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Judge Announced Retirement Effective September 30th; NYS Commission Not Yet Rendered Determination About Complaint
Supreme Court Justice Robert M. Berliner has agreed to retire amid allegations of prohibited political activity.
The Justice agreed to retire after he was served with a formal written complaint from the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct dated April 25, alleging that in September 2015 and November 2017 he engaged in prohibited political activity on behalf of two candidates for judicial office by accompanying and/or introducing them to three gatherings of community and political leaders in Orange and Rockland counties to promote their candidacies.
The Commission is an independent state agency charged with investigating allegations of judicial misconduct against New York state, county, town and village judges.
The complaint was served after a lengthy investigation with which Berliner cooperated, commission officials said. The Commission has not rendered a determination on the merits of the complaint, but issued a Decision and Order accepting the resignation. Judge Berliner resigned in lieu of answering the allegations in the complaint.
Berliner has served as a Justice of the Supreme Court, 9th Judicial District, since 2008. He previously served as the Rockland County Surrogate from 2006 to 2007. He was re-elected in November and if recertified, he would have been required to retire on or before Dec. 31, 2028.
Berliner, 70, announced his retirement June 7.
“I am writing to inform you that I have decided to retire from my position as a Justice of the Supreme Court Ninth Judicial District effective September 30, 2022,” Berliner said in a letter to Judge Lawrence Marks, the chief administrative judge for the State Of New York Unified Court System.
He agreed to leave office and never seek or accept judicial office at any time in the future. The Commission accepted a stipulation to that effect signed by the judge, his attorney, and the Commission’s Administrator.
“Judges must be and appear unswayed by partisan politics,” said Commission Administrator Robert Tembeckjian in a statement Wednesday. “Prohibiting their involvement in political campaigns, except when running for judicial office themselves, is essential to public confidence in the independence and impartiality of the judiciary. Promoting someone else’s candidacy with political leaders is inconsistent with this mandate.”
Last October, Berliner, along with a slate of four Democratic candidates ran for seats in the NYS Supreme Court 9th Judicial District, which includes Westchester, Putnam, Rockland, Orange and Dutchess Counties. Berliner, the only incumbent, along with the rest of the slate, captured the 14-year judgeships.
The Justice has ruled in several high-profile Rockland County cases including a ruling against the Palisades Center’s $2.64 million reimbursement request in property taxes from Clarkstown, the county, and the Clarkstown School District.
Berliner last January also sided with the plaintiffs in the case involving the still-unbuilt TZVista development in Nyack, ordering developer Bill Helmer to transfer a disputed tract of land into the partnership, and denied a request to dissolve the partnership and sell off its assets. Helmer has appealed the decision.
Berliner began his career in 1977 as a law assistant for the Kings County Family Court. In 1979, he became a principal law assistant of the Rockland County Family Court. He then worked as a principal court attorney for the Surrogate’s and Supreme Court of Rockland County from 1984 to 2004. Prior to his election to Supreme Court, Justice Berliner served in the foreclosure court, and in the Westchester Country Matrimonial part.
He also taught as an adjunct professor at Rockland Community College from 1994 to 1999. In 2005, he served as a principal law clerk of the Rockland County Supreme Court.