Hiring the Family Ain’t So Easy Anymore When You’re a Justice in NY

Nancy M. Sunukjian, a town justice since December 2010 resigns, rather than face judicial commission on nepotism and retaliation charges.

Waterford justice, state court system official resigns amid nepotism probe

Complaint also alleged retaliation against court system employee who opposed hiring

FEB 9, 2022 | REPUBLISHED BY LINY : FEB 10, 2022

ALBANY — A Waterford town justice resigned from the bench as a state watchdog panel was investigating allegations she engaged in nepotism and retaliation while leading an office in the state court system that trains new judges.

Nancy M. Sunukjian, a town justice since December 2010, was the subject of a complaint that alleged she arranged to hire the fiancée of a relative while serving as the director of the court system’s Office of Justice Court Support, the state Commission on Judicial Conduct said Wednesday.

Sunukjian was also accused of retaliating against an employee who opposed the hire for “failing to vote with her on an interview panel,” according to a stipulation provided by the commission, which serves as the state watchdog for the judiciary.

The Albany Law School graduate, an attorney since 1991, began working for the state court system in 1994 and served in positions including special counsel to the Office of Justice Court Support in 2013, said Lucian Chalfen, a spokesman for the Office of Court Administration.

She had been scheduled to testify before the commission on Jan. 25, but decided to tender her resignation, effective Feb. 15, that same day.

“It has been a privilege and an honor to serve as town justice for the Town of Waterford for the past 11 years,”

Sunukjian wrote in a resignation letter to Waterford Town Supervisor John E. Lawler.

Her last day with the Unified Court System was Jan. 21, Chalfen said.

He said following an investigation by the court system’s inspector general, Sunukjian was fired and her case referred to the judicial commission.

Chalfren said the fiancee and now spouse of Sunukjian’s relative was also fired after she attempted to get COVID-19 benefits that she was not entitled to receive.

The commission — which noted that Sunukjian had not been not accused of any wrongdoing in her capacity as a judge — said she agreed to never seek or accept judicial office again. Her current term would have expired at the end of 2023. Sunukjian’s resignation closes the commission’s investigation of the matter.

“The administration of justice is compromised whenever someone gets a court system job on the basis of nepotism or favoritism,” the commission’s administrator, Robert Tembeckjian, said in a statement.

“Even where the hiree may be qualified, landing the position through a judge’s special influence rather than on merit — and retaliating against someone who objects to the wrongdoing — corrodes public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary.”

The announcement of Sunukjian’s exit comes a day after the commission released the news that a Columbia County justice had resigned in recent weeks amid a commission investigation:

Ancram Town Justice George K. Wittlinger, 87, stepped down two weeks before he had been scheduled to testify in the panel’s investigation of allegations contained in a dismissed lawsuit that claimed he encouraged a teenage girl to have sex with his teenage son and offered her gifts in exchange for sexual favors.

Wittlinger’s attorney said the judge denied those claims and that his resignation was related to health concerns.

On January 1, 2011, upon the retirement of the Hon. Raymond Galarneau, Nancy M. Sunukjian was officially sworn in as Waterford Town Justice.

Born and raised in Colonie, New York, Judge Sunukjian and her family moved to Waterford in 2002.

A 1986 graduate of Siena College, Judge Sunukjian received her law degree from Albany Law School in 1990 and was in private practice for three years before joining the Office of Court Administration in 1994.

She is now Supervising Counsel at the Office of Court Administration’s City, Town and Village Courts Resource Center.

The Resource Center serves as confidential law clerks to all the town and village judges presiding throughout the state assisting them in every aspect of administering their local courts, including curriculum development and training.

Judge Sunukjian’s position within OCA makes her uniquely qualified for her newly acquired role as Waterford Town Justice.

Her unique background has prepared her to handle the varying array of cases that present themselves in Waterford Town Court. From criminal matters to civil, Judge Sunukjian is an expert in not only the law, but in court administration and procedure.

The Hon. David Fusco, Judge Sunukjian’s co-judge, recently commented that her qualifications “are an asset not only to the court but to the people of the Town of Waterford as well.”

The two judges had already acquired a good working relationship based upon her position within OCA.

Having been on the bench since January, Judge Sunukjian has already adjudicated numerous criminal and civil matters within the court.

She stated, “I am very impressed with the level of competence and professionalism of not only Judge Fusco, but of the clerical staff as well. Our town is very fortunate to have such dedicated individuals. I welcome the opportunity to continue my role as Town Justice.”

Judge Sunukjian and her husband, Alan, have been married for fifteen years, and they have two middle school-aged children, Mary and Michael. She is a member of the Waterford/Cohoes Elks Lodge.

Judge Sunukjian will be running for a full four-year term this November.

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