Syracuse (WSYR-TV) – A former Onondaga County Family Court judge has been removed from office after admitting sexual misconduct with his 5-year-old niece 40 years ago.
According to a statement from New York’s Judicial Conduct Commission, the incident involving Judge Bryan Hedges and the child – who is deaf – occurred in 1972, but did not come to light until 2012 after the statute of limitations had passed.
While court documents indicate that Hedges admitted to the incident, a statement he issued through his attorney's office states that he denies the accusations and intends to challenge the commission's ruling.
"I am devastated by the Commission’s actions. The allegations are untrue. The administrative process is deficient in terms of being a fair fact finding procedure. I hope the Court of Appeals will reverse," he said.
His attorney, Robert Julian of Utica, said, "We are appealing to the New York State Court of Appeals the determination of the Commission on Judicial Conduct. Therefore, this case is pending and I do not believe it appropriate to make further comment pending the argument and a determination by the Court of Appeals."
Although her name was initially redacted, the victim told the Commission that she wished to be identified. They have identified her as Ellen Cantwell Warner. She also provided NewsChannel 9 with pictures of herself, a current photo and one that was taken around the time of the incident.
Hedges resigned in April 2012 when he was told he was under investigation. At the time, the allegations weren’t made public.
In March, Warner's mother confronted Hedges regarding the incident. She was wearing a wire for the District Attorney's office during the encounter. During the confrontation, Hedges said he was horrified by his actions during the 1972 incident, which were not defensible and "so bad and wrong."
It is unusual for a judge to be penalized so severely for an incident that occurred before he came to the bench.
The commission, however, considers the incident so egregious that it felt strong measures were in order.
"We evaluated the nature of the misconduct and concluded that sexual misconduct with a child is so serious that regardless of how long ago it occurred it required severe action today," said Commission Administrator Robert Tembeckjian. "I've been working at the Commission for approximately 35 years and in my experience we've never had a situation like this."