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Niagara Falls judge admonished in eviction case

Niagara Falls City Court Judge Robert P. Merino has been admonished for failing to appoint an interpreter for a Spanish-speaking tenant he agreed to evict.

Merino admitted to the failing and a formal admonition, according to the state Commission on Judicial Conduct.

“It is fundamental to our system of justice that the accused understand what is going on in the courtroom, particularly if the proceeding can result in the loss of their home. To his credit, Judge Merino forthrightly acknowledged that he should have arranged for an interpreter,” Commission Administrator Robert Tembeckjian wrote.

“His ready acceptance of responsibility gives the Commission confidence that he will sensitive to such situations in the future.”

The action comes after a case last year when Merino presided over an eviction of a Spanish-speaking native of Puerto Rico. When the proceeding began, Merino offered to adjourn so that an interpreter could help. But after Merino asked some basic questions and the tenant had trouble responding, the judge issued an eviction order, the commission stated.

In addition, the panel found that the judge never made it clear that the case would not be adjourned.

Merino ignored “red flags” indicating limited English. The commission concluded that, without an interpreter, the tenant’s rights to “meaningfully participate” were compromised.

“The consequences of this case were significant: a family was summarily evicted,” the panel stated.

Merino has been a judge in Niagara Falls City Court since 2008. His term expires in 2017. The finding against Merino was unanimous among the 10 members of the commission.