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Commission admonishes City Court Judge Van White for creating 'an appearance of bias'

Van White
File photo
Van White

Rochester City Court Judge Van White has been admonished by the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct for making public statements that the commission said created “an appearance of bias, or a lack of impartiality.”

White, who has been a City Court judge since July 2022, was also admonished for giving legal advice via social media platforms that identified him as a judge.

Admonition is the mildest public discipline that the commission can impose.

The commission found that within a short time of becoming a judge, White participated in a public rally after a 3-year-old boy was hit by a stray bullet, on the same day a defendant was arraigned before another judge.

The state commission also noted that before arraigning Kelvin Vickers Jr. on charges in connection with the alleged shooting of two Rochester Police officers, White asked for a moment of silence and made sympathetic statements about the relatives of Officer Anthony Mazurkiewicz.

Vickers was later found guilty of murdering Mazurkiewicz and wounded Officer Sino Seng.

The commission also found that White made and posted videos on social media before becoming a judge that should have been later removed, videos the commission said indicated bias or a lack of impartiality, including one in which he equated police officers “to a pack of wolves.”

In accepting the sanction of admonition, the commission noted the misconduct took place shortly after White became a judge “and that he has committed to being more sensitive to his ethical obligations.”

In an interview with WXXI News, White said that the situation is reflective of his “decades’ worth of experience as a prosecutor, civil rights attorney and anti-violence advocate.”

White said while those actions should be seen in the context of his prior roles, “for someone who’s in a position that when a defendant walks into a courtroom, they want to have this sense that the judge sitting there will be unbiased.”

White calls this “a learning experience” and said that while he can’t take the same sorts of stances that he did before he was a judge, what he can do now “is show empathy and sympathy.”

He noted that in the brief time he’s been a judge, he organized a first-of-its-kind job fair and career fair and college fair in the Hall of Justice in Rochester.

White also said that while he would not give away the 30 years he has spent serving the community the way he did, he also would not give away the opportunity to continue to serve the community “in an unbiased, effective, community-based way” on the bench, and he said that’s what the agreement with the state commission reflects.

Randy Gorbman is WXXI's director of news and public affairs. Randy manages the day-to-day operations of WXXI News on radio, television, and online.