NEW CITY – State Supreme Court Justice Robert Berliner, a former Rockland legislator approaching mandatory retirement, resigned from the bench rather than contest claims he engaged in prohibited political activity as a jurist.
The charges were brought by the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct, which investigates allegations of judicial misconduct.
Berliner, 70, a Supreme Court justice since 2008, resigned June 7 following an investigation and after being served with a formal written complaint dated April 25, according to the commission.
Berliner has reached the threshold for mandatory retirement for a Supreme Court justice, but he could have been certified for three additional two-year terms starting January 2023 to sit as a judge until age 76.
Berliner, as part of his resignation, agreed to leave effective Sept. 30 and not run for any judicial office, the commission said in a release. Berliner signed a stipulation to resign by that date, foregoing a hearing by the commission.
The commission’s complaint alleged that in September 2015 and November 2017, Berliner engaged in prohibited political activity on behalf of two candidates seeking judicial office. He accompanied and/or introduced them to three gatherings of community and political leaders in Orange and Rockland counties, according to the commission.
Commission Administrator Robert Tembeckjian said Berliner wrongly got involved in politics, an essential prohibition for judges. During their campaigns, judges are restricted to discuss themselves, and their experiences, while steering clear of cases and political views.
“Judges must be and appear unswayed by partisan politics,” Tembeckjian said. “Prohibiting their involvement in political campaigns, except when running for judicial office themselves, is essential to public confidence in the independence and impartiality of the judiciary. Promoting someone else’s candidacy with political leaders is inconsistent with this mandate.”
Tembeckjian represented the commission during the proceeding, assisted by Deputy Administrator Make Levine, and Senior Attorney Vickie Ma. Investigator Drew Zagami was assigned to the case.
Berliner, who graduated with a BA from New York University in 1973 and from Western New England College School of Law in 1976, had a long career in the judicial system.
He started as a law assistant in 1977 for Brooklyn Family Court. He then became a principal law assistant of Rockland County Family Court in 1979, later working as a principal court attorney for the Surrogates and Supreme courts from 1984 to 2004.
Berliner served as an elected Rockland legislator from Ramapo before winning the election as Rockland’s Surrogate’s Court judge, serving from 2006 to 2008. In 2008, Berliner won election to Supreme Court for 9th Judicial District, which includes Rockland, Westchester, Orange, Putnam and Dutchess counties. Supreme Court justices handle civil cases.
He won reelection in 2021. Berliner’s second term on the bench expires on Dec. 31, 2028.
The commission holds hearings on ethics charges and sends their recommendations to state courts, which decide the penalties. A judge could be censured, reprimanded, suspended, or removed from the bench.
The commission has accepted 117 such stipulations of resignation since the procedure started in 2003.
Since 1978, the commission has issued 280 determinations of admonition against judges, 342 determinations of censure, and 177 determinations of removal. The Court of Appeals has reviewed 101 Commission determinations, accepting sanctions in 85 cases, 76 of which were removals, six were censures and three were admonitions.
Berliner could not be reached for comment. His attorney Deborah Scalise of Scarsdale declined comment.
.Steve Lieberman covers government, breaking news, courts, police, and investigations. Reach him at [email protected]. Twitter: @lohudlegal. Read more articles and bio. Our local coverage is only possible with support from our readers.