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US judge debenched for jailing entire courtroom

'Inexplicable madness' provoked by ringing mobile

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A US judge who jailed an entire courtroom because no one would cough to being the owner of a ringing mobile phone has been removed from the bench by a commission on judicial conduct.

Judge Robert Restaino, 48, was hearing a domestic violence case in Niagara Falls on 11 March 2005 when he heard the offending phone and "snapped", as the BBC puts it.

According to the commission's report, he told the courtroom: "Every single person is going to jail in this courtroom unless I get that instrument now. If anybody believes I'm kidding, ask some of the folks that have been here for a while. You are all going."

After security officers unsuccessfully tried to find the device, Restaino ordered a short recess. When he returned to the bench, he asked the phone's owner to 'fess up. Receiving no reply, he "ordered that the entire courtroom audience of 46 people be taken into custody and set bail at $1,500".

Restaino said: "This troubles me more than any of you people can understand. This person, whoever he or she may be, doesn't have a whole lot of concern. Let's see how much concern they have when they are sitting in the back there with all the rest of you.

"Ultimately, when you go back there to be booked, you've got to surrender what you got on you. One way or another, we're going to get our hands on something."

One of those present reportedly said: "This is not fair to the rest of us." Restaino replied: "I know it isn't."

The 46 prisoners were taken to to Niagara City jail, where they were "searched and packed into crowded cells". Fourteen unfortunates who couldn't stump bail were "later shackled and transported to another prison".

Judge Restaino ordered their release only later that afternoon when reporters "began to ask questions about the ruling".

The New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct yesterday recommended the removal of Judge Restaino for what its chairman described as "two hours of inexplicable madness". The commission said he had acted "without any semblance of a lawful basis" and had conducted himself like a "petty tyrant".

The judge admitted to the commission that he'd known that he had no legal basis for his actions, which he classified as "improper and inexcusable". In mitigation, he told the panel he'd "been under stress in his personal life at the time of the incident".

The commission's administrator, Robert Tembekjian, was unmoved, saying there could be "no excuse" for the mass jailing, and that the fundamental rights of 46 people had been "deliberately and methodically violated".

According to AP, the judge's lawyer said Restaino "would exercise his right to appeal the decision within 30 days", during which time he will remain in office. ®

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