Judge Jonathan Katz, who has served as a New Paltz Town Justice since 1995, signed the arrest warrant of a man for allegedly throwing boxes at his wife while at the same time serving as the wife’s attorney in her divorce against the man, according to the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct (CJC).
Katz, in his position as an attorney, continued to represent the woman in her divorce for a year after he signed the warrant in his position as judge. The alleged box-throwing incident became evidence in the divorce proceeding, according to the CJC.
Katz, when contacted at his law offices Tuesday, said he did not recognize the man’s name while signing the warrant, though he had been retained for more than a year in divorce proceedings against the man before the warrant came across his desk.
“I inadvertently signed an arrest warrant in which I was involved as a private attorney,” he said. “I was not accused of doing it on purpose. However, judges are held to very high standards, and I accept responsibility for the mistake,” he said, before declining further comment.
Katz was retained by the woman for her divorce in September 2016 and filed divorce papers in county court January 2017, according to the CJC’s complaint.
On Nov. 23, 2017, the man in the divorce allegedly threw boxes at the woman while she was climbing their basement staircase, causing her to stumble and bruise her knee, then held the basement door closed when she tried to open it, according to the complaint.
Katz’s law offices filed a petition against the man in Ulster County Family Court four days later, alleging Harassment and requesting a restraining order against the man, which would have barred him from the house he cohabitated with the woman, according to the complaint. The restraining order was denied by another judge.
On Nov. 30, the woman made a complaint with the New Paltz Police Department about the alleged box-throwing incident, and an officer requested an arrest warrant and restraining order from Judge Katz, according to the complaint.
The restraining order went through this time, approved by Katz, and the man was arrested for Second-Degree Harassment, a violation, from the warrant Katz approved, according to the complaint.
Meanwhile, the petition filed in Family Court by Katz’s law office was combined with the divorce proceedings by another judge, and Katz continued to represent the woman in the divorce proceedings for another 11 months, according to the complaint.
The CJC issued a complaint laying out the allegations against Katz this February, and Katz admitted to all allegations in March, according to court documents.
The CJC’s disciplinary charges are for signing the arrest warrant and restraining order despite the conflict of interest and continuing to represent the woman in her divorce “notwithstanding having acted as a judge in the related criminal case,” according to the CJC.
Katz resigned as judge July 16 in letters to the New Paltz Town Board and his judicial district’s administrative judge.
CJC Administrator Robert H. Tembeckjian released a statement Aug. 12 about Katz’s resignation, stating judges “must be and appear impartial if the public is to have confidence in the integrity of the courts.”
“It is an obvious and egregious conflict for a part-time judge to take action in a criminal case against the spouse of a client he is simultaneously representing in a related matrimonial matter,” the statement continued.
Katz agreed to never seek or accept a judicial position again.
Katz’s current term would have finished at the end of 2021.