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Friday, October 31, 2008

The Worst Judges Money Can Buy

The System Is the Crime

Judicial Reports by Mark Lagerkvist - October 29, 2008
mark@lagerkvist.net

Judicial campaign committees around Albany are raising funds from law firms with business pending before the judge — and one firm is particularly generous. Supreme Court Appellate Justice Anthony J. Carpinello’s re-election campaign accepted a $10,000 gift in May from an Albany law firm that had recently appeared before him in court to argue a medical malpractice appeal. Three months after the contribution, which was disclosed in his campaign’s filings with the State Board of Elections, Carpinello cast a deciding vote in a 3-2 decision on the case, Caruso v. Northeast Emergency Medical Associates. He also wrote the majority opinion that could allow the firm, Powers & Santola, to collect as much as $200,000 in fees. The judge claims he was unaware of the contribution. “I’ve never done anything unethical in my life,” said Carpinello. “I follow the law, and I’m not supposed to know who contributes to my campaign.” The law firm, meanwhile, contends it would never give a campaign gift to a judge who could be influenced by it. “If this is somebody we think we can curry favor with by making a contribution, we won’t make the contribution,” said senior partner John K. Powers. “Because if we can curry favor, so can someone else. And that’s not somebody we want sitting on the bench.”

SERIAL SHILLING

If there is a guilty party, it is arguably the controversial process of electing judges throughout New York State. Lawyers are allowed to fork over campaign cash to judges running for re-election — even while they have cases pending before those judges. Gifts from attorneys account for roughly half of money raised by Supreme Court candidates, incumbents and challengers, for the coming election. Judges claim they are not influenced because court rules forbid them from learning who contributes to their campaigns or how much. However, details on donors are part of a public record readily available to anyone with an Internet connection.

“They’re not supposed to know who contributes money to them, but they’re also not idiots,” said Powers. “Now that it’s online, somebody’s going to mention to you, at some point, who contributed money.” For next Tuesday’s election, Justice Carpinello’s campaign has raised in excess of $238,000, more than any of the other 51 candidates running for Supreme Court seats across the State, according to its disclosures to the Board of Elections. “I am fighting for my professional career,” said Carpinello. “I’ve worked so hard to schedule my fundraisers – and I do attend because I’m permitted to be there.” A Judicial Reports investigation found that lawyers have handed out more than $116,000 to Carpinello, nearly half of the money raised by his campaign. His political committee has accepted 142 contributions from individual attorneys and 89 from law firms or partnerships, according to disclosures to State Board of Elections. Thirty-eight of the gifts from lawyers were for $1,000 or more.


THE POWERS & SANTOLA THAT BE

At the top of the list is Powers & Santola, a plaintiff’s firm that specializes in personal injury and medical malpractice cases. Its five partners and one associate frequently appear in the Supreme Court venues that surround Albany, including the Appellate Division’s Third Department, where Carpinello sits. And the firm is extraordinarily active on the campaign front, having given five-figure contributions to nine sitting Supreme Court justices, as well as Carpinello’s opponent.


Since 2004, Powers & Santola has doled out $157,725 in campaign cash to Supreme Court candidates in the firm’s primary area of practice, Judicial Reports found in an analysis of campaign filings. Those gifts included:

• $25,000 in 2004 to Presiding Appellate Justice Anthony V. Cardona of the Third Department;
• $20,125 last year to Albany County Supreme Court Justice Joseph C. Teresi;
• $15,000 in 2006 to Appellate Justice Karen K. Peters of the Third Department;
• $15,000 in 2005 to Appellate Justice Edward O. Spain of the Third Department;
• $10,000 last year to Saratoga County Supreme Court Justice Frank B. Williams (who is also Supervising Judge of the Third Judicial District); and
• $10,000 last year to Rensselaer County Supreme Court Justice George B. Ceresia, Jr. (who is also Administrative Judge of the Third District.)

