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N.Y. judge whose home was raided by investigators is found dead

John Michalski, an acting justice on the Erie County Supreme Court, appeared to have died by suicide. He was entangled in a wider investigation but had not been charged with a crime.

A veteran New York state judge entangled in a law enforcement investigation whose property was raided by federal agents two weeks ago was found dead Tuesday morning in his home near Buffalo, his lawyer said.

John Michalski, an acting justice on the Erie County Supreme Court, died of an apparent suicide, according to attorney Terry Connors. Michalski was 61.

Police in Amherst, where Michalski lived, declined to comment.

Connors said he last spoke with Michalski on Saturday for a meeting that lasted several hours. He appeared "to be doing well. He was strong and was participating in the meeting," Connors added.

The Supreme Court is the highest trial court in New York and is established in each of the state's counties.

Michalski, appointed to the bench in 2006, had returned to his duties in January after going on medical leave in the wake of an apparent suicide attempt in February 2021, Connors said.

At the time, local news reports and video obtained by the CBS affiliate WIVB-TV found that Michalski had stepped into the path of a slow-moving tanker train. He was hospitalized with a serious leg injury.

Connors said Michalski had to satisfy conditions set by the State Court system before he could be reinstated.

Judge John Michalski.
Judge John Michalski.WGRZ

He was subject to "a battery of tests and evaluations by the Office of Court Administration," Connors said, and "performed well on all of those."

His apparent suicide attempt last year came on the same day that a former client and family friend, Peter Gerace Jr., was arrested by federal agents in Florida. Gerace, the owner of a strip club near Buffalo and the nephew of an alleged Buffalo mob boss, was indicted on charges related to drug and sex trafficking and bribery of a former Drug Enforcement Administration agent.

According to an indictment obtained by NBC affiliate WGRZ, bribes were paid to the agent, Joseph Bongiovanni, "to protect (the strip club) from federal narcotics investigations."

Indictments were filed last month by federal prosecutors against Gerace and Bongiovanni for conspiracy to defraud the United States and conspiracy to distribute controlled substances.

Both men are awaiting trial and have denied the allegations.

While federal agents were in contact with Michalski about his friendship with Gerace, no charges had been filed against the judge, Connors said.

Michalski had also been under investigation by the state Commission on Judicial Conduct in connection with how much he was paid for performing Gerace's wedding, according to The Buffalo News.

It's unclear why state and federal law enforcement agencies, including the FBI, New York State Police and state Attorney General's Office, executed a search warrant at Michalski's home last month. A Department of Justice spokeswoman said in an email Wednesday that the agency does not confirm or deny investigations.

Connors said there had been a groundswell of support for Michalski upon news of his death. Colleagues and friends in their legal circles considered him a well-respected jurist, also known for his infectious laugh and love for his wife and four children, Connors said.

He once told a mother addicted to gambling who was facing four years in prison for stealing from her son that he would instead give her probation because "you do deserve a chance for redemption," The Buffalo News reported in 2012.

"He treated everyone with respect," Connors said. "He was just the type of judge who you'd be thankful for was overseeing your case."

If you or someone you know is in crisis, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255, text HOME to 741741 or visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.