A “loose dog” ordinance led to a censure of a town-court justice in Schenectady County recently.
The New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct determined on Aug. 20 that Judge Michelle A. Van Woeart, a justice of the Princetown Town Court, should be disciplined.
The commission found that Judge Van Woeart:
* Failed to disqualify herself promptly after appearance tickets were issued to her and her sons in a local dog ordinance matter;
* Improperly communicated with the court about which the matters were transferred, and:
* Failing to keep proper records of the violations.
Judge Van Woeart and her sons were issued tickets by the local Animal Control Officer (ACO) for violating a “loose dog” ordinance in September and October of 2009, according to the commission.
The judge did not disqualify herself until January 2010, when she made substantive comments to the judges of the court where the matters were transferred, writing that the tickets were not properly served and that the dog in question belonged to her son. She did not send the ACO a copy of the letter, the commission reported.
Van Woeart, who is not an attorney and who has served as a Justice of the Princetown Town Court since 1997, agreed to the censure. Her current term expires Dec. 31, 2013.
Commission Administrator Robert H. Tembeckjian said, “It is a fundamental principle of judicial ethics that a judge must step away from any case in which his or her impartiality might reasonably be questioned, even a relatively minor matter such as a dog ordinance violation.”