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GETTING RESULTS: New Rochelle Judge Acknowledges Illegal Campaign Contribution to Council Member Barry Fertel

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GETTING RESULTS: New Rochelle Judge Acknowledges Illegal Campaign Contribution to Council Member Barry Fertel

October 25, 2011 - 21:34
13 comments

Kettner Fertel
In response to a story first reported here on Talk of the Sound, New Rochelle City Judge Susan Kettner released an email to WVOX which she says was sent to the Treasurer of the Friends of Barry Fertel Campaign Committee. The email was read over the air earlier today.

In the email, Kettner acknowledged that a $500 campaign donation made to New Rochelle City Council Member Barry Fertel was illegal and that she had requested the return of the full amount of the check. Kettner claims that she believed that up until May 2, 2011, four months after she was sworn in as a judge, she would continue to be able to function as a private citizen. On what basis she should believe that is unclear.

Like all individuals who are seeking state-paid elective judicial office, Kettner was required to a complete a two-hour judicial campaign ethics training program. This requirement is specified under New York State law (22 NYCRR 100.5(A)(4)(f); 100.6(A); N.Y. Rule 8.2(b). For the elections held on November 2, 2010, the course was offered at Pace Law School on April 26, 2010, June 9, 2010 and August 25, 2010. The course covers Rules Governing Judicial Conduct, Professional Responsibility, the Judicial Campaign Ethics Handbook, Advisory Opinion on Judicial Ethics.

The training materials provided to judicial candidates repeatedly make clear that once an individual becomes a candidate for elective judicial office that they are governed by the New York State judicial ethics code. In Kettner's case she won her election and was sworn in as a judge. The idea that Susan Kettner thought that she could "function as a private citizen" at any point after becoming a judicial candidate is simply not credible.

Kettner's email confirms that the purpose of the $500 check was to purchase two tickets to a fundraiser for Barry Fertel on May 12, 2011. That being the case, Kettner's email is an admission to multiple violations of New York State laws governing judicial ethics. A judge or judicial candidate is never permitted to make a campaign contribution except to purchase tickets to a fundraiser and this may only occur during a limited period of time.

Judges and judicial candidates are severely restricted from engaging in political activity except under certain conditions during a limited period of time before and after an election -- the "Window Period" (the period 9 months before a convention, primary or general election and 6 months after a general election). Kettner was elected on November 2, 2010 so the window period ended on May 2, 2011. During that time Kettner was not allowed to make campaign contributions except to buy tickets to fundraisers for no more than $250 per ticket unless tickets were sold for less.

Fertel held a fundraiser on May 12, 2011 where he sold tickets for as low as $75 so, regardless of when she purchased the tickets, Kettner made an impermissible political contribution by giving $350 more than allowed under the ethics rules. If she purchased the tickets but did not use them that is an impermissible political contribution. If she went to a fundraiser after May 2, 2011, then she engaged in impermissible political activity. In other words, she is damned if she did and damned if she didn't. She has no way out of having to cop to multiple ethics violations. Not a great way to begin the first year of what is supposed to be a ten-year term as city judge.

Kettner's email failed to address additional contributions she made in the months after being sworn in a city court judge nor did she address contributions made by her mother. Family members are also covered under New York State judicial ethics laws.

Kettner's email, as read over the WVOX airwaves, said:

Ms Meridith A. Hilton
Treasurer
Friends of Barry Fertel Campaign Committee

Dear Meri,

Today I was advised that my personal check to the Fertel Committee on April 29th, 2011 was not permissible under judicial regulations. We are in agreement that the full amount of the check will be returned to me to correct this matter.

It was my initial belief that I had a six month period from the date of my election as city court judge, that being November 2nd, 2010, before I would become ineligible to participate in any political activities. I thought in the time prior to May 2, 2011, I would be able to function as a private citizen.

The question was raised earlier today. I sought and received advice from an individual with detailed knowledge of the restrictions. They advised me that despite the fact that the contribution was sent before the May 2nd deadline the contribution was not permissible thus return of the check is required.

Thank you for your cooperation

Sincerely

Susan Kettner

The key word here is "despite".

Kettner says she was advised by an "individual with detailed knowledge of the restrictions" that the contribution was illegal "despite the fact that the contribution was sent before the May 2nd deadline". At no time is a judge or judicial candidate permitted to make any campaign contribution except to purchase tickets for a fundraiser so the only reason the date of May 2nd would apply is if she had purchased tickets which, as noted above, is a tacit admission to multiple ethics violations.

Kettner also says that she believed that she a six month period during which she was permitted to participate in any political activities like any other private citizen. It is inconceivable that a judicial candidate would read the law, study the ethics rules, take the ethics course and come away with the understand that he or she is free to do whatever they want regarding political activity or political contributions during the "Window Period".

Kettner will have the opportunity to explain her supposed confusion on judicial ethics at some point soon. A copy of the original article on Talk of the Sound was sent (by me) the New York State Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics which has confirmed receipt.

There are 13 Comments

This is all about power and control. Noam is a control FREAK and his disciples are dunk on that power. They feel they are above the rules and laws doing as they wish. Thankfully Cox has caught them with their pants down and it's an UGLY SIGHT!

