UPDATE: Another judge censured in Wayne County after preliminary hearing held without lawyer present

After the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct ruled against a Palmyra judge, who had previously used his role for personal gain in the late-1980s this week – word came down about another judge in Wayne County, who was also censured.

William E. Abbott, a Justice of the Palmyra Town Court and an Associate Justice of the Palmyra Village Court was found to have invoked his judicial office when seeking out assistance unlocking his personal vehicle.

The Commission says he then threatened to refuse to perform future arraignments if police did not comply with his demands to unlock the vehicle.

The Commission also says that Judge Abbott agreed with the censure handed down.

Judge Abbott was previously censured in 1989 for invoking his judicial prestige when soliciting an affidavit from a witness as a favor to a lawyer-friend.

Judge Abbott, who is not an attorney, has served as a Justice of the Palmyra Town Court and an Associate Justice of the Palmyra Village Court since 1979. His current term as Palmyra Town Justice expires on December 31, 2019, and his current term as Associate Justice of the Palmyra Village Court expires on December 2, 2019.

Commission Administrator Robert H. Tembeckjian issued the following statement at time of the release:

“Invoking one’s judicial title for a personal favor, and threatening not to perform a judicial duty when rebuffed, are plainly improper. Judge Abbott should have known better, having been disciplined previously for invoking his judicial office in a private matter. He accepts responsibility, appears to appreciate the impropriety of his action and is expected not to repeat it in the future.”

Now, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct has censured a second judge in Wayne County after she held a preliminary hearing without a defendant’s attorney present.

Judge Kathy Wachtman of the Huron Town Court reportedly held a preliminary hearing for a defendant, during which the defendant’s attorney was not present. Wachtman herself is not an attorney.

It happened on April 26th, 2017, when Wachtman was overseeing a preliminary hearing for Tyson Harris on drug and traffic charges. Before the hearing began, Harris’ defense attorney had not arrived in court as he was in another hearing in federal court at the same time for a sentencing hearing for another client.

Wachtman went on to hold the hearing with no attorney present in court. She did not tell Harris that he was allowed to testify on his own behalf, call witnesses, and cross examine each of the prosecution’s witnesses.

In May 2017, Harris was offered a plea deal through the Wayne County District Attorney’s Office for a reduced charge. He accepted and agreed to the plea in exchange for a sentence of time served.

“It is fundamental to the role of a judge to ensure that defendants are not only apprised of their rights but also afforded a meaningful opportunity to exercise those rights,” Commission Administrator Robert Temeckjian said in a statement. “Derelictions of such essential duties, in even a single case, are serious violations of the rule requiring judges to be faithful to and professionally competent in the law. To her credit, Judge Wachtman accepted responsibility and is expected to honor the rules scrupulously going forward.”

Wachtman was first elected as a Huron Town Court Justice in April 2013. She is slated to be in office until her term expires on December 31st, 2021.

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