A Bronx surrogate judge was censured by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct for failing to take appropriate action after learning that one of his appointees had collected unauthorized and excessive fees, the commission announced on Tuesday.
The judge, Lee L. Holzman, who has served since 1988, oversees the estates of people who die without wills. In 2006, the judge said, he learned that his appointee, Michael Lippman, counsel to the Bronx public administrator, had taken unauthorized fees from the estates of people who had died without wills.
While censure is one of the panel’s more serious disciplinary actions, it was short of the removal of the judge that the commission’s administrator, who functions as a prosecutor, had recommended in July.
Judge Holzman ordered Mr. Lippman, a longtime associate who had helped him on his election campaigns, to repay the money, but continued to appoint him, a decision that led to the disciplinary action against him.
A referee who presided over the commission’s hearings determined that Judge Holzman should have fired Mr. Lippman and reported him to the authorities.
The panel voted 7-3 to censure Judge Holzman in a determination dated Dec. 13. The three dissenting members voted to remove him. Censure is a higher level of discipline than “admonishment” or “reprimand.”
The commission’s administrator, Robert H. Tembeckjian, who had urged that Judge Holzman be removed, said in a statement that the commission members render decisions “and sometimes we disagree.”
In any case, Judge Holzman has only days left on the bench. He turned 70 this year, and must retire by Dec. 31 under state law.