Updated 08/23/2012 05:35 PM
Judge's niece speaks out about alleged sexual abuse
A former Onondaga County Family Court judge accused of inappropriately touching his niece when she was five-years-old is prohibited from ever holding judicial office again. That decision to remove Bryan Hedges was handed down by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct earlier this week. Now, Hedges' niece is speaking out. Sarah Blazonis reports.
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SYRACUSE, N.Y. -- First, victim after victim came forward to speak out against former Penn State Assistant Football Coach Jerry Sandusky. Then, closer to home, there were the allegations against former SU Assistant Basketball Coach Bernie Fine. The accusations of powerful men sexually abusing children, disturbing as they were, are what Ellen Cantwell Warner says finally set her free.
"Forty years of trauma have finally come to an end. I am at peace," Cantwell Warner said Thursday during a news conference at Vera House in Syracuse.
Cantwell Warner says she was five-years-old in 1972 when her uncle, then 25-year-old Bryan Hedges, sexually abused her in a relative's home. Diagnosed as profoundly deaf two years before, she was unable to tell anyone what had happened.
"An experience like this would be difficult for any child growing up, but it is especially difficult for a deaf child, whose communication is limited. He preyed on my deafness."
It was the SU and Penn State cases that finally inspired her to tell authorities. The statute of limitations to prosecute in this incident has passed, but Wednesday the State Commission on Judicial Conduct issued a decision to remove Hedges from his position as Onondaga County Family Court Judge. Hedges resigned abruptly in April, but the Commission says it felt the action was necessary given the severity of the charges.
"The commission's determination of removal ensures that Mr. Hedges will never be a judge again, because in New York State, removal from judicial office bars the individual from returning," said Robert Tembeckjian, administrator for the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct.
Officials involved in the case say the decision sends several messages, including one to would-be judges that says such behavior won't go unpunished, and, to the victims, a message of hope.
"There are remedies, there are mechanisms of government that will respond appropriately when notified," said Tembeckjian.
"Don't be afraid to tell the authorities, seek help, and get counseling. There can be justice for you," said Cantwell Warner.
Commission documents show Hedges admitted to the incident described by Cantwell Warner, but denied he engaged in a sexual act with his niece.
Hedges released a statement Wednesday, saying, "I am devastated by the Commission's actions. The allegations are untrue. The administrative process is deficient in terms of being a fair fact finding procedure. I hope the Court of Appeals will reverse."
Hedges also questioned the Commission's jurisdiction over the matter since it happened 13 years before he became a judge. Tembeckjian said past cases have established that judges can be disciplined for acts committed before they took the bench, though the conduct in question usually is more recent than in this case.