John L. Michalski, 61, an acting justice of the State Supreme Court, was found dead in his Amherst home, defense attorney Terrence M. Connors told The Buffalo News. Connors said he received a call about his former client’s death late Tuesday morning.
“It’s heartbreaking,” Connors said. “He was such a good guy. This just didn’t have to happen.”
“It’s difficult to explain what a tragedy this is,” said Connors, adding that “it would be difficult to find a judge who was more respected” in the Western New York legal community, The New York Times reported.
Michalski, began his judicial career in 2006 when he was appointed a judge of the New York Court of Claims and an acting justice of the Supreme Court. He had been entangled in a law enforcement investigation for years, but no charges were filed against him or his wife.
He was left with a serious leg injury in February last year after he was struck by a freight train. Another judge called it a “suicide attempt” at the time, according to The Buffalo News. The news outlet reported that he was struck by the slow-moving train days after he was contacted by federal agents over his relationship with his former client, Peter Gerace Jr., the owner of a strip club near Buffalo.
Gerace was indicted on charges related to drug and sex trafficking and bribery of a former Drug Enforcement Administration agent, Joseph Bongiovanni, on the same day as Michalski’s apparent suicide attempt last year.
NBC affiliate WGRZ reported that federal prosecutors filed indictments last month against Gerace and Bongiovanni for conspiracy to defraud the United States and conspiracy to distribute controlled substances. Both deny the allegations.
According to The Buffalo News, Michalski was also being investigated by the state Commission on Judicial Conduct on how much he received for officiating Gerace’s wedding.
Connors told the news outlet last week that Michalski’s legal troubles seemed “manageable.”
“We had a good support system in place,” Connors said. “He was strong.”
His home was raided by state and federal law enforcement agencies on March 24. Two government sources told The Buffalo News last week that police were looking for evidence of tax crimes.
Michalski is survived by his wife and four children.
If you are someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at: 800-273-TALK (8255) or text 741741.