Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Judge Censured For Pressuring Staff To Engage In Prayer and Religious Activity

The ABA Journal reported yesterday on a decision last month by the State of New York Commission on Judicial Conduct censuring Bronx County Judge Mary Brigantti-Hughes for repeatedly using her court staff to perform child care and personal tasks and for asking her staff to pray with her in chambers, attend religious events outside regular working hours and photocopy religious materials. In In re Proceeding in Relation to Mary Brigantti-Hughes, (Dec. 17, 2013), the Commission held that the judge's activities went beyond merely using empty court space during the lunch hour for Bible study or religious meetings that had been approved by the Office of Court Administration. The Commission said:
repeatedly asking her staff to join her in [prayer] sessions misused the prestige of her judicial position, added an element of implicit coercion and crossed the line into impropriety.... Moreover, inviting members of her court staff to attend church-related events after court hours ... was also implicitly coercive.... By creating an environment in which some staff felt pressure to engage in religious activities, her actions impinged on the important separation between church and state, one of the most basic tenets of the federal and state constitutions.