New York State Supreme Court Judge Dies by Suicide

A New York state judge whose home was raided by law enforcement authorities last month in the context of the federal prosecution of one of his former clients killed himself Tuesday, one of his attorneys said.

The judge, Acting State Supreme Court Justice John L. Michalski, was found dead at his home in Amherst, New York, a Buffalo suburb, shortly before noon, attorney Terrence Connors said.

“It’s hard to explain what a tragedy this is,” said Mr. Connors, a longtime friend of Judge Michalski, adding that “you would be hard pressed to find a judge who was more respected” in the western New York legal community.

Amherst police were unable to provide information on Judge Michalski’s death Tuesday night. A spokesman for the state court system did not respond to a request for comment. Justice Michalski was appointed to the Court of Claims in 2006 and appointed as an acting Supreme Court justice the same year, according to his official court biography.

Judge Michalski’s death, aged 61, came just over a year after another apparent suicide attempt in which police records show he was hit by a freight train after lying on the tracks in a rail yard near Buffalo in the middle of the night. He suffered a serious leg injury but was otherwise uninjured, Connors said.

The episode prompted him to take a break from his $210,900-a-year position at the bank. He returned to work in January after meeting all the requirements to do so and had started taking on all the cases, Connors said.

But last month, Judge Michalski came under new scrutiny and his cases were reassigned yet again, after federal and state investigators raided his home. He had not been charged with any crime, but he had drawn the attention of authorities for his ties to Peter Gerace Jr., the owner of a strip club in Cheektowaga, another Buffalo suburb.

Mr. Gerace was charged in federal court in Florida last year with sex trafficking, drug distribution and bribery of a former Drug Enforcement Administration agent. He denies the charges and the case has since been transferred to the Western District of New York.

The former agent, Joseph Bongiovanni, has been charged with bribery, obstruction and conspiracy. An indictment detailing the charges against the two men says Mr. Bongiovanni’s associates included people he “believed to be members of, connected to or associated with” organized crime.

Another man identified in the indictment as having ties to organized crime is Michael Masecchia, a longtime Buffalo school teacher who now faces life in prison after pleading guilty to weapons and drug charges.

The episode in which Judge Michalski was hit by the train occurred on the same day that Mr. Gerace was charged. At the time, another attorney for Judge Michalski told The Buffalo News that federal authorities had contacted the judge two weeks earlier asking about Gerace.

The relationship between the men dates back decades, when the judge was in private practice and doing legal work for Mr. Gerace’s club, attorney Anthony J. Lana told The News.

In 2006, The News reported, Judge Michalski wrote a letter to a federal judge seeking a lenient sentence for Mr. Gerace, who had been convicted of wire fraud in connection with a sweepstakes telemarketing business. In the letter, The News reported, the judge said that he and Gerace had been friends for a decade.

Mr. Connors said Tuesday that Judge Michalski, a city attorney in Amherst and an assistant district attorney in Erie County early in his career, had “repeatedly conveyed to authorities that he was unaware of any of the alleged activities.” Mr. Gerace’s illegals. ”

“He was a client,” Connors said of the men’s relationship. Based on information from search warrants executed on Judge Michalski’s home last month, he added, investigators appeared to be focused on an online business that the judge’s wife ran from her home selling clothing on consignment.

“If they had called me and asked what they were looking for, we would have given it to them,” Connors said. “We would have cooperated in the same way that we have cooperated all along.”

The judge was also the subject of an investigation by the state attorney general’s office related to possible corruption, according to a person familiar with the matter. No charges have been filed against him in connection with the investigation.

Judge Michalski’s professional and personal behavior, including his state of mind during and after last year’s apparent suicide attempt, was also under review by the state Commission on Judicial Conduct, an independent agency that investigates allegations of misconduct involving to the New York judges.

The commission’s investigation, according to The News, focused on allegations that he had been paid $5,000 to perform Mr. Gerace’s wedding in 2014, well above the $100 allowed under state law.

Mr. Connors predicted that Judge Michalski would be much mourned in the days to come.

“I can’t tell you how many calls I’ve gotten today,” he said. “People are just in shock.”

kirsten-noyes contributed research.

If you are having suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) or go to SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for a list of additional resources. Here it is what you can do when a loved one is severely depressed.

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