Oppenheim town justice who quit in June faced misconduct allegations

Monday, October 1, 2012
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— An Oppenheim town justice resigned his seat in June rather than fight allegations he committed judicial misconduct, according to the state Commission on Judicial Conduct.

Robert L. Link resigned effective June 30. He was elected Jan. 1, 2004, to a four-year term. His current term expires Dec. 31, 2014. The position pays $4,500 annually. The Town Board has the option to fill his seat.

The formal complaint, served against him in April, alleges he committed three charges of judicial misconduct between May 2009 and September 2010. He allegedly:

* Failed to advise a defendant of the right to counsel or the right to a hearing, improperly elicited admissions from the defendant, considered and relied on ex parte communications (one-sided communications), found the defendant guilty without a plea or trial, and imposed sentence without giving the defendant an opportunity to contest the charges.

* Failed to advise a defendant of the right to counsel or to a hearing in two cases, improperly elicited admissions from the defendant, considered ex parte communications, found a defendant guilty without a plea or trial, failed to disclose personal involvement in a defendant’s business operation and then failed to disqualify himself from the matter and failed to mechanically record court proceedings in two cases.

* Failed to mechanically record court proceedings in two cases.

Robert Tembeckjian, administrator for the judicial commission, said Link did not admit to committing judicial conduct or anything improper when he resigned. “He was charged with serious misconduct and in the face of that, he chose to leave the bench,” Tembeckjian said.

In a stipulation to the judicial commission, Link agreed not to seek or accept judicial office in the future.

Link was not available for comment. A woman answering the phone at his home said Link retired after he trained a new town justice and that he faces no charges. His resignation letter to the town said he tried to retire two years ago, but the town asked him to stay on. He said he was “now ready to retire and am giving you my notice as of June 30, 2012. I will resign my position as town justice of Oppenheim.”

The complaint alleges that Link presided over a May 19, 2010, hearing involving dog nuisance and dog license violations against Veronica Thompson, who runs a nonprofit corporation named Help A Hound, a dog rescue operation.

During this hearing, Link questioned Thompson about the tickets and got her to admit her dogs were running loose, according to the complaint. At no time during the hearing did he put anyone under oath or allow Thompson the right to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty, to have an attorney present or to have a hearing on the complaints, the state complaint said.

Link also told Thompson that he had “numerous complaints” about her dogs, and acknowledged that he had spoken ex parte with the dog warden, some sheriff’s deputies, a state trooper and one of the complaining witnesses, according to the complaint. At this point, the complaint states, Link should have disqualified himself from the case.

Further, the complaint alleges that Link found Thompson guilty and fined her $515, all without advising her of her rights, without taking sworn testimony and without obtaining other evidence.

Tembeckjian said Link’s ruling remains against Thompson, despite the complaint. “A commission’s disciplinary decision does not have any effect on underlying cases. Litigants and their attorneys will have to pursue their own remedies,” he said.

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