police car with a defendant and recommending legal counsel in business with Judge Burke stems from an incident on March 14, 2009, when the defendant, Michael Matus, was charged with DWI while driving in Sag Harbor. At the time of arraignment, Judge Burke suspended Mr. Matus’s driver’s license and released him on his own recognizance, and told him he could apply for a hardship driver’s license. After arraignment, the defendant asked police for a ride to his home in Sag Harbor, and Judge Burke accompanied him in the car, sitting in the front seat.

According to the censure, during the car ride, Judge Burke told Mr. Matus he could no longer hear his case because he rode in the police car with him, and, after learning he did not have an attorney, recommended Tina Piette, with whom he was co-owner of two real estate investment properties at the time. On March 17, Judge Burke was scheduled to sit on the bench during Mr. Matus’s hearing for a hardship driver’s license, opted not to recuse himself and, thinking it was only administrative work, issued the hardship license.

The second charge, of using his judicial title to promote his law firm and business, stems from the following paragraph written on the website for his law firm, Burke and Sullivan, PLLC. “The Hon. Edward D. Burke, Sr., is an outstanding and respected jurist, serving as a Southampton Town Justice (1994-2000 and 2008 to present) having been elected in 1993, 1995, 1999, and 2007. In August of 2000, he was appointed as New York State Court of Claims Judge and assigned to the Supreme Court Bench in Riverhead, where he earned the respect and trust of his colleagues and the public through his fair and wise administration of justice.”

According to Judge Burke, he did not control the company website, and was not aware the excerpt appeared on the site, though he admitted he did not tell his law office the limitations on using his position as a justice to promote his own private practice.

Charge three of imposing fines exceeding the maximum authorized by law refers to more than 200 occasions between late 2008 and January 2011 where he imposed fines higher than allowed, most often $200 instead of $150, in cases involving defendants who pleaded guilty to vehicle and traffic law violations.

According to documents, the chief Southampton Town Court clerk learned that the maximum fine for a vehicle traffic law violation was $150, and she notified all the town justices of the same. Despite knowing the amount, Judge Burke continued issuing higher fines until January 2011, according to the document. It goes on to state that Judge Burke thought the amount was permissible because the district attorney’s office had recommended a similar amount.

The final charge, of making improper political donations, was a response to several checks written by the law firm Burke & Sullivan from May 2008 through June 2010, some of which were signed by Judge Burke himself. The checks were payments to attend politically sponsored events and golf outings. The contributions, according to documents, were not made when Justice Burke was running for office, and they were outside the window period for judicial candidates.

“The record before us demonstrates that respondent engaged in behavior, both on and off the bench, that was inconsistent with well-established ethical standards prohibiting judges from lending the prestige of judicial office to advance private interests and requiring every judge, inter alia, to maintain professional competence in the law and to avoid even the appearance of impropriety,” the decision reads. “Respondent’s misconduct, which is essentially undisputed, showed poor judgment in several respects and insensitivity to his ethical obligations.”

You've read 1 of 7 free articles this month.

Already a subscriber? Sign in

Most encouraging news, but that's a small start on judicial misconduct. What
about magistrate and Article III judges who deviously misstate the facts of a
case, wrongly cite law and cite inappropriate law in order to give themselves
permission to protect politically powerful defendants, and who have the temerity to threaten an officer of the court with financial ruin if said officer
persists in exercising her First Amendment rights to seek redress in court from the oppressive decisions ...more
By ek616367 (14), Southampton on May 28, 14 1:22 PM
One should lose their right to the court system when they abuse it by suing villages over and over again. Im tired of spending tax dollars to defend these stupid frivolous suits. Take up gardening or knitting and stop infringing on peoples property rights!
By chief1 (2800), southampton on May 28, 14 10:58 PM
1 member liked this comment
There is legal president for frivolous cases to be dismissed and costs awarded. However, I might suggest that you look closer at the village's actions that keep warranting litigation. If the same village is being sued repeatedly for similar conduct and the courts aren't finding the suits frivolous, then maybe the Villages should change how they do business.
By themackae (3), East Hampton on May 29, 14 1:49 PM
pretty much off topic
By But I'm a blank! (1283), Hampton Bays on May 29, 14 3:11 PM
This comment has been removed because it is a duplicate, off-topic or contains inappropriate content.
By ek616367 (14), Southampton on May 28, 14 1:22 PM

