SJC orders indefinite, unpaid suspension for Judge Thomas Estes 

  • Don Treeger / The Republican Don Treeger / The Republican

Published: 5/24/2018 10:21:09 AM

BOSTON — The state’s highest court ordered Thursday that Judge Thomas Estes not only be publicly censured but that he be suspended indefinitely without pay for engaging in sexual acts with a social worker in his courthouse chambers.

Estes, 50, of Northampton, who served as the presiding judge in Eastern Hampshire District Court in Belchertown, admitted he had a sexual relationship with a licensed clinical social worker who was hired to help launch a specialty court program in Pittsfield.

Prior to an April Supreme Judicial Court hearing on the matter, the Commission on Judicial Conduct recommended a public censure and indefinite unpaid suspension to allow the executive and legislative branches time to consider whether Estes should keep his judicial office. Estes and his attorney, David Hoose of Northampton, sought a four-month unpaid suspension.

“Clearly, the judge’s misconduct has damaged the esteem of the judicial office in the public’s eye,” the justices ruled. “The sanction we impose is severe not because we seek to punish the judge severely, but because, like the commission, we seriously question whether he can command the respect and authority essential to the performance of his judicial function.”

The suspension will begin June 15.

Hoose said they are disappointed in the decision and that Estes is weighing his options.

The social worker, Tammy Cagle, was removed from her position at Behavioral Health Network Inc. last spring. Estes denies allegations Cagle made in a federal lawsuit, including that he coerced her into performing oral sex on him and played a role in getting her removed from the drug court when she tried to end the relationship.

Estes claimed the relationship was consensual. He said Cagle initiated their first encounter and was the one who wanted to continue their relationship.

Hoose said his client had suffered immensely from the affair becoming public, and told the justices in April that Estes’ relationship with Cagle never impacted his judicial duties and shouldn’t cause him to lose his career.

Cagle’s lawyer applauded the court’s decision.

“My client is gratified that the SJC has recognized that no matter how powerful you are, you cannot abuse the public trust,” Lenny Kesten said.

While the decision prevents Estes from working as a judge, only the governor and lawmakers can officially remove him from the bench.

Republican Gov. Charlie Baker told reporters Thursday that Estes “shouldn’t be behind the bench” and called the indefinite suspension and censure a “pretty good start.”

Lawmakers could either impeach Estes or issue a “bill of address” calling for his removal.

Baker and the Governor’s Council would both have to sign off on a bill of address to strip Estes from the bench.

It’s only the fourth time the state’s high court has imposed such a sanction on a judge. The last time a Massachusetts judge was removed through a bill of address was Judge Jerome Troy, of the Dorchester District Court, in 1973.

Estes, a former public defender, was nominated by Gov. Deval Patrick in 2014. He was the first justice of the Eastern Hampshire District Court before he was confined to administrative duties last year.

He also came under fire in 2016 when he sentenced a former high school athlete to probation after the athlete pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting two classmates. The case drew parallels to that of former Stanford University swimmer Brock Turner, who got just six months in jail for a sexual assault conviction.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Emily Cutts can be reached at


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