Commission Weighs Possible Removal of Massachusetts Judge
BOSTON — The state's Commission on Judicial Conduct is weighing a hearing officer's recommendation that a Probate and Family Court judge be retired or removed from his post in response to allegations that he inappropriately touched a court employee without her consent.
The commission held a virtual hearing Monday on the recommended discipline against Judge Paul Sushchyk, who was charged with engaging "in willful judicial misconduct and conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice and unbecoming of a judicial officer."
Sushchyk denied any intentional physical contact with the female colleague who made the complaint.
The commission will make its final recommendation to the Supreme Judicial Court within 90 days, its chair, Judge Julie Bernard, said before adjourning the hearing.
The complaint, arising from a reported incident during an April 2019 judicial conference, was the subject of a July hearing. In August, hearing officer Bertha Josephson, a retired judge, filed a report with her factual findings and a recommendation that Suschyk be retired or removed from office.
"Given his misconduct and the public awareness of it, it is extremely unlikely that he would be able to command the respect and authority essential to the performance of his judicial function," Josephson wrote. "The sanction recommended is not an effort to punish Judge Sushchyk so much as an attempt to maintain the trust and confidence in the judiciary and the mechanisms designed to protect the public against judicial wrongdoing."
Sushchyk, a former Sterling police officer who served in the U.S. Army Reserves, was nominated to the bench by Gov. Charlie Baker in January 2018 and unanimously confirmed by the Governor's Council that same month. He is 65, and the mandatory retirement for judges is 70.
The complaint alleges that, around 9 p.m. on April 25, 2019 at a pub in Brewster, Sushchyk placed a hand underneath the buttocks of an employee of the Probate and Family Court's administrative office and "pinched or squeezed" her, without invitation or consent. The employee's statement said that the "grab lasted a few seconds and felt like it was made using a full hand."
Josephson, in her report, said Sushchyk confirmed he had visited the woman's table but denied intentionally touching her. According to the report, he said in a written statement that he had placed a hand toward her chair at one point to steady himself "and came into momentary contact with a portion of her lower body," and then when testifying under oath at the subsequent hearing, he said he had not come into physical contact with her "and that his written account saying that he had accidentally touched her was untrue."
The report cites text messages the woman sent to her sister shortly after the incident, which said,"OMG. i think one of the judges grabbed my butt on purpose!!!" and "He is also carrying a hip flask, so maybe just fell?? Except it was a distinct pinch!!"
Of the woman who made the complaint, Josephson wrote, "Based on her testimony and my observations of her over the hours she testified, including during rigorous cross-examination, I believe her."
During Monday's hearing, the court employee described the judicial conduct commission's handling of her report as "unnecessarily traumatic" for her and her family, saying that she should not have had to fight to keep her name out of a press release or to keep her mother, who has terminal cancer, from needing to go into a courthouse during a pandemic. She said she agreed with Josephson's recommendation.
Attorney Michael Angelini read a statement from Sushchyk, which again denied non-consensual, intentional physical contact. The statement said he had not faced any other allegations of inappropriate behavior and requested that the commission recommend Sushchyk be returned for future service as a judge.
"I have learned invaluable and hard lessons since the complaint was made against me," Sushchyk said in the statement. "I have been reminded that while serving as a judge, I must conduct myself in a manner, at all times, befitting my office, 24 hours a day and seven days a week. I have been reminded that I must be cognizant and mindful of all acts and statements, and especially in social settings. I have been reminded that I must temper, if not abstain from, all alcohol consumption, particularly in a social setting. I have been reminded that I must continue without reservation to continue to respect the gender, nature and rights of all persons with whom I come into contact, both on the bench and off, and I have been reminded that I must never put myself in a position where claims of this nature could ever be made against me."
— Katie Lannan/SHNS