FORT EDWARD — Allegations made against Warren County Family Court Judge Ted Wilson just before his election in 2016 are now heading toward a trial.
He asked this summer for the case to be dismissed, arguing that he had immunity as a judge.
But state Supreme Court Justice Patrick McGrath, who is overseeing the case, said the allegations do not involve “any judicial function,” although Wilson was working as a law clerk at the time. McGrath added that if the allegations are true, they are extremely serious.
“The complaint alleges that a law clerk (Ted Wilson), as a representative of the Judge, charged at an attorney and her client during a conference, screamed at the attorney, insulted her numerous times in front of her client and her associate, and prevented her from leaving his office,” McGrath wrote. “This conduct is outrageous in character, and so extreme in degree, as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency and to be regarded as atrocious and intolerable in a civilized community. The motion to dismiss is therefore denied.”
The case is scheduled for another conference on Feb. 26. A trial, if it happens, would be set for sometime after that date.
The chance for a trial increased substantially when McGrath refused to dismiss the case.
It all began in August 2016, when attorney Melody Mackenzie met with Wilson for a settlement conference. She was representing one side in a complex divorce case, in which the spouses shared a lucrative business, had two children together, and could not agree on anything.
The case had dragged on for 2 1/2 years, and Washington County Family Court Judge Stan Pritzker had ordered both sides to spend an entire day trying to settle before starting a trial the next day. He directed his law clerk, Wilson, to oversee the negotiations.
Wilson got one side to offer a new settlement. But when he called in the other side — represented by Mackenzie — things went rapidly downhill.
Mackenzie said in her legal paperwork that Wilson insulted her — saying she was a “horrible” and “impossible” attorney — and refused to give her a document detailing the new settlement. Instead, Mackenzie wrote, he tried to “bully” her client into accepting it immediately. He threatened that if she did not, the children would not be able to attend their desired school district, she said.
Mackenzie asked one question about the settlement — regarding the way the spouses’ business would be divvied up — and, according to her court documents, Wilson “exploded.”
He shouted at them to “get out” of his office. But as Mackenzie’s client sat crying and begging to have a few more minutes to consider the settlement, Mackenzie asked Wilson to sit back down and return to negotiations. He sat down and began again, she said, but was red-faced and began to shout at her, she said.
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Finally, she decided to tell the judge that they were at an impasse, according to the paperwork.
Both sides agree that Wilson asked — or shouted at — Mackenzie to leave his office during the settlement conference. Both sides also agree that Mackenzie stayed and discussions resumed, but that no progress was made and that Mackenzie eventually said she wanted to talk to the judge.
In Wilson’s paperwork, he said he told her that she could not just walk into the judge’s chambers and demand to talk to him. His paperwork suggests that his next actions were to keep her from doing that.
Mackenzie said he lunged at her so suddenly and aggressively that she and her client thought he was going to hit them. He then walked out of his office through the door behind them — and spoke to the judge, who agreed to see them.
Mackenzie immediately told Pritzker about the situation. But in open court, Pritzker suggested he did not believe them, saying that he knew his law clerk well and had never seen him behave in such a way.
Pritzker then took over the settlement negotiations himself, removing Wilson from the case. Later, the case was reassigned to a Warren County judge.
The week of the incident, Mackenzie filed a complaint about Wilson with the Independent Judicial Qualifications Commission, which rates judge candidates. A poor rating doesn’t stop a candidate from running for office, but the rating system is used by some voters in deciding who to choose. The commission rated Wilson as “highly qualified.”
The commission looked into her complaint, and decided to reaffirm on Oct. 12 that Wilson was “highly qualified.”
While Mackenzie waited for the commission to make a decision, she also filed a complaint with Administrative Judge Vincent Caruso on Sept. 16, more than two weeks after the incident. Caruso questioned the timing of the complaint, noting that Wilson was running for Warren County Family Court judge. He also questioned why Mackenzie would go to the Independent Judicial Qualifications Commission before going to him.
In mid-October, Mackenzie went public, saying she had to tell the voters about the incident. Wilson publicly denied the allegations, but admitted to criticizing her and calling her “paranoid.”
Mackenzie and the two other witnesses to the incident were never interviewed by Caruso or the Independent Judicial Qualifications Commission, according to her court paperwork. The other two witnesses were her client and her legal assistant.