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Upstate NY judge faces potential removal after pulling gun out in courtroom

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  • Staff Report 

A New York judge, Justice Robert Putorti, is contending with potential removal from his position following allegations of him brandishing a loaded firearm at a Black defendant, Brandon Wood, in his courtroom around eight years ago.

The incident occurred in the town and village courts in Whitehall, where Justice Putorti has served since 2014. Putorti, claiming he feared for his safety when Wood “rushed” the bench, responded by drawing a pistol. This conduct led the state Commission on Judicial Conduct to recommend his removal, asserting that no justification existed for such an action in the courtroom setting.

Discrepancies and racial undertones mark the controversial incident. The commission emphasizes Putorti’s references to Wood’s race, noting he described Wood as a “big Black man” or a “large Black man,” suggesting racial motivation behind his actions. Putorti’s recounting of the event has varied, adding further complications to the proceedings. Wood contends that he was not in the courtroom but was chained to a bench in a hallway and posed no threat when the alleged brandishing occurred, disputing Putorti’s depiction of events and undermining his claims of fearing for his safety.

Justice Putorti has challenged the commission’s recommendation before the Court of Appeals, with sanctions rarely reaching this level. Putorti has been suspended, with pay, for the past 11 months. The final decision on Putorti’s removal or any lesser penalty is pending, with consequences not only impacting his career but also setting a precedent for addressing racially charged misconduct within the judiciary.