The New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct has censured Manhattan Surrogate Judge Nora Anderson, notwithstanding the fact that she admits to intentionally disguising $250,000 in improper contributions to her judicial election campaign.
Back in April 2010, Judge Anderson faced criminal prosecution by Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance for lying on her campaign disclosure forms regarding the source of $250,000. Under New York law, individual donations at the time were capped at about $33,000, but a candidate could donate unlimited amounts to their campaign.
The money at issue was a “gift” from her mentor/boss lawyer Seth Rubenstein (who just so happened to be an active practitioner in Manhattan Surrogate’s Court). Moreover, the express purpose of Rubenstein’s gift was to help Judge Anderson’s primary campaign, which was faltering badly at the time. But Judge Anderson did not disclose that Rubenstein was the source of the funds. Instead, she claimed on her campaign disclosure forms that the money was a loan and donation to herself. Under New York law, it is a separation criminal violation to lie on on such forms (filing of a false instrument).
In the criminal trial, Judge Michael Obus dismissed 8 of the 10 charges against Judge Anderson on jurisdictional grounds, and the jury acquitted her and Rubenstein on the remaining two charges.
That was not the end, however. The State Commission on Judicial Conduct also decided to investigate Judge Anderson. Here is the Commission’s report:
Apparently, the Commission bought Judge Anderson’s “ignorance of the law” slash “babe in the woods” slash “reliance on others” defense. As any first year law student could tell you, ignorance of the law is not an excuse. It’s a pretty sad state of affairs when a State Judge can get away with such nonsense, particularly when the violations in question far outstripped the campaign contribution limits and without doubt swayed the election in Judge Anderson’s favor.
For those interested, here is a little more background on the story:
- New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct
- Nora Anderson Gives Grounds for Investigation of Election Law Violation, New York Daily News (Sept. 15, 2008)
- Dead on Arrival: Indicted Surrogate-Elect Cannot Take Bench, New York Daily News (Dec. 11, 2008)
- Judge Acquitted in Campaign Finance Trial, New York Times (Apr. 1, 2010)
- Judge Nora Anderson’s Money Pit is Full of Ethical Violations, New York Daily News (Oct. 13, 2008)
- Judge’s Trial Raises Thorny Election Law Issues Concerning Gifts, New York Times (Mar. 19, 2010)
- Judge Nora Gavel-Nized, New York Post (March 20, 2010)
- Manhattan Surrogate Judge Nora Anderson Admits Lies but Stays on Bench, New York Daily News (Oct. 11, 2012)
- Why the Manhattan Surrogate’s Court Judge Matters, New York Observer (May 19, 2008)