A state judicial disciplinary panel censured a Long Island judge Friday for attending illegal poker games at his social club in 2008, including the night after he was re-elected, when police showed up.
District Court Judge Paul Hensley in Suffolk County was well-known at the Fraternal Order of Eagles clubhouse in Northport, improperly appearing to give the game his judicial approval by attending and playing in it, the New York Commission on Judicial Conduct said.
No players were accused of breaking the law, but the game organizer was charged with gambling-related offenses for "raking the pot," or keeping a portion of the money, according to the commission's report. The judge played poker several times in 2008, though not the night after his re-election, when eight other men were present with a congratulatory ice cream cake in his honor and police arrived with a search warrant. An undercover officer had been attending the games.
The commission's report said Hensley recognized that his attendance and participation in the for-profit games "was inconsistent with his role as a judge and his obligation to respect and comply with the law, because he was voluntarily in the presence of those who were violating the law."
"He acknowledges that, at least, he should have left the premises upon observing that illegal games were taking place," the commission said.
While it is a crime under New York's penal law to profit from unlawful gambling where the dealer takes players' upfront ante for "the house" or organizers keep part of the entry fees from tournament games, it is not illegal to attend or play, the commission of judges and lawyers wrote. Charges against the organizer of these games were adjourned and then dismissed in 2009 with the district attorney's consent.
Hensley's attorney, David Besso, said this is an unusual occurrence in his client's sterling judicial and legal career. "He has expressed significant remorse and is grateful the commission has made the decision to censure him rather than take any extreme action," he said.
The former prosecutor has been a judge since 2002. His current term expires in 2014. The commission said Hensley had never been disciplined before, and he has advised the panel he hasn't attended any gambling tournaments or similar events since 2008.
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