Judge Astacio’s case: What’s next?

November 14, 2017 06:22 PM

ROCHESTER—Embattled Rochester City Court Judge Leticia Astacio, who pleaded guilty to a probation violation on Monday says she feels like she had no other choice. If she hadn’t, she feared she’d be in jail for the holidays.

As she was leaving the Monroe County jail on Monday, Astacio told reporters, “I plead guilty to get out of jail, who doesn't plead guilty when they can get out of jail, jail sucks.”

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When she got home, she elaborated on her public social media account saying “today is one of the lowest points in my professional life. I feel like I’ve really let myself and everyone else down and I’m sorry. I was given the choice of pleading guilty to something I’ve made it abundantly clear I’m not guilty of, or remaining in jail over the holidays. If it were just me, I would’ve been in jail with the homies but as a mother, I couldn’t do that to my children. My heart is broken for every defendant that has ever been placed in that position, and that is not my idea of what justice looks like.  As much as I dislike going through this, it continually reminds me of why I ran, and why I can’t give up.”

A few hours later, she posted again saying, “If you've ever been in my court, you know I tell defendants all the time that they are getting released whether or not they plead guilty. I don't believe it's constitutional to coerce a guilty plea, but that's me and my court. If you've been in my courtroom, you know I very seldom send people to jail. I handle misdemeanor cases and don't normally see the need. I can think of one defendant that I gave shock probation, on a sex offense against a child. I can't think of a person I ever incarcerated for three months. If you haven't ever been in my court room, maybe you should ask someone that has.”

News10NBC legal expert Judge Joseph Valentino says there are plenty of examples where probation violations lead to jail and the deal Astacio was offered and agreed to on Monday, is fairly standard. “If there is more than one violation of probation, usually, a defendant would plead guilty to one violation in satisfaction of the rest,” Judge Valentino says.  And while Astacio may believe she was treated unfairly, there are a lot of questions from constituents as to whether she’s been getting special treatment especially considering the one violation she pleaded guilty to was what most would consider the least offensive, using foot cream with alcohol in it.

Jennifer Lewke (News10NBC) - It doesn't look like a case to you that's gotten any special treatment because she's a judge?
Judge Valentino -  No, no not at all, it's a misdemeanor case, there was a violation and in a normal course of events, if the defendant wants to plead to the violation, often times the DA offers a plea just like they offered yesterday. The bottom line here is that it's a plea of guilty to a violation of probation, doesn't matter what the violation was, she plead guilty to the fact she violated a term and condition of her probation.

Astacio has continued to collect her $174,000 salary despite the fact she’s been convicted of DWI, accused of five probation violations and thrown into jail three times. The only way, as an elected judge, she can be fired is if the NYS Commission on Judicial Conduct decides it. That commission has been investigating for months but Monday’s plea may mean they’ll finally reach a conclusion. "The Judicial Conduct Commission will be looking at what the conviction was and it'll be pertinent that there was a violation of probation that she pleaded guilty to…They wait until the end of the case and this may be it, we're nearing the end of this case with this particular plea so maybe there may be a determination on this matter by them now,” Judge Valentino adds.  

That determination, one way or the other, will offer some closure not just to Judge Astacio but to taxpayers and her colleagues. “I loved being a city court judge and I was very proud to be one and this whole scenario is embarrassing to me and it's embarrassing to my colleagues.  The other part of the equation is, it's very sad because you can see that there's something wrong here,” Judge Valentio adds.


Jennifer Lewke

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