Rochester, NY City Court Judge Thomas Rainbow Morse
By Davy V.
On November 15, 2018, I went to cover the arraignment of suspended Rochester, NY Police Officer Michael Sippel in Rochester City Court.
Sippel is accused of brutally beating Christopher Pate, a black man, in a case of mistaken identity.
Pate, who was handcuffed, beaten, and tasered during the incident, suffered injuries including a fractured oscipital bone.
Instead of entering the court, I decided to wait outside for Sippel to exit, in order to ask him some questions.
About an hour later, Rochester Police Officer Michael Sippel
walked out of court, accompanied by his mother.
Along with several Rochester news media reporters and camerapersons, I followed Officer Sippel while recording video.
As I was walking alongside Officer Sippel, I encountered a granite wall abutment which extends from the Rochester City Court building.
In order to avoid running into the wall, I tried going around the wall, squeezing through a small space, and accidentally brushed by Officer Sippel’s mother.
Immediately, Officer Sippel’s mother, who works for the Monroe County, NY Sheriffs Office, yelled; “Did you just bump into me? I’m gonna have you arrested.”
A few seconds later I was surrounded by several Monroe County, NY Sheriffs deputies, who arrested, and charged me with harassment.
On January 18, 2019, after an emotional nearly four hour long trial, I was found not guilty by Rochester, NY City Court Judge Thomas Rainbow Morse.
But this isn’t so much about me or my case as it is about Judge Morse.
Let me explain.
Over the years I’ve covered countless Court cases including arraignments and trials.
And as result, I’ve gotten to know some of the Judges.
In fact some Judges I’ve known for years.
Take, for example, Rochester City Court Judge Jack Elliott, who I’ve known for over 15 years ever since our children attended the same elementary school.
Judge Elliott is a good man and a very fair Judge.
And he’s always treated me with respect.
Whenever I’ve sat in Judge Elliott’s court, he will publicly greet me with a big “Hello Davy V.!” which usually gets a chuckle from folks in the courtroom including the court deputies.
With that said, there’s some Judges who although I may be familiar with their names, I don’t really know.
Like Judge Thomas Rainbow Morse.
At my arraignment, in Rochester City Court, Judge Morse ‘kept it 100’ as the new generation likes to say, or as my generation called it, he ‘kept it real’ as he laid down the law (no pun intended) as to what he expects when it comes to courtroom decorum.
Before court began, Judge Morse stood up and in a stern voice let everyone know there was absolutely no talking allowed in his courtroom.
But as usual, there’s always that one person who doesn’t listen.
That’s when Judge Morse rose from his seat and yelled at a defendant who was talking.
He threatened to throw the defendant in jail if they opened their mouth again.
Let’s just say that person didn’t make another sound.
Judge Morse then threatened to confiscate anyone’s phone if he saw anyone using their cell phone.
It was pretty much at this point where I thought Judge Morse is definitely not with the bullshit.
Let’s just say if you’re ever in front of Judge Morse, just know he runs a very strict court.
As he should.
I mean, if there’s two pet peeves I can’t stand is people talking and using their cell phones in court, or at the movies.
With that said, however tough and strict Judge Morse may have come across, I quickly realized he was a genuine person.
He treated each and every defendant who stood in front of him with respect.
Judge Morse even offered advice to some defendants on how precious life is, and just how quickly it can be over, citing the South Carolina mass church shooting, as well as the Stoneman Douglas school shooting in Parkland, Florida as examples of just how fragile life is.
But perhaps the best examples of what a good and genuine person Judge Morse is, were two small but very significant acts of kindness which happened during my trial.
The first act of kindness and respect came at the beginning of the trial when Judge Morse, noticing no one had water, took his robe off, walked outside the courtroom and returned a few minutes later with bottles of water for me and my attorney Brandon Hellwig, as well as for the Monroe County Assistant District Attorney Gina Clark.
Judge Morse’s second act of kindness came during a very emotional part of the trial for me.
Judge Morse called a recess, told everyone to remain seated, then walked off the bench and into his chambers.
A couple of minutes later Judge Morse returned with a box of tissue and placed it in front of me on the defense table.
I’ll never forget that.
At one moment during my trial, Judge Morse even allowed me to take time to call my son who had gone home early from school because he wasn’t feeling well.
Judge Morse then asked me if I was able to reach my son and asked me how my son was doing.
My Dad Mario Vara used to say that you can learn a lot about a person just by simply observing how they interact with, and treat others.
This is so true.
I’ll never forget the respect and compassion Judge Morse showed me.
Shortly after I was arrested, several attorneys who follow my blog and my YouTube channel, upon hearing that Judge Morse was presiding over my case, each told me the same two things about Judge Morse.
First, that he’s a very fair Judge.
Second, that he loves to talk.
I can honestly say that both are very true.
After announcing that he had found me not guilty, Judge Morse gave me some advice.
He spoke about using better judgment when covering news stories.
Judge Morse also talked about Princess Diana and how she died while being chased by paparazzis.
Gary Craig, a senior reporter for Rochester’s Democrat and Chronicle newspaper once told me Judge Morse was a good man and also very philosophical.
This also is very true.
Although my brushing by Officer Sippel’s mother in the media rush to ‘get the story and the shot’ was not intentional, I understood what Judge Morse said to me.
And if nothing else I have learned from this experience, to keep a safe distance and to stay as far away as possible from individuals who have an axe to grind.
I’m happy Judge Morse saw that in no way were my actions intentional, and as a result found me not guilty.
Judge Morse is a good man and a fair Judge.
Thank you Judge Morse.
You helped restore my faith in our criminal justice system.