John L. Michalski, an acting justice of the state Supreme Court, was found dead at his home in Amherst, New York, a suburb outside of Buffalo, Tuesday before noon, his lawyer, Terrence Connors, confirmed to The New York Times. Connors said the 61-year-old died by suicide, describing his loss as a "tragedy," adding that "it would be difficult to find a justice who was more respected" than Michalski.
Lucian Chalfen, a spokesman for the court system, told the Times that Amherst police advised officials about Michalski’s death but declined to provide more details, referring questions to law enforcement. According to his official bio on the state court website, Michalski was named to the Court of Claims in 2006 and as an acting state Supreme Court justice later that year.
Citing two government sources, The Buffalo News reported that law enforcement executed a search warrant on Michalski’s home last month in connection to a federal investigation into the judge and his wife over potential tax crimes related to an online retail clothing and jewelry business operated out of the residence. Neither Michalski nor his wife had been charged in connection to the probe.
Federal authorities had also continued to investigate Michalski over his close friendship with Peter Gerace Jr., the owner of Pharaoh’s Gentlemen’s Club in Cheektowaga, outside of Buffalo. The Miami Herald previously described Gerace as the nephew of reputed Buffalo mob boss Joseph A. Todaro Jr.
Michalski reportedly attempted suicide once before in February 2021 by lying on train tracks at an Amtrak station in the Buffalo suburb of Depew. A freight train passed over him, causing serious leg injuries.
He took a leave of absence from the $210,900-a-year seat on the bench but resumed work in January of this year.
The judge first tried to kill himself on the same day Gerace was arrested in Florida on federal conspiracy to commit sex tracking, bribery and drug distribution charges. The federal superseding indictment did not name Michalski, but it did accuse a federal DEA agent named Joseph Bongiovanni of using his position to shield friends and associates, including Gerace, from criminal investigations in the Buffalo-area.
Gerace has since been transferred back to the Western District of New York.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).