I don't mind if Cox catches them with their pants dow, but did he have to post a picture of Barry Ferels a$$?

Oh, so sorry--that's his head.

So who starts the investigation? Some politically appointed lawyer at the federal level? How do they even find out about such things?

Robert Cox's picture

Kettner's claim to think the law allowed her to engage in partisan political activity while serving on the bench is breathtaking. More on that in a moment.

I sent a copy of the story to the New York State Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics and, having gotten a reply from them the next day, believe they are now looking into Kettner's campaign donations (not just the one to Barry Fertel but several others over the past 18 moths).

What I find breathtaking is that Kettner would claim that she thought the law designed to strictly limit her political conduct allowed her to conduct herself as a "private citizen" and thus not subject to judicial ethics laws even after she was sworn in as a judge. The law is quite clear -- and the mandatory training reinforced this over and over again -- that the moment she put herself forward as a candidate for an elected judicial position she was subject to state ethics laws for judges and judicial candidates.

During the training, each judicial candidate was given a card from the Judicial Campaign Ethics Center containing contact information and promising candidates "expedited ethical advice" about their own prospective campaign conduct. By her statement, Kettner apparently never contacted the Center, never read the Rules governing Judicial Conduct, never read 100.5, did not read the FAQ sheet she received during training, did not pay attention during the mandatory training, never sought the advice of the two other judges with which she serves (Rice or Colangelo) or her predecessor (Scher).

I mention all this because it is impossible that anyone who runs for judge in New York State would believe that they are free to engage in any manner of partisan politics before, during or after their election as a judge. Simply put, Kettner is either not telling the truth or is too lazy, stupid and irresponsible to be a judge.

I have met many, many appointed and elected judges over the years and discussed some of these very same issues. I was in invited by Justice Sandra Day O'Connor to be part of her Conference for a Fair and Independent Judiciary. I have been to numerous judicial conferences. I have discussed judicial ethics with members of the U.S. Supreme Court. I have made presentations to the U.S. Conference on the Judiciary, to the U.S. District Court in Washington DC and the National Judicial College.

In all that time I have never met anyone associated with the judiciary who believed that judicial ethics did not apply to them at any point during which they were on the bench.

Note she did not say that she was unaware of the "Window Period". She knew of a deadline of May 2nd, 2011. She would have us believe that she knew there was a window period but that she did not know why there was a window period or what it meant or how it applied to her.

Puh-leeze.

In the entire body of state law (New York Codes, Rules and Regulations or NYCRR) there are just a few pages that cover judicial conduct and just one section (100.5) that covers political activity by judges and judicial candidates. If Kettner is claiming that she is not capable of reading and understanding the few pages related to her position as a judge then on what basis is she sitting as judge in cases involving criminal and civil law?

I can assure readers who may not be familiar with matters involving judicial ethics that Kettner's behavior is going to be taken very seriously and while her excuses may provide political talking points for her supporters in the Democratic Party, they will get short shift from members of the ethics committee. I fully expect she will get, at minimum, a reprimand which will be part of her permanent record as a judge.

Meridith Hilton a neighbor of Barry Fertel in the Bayberry Community along with now being the head of the Barry Fertel for Council District 5 sits as a seated member on the New Rochelle IDA. She has been seated by Fertel and Noam to continue the IDA Ruse now that Marrianne Sussman seems to be slowing down her cronieism for Noam.

Robert Cox's picture

Noam said in the recent LWV debate that the NRIDA was an independent body that makes decisions solely in the best interests of New Rochelle.

Just because an IDA member is serving as the treasurer for a City Council Member's political campaign does not mean they cannot be independent.

Right?

They keep tapping into the same talent pool.
They are just using the same Genes over and over.
I am sure the Comptroller would find it all interesting.

When and if I or anyone has to appear in court while she is presiding, can we claim ignorance to NYS Motor Vehicle Law, or Municipal/Criminal Code as a line of defense?

There are many places within NY State Government to take Boy Wonder to task. The comptrollers office is doing a brisk New Ro Complaint business. I will tell you they are listening in Albany. I will also admit the Attorney Generals office when Cuomo was there was hear no evil but I will tell you that Noam ears should be ringing from the amount of heat on him UPState.
And every resident is welcome to complain which opens him to defend every action he and his cronies take.
We have little other choice to keep him in check.
Keep up the heat.Thank you Bob!!

Kettner,Fertel,Bramson and the rest are just plain false they have been and will continue to rob and destroy this city day by day.Ask yourself this is the City of New Rochelle better off today than four years ago?If you answered YES then you are a sure vote for Noam and crew.Have a great day

As a best practice it is not recommended that a
majority of appointed board members have a political or employment relationship
to the government for whose purpose the public authority was created.

Clearly this would preclude Ms. Hilton from serving on the NRIDA and as Barry Fertels Campaign manager..
End of Story

And this, my fellow New Rochelle Citizens, is why New Rochelle is in Hell's Handbag. We elect judges that don't even know laws, rules and regulations. No wonder New Rochelle crime is on the rise.

this judge should have to step down for doing this just like the building inspector stepped down and the police women resigned recently. the judges credibility is not trustworthy anymore. bring in new blood new rochelle.from the mayor to city councel,and police commissioner.time for change.new ideas would help.

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