Unvaxxed NY Judge Stripped Of Most Criminal Cases

(February 1, 2022, 6:50 PM EST) -- New York state court administrators have removed most criminal matters from the docket of an unvaccinated Poughkeepsie judge who defied court rules by presiding remotely over such cases and entering the courthouse maskless.

Judge Frank M. Mora is seen in the Poughkeepsie City Court last month without a mask in violation of the state court's COVID-19 mandates.

Law360 reported in January that Poughkeepsie City Court Judge Frank M. Mora was violating the court's COVID-19 protocols by regularly working in the building wearing only a face shield and holding criminal arraignments via video despite being inside the courthouse's back offices the same day, according to courthouse sources and a photograph that showed him not wearing a mask.

A state court spokesperson said Tuesday that Judge Mora may no longer handle arraignments, trials and evidentiary hearings in criminal cases, in line with policy for judges who refuse to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and are denied a religious or medical exemption.

"The District Administrative Judge is making provisions for other judges to assist with the matters that Judge Mora is unable to handle," said the spokesperson, Lucian Chalfen. He added that the judge is still allowed to handle criminal case motions and conferences.

"As he is not in compliance with the Chief Judge's vaccination mandate, he is required to handle cases virtually from home. This limits the type of cases that he can handle," Chalfen explained. "Since criminal arraignments and criminal trials can not be handled virtually, he will not be permitted to conduct either."

Since Jan. 21, Judge Mora's duties presiding over the day's criminal proceedings, called the criminal calendar, have been repeatedly reassigned to the only other Poughkeepsie city court judge, according to emails obtained by Law360. Criminal defense attorneys say he has not presided over any criminal matter since then.

Most recently, the court's chief clerk announced Monday evening that all criminal matters calendared for Tuesday — Judge Mora's assigned day — were canceled.

Court officials also noted that Judge Mora "will assist in the handling of the civil backlog."

The move was not a disciplinary action, although Chalfen pointed out that judges flouting the court's vaccination policy subject themselves to "the possibility of a referral" to the state commission on judicial conduct — the constitutionally designed ethics watchdog empowered to discipline or remove judges.

Judge Mora did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

Law360 previously reported that the actions of Judge Mora underscore what critics deem a double standard favoring judges in the enforcement of COVID-19 rules. As of last month, state officials were poised to fire more than 320 unvaccinated court employees, but officials said they cannot formally discipline Judge Mora any more than they can Court of Appeals Judge Jenny Rivera, who has continued handling cases remotely despite flouting the vaccine mandate.

--Editing by Steven Edelstone.

For a reprint of this article, please contact reprints@law360.com.

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