A judge in upstate New York was removed from the bench on Thursday, eight years after pointing a loaded gun at a Black man who appeared in his courtroom, New York’s highest court announced.
The announcement from the court, the New York State Court of Appeals, upheld a recommendation made last year by the state’s Commission on Judicial Conduct.
It said that the judge, Robert J. Putorti, had repeatedly bragged about the episode and used a racist trope to describe the litigant at whom he pointed the gun — factors that contributed to the decision to remove him.
Robert Tembeckjian, the commission’s administrator and counsel, described the 2015 episode as “a very singular act of misconduct.”
“We have never had a situation other than this case, where a judge — with or without justification — pointed a gun at a litigant in a courthouse,” Mr. Tembeckjian said.
There are about 3,400 judges in the state of New York, and Mr. Putorti is the 10th to have been removed by the court of the appeals in the past decade, Mr. Tembeckjian said.
Mr. Putorti did not respond to a request for comment on Thursday.
He began serving as a judge in Whitehall, N.Y., a town about 70 miles north of Albany, near the border with Vermont, in 2014.
The following year, according to the appeals court’s decision, the litigant was in court over an unpaid fine. He was waiting for his case to be called when Mr. Putorti pointed a loaded gun at him.
Mr. Putorti had a license to carry the firearm, and according to the decision, he had a habit of keeping the gun attached to the underside of the bench while he was hearing cases. Mr. Putorti also owns a gun and ammunition store, Bigboy’s Guns, in Whitehall.
While Mr. Putorti initially said he drew the gun after the litigant approached the bench too quickly, he agreed that neither the police officer stationed in the courtroom nor an assistant district attorney present at the time would have corroborated his version of events.
The Commission on Judicial Conduct recommended Mr. Putorti be removed last year, but Mr. Putorti appealed that recommendation, and the Court of Appeals heard his case last month. Mr. Putorti had been suspended with pay since last October.
In repeated retellings of the event to family members and colleagues, over a number of years, Mr. Putorti, who is white, variously described the litigant, a Black man who was 6 feet tall and 165 pounds, as an “agitated,” “big Black man” who was “6 feet 9 inches tall” and “built like a football player,” according to the decision. In his appeal, Mr. Putorti said he had “feared for his safety.”
The appeals board found that Mr. Putorti had “exploited a classic and common racist trope that Black men are inherently threatening or dangerous,” and that he had exhibited bias.
“Clearly his constant repetition of the racial element and his exaggeration of the physical characteristics of this particular defendant were shocking and totally undignified and inappropriate for a judge to make,” Mr. Tembeckjian said.