On Friday, October 6, 2023, The City reported that Ralph Fabrizio, an acting justice of the Bronx County Supreme Court, Criminal Term in the 12th Judicial District of New York, is under scrutiny once again after a recent altercation with an attorney, leading to renewed calls for his reassignment.
Fabrizio, known for his combative demeanor, confronted the attorney, Stacey Richman, during a murder case, accusing her of refusing to proceed with the proceedings. Richman had cited a lack of evidence provided by the prosecutors as her reason for not participating in a scheduled pretrial hearing.
Initially, Fabrizio appeared willing to accommodate the delay. However, his attitude changed drastically after the defendant, an alleged member of the Hells Angels facing charges related to a 2020 shooting, was brought into the courtroom. Expressing frustration over the proposed delay, the judge threatened to reject a defense motion and declared his intention to appoint a new attorney, Frank Tatulli, for the defendant.
Despite his initial threat, Fabrizio eventually scheduled the hearing for two months later, with Richman continuing as counsel. Another attorney present during the incident described the judge’s behavior as erratic and unsettling, stating that Fabrizio would alternate between screaming and returning to normal behavior.
This incident follows a pattern of similar behavior by Fabrizio, leading to multiple formal complaints from prosecutors and defense attorneys since 2008. Critics argue that the judge’s conduct, particularly his willingness to deny a person’s right to a constitutional hearing due to a scheduling conflict, demonstrates his unsuitability for the role.
The incident also comes just over a month after Fabrizio drew criticism for vacating and subsequently reinstating the wrongful conviction of a man named Norberto Peets, only to vacate it again shortly after media inquiries were made. Oded Oren, founder of the judicial accountability organization Scrutinize, called for action to be taken against Fabrizio, highlighting the need for consistent standards in the removal and demotion of judges who exhibit misconduct.
In contrast to Fabrizio’s lenient treatment, other judges have faced consequences for their actions. Naita Semaj-Williams, a Bronx judge, was quietly removed from criminal court after facing negative press for releasing a defendant facing manslaughter charges before trial and discrediting a police officer’s testimony in a high-profile case involving a local rapper.
Despite numerous complaints against Fabrizio, court administrators have allowed him to continue presiding over cases in The Bronx. The Chief Administrative Judge, Joseph Zayas, declined to comment on the matter.
The latest incident involving Fabrizio’s confrontation with Richman highlights the judge’s history of disregarding proper conduct in the courtroom. New York’s judicial conduct rules emphasize the importance of judges being patient, dignified, and courteous to litigants and affording them the right to be heard. However, Fabrizio has been accused of verbally abusing litigants, attacking their character, and threatening attorneys with contempt and jail.
Past complaints against Fabrizio have not resulted in public disciplinary actions. In 2020, a Bronx prosecutor filed a complaint citing 14 separate instances of the judge’s abusive behavior, but no action was taken by the New York Commission on Judicial Conduct.
Fabrizio’s tenure as a judge began in 2001 when he was appointed by former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Despite objections from critics, former Mayor Bill de Blasio reappointed him for a 10-year term in 2018. Defense attorney Alice Fontier, who submitted a complaint against Fabrizio during the reappointment process, described the judge as unpredictable, with rulings that seemed to depend more on his mood than on legal considerations.
The ongoing concerns surrounding Fabrizio’s conduct raise questions about the accountability of judges and the need for consistent standards in the judicial system.
Source: The City