I like Judge Burke too, but I believe that judges, like cops, but even more so than cops, believe they have become exceptional beings & all too often can be little tyrants. They lord it over the courtroom as if the rest of the people are in the judges's living room. There is absolutely no reason to charge a higher penalty than the law allows as they are very onerous already for most working people. With a judge's salary for the very limited time they work a $500. fine isn't going to harm their ...more
By mo (89), Sag Harbor on May 28, 14 3:38 PM
(the machine cut me off & posted my comment before finishing) open exchanges of gifts in kind, bundles of money & quid pro quo. Politicians openly take bribes they call contributions. It is all very corrupt & corrupting. Judges give a veneer of legitimacy & will never rock the boat. It is cowardly, but we all used to it,
By mo (89), Sag Harbor on May 28, 14 3:49 PM
1 member liked this comment
It's about time. These are not isolated incidents. His tentacles have run deep in in this town for some time. This is just the tip of the iceberg.
By Justsay'n (42), Southampton on May 28, 14 5:58 PM
2 members liked this comment
I totally agree that this is just the tip of the iceberg. We all know what's been going on around here for decades.
By Obbservant (449), southampton on May 29, 14 3:31 AM
Please elaborate, Observant.
By But I'm a blank! (1283), Hampton Bays on May 29, 14 3:21 PM
We erred grievously when we started electing ATTORNEYS to vacancies at the Southampton Town Justice Court. Until Kooperstein ascended the bench, that was not the case. Her predecessor was a commercial crab fisherman.

It wasn't the best of all worlds. Historically, candidates were nominated by the Republicans based on party loyalty rather than ability and a number were sullen clock-watchers but at least their "civilian" status insulated them to a degree from the corruption that ensnared ...more
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on May 28, 14 6:55 PM
Gotta ask you HHS exactly who in the last 25-30 years apart from former Justice Smith was not an attorney? I made my first appearance in the Town Justice Court when it was in the trailer in the lot next to the old Town Hall and 2 of the 3 Town Justices were attorneys. That was back in 1978 or 79. So let me amend my initial question to you who in the last 36 years apart from former Justice Smith was not an attorney.

Justice Kooperstein was just the first non-Republican attorney to be ...more
By NTiger (543), Southampton on May 28, 14 8:39 PM
1 member liked this comment
Kooperstein is a nut , she is most unfair at times
By Undocumented Democrat (2065), southampton on May 28, 14 8:20 PM
Nut might be a little strong. That insinuates that she is not sane. She is just one more corrupt judge that has no idea what the Constitutions say. (She was absent during con-law at her law school).
I will never forget being in front of her years ago, where I had plead NOT-Guilty and was prepared to provide video evidence and eye witness testimony as to my innocence. Her response to me was, "Why didn't you accept the plea bargain that was offered you? You have a right to a trial, but let me ...more
By themackae (3), East Hampton on May 29, 14 1:57 PM
1 member liked this comment
Here is the real deal. I don't believe a word of what you wrote. If you were so pressured into accepting a plea based on Judge Koops words, you should have requested a transcript and reported her to the BAR.
Apparently you did not take that action, so the guilty plea belongs to you and no one else. Costs be damned.
By But I'm a blank! (1283), Hampton Bays on May 29, 14 6:12 PM
Whenever I happened to be in court i constantly heard the judges admonishing people before them to get a lawyer. Anyone that tried to represent themselves were spoken to as though they were idiots. This intimidating people to hire cronies in this town has gone on for years, even for the most trivial of cases. Its time for a new judge this has gone on long enough.
By jim (48), hampton bays on May 28, 14 8:28 PM
There are scant few trivial cases. To you, maybe, but to the persons involved, to seek relief in a court of law, makes it no longer trivial.
By But I'm a blank! (1283), Hampton Bays on May 29, 14 3:23 PM
I have to take exception to your comment HH as Judge Kooperstein has been tremendous for the Town, especially with her commitment to the Drug Court which she brought here. Also we are very lucky to have Judge Schiavoni's leadership with the Veteran's Court. Neither of these judges are how you've described them. They are most certainly of the highest quality!
By sirpoochala (78), Hampton Bays on May 28, 14 9:45 PM
2 members liked this comment
They should take Kooperstein and SH build inspect. Fisher and send them to Disney land all expenses paid for an early retirment. Two people who seem to love the power a little two much

By 27dan (2854), Shinnecock Hills on May 28, 14 11:15 PM
1 member liked this comment
Who is "they"?
By But I'm a blank! (1283), Hampton Bays on May 29, 14 3:20 PM
to NTiger:

I can only surmise that your misapprehension that Southampton Town justices have all been attorneys is due to the relative immaturity of your residency locally. In fact, until 1972, the office of justice of the peace was subsumed under that of town board member. Since candidates for town board then were no more likely to be attorneys than they are now, j.p.s (who were the selfsame board members wearing different hats) were unlikely to be members of the bar. In 1972 the offices, ...more
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on May 28, 14 10:28 PM
If I remember correctly -- I was still in my teens then -- Southampton Town had an entirely different Government structure until it became a First Class Town with an at large councilmatic system to replace the Town Justices who somehow ruled the entire township.

