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Judge Astacio's law license might be at risk

Pending appeal Judge Astacio will be removed from the bench. The grievance committee which determines when to disbar attorneys operates in secrecy and cannot confirm whether she is under investigation.

Rochester, N.Y. - Pending an appeal, Rochester City Court Judge Leticia Astacio will be removed from the bench. But, could her license to practice law be next?

On Tuesday, the Commission on Judicial Conduct announced its conclusions and released hundreds of pages of documents, including transcripts of the hearing.

A different entity, the Grievance Committee, handles investigations against lawyers, but the wealth of documentation already collected and released could play a pivotal role.

"Practicing law is a privilege, not a right," explained attorney Vince Merante.

After her arrest for DWI in February of 2016, Astacio told conflicting stories. First, she said that she had nothing to drink, then she had half a bottle of wine the night before. Tests showed her blood alcohol at two times the legal limit. The details are contained in more than 400 pages of testimony before the Commission. The commission investigates judges.

The Grievance Committee initiates similar investigations against attorneys. Merante says there's one absolute: "If you are found guilty of any felony, regardless of its nature, your license will be revoked," he said.

As a misdemeanor, Judge Astacio's DWI conviction does not qualify. Yet she is now facing a felony charge that accuses her of violating her probation by trying to buy a shotgun.

The Appellate Division oversees the investigations of attorneys and applies another standard - one of moral character.

In her own testimony, Judge Astacio admits having four glasses of wine and three shots of Petron tequila during one of the two times she drank alcohol, in violation of her sentence. She later attempted to get into her car and drive, but the interlock device would not allow it to start because she was legally impaired.

The Judicial Conduct Commission also cites Astacio for her "profane and angry" reaction to the trooper who tried to arrest her and also for misconduct on the bench. In one case, she presided over a former client, which is a clear conflict. In another, she reportedly told a deputy to "tase" or "punch" or "shoot" a defendant.

"What she said on the bench, what she said to the officers, what she has posted on Facebook, they will make a determination in the court's mind if she has the moral character,"said Merante.

The Grievance Committee operates with complete privacy and cannot say whether Judge Astacio is under investigation. If an investigation leads to public censure, suspension or disbarment, that decision will be made public - but not the transcripts of the proceedings leading to that conclusion. If a lesser discipline is determined, it will not be made public at all.

Judge Astacio says, regardless of the the decision of removal from the bench, she will land on her feet. "If I don't get to be judge, then I'm going to be something better," she said. "I've overcome so much in my life that, however this comes out, I'm going to end up on top."

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