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Apr 25, 2011 4:26 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Westhampton Beach Village Justice Violated Judicial Conduct Rules

Apr 27, 2011 11:28 AM

A state judicial commission recommended that Westhampton Beach Village Justice Robert A. Kelly should be disciplined after concluding that he violated several state judicial conduct rules, according to a March ruling on a complaint filed last summer.

The ruling, which recommended Mr. Kelly be admonished, was approved by nine of the 11 members of the State of New York Commission on Judicial Conduct; two panel members did not participate.

Under state guidelines, any judge may dispute a commission ruling through the state Court of Appeals, as long as it is done within 30 days. However, on Tuesday night, Mr. Kelly said that he would not dispute the ruling, adding that he was glad that the commission found that there was no mishandling of any rulings within his court in relation to the charges brought against him—the recommendation focused on his private law practice instead.

“Certainly, I’m not happy about being admonished, but I’ve done a good job in keeping honest,” he said.

On June 19, 2010, a formal written complaint containing four charges was filed against Mr. Kelly, who has served as a justice in Westhampton Beach since 1996. Of the four charges, the commission admonished Mr. Kelly for three of them. It was unclear who filed the complaint.

Those charges alleged that Mr. Kelly, a partner in the Westhampton Beach law firm Kelly and Hulme, represented private clients before the Westhampton Beach Building and Zoning Department—which enforces the local building code, and which Mr. Kelly’s court has jurisdiction over. He allowed his name to appear on legal papers filed by his law firm against Westhampton Beach and made political contributions through his law firm.

In one charge, the commission’s findings pointed to four cases in which Mr. Kelly represented four clients before the village’s Building Department between August 1999 and February 2007, seeking “non-ministerial” determinations regarding building permits and certificates of occupancy.

“At the very least, respondent’s requests of the Building and Zoning Administrator create the appearance that the judge is in a special position to secure favors for his clients since the administrator knows that respondent’s court has jurisdiction over building and zoning ordinance violation cases,” the commission stated in the ruling.

When asked to comment on the charge, Mr. Kelly said that in the past, the New York State Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics—which provides ethical advice to state judges and interprets the rules governing judicial conduct—advised him that he was able to make rulings regarding routine building and zoning matters. However, in light of the state commission’s ruling, Mr. Kelly said he will likely recuse himself from any such matters in the future.

Regarding his name being listed on legal papers filed by his firm against the village, Mr. Kelly said that letterhead from his law firm with his name on it was accidentally filed by his legal partner, James Hulme, on certain cases—which, Mr. Kelly added, he was not personally involved with.

The commission also found that Mr. Kelly’s law firm made a collective total of $925 in political contributions between May 2006 and June 2009 to three political candidates—Southampton Town Councilman Chris Nuzzi, former Supervisor Patrick “Skip” Heaney and Town Clerk Sundy Schermeyer—and to the Southampton Town Republican Committee. The donations are prohibited under state judiciary rules.

On that subject, Mr. Kelly said that he did not personally make any of the aforementioned donations. The donations, he said, were made by Mr. Hulme, who had previously attended fundraisers for several political candidates as a private citizen.

“These are town officials, not village officials, and they don’t have anything to do with my court,” Mr. Kelly said. “They don’t hold any sway over things.”

Mr. Kelly added that checks have been written by his firm in the past supporting non-political groups such as the Westhampton Beach High School Hurricane Booster Club, the Westhampton Beach Elementary Parent Teacher Association, and the Kiwanis Club of Westhampton.

However, Mr. Kelly said he has since spoken with Mr. Hume and taken steps to ensure that a similar action would not happen again.

Mr. Kelly declined to state which political party he was affiliated with.

In the 17-page ruling dated March 31, the commission determined on March 17 that Mr. Kelly had violated seven sections of the state Rules Governing Judicial Conduct and should be disciplined accordingly. “As set forth in this record, respondent’s conduct showed inattention to his ethical responsibilities and, in particular, to the special ethical obligations of judges who are permitted to practice law,” states the report.

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The Commission's decision states that "There is no evidence that the judge committed misconduct with respect to the disposition of any case in his court."
By Southampton Native (3), Southampton on Apr 25, 11 5:17 PM
Aside from the facts that he didn't "fix" any cases, what do you infer from the language you quoted. that he did no wrong?
By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on Apr 25, 11 7:04 PM
1 member liked this comment
Watch eveyone throw each other under the bus now. This village is so dirty. Anyone who holds public office in this village is out for themselves. All parts of this village should be investigated even the school boad.
By 3k (7), easthampton on Apr 25, 11 8:50 PM
2 members liked this comment
Yet another sad instance of the good-old-boy mentality at work around here. It's not the judge's fault that he has literally grown up in this networked atmosphere, but that doesn't excuse his actions. Note, please, that the contributions went all to Republicans. Is anyone surprised? I'm not.
By fidelis (199), westhampton beach on Apr 25, 11 9:37 PM
2 members liked this comment
Mon Dieu! There has been misbehavior in the Judicial Department in Westhampton Beach! How could this possibly have happened? I could not be more surprised had inappropriate behavior have been uncovered in the Police Department - - - or (god forbid!) in the Board of Trustees!

One would think that the Connected in Westhampton Beach pay only notional attention to ethical concerns.

At least we can be sure that moral myopia has not permeated those most august of bodies, the Westhampton ...more
By highhatsize (4217), East Quogue on Apr 25, 11 10:56 PM
see if they did anything for guildi
By sag runner (24), Easthampton on Apr 26, 11 11:45 AM
If it was anything, it certainly wasn't enough!
By Frank Wheeler (1826), Northampton on Apr 27, 11 8:31 AM
We live in cesspool in Suffolk Co every Town and Village have closets full of corruption,,,, the code is simple you scratch my back and I will scratch yours ,just do not get caught,,,,look at the people running for office,,,,and the ones found bending the rules,,I will announce names later,
By Etians rd (543), Southampton on Apr 26, 11 3:53 PM
Tempest in a teapot or bad judge? Probably something in between. Maybe it's all just a matter of appearances, but if things are so sloppy that people don't even think about appearances, that's not good. All the checks were written to Republican pols, and look what kind of Republicans -- organization guys like Chris Nuzzi and Skip Heaney, not mavericks like Linda Kabot and Nancy Graboski. (OK, Nancy's a good little girl now, but she was sort of a maverick back then.)
By clam pie (161), Westhampton on Apr 27, 11 12:26 PM
Well anyone who knows -- actually knows Gus Kelly -- knows he is an honest, reputable attorney. These instances cited by the Commission are serious but more about dotting the "i's" and crossing the "t's" and important to keeping judges beyond reproach. So, yes, they are mistakes but with the strict compliance now promised by Kelly, anyone who engages his counsel or appears before him in local court can be assured of a fair, impartial handling of legal matters. Any doubts, look at his long, distinguished ...more
By JimmyKBond (156), Hampton Bays on May 3, 11 10:39 AM