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‘It’s Highly Unusual … for a Judge to Brandish a Loaded Weapon In the Courtroom’: New York Judge Could Lose His Job after Investigation Reveals He Threatened Black Defendant with Gun and Bragged About It

In a rare move, a sitting New York state judge is facing a slew of ethics complaints of misconduct that could cost him his job. Judge Robert Putorti of Whitehall, New York, must explain himself after an investigation revealed he brandished his semi-automatic handgun towards defendant, Brandon Wood, who’s Black, during one of these court proceedings in the upstate New York courtroom.

“It is highly unusual in New York and elsewhere for a judge to brandish a loaded weapon in the courtroom under any circumstances,” said Robert Tembeckjian, administrator and counsel of the New York Judicial State Conduct Commission.

The Commission discovered that during in a 2015 criminal trial, Putorti not only pulled out a gun on Wood, but he also went on to brag about the incident as described it along racial lines. The Commission’s reported noted, Wood, “did not pose an imminent threat to the judge or anyone else.”

“He went out of his way to characterize the defendant as what he said was a big 6’9 football player type Black man when in fact, the defendant in this case was 6 feet tall, 160 pounds and in fact, he had not provoked the judge,” said Tembeckjian.

Penelope Andrews is a professor and the Director of the Racial Justice Project at New York School of Law. She says Putorti brandishing a gun towards a Black defendant is being received differently today than perhaps back in 2015 because of the enhanced focus on racial justice in the country.

“The message it sends to other litigants, defendants and people who come to the court, involving other judges who are also biased, this is very important because the message is a radiating message, it says that we are taking steps, we think this is inappropriate conduct and we shall do what is necessary in order to further the goals of racial justice and that justice should be seen in court, seen to be practiced in court and this is what it does,” Andrews says.

Putorti, who is not an attorney, began his term in 2014 in Washington County, New York, which is about 50 miles north of Albany, New York, and is 94 percent white, with just 3 percent of the county Black.

Atlanta Black Star attempted to contact Judge Putorti for comment on the allegations against him but did not hear back from his office.

“When an act of misconduct like this occurs, there is a mechanism for dealing with it and when the perpetrator as in this case, the judge, will be punished,” said Tembeckjian.

The acting chief judge of the court of appeals has until Oct. 9 to accept the Commission’s recommendation to remove Putorti from office, issue another form of reprimand or deny the commission’s recommendation for Putorti’s removal from office. Putorti’s term ends on Dec. 31, 2025.

Since 1978, the commission has issued 178 determinations of removal against judges in New York State. The commission has issued 343 determinations of censure and 280 determinations of admonition.

Tembeckjian says each state has its own independent division to oversee judicial conduct. People interested in learning more about their state’s oversight body should contact the state’s attorney general’s office or their local bar association.

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