Judicial Destruction of Court Records

Judicial Destruction of Court Records

Most court employees adhere to directives from New York State’s Deputy Chief Administrative Judge, Jan H. Plumadore. There are only a few people more powerful in this state than Judge Plumadore, and as a state court employee, when the Deputy Chief Administrative Judge says to do something, you make sure you do it.

Unless, according to the latest allegations, you are operating from state and county courts in Westchester County.

In March of 2006, Duputy Chief Administrative Judge Plumadore advised all state District Administrative judges that, “Members of the media have complained that they are being denied access to records in some courts where the practice is for the parties to submit court papers directly to the judge rather than file them first with clerk’s office.”

By all accounts, most of the state’s 12 judicial district administrative judges complied with the further directive from Judge Plumadore, “Please advise your judges that…the Rules for the Supreme and County Courts…each require that papers submitted to a judge must be filed with the clerk of the court “at the first available opportunity” so as to become part of the record accessible by the public.”

But according to the latest allegations, not only was Judge Plumadore’s directive ignored in Westchester County, certain deliberate actions were taken to systematically destroy court documents that were placed in many case files.

“Judge Plumadore’s directives may have force in other judicial districts around the state,” says one insider, “But what [Judge] Plumadore thinks doesn’t matter in the 9th Judicial District, [9th Judicial District Administrative Judge Francis A.] Nicolai listens to no one, and [Judge] Nicolai does what he wants,” the source says.

(The state’s 9th Judicial District encompasses Westchester, Rockland, Orange, Putnam and Dutchess counties.)

One judge, and who will not be identified for this article, says that Judge Nicolai gathered all Westchester county and supreme court judges shortly after Judge Plumadore’s March 2006 directive. Notably, it is alleged, the “Plumadore March 2006 Memo” had not been copied, or referenced in any subsequent memo, to any of the justices.

The meeting was short and, according to one judge in attendance, consisted of Judge Nicolai screaming, “I never fixed any case. I NEVER told you what to do in a case.” The allegation suggests that all the judges “got the message.” Another judge, and who also attended the meeting, viewed Judge Nicolai’s advisement as a “threat.”

It would later be revealed that around the time period involved, that not only had he received the Plumadore March 2006 Memo, Judge Nicolai had also been advised that nearly a half dozen official complaints had been filed against him, including charges of judicial steering and improperly attempting to influence the outcome in specific cases.

Three individuals familiar with the allegations confirm that there had been a brewing concern around the Westchester courts concerning Judge Nicolai’s improper interjection of himself, and his desires, in certain court cases. They also confirmed that many Westchester judges had themselves placed “cover your ass” memos in the court case files.

“The judges assigned to a particular case would put a memo in the file to protect themselves,” they say. “The memos said “Admin. Judge [Nicolai] says to take case and send it back to Judge so-and-so” or “Admin. Judge says to have Judge so-and-so decide contempt motion”.”

Exactly what happened next is unclear, according to the allegations, however it is known that many dozens, and possibly hundreds of Westchester court files then found their way to a shredder.

According to informed sources, at least two Westchester judges, three law clerks and numerous other court employees have come forward to confirm the troubling series of events and have provided additional evidence. “This is very upsetting,” says one employee. “Things have just gotten totally out of control in the courts here [Westchester]. What happened is illegal, and it’s just wrong.”

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