Published on: Thursday, October 19, 2023

An upstate New York judge who pointed a loaded handgun at a Black man during a 2015 court hearing was removed from office Thursday by the state’s highest court (article available here).

Robert J. Putorti was a Whitehall Town and Village Court judge. He repeatedly emphasized the race and stature of the litigant when recounting the episode, sometimes boastfully, according to an independent review by the New York State Court of Appeals. Putorti had said he aimed the gun at the man because he approached the stand too quickly, crossing a stop line for litigants.

Neither the police officer stationed in the courtroom nor an assistant district attorney present at the time would have corroborated his version of events.

The litigant was in court over an unpaid fine.

The high court affirmed the state Commission on Judicial Conduct’s removal of Putorti, and noted the former judge’s description of the defendant “exploited a classic and common racist trope that Black men are inherently threatening or dangerous, exhibiting bias or, at least, implicit bias.”

“It is indefensible and inimical to the role of a judge to brandish a loaded weapon in court, without provocation or justification, then brag about it repeatedly with irrelevant racial remarks,” said Robert H. Tembeckjian, administrator for the state’s Commission on Judicial Conduct, in a statement. “The Court’s ruling today makes clear that there is no place on the bench for one who behaves this way.”