BALLSTON SPA -- State officials who looked into the conduct of former Saratoga County Family Court Judge Gilbert Abramson said he routinely violated litigants' constitutional rights and should be prevented from sitting on the bench ever again.
The Commission on Judicial Conduct began its investigation two years ago and documented several cases in which people before the court were not advised of their right to an attorney or given adequate hearings. Details of the case were contained in a 36-page determination released on Friday.
Several of the cases involved failure to pay child support and led to incarcerations in the county jail, including one instance in which a man spent 268 days in custody after appearing at a hearing without an attorney.
Rumors of judicial misconduct by Abramson have been circulating for months and were part of the reason Republican Party officials said earlier this year that they would not endorse him for a second 10-year term.
Abramson, a Halfmoon resident elected in 2000, lost the GOP primary to Jennifer Jensen-Bergan in September and abruptly resigned last month.
An interim judge has been appointed, and Jensen-Bergan is set to take office on Jan. 1.
According to the commission's findings, Abramson's record on the bench showed a "profound disregard for the rule of law," and a "continuing insensitivity to the overriding importance of protecting the rights of litigants."
In their determination, commissioners documented 10 incidents dating back to 2008 in which Abramson displayed misconduct on the bench.
Many of the cases center on Abramson's failure to advise litigants that they had a constitutional right to an attorney.
In one case, the commission report states Abramson made "egregious and inexcusable" comments of a sexual nature while sitting on the bench.
According to the commission's findings, Abramson made comments about a litigant's T-shirt that were "ribald and replete with sexual innuendo," and violated his "obligation to be the exemplar of dignity and decorum in the courtroom."
Based on their findings, commissioners have determined Abramson should not be allowed to serve as a judge again in the future.
Abramson has 30 days in which to ask the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals to reconsider the commission's determination.
Since 1978, the Court of Appeals has reviewed 91 determinations made by the commission and accepted their rulings in all but 16 cases.
Robert Roche, Abramson's attorney, said the commission's determination came as a surprise because a stipulation offered to Abramson in September suggested disciplinary action would be halted if he agreed not to seek judicial office again.
"I don't know what the reason for this is," Roche said. "It's an unnecessary thing."
Robert Tembeckjian, the administrator for the commission, said the 11-member commission rejected the stipulation to which Roche referred and that the determination will be defended if Abramson decides to fight it in the Court of Appeals.
Despite agreeing to step down, Roche said Abramson continues to believe he did nothing wrong.
The law was vague about whether judges needed to explicitly inform litigants about their right to an attorney at each and every court hearing and, once the law was clarified, Abramson began to inform litigants of their rights on a routine basis, he said.
Roche said investigators were "desperate to find a case," after the issue was clarified and targeted a hearing in which a litigant who said he did not want an attorney and did not dispute the ruling was not told he had the right to counsel.
"If that's not elevating form over substance, I don't know what is," Roche said.
Roche did acknowledge that Abramson had erred in making inappropriate comments about a litigant's T-shirt.
In that case, Abramson commented about a cartoon turtle on a woman's T-shirt. He said the cartoon looked like a penis and was arousing.
Abramson later explained that he was simply trying to put the woman at ease by lightening the mood.
Roche called the comments "silly and regrettable," but said he "had the best interest of the litigant at heart."