LONSBERRY: The Fall Of Leticia Astacio

The dance is winding down, and Leticia Astacio is headed toward the door.

Rarely has a Rochester official been through a more destructive controversy or fallen further from public grace.

There are some details still to be worked out. 

Will the Court of Appeals suspend her pay soon? Or will she continue to draw her salary and drag out the appeals process, taking the whole month to decide to file for a review, and then ride out the three to five months an ultimate, final removal from office could take?

Will she add further insult to injury by collecting the $90,000 or so she would be paid while today’s decision of the Judicial Conduct Commission is ratified?

There are some details still to be worked out. 

But the end is in sight, and it’s time to look forward. 

When a city court judgeship becomes vacant, under New York law, the mayor appoints a replacement, with the seat being permanently filled by the voice of the people at the next general election. 

Let’s hope they do better than they did last time.

Because it is ultimately Rochester city voters who are responsible for Leticia Astacio. The Democratic Party, the legal-ratings people and the endorsements of local media all said no to Leticia Astacio, but the voters said yes.

Assistant District Attorney William Gargan was the choice of the Democratic Party. Second choice was Assistant Public Defender Michael Lopez. Both had been in their positions more than 15 years and both were thought of highly by the legal profession.

Leticia Astacio, by comparison, was far less qualified, less-well recommended and less-well prepared.

But the primary was on and her signs went up.

Signs which showed her African-American face and her Latino name.

And in a primary with unusually low turnout, Leticia Astacio was the winner, with a likely guaranteed 10-year ride on a high-paying job. A job that, with easy re-elections, probably would have lasted her a lifetime.

But she was professionally and temperamentally unsuited to it, and it began to come apart almost immediately.

The month she took office she engaged in an activity that was cited as sufficient reason for her dismissal from the bench. Before the year was out, she would engage in three separate incidents in court which were enough to have her removed – including one in which she suggested that a defendant be punched or shot in the face, and another in which she said that the victim of a sexual assault was merely having “buyer’s remorse.”

And then she drove drunk and got in a wreck.

And f-bombed the trooper and shouted and got angry and threw around her judicial office as a reason she shouldn’t be cited. 

And that led to the cascading self-destruction of a “judge” who could neither accept responsibility nor tell the truth.

And it leaves a single mother with the impending loss of an income, and the possible loss of her law license and livelihood, and a potential stint in prison. And all of that is in addition to any mental health or addiction issues she might be facing. 

I feel sorry for her, and I feel sorry for her children. She has dug a very deep hole from which she and they will be hard pressed to escape.

And the Democrat voters of Rochester must recognize that they have a hand in that. They failed in their responsibility to pick a competent and qualified judge. They were wrong about her disposition and her abilities. They turned down two other candidates who seemed ideally prepared for judicial duty, and they set Leticia Astacio up to fail.

And they probably did it because of identity politics.

That means, they probably did it because she is a black and Latino female.

In a way, there’s nothing wrong with that. Government is supposed to be representative, and race and heritage and gender can be an important part of representation. But some government jobs are about more than representation, they are also about competence. And Leticia Astacio was not competent, as her entire tenure and looming removal demonstrate. 

A weak Democratic Party could not support its candidate, Democrats didn’t care enough to vote in the primary, voters did not truly compare those vying for their votes, and Leticia Astacio was elected judge.

And now she is destroyed, and so, to some extent, is public confidence in the judiciary.

And you wonder what we’ve learned. You wonder if voters will act any differently in the future.

What comes of this except a punchline?


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