Published on December 9, 2014 | by LawNews
Prof. Monroe Freedman Comments in Daily Freeman Story on Propriety of Judge’s Remarks at Sentencing
‘Messages’ from the bench: the Wisdom of Ulster County Court Judge Donald A. Williams
By Diane Pineiro-Zucker
Kingston Daily Freeman
Dec. 6, 2014
KINGSTON >> Defense attorney Gail Rubenfeld “had never seen anything like it.”
Rubenfeld, a Monticello attorney who said she has practiced law for many years, was referring to remarks made by Ulster County Court Judge Donald A. Williams at the sentencing of her client, Billy D. Ganoe Jr.
On March 8, 2012, Ganoe was sentenced to 10 years in prison followed by five years of post-release supervision following a guilty plea to two felony burglary counts.
He was arrested following a rash of burglaries and was initially “charged with various crimes in a 31-count indictment,” according to a decision handed down Nov. 13 by the New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Third Department.
“If I allowed my personal feelings to persuade my judgment, Mr. Ganoe, if the death penalty were on the books I would impose it for you,” Williams said, according to a transcript of the proceedings provided to the Freeman by Rubenfeld.
Williams continued, “If the district attorney applied for persistent felony offender status and the facts demonstrated it was right, I would impose it and give you a life sentence, but I don’t make those decisions, the district attorney does.”
Williams’ remarks crossed the line, Rubenfeld said.
“I’ve seen judges say many things (at sentencing). Sometimes it’s warranted and oftentimes justified, … but I’ve never seen anything like this,” she said. “Talking about the death penalty? Come on.”
“In any event, the comments, although injudicious, were made in response to defendant’s perceived lack of remorse, long criminal record and his argumentative behavior during the proceedings,” the Nov. 13 decision upholding Ganoe’s conviction by the appellate court stated. “There is no indication in the record, however, that County Court was impermissibly biased against defendant.”
The appellate decision also quotes Williams as saying the sentence was retroactive “out of fairness” to Ganoe.
After reviewing William’s remarks at the Ganoe sentencing, Hofstra University law professor Monroe H. Freedman was quick to dismiss the appellate court’s determination. “There are strict rules on a judge’s comments in court, and I have been a critic of judges who have crossed the line into injudicious conduct. But what Judge Williams is quoted as saying doesn’t come close to the line of injudicious conduct. They are entirely proper,” he wrote in an email.