Fremont Town Court judge admonished for ex parte communication

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A Steuben County town court judge who was admonished in 2012 for improper ex parte communications for assuming the role of prosecutor in a traffic infraction in her court has been admonished again for a similar violation.

The Commission on Judicial Qualifications on Monday issued a public admonition of Fremont Town Court Judge Martha C. Hagerty. By agreeing to the admonition, Hagerty concluded the commission’s investigation, and she will not be formally charged with ethical misconduct.

“The Commission admonishes Judge Hagerty for assuming the role of the prosecutor when she contacted an attorney to offer a deferral agreement to the attorney’s client, who had received a speeding ticket,” according to the admonition. “The Commission also admonishes Judge Hagerty for permitting deferral payments to be sent directly to the Fremont Town Court, rather than to the prosecutor’s office. Additionally, the Commission admonishes Judge Hagerty for engaging in a process whereby she or her court clerk would directly negotiate deferral agreements with defendants, rather than allowing the prosecutor to offer these agreements.”

The admonition says Hagerty, who is not a lawyer, contacted an attorney to ask about his client’s rejection of a deferral offer that had been tendered by the court. The lawyer told Hagerty he didn’t believe the conversation was appropriate.

“In response to the Commission’s Notice of Inquiry, Judge Hagerty indicated that she had a brief lapse in judgment when she contacted this attorney to inquire about the deferral agreement and that her court clerk generally answers all inquiries from attorneys and defendants. However, Judge Hagerty indicated that the court – not the prosecutor – was responsible for evaluating and offering traffic ticket deferrals to eligible defendants, using criteria provided by the prosecutor,” according to the admonition.

It continued, “The proffered deferral agreements were entitled ‘Fremont Town Court, Honorable Judge Hagerty Deferral Agreement’ and instructed litigants to remit payment directly to the court, rather than to the prosecutor’s office. Judge Hagerty explained that she drafted the form to request payment to the court because the former County Clerk felt that it would be more efficient for the court to handle the disbursement of these funds.”

The commission said Hagerty acknowledged violations of Rule 2.9(A) of the Judicial Code of Conduct barring ex parte communications; Rule 1.2, requiring judges to act at all times in a manner that promotes confidence in the independence, integrity and impartiality of the judiciary; and Rule 2.2, requiring a judge to uphold and apply the law and to perform duties fairly and impartially.

“The Commission further would note that its decision to issue this Public Admonition in lieu of filing formal charges was influenced, in part, by the fact that Judge Hagerty immediately took corrective action to address the identified issues in her court,” the admonition said.

“Such actions included transferring responsibility for negotiating deferral agreements from the court clerk to the prosecutor, as well as transferring authority for the collection and disbursement of deferral fees to the prosecutor’s office. Had Judge Hagerty not been responsive to the Commission’s concerns and taken immediate corrective action, the Commission would have been inclined to pursue a stronger course of action.”

The order says Hagerty will retire at the end of this year, after which she will not seek or accept judicial service.


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