This sounds like it should be pretty obvious, but some in New York’s judicial system apparently need a reminder: if you are a judge, don’t play illegal poker games.
Such is the lesson learned by Paul M. Hensley, a Suffolk County District Court judge, who was censured for doing exactly that.
According to the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct, Hensley “attended and participated in a series of illegal poker games held at the clubhouse of a fraternal organization to which he belonged…The games were illegal because, among other things, the organizer kept a portion of the ante (i.e., ‘raked the pot’).”
So what exactly happened?
In 2008, these illegal games were reportedly taking place at Northport’s Fraternal Order of Eagles, of which Hensley was a member.
In November of that year — “the day after he was re-elected to District Court” — Hensley was there, playing poker, when police searched the premises.
Players didn’t get handcuffed, but the poker promoter got charged with gambling-related offenses.
However, the Commission took particular issue with Hensley’s judicial status — and how he made mention of it during the games and at the time of the arrest.
First, the board felt that since everyone at the game knew Hensley was a judge, that his presence lent a false sense of legitimacy.
Also, the Commission worried that he threw his weight around when the cops showed up, noting: “the judge compounded his misconduct by identifying himself as a judge during the police search, which ‘convey[ed] an appearance that he was asserting his judicial position to obtain special treatment.’ In its totality, the judge’s ‘reckless behavior showed extremely poor judgment’ and ‘insensitivity to the high ethical standards incumbent on judges.'”
Yep, extremely poor judgment. That sounds about right.
Anyway, the judge has since openly recognized his screw-up with the Commission.
We reached out to the number listed for his office, but nobody picked up.
We wanted to know how Hensley could have ever thought that playing an illegal poker game — while being employed as a judge — was a good idea.
We’ll update if we get through to his chambers.
Follow Victoria Bekiempis @vicbekiempis.