Ithaca, N.Y. — At a forum earlier this week, Judge Seth Peacock was asked if the county’s assigned counsel office — which assigns lawyers to defendants who cannot afford their own — had banned him from any courts during his time as an attorney there.
He said no, according to Bill Furniss, an Ithaca lawyer who shared an office with Peacock for several years and watched Wednesday’s forum online.
But Peacock — a Cornell Law School graduate who was appointed as interim Ithaca City Court judge July 7 — had been barred from appearing in the courtrooms of at least two Tompkins County judges.
This was done because Peacock missed court appearances, arrived late and/or arrived unprepared, documents obtained by the Ithaca Voice revealed.
“This has been a repeated problem which is totally unacceptable,” said a December 2011 letter to Peacock from Wesley McDermott, a supervising lawyer in the county’s assigned counsel program.
“When you blow off a court appearance, it not only looks bad for you, but certainly doesn’t enhance your client’s position and looks bad for the program. Consider yourself on probation.”
The same thing happened a few years prior, with a different judge, according to a letter dated June 2007. Peacock was also banned from a third judge’s courtroom, and a fourth judge required Peacock be supervised by McDermott to continue hearing cases in that court, according to Furniss.
This information comes to light just four days before the September 9 primary election for Ithaca City Court judge. Peacock is running against Kristine Shaw and Rick Wallace for the position.
In letters appealing his 2007 and 2011 bans from the courtrooms of Judges John Sherman and David Banfield, Peacock cited glitches in his electronic calendar system and burglary of his electronic devices, respectively. He also included police reports corroborating thefts of his iPhone and iPad in 2011.
In a statement Friday, Peacock said that during his time as assigned counsel, he had a significant caseload and no support staff.
This, along with responsibilities as a member of the Ithaca school board and as a father of three, caused him to be “stretched very thin,” Peacock said.
“I took my obligation as an attorney seriously and but sometimes failed meet those obligations fully. At times I underestimated the amount of time an appearance would take, other times I found myself double booked and sometimes I just made calendaring error,” Peacock said.
Peacock also said that past failures should not affect his reelection prospects.
“I can assure you as Ithaca City Court Judge my past issues will not be a problem. I now have a full support staff and need only appear on one location,” he said.
“As judge I will be sensitive to the time pressures imposed upon attorneys who, like me, are often called upon to be in multiple courts at similar times throughout the County. In this regard, litigants and lawyers appearing before me can be assured that I will uphold the impartiality, integrity, and independence of the judiciary, tempered by the lessons of my own experience.”
But Furniss said the courtroom bans were “certainly something negative.”
“It’s not a regular thing that attorneys get banned from a courtroom,” he said. “And being banned from three courts and supervised by another court is highly unusual, at least in my town.”
Furniss also said he found Peacock’s comments at Wednesday’s judicial forum “misleading.”
“No judge should be that misleading,” he said.