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NY Sens. Demand Top Judge Correct Record On DiFiore Detail

By Frank G. Runyeon · 2023-03-06 16:22:49 -0500 ·

State Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal
State Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal
New York lawmakers on Monday vented frustration at state court officials over a top judge's misleading testimony about the risks justifying former Chief Judge Janet DiFiore's security detail, which she kept after leaving office.

Citing Law360's reporting, state senators expressed concern that Chief Administrative Judge Tamiko Amaker shaded the truth in her testimony to the once-a-year joint Senate and Assembly budget and oversight hearing on Feb 7. Judge Amaker defended the court system's decision to provide a seven-year court officer chauffeur and protection detail for DiFiore, but omitted key details about several incidents that raise doubts about whether the unprecedented escort was necessary.

"I'm troubled by the apparent inaccurate responses to questions by Sen. [Michael] Gianaris and my own inquiries provided by [the Office of Court Administration] on the Fmr Chief Judge's security detail," said Judiciary Committee Chair Brad Hoylman-Sigal on Twitter. "I expect OCA to correct the record by submitting amended testimony to the NY State Legislature."

Deputy Majority Leader Gianaris, who sparred with Judge Amaker during the hearing over what he saw as her "filibustering," doubled down on his earlier criticism of the security detail.

"It is unacceptable that the NYS judiciary has the audacity to mislead the public and the legislature," Gianaris tweeted. "Our court system has serious transparency and corruption problems," he said, citing a package of reforms to broaden judicial misconduct disciplinary powers and mandate training on bail reforms. "More must be done."

"Being independent should not mean being unaccountable," Gianaris later told Law360. "The arrogance of the judicial administration is striking. They seem to think they can operate with impunity, even misleading at a public hearing to justify completely inappropriate spending of public resources."

"That is unacceptable," Gianaris added. "There must be next steps. We cannot allow this level of complete disregard of public responsibility to go unchecked." Those further actions are still under discussion, he said.

Sen. James Skoufis, chair of the Investigations and Government Operations Committee, lamented that Judge Amaker had not been placed under oath for her testimony.

"This is why, as a matter of practice, every individual that testifies at a legislative hearing should be administered an oath and sworn in," Skoufis said in a tweet. "People lie. When they do [lie] to the Legislature, there ought to be consequences."

Lucian Chalfen, a spokesperson for the state court system, told Law360 Monday evening that Judge Amaker "stated the facts as she knew them at the time of her testimony and is writing a letter to the Legislature to clarify the record."

In her testimony, Judge Amaker said there were "50 either inappropriate communications or judicial threats" against DiFiore during the chief judge's tenure. Detailing several examples, Judge Amaker described a stalker and a death threat as part of an "escalating" series of grave threats that necessitated the unprecedented security detail.

An "irate" man "stalked" DiFiore to her Long Island vacation home in 2018, approaching her at a restaurant and "standing in the middle of the street screaming, 'Where is Janet? I need to see Janet' at the top of his lungs," Judge Amaker said. In 2020, a man who killed a federal judge's son in New Jersey had DiFiore's photo and address. And in 2021, an "individual said he was going to kill [DiFiore] and her entire family," Judge Amaker also testified.

In fact, a Law360 investigation found that court officials apparently never reported the alleged stalker to local police in Southampton, where the incident was supposed to have occurred. Police there had no record or recollection of it.

Judge Amaker also failed to mention that the New Jersey shooter, a lone wolf, was already dead by the time police learned he had DiFiore's information.

The administrative judge further failed to note in her testimony that the death threat letter came from a Florida prisoner who was safely behind bars at the start of an eight-year term. The inmate had a history of mental illness and had no apparent connection to DiFiore, who never received the letter because it was sent to a Manhattan federal courthouse.

The letter was sent in 2019, not in 2021 as Judge Amaker testified, undercutting her claim of "escalating" threats over a period of several years.

Judicial security experts told Law360 that the events cited by Judge Amaker do not amount to any threat-based justification for a full-time security detail.

"Much has been made about the factual misstatement contained in Judge Amaker's testimony, but it was never her intention to mislead anyone," Chalfen said, solely referring to the judge misstating the date of the threat letter. "Judge Amaker briefly scanned a document related to the case dated 2021, and at the time of her testimony believed that that is when the incident occurred."

"An individual who is incarcerated in Florida wrote to the former chief judge and stated he would kill her and her family slow and that he had enclosed a toxic substance. That incident took place in 2019 and at the time of her testimony Judge Amaker believed that that is when the incident occurred," Chalfen said, noting that the man was sentenced to two more years in prison for the threatening letter.

The substance in the letter was a seasoning packet, according to court records.

Chalfen did not address why Judge Amaker omitted other details about risks she said justified the unprecedented court officer detail.

For months, court administrators have declined to answer questions about the specifics of the risks that justified DiFiore's seven-year state-funded detail involving six to eight court officers at a cost of millions of dollars to taxpayers.

No previous chief judge had such an escort in office, and no ex-chief has kept her chauffeurs after leaving office, except DiFiore.

--Editing by Marygrace Anderson.

Update: This article has been updated with comment from a spokesperson for the New York court system.

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