SJC suspends judge for inappropriate touching

Paul Sushchyk groped court employee in 2019, lied to investigators

THE SUPREME JUDICIAL COURT on Wednesday suspended Judge Paul Sushchyk without pay indefinitely after finding that Sushchyk grabbed the butt of a court employee at a court-sponsored event, then lied about the incident to investigators. 

The court wrote that the suspension should be imposed for a “reasonable time,” which it did not specify, “to permit the executive and legislative branches to consider, if they wish, whether he should retain his judicial office.” 

Sushchyk’s attorney, Michael Angelini, did not respond to a request for comment.  

Sushchyk is an associate justice of the Probate and Family Court, who was appointed by Gov. Charlie Baker in February 2018. 

Baker spokesperson Terry MacCormack said, “The Governor’s Office believes the findings are deeply troubling and is reviewing the SJC’s thorough report.”

According to the SJC’s ruling, in April 2019, Sushchyk attended the Probate and Family Court’s annual spring conference at a resort in Brewster. The woman who made the complaint, a field coordinator for the Probate and Family Court, had met Sushchyk once and corresponded with him electronically for professional reasons. She was required to attend the conference. The first evening of the conference, the two were at a restaurant with other conference attendees and the woman was sitting in the bar area. She said Sushchyk came up behind her barstool, grabbed and squeezed her buttock, then joined her table and offered to buy everyone a drink. 

The woman left a few minutes later. She texted her sister and a couple of friends about the incident at the time, and reported it several days later to the chief justice of the Probate and Family Court. 

Sushchyk first denied the allegations, then later said he touched her unintentionally after feeling unsteady due to the effects of recent surgery and alcohol he had consumed.  

The Commission on Judicial Conduct investigated, held a hearing, and concluded that Sushchyk engaged “in an intentional, nonconsensual, and unwelcome touching of [the complainant’s] buttock.” The commission also found that Sushchyk “generated a statement he knew to be false in which he invented out of whole cloth a version of events in which [the complainant’s] very clear perception of what happened to her person was to be dismissed as misimpression or an exaggeration.” 

Sushchyk maintained that there was no evidence of wrongdoing and the commission’s conclusions were erroneous. 

The SJC justices reviewed the case and confirmed the finding of the Commission on Judicial Conduct that Sushchyk engaged in improper touching. “The respondent’s intentional wrongdoing — both the unwanted touching of the complainant and the lying that followed — violated the canons of judicial conduct,” the court wrote, in an unsigned opinion written on behalf of the full court. 

The Commission on Judicial Conduct had recommended that Sushchyk be publicly censured, suspended without pay, and ordered to pay the commission’s costs.  

The Supreme Judicial Court imposed the suspension. It did not censure Sushchyk or require him to pay court costs because, the court wrote, “we believe the objectives of those sanctions effectively have been achieved by the sanction we have imposed.” 

Sushchyk had already been removed from judicial duties while the case against him was ongoing. He has been getting paid his annual salary of $184,693, according to state payroll records. 

The SJC has maintained that the authority to remove a judge from office lies with the legislative and executive branches of government, but the court made clear that its suspension was made with an eye toward giving those branches of government an opportunity to act. 

Judges in Massachusetts have very rarely been removed from office. The Constitution says judges can be impeached, a procedure under which the House would pass a bill of address and Senate would hold a trial. The House and Senate could alternatively issue a “bill of address” by a majority vote in each body, which would have to be agreed on by the governor and confirmed by the Governor’s Council. Under state law, judges can also be recalled by a citizen’s petition, which must be approved by the Legislature. The governor, with approval by the Governor’s Council, can also require a judge to retire if they reach the mandatory retirement age or cannot perform the job due to physical or mental disability.

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Shira Schoenberg

Reporter, CommonWealth

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

About Shira Schoenberg

Shira Schoenberg is a reporter at CommonWealth magazine. Shira previously worked for more than seven years at the Springfield Republican/MassLive.com where she covered state politics and elections, covering topics as diverse as the launch of the legal marijuana industry, problems with the state's foster care system and the elections of U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Gov. Charlie Baker. Shira won the Massachusetts Bar Association's 2018 award for Excellence in Legal Journalism and has had several stories win awards from the New England Newspaper and Press Association. Shira covered the 2012 New Hampshire presidential primary for the Boston Globe. Before that, she worked for the Concord (N.H.) Monitor, where she wrote about state government, City Hall and Barack Obama's 2008 New Hampshire primary campaign. Shira holds a master's degree from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism.

Judiciary Committee co-chairs Sen. Jamie Eldridge and Rep. Michael Day both declined to comment. 

State Sen. Patrick O’Connor of Weymouth, the ranking Senate Republican on the Judiciary Committee, called the allegations against Sushchyk “serious and troubling.” “Our judges must have unquestionable integrity, and the SJC has ruled that Judge Sushchyk may be unable to meet that standard moving forward,” O’Connor said in a statement. “My colleagues and I on the Judiciary Committee will continue to review the information available to us and discuss potential next steps in the days and weeks ahead.”