AMHERST, N.Y. (WIVB) – The Erie County Supreme Court judge whose Amherst home was raided by law enforcement last month died Tuesday, sources told News 4.
John L. Michalski, 61, died by suicide, the sources said.
Michalski’s judicial career began in 2006, when he was appointed to the state Court of Claims and as an acting state Supreme Court justice. Prior to his appointment, Michalski served as a town prosecutor in Amherst and a prosecutor with the Erie County District Attorney’s Office, according to a biography on the New York Law Journal.
News 4 reported last year that a trainspotter in February 2021 witnessed Michalski lie down across train tracks at the Depew Amtrak Station as a slow-moving train approached. The trainspotter caught the incident on video and shared a portion of it with News 4 Investigates. The judge sustained a serious leg injury but survived the incident.
Depew officials released a heavily redacted police report and declined to release any video of the incident. News 4 sued the Village of Depew to release more information, but a judge largely sided with the village, stating that it was an “apparent suicide attempt” and therefore some details of the incident are exempt for privacy concerns.
Suicides are not typically reported on. However, this case is unique given Michalski’s job and law enforcement’s interest in him.
News 4 reported last year that federal authorities had questioned Michalski on his relationship with Peter Gerace, the operator of Pharaoh’s Gentlemen’s Club in Cheektowaga. Law enforcement raided the club in December 2019.
Two sources told News 4 Investigates last year that the Geraces are close friends with the Michalskis. In fact, Michalski married Gerace and his former wife, Katrina Nigro, in September 2014, according to the marriage certificate.
Later in the day last Feb. 28, after Michalski was hit by the train, law enforcement in Florida arrested Gerace for several felonies, including bribing a federal drug agent and conspiracy to commit sex and drug trafficking. In court, Gerace has denied any wrongdoing.
Michalski’s caseload was reassigned to other judges while he was placed on medical leave. He was reinstated in January.
But his caseload was again reassigned to other judges after the search warrant was executed at his home, where agents were seen carrying out multiple boxes of what appeared to be paper files. Sources told the Buffalo News that the agents sought information on alleged tax crimes involving an online business operated out of the home.
Michalski was never charged with any crimes.
“I am saddened to learn of the passing of State Supreme Court Justice John L. Michalski,” Erie County District Attorney John Flynn said. “I, along with my colleagues at the Erie County District Attorney’s Office, extend our deepest condolences to his family during this difficult time.”
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If you or someone you know is experiencing a crisis, help is available now. Erie County’s Crisis Hotline is available 24 hours a day: 716-834-3131. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is also available 24 hours a day: Simply call or text 988, or chat at 988lifeline.org. For more information, visit CrisisServices.org.
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Here is a timeline of events that preceded Tuesday’s news.
March 9, 2021: The Depew Police Department said that a state supreme court judge was “involved in an incident with a C.S.X. train.” News 4 confirmed that the judge was Michalski. The incident happened on Sunday, Feb. 28.
News 4 also confirmed around this time that federal prosecutors were looking into the relationship between Michalski and family friend Peter G. Gerace Jr., who operates the Pharaoh’s Gentlemen’s Club in Cheektowaga. Gerace Jr. was charged with distribution of drugs, conspiracy to commit sex trafficking and paying bribes to former Drug Enforcement Administration agent.
March 12, 2021: The Depew Police Department released a heavily redacted report about the train incident. It revealed very few new details that had not been previously reported. Michalski at this time remained hospitalized in stable condition with a serious leg injury at ECMC.
March 22, 2021: News 4 obtained exclusive video from a trainspotter who captured footage of the judge being run over by a slow-moving train. The video showed Michalski jogging across one set of tracks and lying stomach-down across another while the train approached.
April 14, 2021: News 4 filed a lawsuit against the Village of Depew to compel officials to release the complete police report and any videos of the train incident, but a judge declined, stating that it was an “apparent suicide attempt.”
Nov. 12, 2021: Seven months after the train incident, Michalski formally requested to return to his job as a judge.
Jan. 27, 2022: Michalski was reinstated to the bench. He had not publicly addressed the train incident.
March 24, 2022: Authorities were seen raiding Michalski’s home. His attorney, Terry Connors, said Michalski and his wife were fully compliant and authorities executed a search warrant. Michalski’s caseload was reassigned.
April 5, 2022: Michalski died at 61.