Again, subject to my reasonably accurate recollections of that period, the three Justices in the newly established First Class Town were Mercator Kendrick, Edwin Berkery and Paul Smith, and only the latter was NOT a member of the ...more
By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on May 29, 14 9:01 AM
Please reread my question. I asked for the names of non attorney Town Justices other than Paul Smith in the LAST 36 YEARS. not the last 42 years.

The Town Justice Court for many years has been the busiest such Court in the State of New York.

I would also suggest you consider the change in population in the Town between 42 years ago and today. Can a non-attorney dispense Justice in a Justice Court, certainly. But consider the factor that whether attorney or not the Justice will ...more
By NTiger (543), Southampton on May 29, 14 10:51 PM
1 member liked this comment
to Frank Wheeler:

So, according to you, because you remember that two of the three initial justices in Southampton Town were probably lawyers, the preceding justices of the peace were lawyers as well?

Your assertion is too insubstantial to merit comment. However, should you take the trouble to construct a reasoned argument for your conclusion, I will be happy to address it.
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on May 29, 14 10:00 AM
The fact is Hat, you claimed that until Judge Koop won a seat there had been no others attorneys in that position. You were mistaken. Is it that hard for you to admit an error?
By But I'm a blank! (1283), Hampton Bays on May 29, 14 11:27 AM
Here is the exact quote from 6:55 yesterday:

"We erred grievously when we started electing ATTORNEYS to vacancies at the Southampton Town Justice Court. Until Kooperstein ascended the bench, that was not the case."

Same question as blank!
By PBR (4956), Southampton on May 29, 14 11:38 AM
NTiger: "You need only look as far as Judge Burke who stepped down from a higher Court to return to the Justice Court. Evidently he didn't consider it a disgrace."

This is the height of disingenuousness! Of course he didn't "consider it a disgrace!" He considered it a Godsend as he didn't "step down from a higher court," he was on his way out and needed a job. The good ol' boys in the Southampton GOP actually created a fourth Justice slot and made sure he got it!

HHS: They weren't ...more
By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on May 30, 14 11:21 AM
Still crickets hhs.
By dnice (2346), Hampton Bays on Jun 7, 14 11:38 AM
It's odd that the judge has finally been caught with his hand in the cookie jar and no one seems to care.
By Justsay'n (42), Southampton on May 29, 14 10:12 AM
1 member liked this comment
Just sayy'n, don't bother with any facts, make up your own.
By But I'm a blank! (1283), Hampton Bays on May 29, 14 3:19 PM
Before you canonize Judge Burke, please reread the article on the factual findings:

"According to the censure document, issued on Wednesday, the commission found that Town Justice Edward D. Burke Sr. committed four acts of misconduct. They include riding in a police car with a defendant after arraigning him on a charge of DWI and recommending that the defendant hire an attorney who was his business partner, using his judicial title to promote his law firm, imposing fines that exceed the ...more
By Obbservant (449), southampton on Jun 4, 14 4:29 AM
1 member liked this comment
Hand in the cookie jar my tush! Judge Burke was never accused of any type of taking or misusing funds of the court! He was crucified by another political opponents camp for such meaningless things as charging a higher fine then allowed on speeding tickets reduced to parking!! ….how many of those defendants objected to paying a higher fine to the court when they were most likely doing so knowingly waiving the fine limit on the record, in order to receive dispositions from speeding to ZERO ...more
By SHTOWNRESIDENT (2), Southampton on May 29, 14 12:26 PM
Lastly to Quote the Commission Decision itself " It appears that Judge Burkes actions were motivated by a sincere desire to help the defendant in the hardship situation and further they said that they saw NO IMPROPER MOTIVE in charging the higher fines, higher fines that were in fact recommended at times by the DA…
Read the last paragraph of the decision people its speaks for itself.
By SHTOWNRESIDENT (2), Southampton on May 29, 14 12:44 PM
to But I'm a blank! & PBR:

Beginning with Judge Kooperstein, every Town Justice has been an attorney. That was not the case before her ascension, as the tenure of Justice Smith, her immediate predecessor and her opponent in her initial election, testifies.

