New York judge arrested, led from courthouse in handcuffs

USA Today Network
David Andreatta, Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle

Published 2:38 p.m. ET June 5, 2017 | Updated 8:08 p.m. ET June 5, 2017

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The case of Rochester City Court Judge Leticia Astacio has had many twists and turns. Get caught up now.
Victoria Freile

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — An embattled City Court judge was escorted Monday from judicial chambers in handcuffs.

Rochester court deputies and city police officers executed a bench warrant issued for Judge Leticia Astacio’s arrest last week after she missed a Tuesday court appearance related to an August drunken-driving conviction.

Astacio, a Rochester City Court judge, smiled and said hello to the gaggle of reporters waiting for her at the fifth floor elevator bank of the Monroe County Hall of Justice where officers marched her off to be processed at the nearby Rochester Public Safety Building. She returned later to the courthouse for an arraignment before Judge Stephen Aronson of Canandaigua City Court, who issued the warrant and is overseeing her drunken-driving case.

He ordered her held without bail in Monroe County Jail until a Thursday hearing. The reason she missed her court appearance last week was because she had been living in a temple with monks in the mountains of Thailand since May 3, she had texted to her lawyer.

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“You’re doing everything to show you don’t care what happens to your public trust,” Aronson said.

In court Monday, Aronson offered Astacio a deal: Plead guilty to violating her initial drunk-driving sentence and receive 45 days in jail, two years of probation and six months on an ankle monitor. She declined and was ordered to jail.

On Feb. 13, 2016, Astacio was arrested around 8 a.m. ET on her way to City Court after New York state troopers were summoned to what appeared to be a one-car crash Interstate 490. She refused to take a Breathalyzer test

On Aug. 22, she was sentenced to a one-year conditional discharge that was extended to February 2018 after she admitted violating two conditions: abstaining from alcohol and not driving under the influence.

Astacio, a Democrat who was elected to a 10-year term in 2014, also was in court in March when she beat four allegations that she violated the conditions of her sentence. One alleged that she twice drank alcohol, and three others were related to the use and maintenance of her ignition interlock device, which prevents a vehicle from starting if a driver has had too much to drink.

In May, Astacio was summoned to court after her interlock device on April 29 registered a blood-alcohol-content reading of 0.0651%. A vehicle will start only if a person’s blood-alcohol content is below 0.03%.

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Astacio, who worked as a prosecutor for a time in 2009 in the Driving While Intoxicated Bureau of the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office, denied consuming alcohol and contended that her daughter had registered the reading, said her lawyer, Ed Fiandach. It is not illegal for another person to drive a car outfitted with an interlock device meant for someone else.

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After the reading, which Fiandach said occurred near the beginning of May, Aronson asked that Astacio take a urine test that detects ethyl glucuronide, a byproduct of alcohol, and submit the results to the court. She did not, so she was summoned to court Tuesday and did not appear because she was in Thailand.

Why Astacio had not been arrested when she returned to the United States over the weekend was not immediately clear. She had told Fiandach that she had bought a one-way ticket to Thailand and would be there until some time in August.

She returned to Rochester because her supervising judge, Justice Craig Doran of the New York State Supreme Court, had directed she attend a 9 a.m. Monday meeting in his office at the Monroe County Hall of Justice, expressing concern in a letter that her behavior constituted a “voluntary abandonment of public office” that would be deemed a breach of her judicial responsibilities if she failed to show up.

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“You are self-sabotaging any chance you have to return to the bench,” Aronson said in court, telling Astacio that her attitude appeared to be contemptuous.

Though she still receives her paycheck, Astacio has been prohibited from presiding over cases since before her drunken driving conviction in August and has been barred from entering non-public areas of the courthouse since November. She has continued to receive her $173,700 salary because she remains an elected judge. 

Astacio will again be working for her pay upon her release from jail — whenever that may be.

Her supervisors, state Supreme Court Judge Craig Doran and City Court Judge Teresa Johnson, told Astacio Monday that she will required to conduct research in the courthouse law library Monday through Friday, whenever court is in session.

Contributing: Gary Craig, Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle. Follow David Andreatta on Twitter: @david_andreatta

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