Jonathan Katz agreed to resign from his position as town justice in New Paltz to avoid a hearing which might have resulted in him being removed from office. The specifics of that stipulation of settlement with the administrator of the Commission on Judicial Conduct, signed by all parties last month, was made public this week. According to the settlement papers, Katz broke conflict-of-interest rules when in 2017 he signed an arrest warrant and order of protection against a man on behalf of his wife because Katz was at the time also representing the wife as her divorce attorney.
“I mistakenly signed an arrest warrant for the husband when I was representing the wife in a divorce,” Katz responded to an emailed request for comment. “It was not alleged that I did that on purpose. It was a mistake. However, judges are held to very high standards. I accept responsibility. I had intended to retire as town justice and did so rather than litigate.”
The original complaint brought against Katz provides some details about a divorce which appears to have been contentious, at least at that time. Katz filed a motion in August 2017 requesting that the wife be given sole custody of the home while the divorce was being litigated, but that motion was denied by Judge Marianne Mizel. On November 23 of that year, it’s alleged the husband “threw heavy boxes” at the wife while she was climbing the basement stairs, and then held the door shut to prevent her escape. Katz brought a motion in family court four days later, asking for an order of protection. Judge Keri Savona denied that motion. The wife filed a complaint with New Paltz police about the same incident on November 30, prompting officers to seek a judge’s signature on an arrest warrant (for harassment) and order of protection. It was by signing these documents as town justice that Katz made the mistake to which he admits.
Per the complaint filed by Robert Tembeckjian of the commission, the husband’s attorney — Bruce Blatchly, a town justice in Gardiner — advised Katz of the error, and Katz, in turn, advised police to ask James Bacon to handle the arraignment. Signing the documents without ensuring that the warrant was “facially sufficient” or determining that there was good cause for the temporary order of protection constituted one cause in the complaint against him. The other stems from the fact that he continued to represent the wife in the divorce for nearly a year “notwithstanding that … the judge presiding … questioned the propriety of [Katz] continuing to represent [the wife] under the circumstances.”
The penalties for violating these rules can include admonishment, censure or removal from office. In settling the matter, Katz agreed not only to resign but never again to “seek nor accept judicial office at any time in the future.” To do otherwise would be to reopen this matter for a hearing before a referee.
The New Paltz Town Board conducted interviews for a new town justice at a special meeting on August 12. The board is expected to announce the name of the new town justice at its meeting on Thursday, August 15.