An uncivil Queens judge may lose his job in civil court.
Hotheaded very well-connected Judge Terrence O’Connor faces removal from the bench for berating lawyers and trying to stonewall investigators examining his conduct, a state commission said Wednesday.
O’Connor, who took office in 2009 and earns $193,500 a year, refused to testify on April 7, 2017, for a hearing before the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.
“This place is a f—ing clown show,” he grumbled as he left the hearing, according to a decision by the commission.
O’Connor, the son of the late Queens District Attorney, a retired judge of the Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court Frank D. O’Connor*, was already censured in 2013 for doing outside work while serving as a judge. He’s currently posted in Queens Housing Court.
“The evidence adduced at the hearing depicts a judge who, in his own court, was belligerent, rude and condescending to attorneys,” the commission wrote.
According to the panel, O’Connor, 69, flipped out on more than one occasion when a lawyer said “OK” while questioning a witness. The judge felt the attorneys were leading witnesses, and his irritation led to comical exchanges in which he threatened attorneys — only raising the tension until they slipped and said “OK” again.
“A judge should be able to distinguish between willful disregard of a judicial order and a verbal tic that is of little consequence,” the commission wrote.
In a February 2014 episode, O’Connor flipped out at attorney Bessie Chinboukas for “making speeches” and “wasting everybody’s time.” When Chinboukas replied “Thank you, Your Honor,” O’Connor blew up again.
“You don’t have to sarcastically say thank you every time I make a ruling, OK counsel?” he said. “Maybe you should do something right for a change instead of just apologizing all the time!”
In March 2015, O’Connor berated a lawyer who failed to take off his coat and had his phone in his lap. “Is there some course in law school now, how to be discourteous and how to be rude? Because if there is, you must have gotten an ‘A’ in it!” O’Connor said, apparently without irony.
O’Connor’s angry calls for proper courtroom decorum made him a haughty hypocrite, the commission found.
“Quick to chastise lawyers for perceived discourtesy, sarcasm and unprofessional behavior, respondent himself engaged in such conduct, subjecting lawyers to harsh personal criticisms and insults in front of their clients, peers and others in the courtroom,” it wrote.
While the panel found O’Connor’s behavior offensive, his undoing appears to be his efforts to block the commission.
“Failing to cooperate, and acting in a manner intended to thwart an ethics inquiry, is itself misconduct, often more serious than the underlying misbehavior,” Commission Administrator Robert Tembeckjian said.
The Court of Appeals must approve the recommendation to remove O’Connor, who was elected to a 10-year term in 2008.
Landlord-tenant lawyer Glenn Michaelson described his experience before O’Connor as “bad.”
“He called me an idiot in open court,” Michaelson said.
“He was like a time bomb looking to explode,” the lawyer recalled. To boot, he said, “He knew absolutely nothing about landlord-tenant law.”