You have misconstrued my comment as an assertion that we had NEVER elected attorneys as town justices prior to Kooperstein but that is clearly NOT what I said. The difference since Kooperstein is that we have never had a CHOICE.

The ...more
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on May 29, 14 2:58 PM
"We erred grievously when we started electing ATTORNEYS to vacancies at the Southampton Town Justice Court. Until Kooperstein ascended the bench, that was not the case. Her predecessor was a commercial crab fisherman"

A reasonable person would interpret that to mean that prior occupants of the seat were non-attorneys . To further clear your memory, Judge Kooperstien served on the bench at the same time as Judge Smith. Judge Smith lost his seat when Barbara Wilson ran. While she didn't actively ...more
By But I'm a blank! (1283), Hampton Bays on May 29, 14 3:17 PM
Figures that the fault is one of misconstruction by the readers, rather than an acknowledgement that the speaker could have made the original point could more precisely.
By PBR (4956), Southampton on May 29, 14 3:20 PM
1 member liked this comment
As to your assertion, Hat, that non-attorneys make for better town justices, your broad-brush approach to judging people seems misguided and inaccurate, but it is not worth my time to go down another rabbit hole with you. Good day.
By PBR (4956), Southampton on May 29, 14 3:31 PM
I would suggest that jurisdictional changes and increased sophistication in the local justice court over the past fifty years make it difficult for a non-lawyer to fairly, equitably, and legally render proper decisions. Edwin Berkerey and Mercator Kendrick would find it challenging and Paul Smith would most likely be out of his league. It's a lot more challenging than having to tell Truman Capote to go home and get some long pants.
By Doug Penny (64), Lexington, Virginia on May 29, 14 4:26 PM
Well Mr Penny how do youexplain this legal eagle judge not knowing the rules and ethics of the court. A lawyer and lay person are both responsible to know the law. Having a law degree does not give someone morals or ethics which is most important to a judge. In fact I think it is common sense that a judge being a lawyer in Southampton Town has actually hindered the average citizen from obtaining justice. Judge Burke has always had a degree of arrogance and I'm glad the state gave him a spanking.
By chief1 (2800), southampton on May 29, 14 7:08 PM
Nothing I have read indicates Judge Burke did not know the rules--he simply failed to follow them. The story seems to be more about the trials and tribulations of a home town judge in an overworked court where you know so many of the players and plea bargaining has become so commonplace it is used more for fee generation than justice. You and I can simply agree to disagree--it's not exactly world peace we are discussing.
By Doug Penny (64), Lexington, Virginia on May 30, 14 7:20 AM
3 members liked this comment
Ouch!
By Doug Penny (64), Lexington, Virginia on Jun 1, 14 8:15 AM
Actually (and Mr. Penny and I were political adversaries at the time of his public service) in my opinion Doug Penny was a decent sort in politics, a rarity when he served and perhaps more so in todays politics and government.

Southampton Town would do well with a Supervisor and four Town Board members who shared Mr. Penny's dedication and honesty.

You may have had disputes with his politics and philosophy but I don't know many who would dispute the high quality of his character.
By NTiger (543), Southampton on Jun 1, 14 2:07 PM
Its not world peace, but justice is right up there with world peace. Every court system in this country has the same thing going on. The more money you have to spend or connection you have helps your chances of being successful in court. Its disgusting, and our court system has become a type of taxing mechanism. In fact Suffolk Counyy admits they are putting up intersection cameras to fill there bloated budget You are certainly right that the local courts are fee generators. What did you do ...more
By chief1 (2800), southampton on May 30, 14 8:29 AM
1 member liked this comment
I would urge you to review your town tax bills from that four year period. I am pretty proud of the performance of The Southampton Party and glad I was a member of it.
By Doug Penny (64), Lexington, Virginia on Jun 1, 14 8:19 AM
to NTiger:

I did, indeed, understand that your reminiscences went back but 36 years, and noted that this limited perspective was the cause of your misapprehension that all Town justices (except Justice Smith) have been attorneys.

The behavior of the judge in your first appearance in a justice court represents the triumph of stupidity and truculence over reason. I doubt that his behavior had anything to do with his status as a non-lawyer, and everything to do with his fidelity ...more
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on May 30, 14 9:52 AM
to Frank Wheeler:

Quote:
"The only Town Justice I found from Southampton's pre-First Class status was a Doctor named McCoy."
-----------------------------------------

Thank you for the further proof.

