By Ken Cosentino
The Niagara Reporter spoke with one of Mayor Robert Restaino’s 46 victims from the infamous 2005 “cell phone incident.”
In 2005, Judge Robert Restaino wrongfully imprisoned 46 people after verbally abusing them for two hours, in an event that was described as “two hours of inexplicable madness” by the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct.
It’s actually quite difficult for a judge to be removed from the bench. The commission stated “removal is not normal to be imposed for poor judgment, even extremely poor judgment,” adding that Restaino acted as a “petty tyrant” and “without any semblance of a lawful basis.”
Restaino’s embarrassing outburst was covered by major news outlets, including the New York Times, BBC, The Guardian and The Wall Street Journal.
Every Niagara Falls resident knows this story, yet some people still choose to vote for Restaino, ignoring the fact that he was officially removed from the bench while giving him a free pass for his misbehavior.
Mayor Restaino’s awful temperament has not changed since then. Being removed from the bench didn’t teach him a lesson.
This past June, Restaino lost his mind during an interview with WGRZ photojournalist Ben Read. After being asked one simple question, Restaino erupted into a childish outburst before putting his hand over the lens of Read’s camera.
Clearly, Robert Restaino is unfit to hold any position of power, judge, NYS Assembly (which he ran for), or mayor.
The 2005 event that led to Restaino’s removal is often referred to as the “cell phone incident.”
However, according to one of Restaino’s 46 victims, the electronic beeping that pushed the judge over the edge was actually an alarm on someone’s wristwatch.
This distinction is significant. In an attempt to soften the blow, Restaino and his supporters have tried to claim that his lunacy was justified.
According to the NYS Commission on Judicial Conduct: “Although a sign in the court warns that cell phones and pagers must be turned off, bringing a cell phone into the courtroom or having a cell phone ring in the court was not a violation of the Domestic Violence Program requirements.”
The commission stated that “at approximately 10:00 AM, a device that appeared to be a cell phone rang in the back of the courtroom.”
Restaino acknowledged that “he knew that he had no legal basis” for arresting the entire courtroom, but he explained that he “simply focused on attempting to locate the phone’s owner and was frustrated by his inability to do so.”
Restaino’s failure to take responsibility was echoed recently in his follow-up interview with WGRZ. Instead of apologizing for his outburst, Restaino chastised the news outlet for what he felt was inappropriate behavior, known to the rest of us as reporting the news and asking questions.
Ergo, it was Robert Restaino’s ineptitude and feeling of not being in control that led directly to his meltdown. According to one of his 46 victims, Restaino treated the people in court that day like animals.
One victim, Kim M., told the Niagara Reporter, “Somebody’s watch alarm went off in the back of the courtroom. It was only audible because the person who was up at the podium was conferring with his attorney. At that point, Judge Restaino lost his composure and wanted to know whose watch it was. He told us if someone didn’t come forward he would arrest everyone in the courtroom, which he did.”
Robert Restaino threatened to arrest the entire courtroom if the cell phone wasn’t turned in. Except, according to Kim, nobody could turn in the device because there wasn’t one. Thus, nobody could satisfy Restaino’s request.
Says Kim, “A young man stood up and said it was his watch. The bailiff took it and they arrested that man for contempt of court, they said he lied and there was no alarm [on the watch]. He was trying to take the pressure off of everyone else.”
That man’s actions did not stop Restaino from continuing to verbally abuse the people in the courtroom for two hours. It seemed as though the only thing that could mend Restaino’s bruised ego and satisfy his lust for respect was to unjustly punish everyone in the courtroom.
Kim continues, “I was called up and arrested, and not told what I was being arrested for. It was upsetting. Restaino’s gross abuse of power all because he was having a bad day. He treated us like we weren’t human beings. It was like we were all animals to him.”
According to the NYS Commission on Judicial Conduct, as he was committing each of his victims to jail, Restaino “alternated between verbalizing sympathy and outright sarcasm.”
Today, Kim is mostly upset about the misdirection regarding the story of a cell phone. She says, “There’s denial about what happened and a false story of a cell phone ringing just to try and justify his actions. It’s just not true. All these years later, they still say it was a cell phone. I’m not the only person who was there who could tell you that it was a watch alarm. Honestly there was no reason for somebody who was supposed to be for the people, someone in a position of power, to lose his composure over somebody’s watch alarm.”
The Niagara Reporter spoke with another of Restaino’s victims from that day, who confirmed that the “cell phone” was in fact a watch alarm. That witness requested to remain anonymous.
Kim said that Restaino “looked at us as criminals because we were in a courtroom,” and that “it was horrible to be treated that way. It was scary to watch him lose his mind. The young man who got up and said it was his watch, he was trying to save everyone from being arrested. One man said he had to go back to work, he couldn’t pay his child support. Another man said he had to pick his child up from the bus stop.”
The NYS Commission on Judicial Conduct noted several times in their determination “Restaino only questioned the defendants, he did not question the prosecutors, defense attorneys, court personnel, program directors, or anyone else present in the courtroom.”
Courtroom transcripts confirm that several people pleaded with Restaino to show mercy on them. After all, the 46 victims he wrongfully arrested had already been sentenced prior to that day, and they were only in court as a part of a program that they’d agreed to participate in.
That 26 week program focused on domestic violence and involved counseling and education, which required weekly courtroom appearances to check the progress of program participants.
Says Kim, “That young man tried to take the heat for everyone and he pleaded for Restaino to just arrest him and let everyone go. That wasn’t enough for [Restaino]. We were all doing what we were supposed to do by being in court, and we were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
She added, “Restaino has never admitted that it was not a cell phone and that it was in fact a watch alarm. That’s his personality and that’s what we can expect from him.”
The NYS Commission on Judicial Conduct notes that Restaino perpetrated “egregious and unprecedented abuse of judicial power,” while causing “irreparable damage to public confidence in the fair and proper administration of justice in the court,” and violated “the trust of the public at large.”
Mayor Restaino’s on-air antics this past June went viral overnight, and he certainly did not represent his office or our community in a positive light to the hundreds of thousands of viewers who watched his interview with Ben Read. WGRZ news anchor Scott Levin called for Mayor Restaino to publicly apologize to Bed Read, but the mayor has yet to do so.
The NYS Commission on Judicial Conduct determined that it was “tragic that in a crowded courtroom, only the individual wearing judicial robes, symbolizing exalted status and the power it conferred, seems to have been oblivious to the enormous injustice caused by his rash and reckless behavior.”
The same determination also pointed out the “importance of self-control and personal accountability” that Mayor Restaino lacked during the 2005 incident.
Lastly, the determination stated that “except for a subsequent chance encounter with one individual who was incarcerated on March 11th, [Restaino] has never apologized to the individuals who were deprived so unjustly of their liberty.”