That pattern continues in this year’s election. In addition to its gift to Carpinello, Powers & Santola has written five-figure checks to the following judicial campaigns:

• $10,000 to Schenectady County Supreme Court Justice Vito C. Caruso )who also serves as Administrative Judge of the Fourth District.)
• $10,000 to Saratoga County Supreme Court Justice Stephen A. Ferradino.
• $10,000 to Rensselaer County Court Judge Patrick J. McGrath, who is running against Carpinello for Supreme Court in the Nov. 4 election.

Justices Teresi, Peters, Spain, Williams, Ceresia and McGrath did not respond to calls from Judicial Reports. Through aides, Justices Cardona and Ferradino said they complied with court rules forbidding them from knowing any details about their campaign contributors in compliance. In an interview, Justice Caruso said that although he did see lawyers from Powers & Santola at two of his fundraisers this year, he does not know any details about the contributions from that firm or any other political donors.

“I really do maintain that wall between me and finding out,” said Caruso. “Anybody who wants to can go online and find out. Who’s stopping me, other than my own ethical feelings about it? People say to you, ‘Did you get my contribution?’ How the heck do I know? You look kind of foolish that you don’t know.” Caruso said he has never disqualified himself from a case because of a campaign gift, and that his court decisions could not be swayed by contributions, even if he did know who gave and how much. According to Powers, all of the solicitations from his firm were initiated by the judges’ political committees — which often regard the firm and its renowned political generosity as “low-hanging fruit” for their harvests of campaign cash. “I can’t speak for the judges, but if I were a judge, yes, I’d feel awkward about it,” said Powers. “I’d feel awkward about soliciting contributions from anyone. Because however you go about doing it, that is not going to be a perfect system from insulating you from the fact you’re trying to raise large sums of money over a short period of time.”

Also awkward may be the frequency with which Power’s firm appears in the courts of the judges it supports. Teresi, Ferradino, Ceresia, Caruso and Williams serve as trial-level Supreme Court Justices. Powers & Santola has appeared in their courts in a total of 35 cases during the past two decades, according to the New York State Unified Court System’s eCourts index. Powers & Santola has also appeared repeatedly before Judges Carpinello, Cardona, Spain and Peters in the Third Department of Supreme Court’s Appellate Division. In the past 11 years, the firm has argued 49 cases before the Third Department. In 47 of those instances, the panels of judges included at least one judge who would sooner or later accept a campaign gift of $10,000 or more from the firm. “In my view, we should have public financing of judicial elections because those are the people you want to have the most independence from even the taint of who’s giving the money,” said Powers. “But the reality is until we have that, the only people who are likely to make contributions to candidates are going to be lawyers.”

THE LATEST CONFLICT

The most recent Powers & Santola case before the Third Department was Caruso v. Northeast Emergency Medical Associates. The lead plaintiff was Thomas Caruso of Colonie, who claimed a hospital and emergency room physician failed to diagnose intracranial bleeding in 2001 that led to permanent neurological damage. The defendants were Ellis Hospital, Dr. Alex Pasquariello and Northeast, Pasquariello’s employer.

The case was settled before trial. Pasquariello agreed to pay Caruso $3 million. Ellis Hospital agreed to pay $1 million, plus assign Caruso its right to receive another $1 million, its anticipated indemnification payment from Northeast. However, Northeast refused to pay the $1 million, declaring Caruso had relinquished any rights to collect when he signed the general release in the settlement paperwork. In 2007, the trial court granted a summary judgment in Northeast’s favor. For Powers & Santola, it was a decision that could cost the firm an estimated $200,000 in lost contingency fees. The plaintiff appealed to the Supreme Court’s Appellate Division; the appeal was received by the Third Department on Oct. 15, 2007. A five-judge panel heard oral arguments on Jan. 18, 2008. Seven months later, on August 21, the case was decided by a 3-2 decision in favor of the plaintiff — and Powers & Santola.

