Posted on April 24, 2018

Judge Leticia Astacio Stripped of Judgeship Two Years After DWI Arrest

Gary Craig, Democrat & Chronicle, April 24, 2018

She decided to arraign a defendant whom she knew — she had represented him when she was a defense lawyer — instead of recusing herself. Astacio was worried his case could go to a judge she thought might be tougher than she.

She told a jaywalker that, if there were no laws, she would “run (jaywalkers) over because it’s disrespectful.”

She laughed when a defense lawyer, representing a young man accused of sexual misconduct, said the alleged victim had “buyer’s remorse.” When Astacio saw the prosecutor was upset by the defense lawyer’s comment, Astacio said, “You didn’t think that was funny?”

She told a deputy to “tase” or “shoot” or “punch … in the face” a 16-year-old girl who was fighting efforts to bring her into court. Astacio said the comments were private jokes with the deputy, but a court reporter did put them into the record.

By themselves, these lapses in judgment may have earned Astacio a mild public rebuke. But they are instead part of the case the Commission on Judicial Conduct built against Astacio when it decided to strip her of her judgeship.

Astacio’s more egregious errors are well known — her drunken driving conviction, her failure to abide by post-conviction terms, her odd trip to Thailand that caused her to miss court-ordered monitoring.


“This is the result of what she did, and the choices she made and what this says to the public is this judge is unfit and you should have no confidence in her,” said Postel, who heads the Rochester commission office and was the lead commission prosecutor in the Astacio case. {snip}

Astacio, 36, can appeal the decision to the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, which recently suspended her, with pay, after an arrest earlier this month on allegations that she illegally tried to buy a shotgun.

At a news conference Tuesday, the Commission on Judicial Conduct announced the decision to remove Astacio from the bench. {snip}


Public attention, ridicule

Over the past two years Astacio has been in the news more than most persistent felons. She has complained that she has been unfairly targeted and the butt of public ridicule, and the latter, at least, cannot be denied. There is a Twitter hashtag  — “drunkjudge”  — that some social media users apply to discussions of her.


Letitio Astacio

But the commission investigation and the rare decision to jettison a judge show the breadth of the allegations of misconduct. The commission has never before stripped the judgeship away from a judge convicted of drunken driving. But Astacio’s troubles went well beyond her 2016 misdemeanor conviction for drunken driving.


The commission, for example, determined that Astacio tried to use her position to influence decisions of the State Police who arrested her. She made clear she was a judge and was actually en route to City Court for Saturday morning arraignments.

The commission investigation, in fact, did not even consider the most recent allegations against Astacio: She faces a felony charge for an alleged attempt to buy a shotgun this month, a violation of her probation terms. She also faces probation violation charges for the alleged purchase and also for allegedly failing to comply with mental health treatment.

Still, were it not for her arrest on February 13, 2016, when a State Trooper found her Hyundai alongside Interstate 490 with front-end damage and two flat tires, there may well never have been a commission investigation.

The 2016 arrest


In the aftermath of her drunken driving arrest, Astacio gave varying stories to authorities and commission investigators about her alcohol usage the night before: She said she had nothing to drink, then the amount of alcohol consumed ranged upwards to about half a bottle of wine before 11 p.m.

Astacio said she was upset because she had just gone through a divorce and it was an anniversary of the murder of a cousin.

One blood alcohol test administered at the scene was not allowed in court, but showed a level about two times the legal limit.

Astacio maintained that a tire blew on her car on the snowy and frigid morning, and she likely hit something as the Hyundai veered off the highway. She then called a friend, and with the windows wide open, went to sleep.

The State Police found her and the vehicle shortly after the crash, and Astacio became verbally abusive with the Trooper. The commission determined that she also wrongly used her position as a judge to try to convince him not to arrest her.


Astacio maintained her innocence and was convicted in a trial before a judge in August 2016. In 2016, she was given what are known as “conditional discharge” terms by the court; she did not abide by them and also told the commission she had not read them thoroughly.


One night when her aunt was visiting, she said, she had four glasses of wine and three shots of Patron tequila. That time the car monitor showed an alcohol content that could have been a charge of driving while criminally impaired. The sensor prevented the car from starting because of the alcohol she’d imbibed.

In 2017 Astacio admitted that she had violated her conditions by drinking. Then, she went to Thailand.

“You needed a period of isolation?” she was asked at a commission hearing last year.

“I still do,” she answered.


A precipitous fall

Astacio pulled off a surprise victory in a three-way Democratic primary in 2014, then won the judgeship in the general election. But after her arrest and conviction for drunken driving, her fall from grace has been staggering.


“The defendant has never acknowledged responsibility for her behaviors,” Ontario County Court Judge Stephen Aronson wrote in December when refusing to overturn her drunken driving conviction. “She has demonstrated an utter lack of respect for any and all authorities, as evidenced by her multiple violations.”


The commission voted unanimously to oust Astacio. That was also the decision of a referee who first heard the case against Astacio, before it was presented to the full commission.


For now, Astacio is still being paid; the salary was recently increased to $187,200.  Should she appeal in the next 30 days, the Court of Appeals could suspend her pay while it makes a decision.