Young lawyers are getting a bad rap these days. They’re inexperienced, and no one wants to pay them for their work. That’s why they’re all clambering over each other to get a clerkship after graduation — state, federal, really any clerkship will do. The prestigious résumé line alone is enough to overshadow the fact that they don’t really know how to do anything. But sometimes, after all of that effort, judges would rather use young lawyers as babysitters than as law clerks. After all, isn’t that what they’re best qualified for?
No, it’s not, and one judge just got publicly humiliated after the state Commission on Judicial Conduct found out that she was using all of her staff members, including her law clerks, to do all sorts of personal errands, like babysitting her kid in chambers during business hours…
Judge Mary Brigantti-Hughes of the New York Supreme Court had her staff members at her beck and call while they were on the clock, and sometimes even on the weekends. Their jobs extended well beyond their official court responsibilities, because things like babysitting duties, chauffeur duties, gardening duties, and prayer circle duties were far more important. Here’s more information from the New York Daily News:
Brigantti-Hughes, a state Supreme Court Justice since 2005, repeatedly had staffers pick up her daughter at school and then baby-sit her at home, or look after the girl at the courthouse, the state Commission on Judicial Conduct determined. She had her office secretary drive her to New Jersey to go shopping and to get her hair done during the workday. And she had her [law clerk] drive her to a Home Depot for gardening supplies.
“By repeatedly using her court staff to perform child-care and other personal services, (Brigantti-Hughes) misused court resources and engaged in conduct that was implicitly coercive and inconsistent with the ethical rules,” the commission’s report concluded.
Brigantti-Hughes used her staff members, including her two law clerks, as babysitters about five times a year between 2005 and 2011. These are people who spent three years of their lives toiling away in law school, all the while accumulating up to six figures in student loan debt, all for the chance to help a judge’s daughter color inside the lines lest they allow her to commit negligence per se in the eyes of her grade school teachers. That’s not an embarrassing use of a law degree, judge, not one bit.
For these transgressions, Brigantti-Hughes’s punishment was… a stern talking to, on paper. Because the good judge “acknowledged that her conduct was improper, both as to her use of court staff to perform personal tasks and her religious activities in the workplace, and… promised to refrain from such activity in the future,” the ethical powers that be let her off with a censure. We’re not so nice. Here you go, judge:
(You can see the New York Commission on Judicial Conduct’s full determination on the next page.)