On Tuesday, April 30, 2024, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct announced that it had determined Acting Supreme Court Justice Mark J. Grisanti of Erie County should be censured for engaging in a street brawl with his neighbors and for participating in cases involving a lawyer with whom he had a financial relationship.

The Commission’s Administrator, Robert H. Tembeckjian, had recommended Justice Grisanti be removed from office, citing the seriousness of his misconduct. However, the Commission voted 6-4 in favor of censure instead.

The first charge against Justice Grisanti stemmed from an altercation that took place on June 22, 2020, in his neighborhood over a parking spot. According to the Commission’s release, Justice Grisanti initiated a verbal and physical confrontation with a neighbor and the neighbor’s wife upon seeing their car parked near his driveway. Both Justice Grisanti and his wife confronted and yelled profanities at the neighbors, and a physical altercation ensued between the parties.

When police arrived at the scene in response to Justice Grisanti’s 911 call, they captured events on body camera footage. One officer attempted to handcuff Justice Grisanti’s wife after she was brought to the ground, which prompted Justice Grisanti to shove the officer and yell threats about his police officer family members. Justice Grisanti himself was subsequently handcuffed and detained.

The second charge regarded Justice Grisanti’s participation in legal matters tied to lawyer Peter J. Pecoraro after Grisanti sold his law practice to Pecoraro and another lawyer, Matthew A. Lazroe, in 2015. Grisanti received installment payments for the sale until 2017 but still presided over eight cases involving Lazroe, either awarding him assignments, failing to disclose their ongoing financial relationship, or not reporting the income from the law practice sale.

In its determination, the Commission acknowledged Justice Grisanti’s street fight incident was “very serious” but did not merit removal on its own since it occurred in the context of an ongoing neighborhood dispute and Grisanti had acted to defend his wife. It also noted some mitigating factors, such as Grisanti attending counseling. However, the Commission found Grisanti’s conflicts of interest in cases involving Lazroe also constituted misconduct warranting public discipline.

Administrator Tembeckjian commented that public trust is damaged when judges engage in violent altercations or handle matters tied to their own financial interests. He believed removal was the appropriate sanction but respected the Commission’s authority to determine otherwise. Looking ahead, Tembeckjian said he hoped Grisanti would appreciate how narrowly he avoided removal and conduct himself with the integrity expected of a judge.

Justice Grisanti now has 30 days to request the New York Court of Appeals to review the censure decision. If no review is requested, the Commission will proceed with the censure.

According to the press release, Judge Grisanti has been a Judge of the Court of Claims and an Acting Justice of the Supreme Court since 2015.

A copy of the original filing can be found here.