Quote:

"HHS: They weren't 'probably lawyers,' they WERE lawyers!"
-----------------------------------------

It was YOU who qualified your statement with the phrase, " ... subject to my reasonably accurate recollections of that period ..."

Quote:

"I ...more
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on May 30, 14 12:18 PM
Lawyers have no place on the bench. Laymen with a kind heart and a firm hand would do well and deal a swift bit of punishment in fair doses. As for Burke's crime, it's about time they caught him. He steers you to his firm all the time while making direct reference to the fact he's the Judge and knowing him while working through his firm is a good thing. I'm surprised he's still on the bench after this investigation. Just goes to show that the lawyers who decide who stays and who goes are as ...more
By Dodger (161), Southampton Village on May 30, 14 2:53 PM
Expecting a non-lawyer to perform well is unrealistic IMO, and his or her rulings would likely be reversed by higher courts at an elevated rate.

Could such a judge receive enough training so as to avoid such reversals? Sure, in something equivalent to law school.

The law, like life, has become more complex unfortunately . . .

And, there are judges with kind hearts and firm hands.
By PBR (4956), Southampton on May 30, 14 3:36 PM
Law school doesn't really teach the law it teaches procedures, and process. It would be impossible to know the laws si ce there are literally thousands. A judges law clerk does most of the research of the law. That is how its done in a real court room. The judges in SHT are merely administrative judges who basically plea bargain every case, and have no idea what the laws are because they never researched them. In fact they sometimes see 100 cases a day so it would be impossible for any judge to ...more
By chief1 (2800), southampton on May 31, 14 9:26 AM
Alterum peniculus latus.

Fiddle Fiddle Fiddle
By Nero (301), Sag Harbor on May 31, 14 1:48 PM
1 member liked this comment
Lato penicillo.
By Mr. Z (11847), North Sea on Jun 3, 14 11:02 PM
Based on chief1 statements the local courts should be clogged with appeals
By westhamptonboy (227), Westhampton on May 31, 14 12:24 PM
I have appeared before both Justices Kooperstein and Wilson and found them unprepossessing. The high volume of (pedestrian) cases upon which they rule not only causes them to produce quick, unconsidered opinions but has resulted in their largely turning over their courtrooms to the attorneys within the bar, particularly to those favored colleagues whose practices are based almost entirely on the Southampton Town Justice Court. It's much quicker that way.

Moreover, while some have argued ...more
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on May 31, 14 1:48 PM
" It's hard for me to see what function a town court justice fulfills that could be not as easily be satisfied by a non-attorney (after, perhaps, a prefatory weekend seminar on courtroom basics. "

Maybe an optometrist could help?
By PBR (4956), Southampton on May 31, 14 1:57 PM
1 member liked this comment
Judge Burke- this is just a bump in the road. Go through the process. Everyone makes mistakes. It will be ok. You've done nothing malicious to hurt anyone. Not one of us is perfect. It's all just a bump in the road......
By Shinnecock Hills family (59), Southampton on May 31, 14 7:06 PM
2 members liked this comment
Live by the sword, die by the sword.
By Turkey Bridge (1979), Quiogue on Jun 3, 14 2:42 PM
1 member liked this comment
Yes - and let him/her without sin among us first cast a stone. Are there any mirrors in your house, Turkey Bridge?
By Board Watcher (534), East Hampton on Jun 13, 14 12:37 PM
1 member liked this comment
None of us is without sin, but I stand by my comment.
By Turkey Bridge (1979), Quiogue on Jun 13, 14 5:02 PM
Boardwatcher, spoken just like a good 'ol boy. No matter how egregious and despicable the crime, illegality, or transgression, no one has the right to take the perp into account because none of us is without sin. Upside down logic.

A corrupt judge is the worst kind of anti-social element that feeds off the misfortune of others and uses his knowledge of the system to take advantage of people and the law and procedures for his own personal benefit and aggrandizement no matter how outrageous ...more
By Obbservant (449), southampton on Jun 14, 14 2:49 AM
2 members liked this comment
Save the drama for your momma.
By Phil McCracken (10), Southampton on Jun 14, 14 6:00 AM
CATHY CAHILL ,,,,,,,scum of the earth !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
By Biba (566), East Hampton on Jun 14, 14 10:39 AM