State Supreme Court Judge Gustin L. Reichbach outed himself as a pot-smoker in a New York Times op-ed today.
Reichbach, you see, has battled pancreatic cancer for three and a half years. His current treatment includes high doses of chemotherapy, which leads to constant pain, nausea, insomnia, and loss of appetite. Reichbach says that cannabis is the only thing that makes him feel more comfortable, so that he can eat and sleep.
He has since decided to speak out in favor of legalization, saying: “This is not a law-and-order issue; it is a medical and a human rights issue…When palliative care is understood as a fundamental human and medical right, marijuana for medical use should be beyond controversy.”
Reichbach has recognized the conflict inherent in his position. He still serves as a judge, and medical marijuana isn’t legal in New York. (Possessing small amounts, however, is considered a violation and not a criminal offense.) He counters that “criminalizing an effective medical technique affects the fair administration of justice, I feel obliged to speak out as both a judge and a cancer patient suffering with a fatal disease.”
The Voice wondered: Could Reichbach get in trouble for this confession?
So we took a look at the New York Court system’s rules for judicial conduct .
What did they say?
From Section 100.1:
“A judge shall uphold the integrity and independence of the judiciary
An independent and honorable judiciary is indispensable to justice in our society. A judge should participate in establishing, maintaining and enforcing high standards of conduct, and shall personally observe those standards so that the integrity and independence of the judiciary will be preserved. The provisions of this Part 100 are to be construed and applied to further that objective.”
And from section 100.2:
“A judge shall avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all of the judge’s activities.
(A) A judge shall respect and comply with the law and shall act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.
(B) A judge shall not allow family, social, political or other relationships to influence the judge’s judicial conduct or judgment.
(C) A judge shall not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others; nor shall a judge convey or permit others to convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence the judge. A judge shall not testify voluntarily as a character witness.
(D) A judge shall not hold membership in any organization that practices invidious discrimination on the basis of age, race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, disability or marital status. This provision does not prohibit a judge from holding membership in an organization that is dedicated to the preservation of religious, ethnic, cultural or other values of legitimate common interest to its members.
So yeah…it’s a bit unclear.
Across the U.S., there have been several high-profile cases involving judges’ marijuana use. A Texas judge, for example, recently resigned after he was reportedly caught smoking pot in a hotel room. At first, he refused to step down, and argued that it eased diabetes-related food pain.
The Voice reached out to the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct to find out more about this. We’re also trying to contact Reichbach. We’ll update when we hear back.
UPDATE: The Commission has refused to comment on Reichbach.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on May 17, 2012