Town judge resigns after state ethics complaint

HARMONY — The longtime town justice in Harmony has resigned following an ethics complaint filed by the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct.

The commission charged that for more than three years, Justice Bruce Scolton missed monthly reporting and depositing deadlines of court funds received while also failing to notify the state Department of Motor Vehicle the status of more than 2,610 vehicle and traffic cases that went through his court. The commission — in its complaint made public earlier this month after the case was closed — also noted that the judge “failed to monitor his official court email account or respond to emails received by that account.”

Scolton, who has been the town justice in Harmony since 1990, resigned his position effective Dec. 31 while also agreeing to not seek judicial office in the future. His term was set to expire December 2021.

Town and village justices in New York, many of whom are referred to as judge, handle traffic tickets, criminal matters, small claims and code violations.

Though Scolton had been warned in 1998 and 2000 for late reports, the complaint primarily focuses on Scolton’s actions beginning in January 2015. According to the commission, town and village justices are required to report the receipt of court funds to the state comptroller by the 10th day of every month while depositing the same funds to the municipality.

Funds are collected from traffic and court fines from those who go before the court. In a month, funds can range from as little as nothing to several thousands of dollars.

From January 2015 to April 2018, the complaint states that Scolton missed all but three monthly filing deadlines to the comptroller. That equates to 37 missed deadlines, with all of them at least 11 days behind though most were several weeks late. And from May 2017 to August 2017, the required reports were 174, 144, 145 and 114 days late, respectively.

On numerous occasions, Scolton’s salary for his work as a town justice was put on hold due to missed filing dates.

The commission also accused Scolton of failing to notify the DMV the status of 2,612 vehicle and traffic cases from July 1991 to March 2018. Those cases include motorists who had been convicted of traffic violations, failed to pay a fine or appear to answer charges.

The DMV sends town and village courts reports any time a vehicle and traffic case has gone more than 60 days without a recorded disposition. Instead of downloading traffic tickets from the DMV’s website and electronically entering information as other courts typically do, the commission said Scolton would send the DMV paper forms of his own design that the state could not recognize or accept.

“(Scolton) continued to submit such ineffectual paper forms notwithstanding numerous notices from the DMV every year that his cases were not being recognized as having been disposed or as having resulted in scofflaw notices to the defendants,” the commission wrote in its complaint.

As a result, the commission said those convicted of violating vehicle and traffic laws were not properly recorded in the DMV’s driver’s conviction report, “which would be relevant to the issue of sentencing should any of those defendants be convicted of subsequent vehicle and traffic law violations.”

The commission said the judge also did not properly monitor email from January 2015 to May 2018 or properly use state-issued software to handle traffic violations.

In a letter to Harmony Supervisor John Brown dated Nov. 28, Scolton said the reason for his resignation was due to a “combination of personal matters and administrative duties.”

“I have sincerely enjoyed acting as Town Justice for the Town of Harmony for the last 28 years and wish you luck in finding a suitable replacement,” Scolton wrote to Brown in his resignation letter.

Brown said he was not aware of the ethics complaint against Scolton until the justice announced his resignation in November. He thanked Scolton for his 28 years of service to the town.

Marilyn Gerace has been appointed to fill Scolton’s vacancy for a year until a permanent justice can be found. “We have to find someone who is interested in the position,” Brown said. “That’s where we’re at right now.”

Scolton is a lawyer and name partner of Erickson Webb Scolton & Hajdu law firm in Lakewood. He could not be reached for comment.

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