The majority opinion, written by Carpinello, ruled that the general release was ambiguous. A dissenting opinion argued that the general release was valid. Northeast has petitioned the Appellate Division for leave to appeal to the State Court of Appeals; a decision has yet to be announced. Absent from the court record is the fact that Carpinello’s re-election campaign accepted the five-figure gift from Powers & Santola on May 13, while the case was being decided. Carpinello asserted that he has never disqualified himself from any case because of political contributions because he said he has no knowledge of those gifts. Sources confirmed that the issue of recusal was not raised in the Caruso appeal. “He probably doesn’t know it,” said Powers. “And if he does know it, he also knows I gave $10,000 to his opponent [Rensselaer County Court Judge Patrick J. McGrath]. Or maybe he knows that I gave $10,000 to his opponent but not [about] the $10,000 to him. I don’t think those things make a difference one way or another. “Is there a chance of [negative] public perception? I guess. Do those who contribute get some sort of favored treatment? If you’re talking about certain boroughs of New York City, that already exists…but it doesn’t happen up here.”

26 comments:

retired attorney said...

This is a national problem. The presidential candidates should have gotten involved in the destruction of our state and federal judicial system.

Anonymous said...

Vito Caruso is a party in a pending Federal action for corruption. Vito allowed arbitration proceedings regarding attorney fees under his control to never be arbitrated. They don't know where the money comes from, because they're ethical; I have a bridge,I'm selling.

Anonymous said...

interesting comment on Caruso. what corruption proceeding is that one? so much of it out there these days. how about Carpinello claiming he has never had an unethical moment in his life? wow, begin the Sainthood proceedings now. one person who was around Albany for a long time thought it sounded rather defensive.

Anonymous said...

interesting how Peters, Spain and Teresi did not comment along with a few others and did not return phone calls. Peters got a lot of campaign money from the big player Albany law firms but did she even have a campaign to run? does anyone recall? thought she had the cross endorsed deal so no competition? was told by a very nice pop of the mom and pop stand in town that Teresi gets or used to get his orders at the nearby church in the mornings.

Anonymous said...

anyone know what the contribution limits on individual donations to supreme court judicial campaigns were in 2006?

seems odd that Dale Thuillez, the lawyer for Gov Pataki's Transition in 1994, gave $10,000 Individually to Judge Karen Peters on the Third Department in 2006 when his law firm only gave $5000, "only" $5000 that is?

how about the Rules when Judges take in all this Money? Judge Peters took in just over $134,000 and spent just over $73,000.

So what happened to the other $65,000? Was that her Judicial Raise that year?

and how was Judge Peters still paying her Cell phone Bills in Feb and March of 2007 with her Campaign money when she was Sworn in again in Jan 2007 and the campaign was over? how do those rules work? anyone know?

wasn't she cross-endorsed anyhow? who was her opponents?

what about the rules on Judges donating to other candidates and political committees?

Peters doled out a lot that year but still had over $60,000 left. isn't that more than many New Yorkers earn for their whole family in a single year?

and what about that all that Transition money that Dale Thuillez was overseeing anyhow back in 1994 and 1995 for Pataki? did they ever figure out where it all came from and where it all went to?

Anonymous said...

Seems like the Rules of Judicial Conduct had a lot of prohibitions in Section 100.5 on political contributions and use of campaign funds for private purposes and endorsing other candidates and political activity even while running for office that were all in effect in 2006.

Who was enforcing those Rules of Judicial Conduct?


http://www.nycourts.gov/rules/chiefadmin/100.shtml#05

Anonymous said...

since the Handbook for Judges says the unexpended funds are supposed to be returned pro rata, where do the Judges file this report? Judge Peters had almost $60,000 to return according to the Board of Elections.

since Judge Peters is on the Commisson on Judicial Conduct, her campaign committee would have to respond to the Judicial Institute asking questions on this one right?

Anonymous said...

