December 19, 2004 -- EXCLUSIVE

He could be the worst judge in the state.

At least that's what some people in Columbia County are saying about Paul Czajka, a local jurist under fire for allegedly making outrageous rulings, including giving custody to an abusive mom who "circumcised" her boy with a lit cigarette.

The boy's father and at least six other litigants filed complaints about Czajka to the state's court watchdog, casting him as a vindictive tyrant who's sided with bad parents to favor lawyers he once worked with when he was the district attorney or in private practice.

The judge also has been hit with a federal civil suit in Manhattan by Wall Street financial consultant John Chase, who claims Czajka ruled for his ex-wife Kristin despite her facing bank fraud charges.

"He's the most complained-about judge we've ever seen," said George Courtney, who heads the Columbia County chapter of the statewide Fathers' Rights Association.

But it's not just men he's outraged.

Three complaints are by women, including Michelle Mayer, a battered wife and mother of four who says Czajka illegally removed her kids because she exposed them to beatings she suffered by her ex-husband, though he was arrested when she called the cops.

But no action has been taken against Czajka (pronounced ch-EYE-kah), 50, a politically connected Republican who narrowly won re-election to a 10-year term despite being ripped by one of the most respected lawyers in the state.

Complaints to the state's Commission on Judicial Conduct allege:

* The judge failed to protect a 13-year-old boy who's allegedly endured years of abuse, including the nightmarish circumcision, a scalding with hot water on his side and broken ribs.

The boy also accidentally severed his fingertips when his mother allowed him to play with a chainsaw, according to a complaint by the father, carpenter John Calkins, 32, who's been battling for custody of the kid.

Calkins claims the mother once informed him that her family knew the judge.

* Czajka has in two cases jailed fathers in custody fights, one who served time for violating a court order by discussing custody with his wife after an accident in which she got drunk and smashed into a telephone pole, injuring one of her daughters.

* Czajka engaged in a "vendetta" against another father, plumbing contractor George Ihlenburg, who did work at the judge's home and believes he was targeted because Czajka wasn't happy with the job, his complaint says.

* Czajka railroaded an elderly husband, Herbert Stickles, 69, into a sex-abuse conviction after false charges were brought against the man, by allowing his lawyer to not present a defense, according to his wife, Pat.

She claims the case was retribution for her suing the county after being sickened by the social-services building where she worked in Hudson, an office put up over an old oil-storage facility.

A court observer, John Dunne, said of the jurist: "The criticism is he's often insensitive to the needs of women and children."

Dunne is the former head of the state senate's judiciary committee and now part of a blue-ribbon panel to restore public confidence in how New York judges are elected.

He served as a juror in a case before Czajka though it wasn't a family matter and told The Post he came away with an "unfavorable" opinion of him, though he wouldn't elaborate.

So Dunne crossed party lines to back challenger Pam Joern, who slammed Czajka who handles criminal, family and surrogate cases claiming he's too quick to remove kids from their parents.

Figures show that rural Columbia County has the highest number of children in foster care per capita in the state: 4 per 1,000 the statewide average is 2.5.

"The problem is he's an attractive man and kind of charming, but he gets on the bench and he's destructive," said Joern, a 54-year-old lawyer. "He's an arrogant, narcissistic, nasty person. He's got a huge chip on his shoulder."

Said Philip Mann, an advocate who encouraged the litigants to tell their stories, "Chief Judge Judith Kaye and Gov. Pataki were both sent these complaints, and I believe it was their acquiescence that empowered Judge Czajka."

The CJC has never publicly censured Czajka and dismissed the Mayer and Ihlenburg complaints.

Czajka, saying ethics prevented him from discussing cases, said, "There has never been a case before me where a parent has alleged to have burned a child's penis."