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New York Sate Court of Appeals

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A white judge who boasted of pointing a loaded gun at a Black man in a New York courtroom has been removed from the bench.

According to reports, a judge in upstate New York who is white was removed from the bench by the state’s highest court after bragging about pointing a loaded gun at a Black man appearing in his courtroom. The state’s Commission on Judicial Conduct handed down the decision to remove Justice Robert J. Putorti on Thursday. He would be the 10th judge to be removed by the Court of Appeals in the last decade.

The incident, which took place in 2015, came a year after Putorti began serving as a judge in Whitehall, New York. According to the appellate court records, a man appeared before Putorti for a hearing over an unpaid fine. Putorti pointed the loaded firearm at the man, who was Black, as he approached the bench. The judge claimed that he drew the firearm after feeling that the litigant approached the bench too quickly. Putorti was known to keep a firearm (which he was licensed to carry) attached to the underside of the bench as he heard cases. He is also an owner of Bigboy’s, a gun and ammunition store in Whitehall.

Putorti would repeatedly tell the story of the incident to family and friends, exaggerating the build and demeanor of the Black litigant by referring to him as “agitated,” a “big Black man” who was “6 feet 9 inches tall” and “built like a football player,” and would say he “feared for his safety”. The man was actually 6 feet and weighed 165 pounds. “We have never had a situation other than this case, where a judge — with or without justification — pointed a gun at a litigant in a courthouse,” Robert H. Tembeckjian, administrator for the state’s Commission on Judicial Conduct, in a statement issued after the decision.

Putorti would concede later that the assistant district attorney nor the police officer stationed within the courtroom would corroborate his account of the situation. The Commission on Judicial Conduct recommended that he be fired last year, but Putorti appealed. However, the appeals board found that Putorti “exploited a classic and common racist trope that Black men are inherently threatening or dangerous,” showing clear bias. They also noted a lack of remorse, as Putorti was participating in fundraising events for the Elks Lodge while on suspension for the incident.