Metro

Pittsfield judge Thomas Estes resigns in wake of sex scandal

Judge Thomas Estes in 2017.
Dave Roback/The Republican
Judge Thomas Estes in 2017.

Embattled Pittsfield judge Thomas H. Estes tendered his resignation Friday, one day after the state’s highest court ordered an indefinite suspension for the jurist, who admitted to having sex with a clinician who worked in his court.

“Effective on June 15, 2018, at 5:00 p.m., I tender my resignation as a Justice of the District Court,” Estes wrote in his brief resignation letter to District Court Chief Justice Paul Dawley. “I am grateful to have had the opportunity to serve as a district court judge and submit this resignation with great sadness. I appreciate the guidance and support you have offered me.”

Estes’ departure is a rarity in a state where judges are nominated by the governor and, once appointed, seldom forced off the bench. There is a mandatory retirement age of 70.

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The state Supreme Judicial Court had sharply criticized Estes in a six-page order of censure issued Thursday.

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“It is beyond dispute that these egregious, deliberate, and repeated acts of misconduct severely diminished respect in the eyes of the public not only for this judge, but also for the judiciary,” the order from the SJC said.

David Hoose, a lawyer for Estes, said in a statement Friday that his client “was not only a good judge, he was an outstanding judge. As I said in my argument before the SJC, any judge in the Commonwealth would trade his or her judicial evaluation with him.”

Estes, a former chief justice of the Belchertown District Court, had been on paid administrative assignment in Holyoke. His current salary is $178,444.

In its order, the SJC agreed with the Commission on Judicial Conduct, which investigated Estes and found the 51-year-old judge had lost credibility after the clinician, Tammy Cagle, revealed the sexual relationship in a complaint she filed with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.

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“The sanction we impose is severe not because we seek to punish the Judge severely, but because . . . we seriously question whether he can command the respect and authority essential to the performance of his judicial function,” the SJC wrote in its order, which did not list a specific justice as the author.

There were no dissents among the six justices who heard oral arguments in the case in April. Chief Justice Ralph Gants, who referred the case to the commission after the Trial Court learned of the relationship, recused himself.

Cagle, who has filed a federal lawsuit against Estes, said the judge sexually harassed her and created a hostile work environment in his drug court, where Cagle had been assigned as a clinician.

She said she felt coerced into having oral sex with Estes, who was married at the time and used his office e-mail to arrange encounters with Cagle. He also used the office to meet with Cagle for sex.

Before and after the encounters, Cagle and Estes would discuss matters of the drug court, where participants can seek treatment in exchange for avoiding criminal charges or jail time, the commission found.

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Hoose disputed the harassment allegations in his statement Friday.

“Judge Estes never denied the mistakes that he made in getting involved in a relationship with Tammy Cagle,” Hoose said. “Unfortunately, the entire proceedings against him were tainted by her frivolous complaint that she was sexually harassed. He will continue to defend against that allegation in the federal court.”

Neither the SJC nor the commission made findings of sexual harassment, but the justices said Estes’ actions compromised the integrity of the court and reflected “complete disrespect for the dignity and decorum of the court.”

Cagle’s lawyer, Lenny Kesten, wrote in an e-mail Friday that his client hopes other women will be inspired to act.

“Ms. Cagle feels that justice has been served and she hopes that this motivates other women to come forward,’’ he wrote.

Under state law, only the Legislature and the governor can force a judge off the bench, either through a bill calling for the judge’s ouster that must be signed by the governor and the Governor’s Council or through an impeachment trial before the Senate.

The last time a judge was impeached by trial was in 1821, and the last time a judge was removed through a bill was in 1973.

Hoose, in Friday’s statement, remained deferential to the SJC, his disappointment in their handling of the Estes case notwithstanding.

“Both Judge Estes and I felt that the penalty for his admitted transgressions should be less severe,” Hoose said. “Ultimately, the SJC thought otherwise. Both of us have too much respect for the Court and the process to comment further. Accordingly, neither Judge Estes nor I will have anything further to say on this matter.”

Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.