The judge who pulled a gun on a Black litigant in his courtroom cannot reclaim his seat on the bench, New York’s high court ruled Thursday. The complaint stems from an incident in 2015 when Judge Robert Putorti waved a gun after a Black man quickly crossed the “stop line” in front of the bench, Courthouse News reports. The man had been sentenced by Putorti over a knife assault on two people. “Judges must observe higher standards of conduct than members of the general public, so that the integrity of the judiciary will be preserved,” New York Court of Appeals judges wrote. Putorti repeatedly recounted the incident in news articles and to other judges and court personnel. “Rather than show remorse, he described his conduct in a press interview and boasted about it to his colleagues, while repeatedly, and gratuitously, referring to the litigant’s race,” the judges said.
In 2020, the Commission on Judicial Conduct voted 10 to 1 to remove Putorti from the bench for his “extreme breach of judicial decorum.” The commission’s decision pointed to Putorti’s emphasis on calling the litigant a “large Black man,” saying it showed evidence of racial bias. Following his removal, the court suspended Putorti without pay. His term was set to expire in 2025. In arguments in front of the court, Putorti said he was not acting with racial bias and was simply trying to describe the man. In their opinion, the Court of Appeals judges pushed back against this argument. “But this is not a mere physical description of the litigant,” the judges wrote. “By repeatedly referring to the litigant in the manner that he did, [Putorti] exploited a classic and common racist trope that Black men are inherently threatening or dangerous, exhibiting bias or, at least, implicit bias.”