New York judge fired for pointing gun at a man in court

George Washington statue flanked by the New York State Criminal Justice building. (Photo by John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images)

An upstate New York judge who pointed a loaded handgun at a Black man during a 2015 court hearing was removed from office Thursday by the state's highest court.

Justice Robert J. Putorti was a Whitehall Town and Village Court judge. He repeatedly emphasized the race and stature of the litigant when recounting the episode, sometimes boastfully, according to an independent review by the New York State Court of Appeals. 

Putorti had said he aimed the gun at the man because he approached the stand too quickly, crossing a stop line for litigants.

In one instance, Putorti described the defendant to another judge as being 6 feet 9 inches tall (206 cm) and "built like a football player." In reality, the man was only 6 feet (183 cm) and 165 pounds (75 kg), the decision noted.

The high court affirmed the state Commission on Judicial Conduct's removal of Putorti, and noted the former judge's description of the defendant "exploited a classic and common racist trope that Black men are inherently threatening or dangerous, exhibiting bias or, at least, implicit bias."

Putorti's lack of remorse after the gun episode contributed to his removal, according to the decision.

Putorti also participated in prohibited fundraising events to benefit the Elks Lodge, where he also held office, which occurred while he was under investigation for the gun episode.

While the fundraising would not itself warrant a removal, its timing and the fact that it happened while Putorti was under investigation showed "an unwillingness or inability to abide by the Rules of Judicial Conduct," the decision noted.

Phone messages left for Putorti's lawyers at Cerio Law Offices in Syracuse were not immediately returned.

"It is indefensible and inimical to the role of a judge to brandish a loaded weapon in court, without provocation or justification, then brag about it repeatedly with irrelevant racial remarks," said Robert H. Tembeckjian, administrator for the state's Commission on Judicial Conduct, in a statement.

"The Court's ruling today makes clear that there is no place on the bench for one who behaves this way."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.