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Thursday, August 14, 2008

NY Daily News on Corrupt Surrogate Courts

To clean up corrupt Surrogate Courts, wake up and vote
The New York Daily News Errol Louis  - August 14th 2008

Every couple of years, like clockwork, scandal hits New York's Surrogate Courts, which sort out the estates of people who die without a will or leave a will that's unclear or contested. In the wrong hands, the system lends itself to abuse. The elected surrogates have the power to appoint private attorneys to look after large sums of money. A rogues' gallery of chiselers and crooks has flocked to the courts over the years, running up bills and draining money that rightfully belongs to the heirs and descendants of the dead. That's why Manhattan Democrats need to pay attention to the upcoming primary for surrogate.

Most people don't think about the court until the headlines report high-profile cases like Brooke Astor's $132 million estate or the late Leona Helmsley's nutty attempt to leave $12 million to her dog. But the reality is much less glamorous than those headlines. Last month, Daily News investigative reporter Nancie Katz uncovered a mess in the Bronx, where Surrogate Lee Holzman allowed politically connected lawyers to run up more than $2 million in fees while 37 heirs waited - some for more than a decade - and collected nothing. To make matters worse, some of the Bronx estate money was improperly placed in risky investments that tanked. Taxpayers may end up covering the $20 million loss. And then there's Brooklyn, where ex-Surrogate Michael Feinberg was removed from office in 2005 for improperly allowing one of his pals to take excessively high fees from estates of the dead.

The scandals are nothing new. As far back as the 1930s, corruption problems led the city Bar Association to call for the Surrogate's Court to be folded into the general court system - an idea still worth considering. Sen. Robert Kennedy mounted his own reform effort in the 1960s. And 40 years after his death we're still trying to protect widows, orphans and the dead from predatory pols and lawyers. Which brings us to the Democratic primary for a 14-year term as Manhattan surrogate. All three candidates for the office describe themselves as reformers, although none has a clear claim to that title.

John Reddy, who has worked in the Surrogate's Court for 29 years, was the protégé of a lawyer who got mixed up in a court scandal, but claims he was part of making things better and says "a pro-active surrogate who knows the system can make the court run better."

Nora Anderson, an attorney in private practice, has been running a spirited campaign with the help of campaign manager Michael Oliva, a savvy strategist who has won several insurgent judicial races in recent years. But Anderson's outsider/reform credentials have taken a serious and perhaps fatal hit in the form of a $225,000 campaign loan from Seth Rubenstein, a Brooklyn trust and estate lawyer with deep family ties to the business (his father served as Brooklyn surrogate in the 1950s, and his grandfather worked in the same court). Anderson will have to work hard to prove that, if elected, she will not be politically and financially indebted to Rubenstein.

The third candidate, Milton Tingling, is a Supreme Court justice endorsed by Harlem powerbrokers like ex-Mayor David Dinkins and Manhattan Democratic boss Denny Farrell. Tingling also snagged Gary Tilzer, a longtime gadfly and reformer, as a campaign strategist. "The two other candidates represent firms that have controlled the court for the past 50 years," said Tilzer, who has campaigned against court corruption for decades. "It's not Tammany Hall controlling the Surrogate's Court, it's families and connected friends." Actually, it's the people who have ultimate control in a democracy. All the more reason Manhattan Dems should think long and hard before picking the leader of a court that has eluded reform for generations. elouis@nydailynews.com

5 comments:

trust and estate attorney said...

well said! I will tell you that the Surrogate's Court as a whole are snake pits and I know because I work there. The very well connected attorneys get rich by ripping everybody off. Of course they have to grease the wheels with payoffs. I personally have not gone the route.

trust and estate attorney said...

well said! I will tell you that the Surrogate's Court as a whole are snake pits and I know because I work there. The very well connected attorneys get rich by ripping everybody off. Of course they have to grease the wheels with payoffs. I personally have not gone the route.

I'm waiting for the ball to drop said...

