New York Judge Removed from Bench After Jailing Entire Courtroom Over Cellphone Interruption

Niagara Falls City Court Judge Robert Restaino has been taken off the bench after a perfectly bizarre incident involving a cellphone and a short judicial temper. Restaino was upset that someone violated the no cellphone rule and ordered that all 46 people in the courtroom be searched and jailed.

Many judges have been obsessed with cellphones, which interrupt court proceedings and show disrespect to the court. While most lawyers agree with this sentiment and the ban on cellphones, some judges go to extremes. Few, however, go as far as Restaino who reportedly “snapped” when a cellphone went off during a March 2005 session. According to the decision by Raoul Felder, chairman of the state Commission on Judicial Conduct, to remove Restaino, the judge announced “Everyone is going to jail . . . Every single person is going to jail in this courtroom unless I get that instrument now. If anybody believes I’m kidding, ask some of the folks that have been here for a while. You are all going.”When no one confessed, he ordered them all into custody. They were searched and packed into crowded cells. Fourteen of the 46 could not make bail.

Restaino later stated that he is having stress in this personal life. It now appears that he will add professional stress. Indeed, it is possible for these people to sue Restaino in tort for the unlawful arrest.

The judicial campaign against cellphones has become a bit extreme. In the Alexandria federal courthouse, people are not allowed to even bring in their cellphones. While other courts require you to leave the cellphone in a lock box or turn them off, the Eastern District makes you leave the cellphone outside. As a result, there is a “phone bush” where lawyers leave their cellphones near the front door. A dozen cellphones can be seen in the bushes on any given day.

6 thoughts on “New York Judge Removed from Bench After Jailing Entire Courtroom Over Cellphone Interruption”

  1. In all likelihood I was reaching a bit….. 🙂

    But it is fun to bring out one’s pet theories given even the slightest of provocations!

    I think the judge in question was simply having a Very Bad Day.

    But Professor Turley’s point is a good one. Corporate cultures/Judicial cultures…are there such things? How do they change?

    We know the courts have always been sensitive to the public mood. Perhaps the current public mood is more authoritarian, illiberal, and boorish: and this gets reflected in the posture of the judiciary.

  2. There may also be a feeling among judges, seeing the judiciary continually weakened by both the administration and popular attacks on their discretion (see also: Justice Sundays I-III), that their courtrooms are the last bastions where judicial authority has any meaning. Perhaps, in some instances, this leads to unrealistic conceptions of what behaviors are appropriate.

    I, knowing personally a grand total of two judges, couldn’t say. But given the actual siege the judiciary is under, perhaps a siege mentality has set in and fostered some unhealthy notions and (dare I arrogantly conjecture) neuroses.

  3. Interesting point. I actually see a more direct link in how judges are increasingly assuming arbitrary and capricious powers. Cable shows like Judge Judy and Judge Brown fuel this cable-show mentality for some judges.

  4. an amusing story but there’s a darker undercurrent to this lighthearted narrative.

    we are, at all levels, in government getting less and less tolerant of disruption qua disruption in all of its many forms.

    free speech zones, Morse v Fredericks, tasering minimally aggressive civilians, and so forth and so on.

    Sociologists would say this is a classic symptom of a society under unhealthy stress.

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