Over the last two months, some of the most prominent members of Buffalo’s legal community have been raising questions privately about the propriety of State Supreme Court Justice Catherine Nugent Panepinto sitting on the bench while her husband, Marc, engages in heated partisan political activity.
Both are known as fierce political animals within the Democratic Party’s union-wing, which has some attorneys and judges wondering how the couple will handle the inevitable conflicts of interest that are sure to emerge.
In a city as small as Buffalo, nearly all of the cases that Justice Panepinto will hear will involve parties who actively contribute to local political campaigns. Many of them may decide to contribute to her husband’s campaign for less than ethical reasons, they worry.
For fear of being ostracized by their colleagues, many attorneys would not go on record for comment.
But behind closed doors the Panepinto marriage is the talk of the town. They wonder how often Panepinto will recuse herself when conflicts arise.
It is unclear whether the Justice has already presided over any cases involving contributors to her husband’s Senatorial campaign.
Given the corruption scandals that have been plaguing the State Legislature and the Cuomo Administration, it is imperative that the propriety of their relationship becomes part of the public discourse, they say.
The situation makes itself too ripe for potential corruption, and some attorneys think that it might be appropriate to introduce new state legislation that bans a Justice’s spouse from serving in public office, for obvious reasons.
Considering the Panepinto’s alleged mafia connections, and their close relationship with the International Laborer’s Union Local 210 — which has long been the target of racketeering cases — it is an important conversation to have ahead of a State Senate primary.