The saying goes, "Show me a Poor lawyer and I'll show you an Honest one". Any Lawyer that dares to fight the corruption gets terrorized by the system, black-balled and ruined, so therefore they know better so they keep their mouths shut and go along with the corruption.What kind of world do we live in? This pretty much sounds like a communist country to me!!!!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

To the above comment...OCA treats their EMPLOYEES, who bring up anything related to OCA;S violation of the law, constitution or unethical behavior, that totally prevents them from performing their taxpaid position..the very same WAY and worse.

OCA will come to your home for a lenghty period, to terrorize you and your family! They will chase you down on the highway to create an accident, in the hope you will be injured or killed, so you cannot report their activity!

The NY courts are designated as ORGANIZED CRIME for the 2000's! They have taken their lead from the tactics of the real MOB and have applied them to the law and judicial system!

Time to imprison the MOBSTERS OF THE OFFICE OF COURT ADMINISTRATION!

Anonymous said...

and who is supposed to mind the Surrogate Store???

Section 71.1. Report of open estates.

(a) Whenever the estate of a decedent is being administered by a public administrator pursuant to article 12 of the Surrogate's Court Procedure Act or by a chief fiscal officer of a county who either is appointed administrator of an estate pursuant to section 1219 of the Surrogate's Court Procedure Act or is acting as voluntary administrator pursuant to article 13 of the Surrogate's Court Procedure Act, and such estate has not been fully distributed nor a final accounting filed with petition for settlement with the appropriate Surrogate's Court, the estate representative shall annually in the month of January file a report of open estates with the Office of the State Comptroller, covering every open estate in which permanent letters were issued to such representative or in which an affidavit has been filed by such representative pursuant to section 1304 of the Surrogate's Court Procedure Act, on or before the preceding December 31st. The report of open estates shall be prepared on a form prescribed by the Office of the State Comptroller and shall require the name of the estate, the date letters were granted or affidavit filed, the amount of the gross estate, the amount undistributed, reasons why the final distribution of the estate has not been made, the anticipated estate closing date and such additional information as the State Comptroller may deem warranted. If there are no such open estates, a report must, nevertheless, be filed by the public administrator of chief fiscal officer indicating that no estates are open. As used in this Part, the term public administrator shall mean the public administrator of any county in which the office of public administrator exists or any deputy public administrator or other individual who is performing the duties of the public administrator as provided for by law.
(b) Where a chief fiscal officer acting as administrator leaves office, resigns, or is removed from office, a report must be filed by the former administrator within 30 days from the date of leaving office, resignation or removal from office. In the event of the death or incapacity of the administrator, the report must be filed by the legal representative(s), if any, of the former administrator within 60 days of the appointment of such representative. A copy of any such report must also be filed with the successor in office to the chief fiscal officer. If there are no open estates, a report must, nevertheless, be filed by the legal representative(s), if any, of the former chief fiscal officer indicating that no estates are open.
(c) Failure to timely file any report provided for herein will be considered by the Comptroller as grounds for petitioning the surrogate of the county having jurisdiction, praying for a judicial settlement of the accounts of any such public administrator or chief fiscal officer of a county, pursuant to the provisions of section 8(11) of the State Finance Law.
(d) The periods set forth in subdivisions (a) and (b) of this section are not intended to set a standard time for completion of estate administration, but rather to fix the times within which the Comptroller is to be informed of the status of open estates and to fix a period after which the Comptroller may inquire.
(e) This section shall not limit the power of the appropriate Surrogate's Court to direct an accounting at any time on its own initiative or on petition pursuant to section 2205 of the Surrogate's Court Procedure Act.
(f) No open estate shall be excluded from the applicability of the provisions of this section by virtue of the fact that permanent letters of administration were issued to the public administrator or chief fiscal officer acting as administrator prior to the effective date of this regulation.

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See Video of Senator John L. Sampson's 1st Hearing on Court 'Ethics' Corruption

The first hearing, held in Albany on June 8, 2009 hearing is on two videos:


               Video of 1st Hearing on Court 'Ethics' Corruption
               The June 8, 2009 hearing is on two videos:
         
               CLICK HERE TO SEE Part 1
               CLICK HERE TO SEE Part 2