Look at Judge John K. McGuirk he only won the Supreme Court Justice Position in Goshen, New York in Orange County because Pataki put him in there as his running mate had more votes, yet McGuirk won and is now rigging cases what a disgraced. Hey McGuirk how are you been paid for with cash, real estate, "special favors with a happy ending?"

Anonymous said...

As a court clerk with OCA, I personally saw the letters that go out to the attorneys from the judge's campaign committee, viewed from the judge's own bench, that showed on both sides of the letter, the names of all the law firms and attys that gave and supported that judge's re-election bid!

I asked one atty why he would allow that information to be publicly acknowledged, because he appeared in front of that judge often, and I knew that judge was under investigation! The atty stated to me he hated that judge and never gave to that campaign and was shocked his name was used to get other lesser known attys to contribute. This was back in the late 80's...so you see our sacred judicial system is a pay for justice enterprise for a long time. It is just recently under Kaye, that the corruption was given the green light to go blatant!

If Kaye isn't the dumbest Chief Judge with the biggest losers for her Administrative judges, than spank all of our politicians who love her up and permit her corruption to be so transparent...loser legal freaks, whom I do appreciate though, for the heads up for my legal action against them!

gopher said...

it's MOJO and these boys have the juice

Anonymous said...

to former court clerk with OCA: what App Div Dept were you in? would like to share / get more info?

Anonymous said...

M... that court clerk is from the 4th dept, 8th district! Hope you are the CJC...you sneaky dogs?!

Anonymous said...

no, not the CJC or anything close, but yes, sneaky dogs sounds a bit kind

Carl Bernofsky said...

In Louisiana, Palmer and Levendis studied the extent to which campaign contributions led to favorable case outcomes. See http://www.tulanelink.com/tulanelink/electorappoint_08b.htm

Anonymous said...

ire: limits to supreme court campaigns

I remember seeing something that said an attorney cannot contribute more than $500, but I can't find it now. (Kaye may have done away with it since is clearly was not being followed), but this link is for the Judicial Campaign Ethics Handbook for candidates.

http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reports/judicialcampaignethicshndbk.pdf

One interesting thing in the book, is that a litigant or "one employed" (e.g. that would include their attorneys) cannot contribute if they are going to appear before the candidate.

"The campaign committee may not knowingly solicit or accept contributions from a party to litigation that is before the candidate, nor one employed by, affiliated with, or a member of the immediate family of a party to litigation before the candidate. In addition, the campaign committee may not solicit or accept contributions from a party which may reasonably be expected to come before the candidate if elected or from one who has come before the candidate so recently that it manifests an appearance of impropriety. NYSBA Opinion 289."

There is also a "window" period before they actually start a campaign, and a period after when they are required to inform litigants appearing before them is there is a conflict. (This is simplified)

Of course, none of this is done, even when the OCA has been told of specific violations.

Anonymous said...

yeah the Handbook for Judicial Campaign Ethics says the Judges should recuse or consider recusing from cases for up to 2 years involving lawyers that were on their "committee" and / or strongly supporting the campaign but here in upstate that Rule is not even considered

yes, there is a $500 contribution Rule for Judicial staff etc on the books at least anyway

and the rule about not "endorsing" other candidates but what about when the Judge's campaign funds go to other candidates and committees? is that "partisan political activity" barred by the Rules?

Anonymous said...

I had a complaint into the CJC, and they said there was nothing they could do, and to go to Spatz. Spatz did nothing the last time on a specific complaint with had mountains of evidence. So I got to wondering how the OCA disciplines its employees. I know other government agencies and departments have hearings when employees are charged with misconduct, but it doesn't seem the OCA does this.
I couldn't find where the OCA is required to conduct these type of hearings, but I did find that the acts, deeds and misdeeds of court employees are covered under several state laws, including Public Officers and the Penal (criminal) laws. A lot of what's wrong is classified under "Official Misconduct" and the Penal law covers other misconduct by both court employees and the attorneys who are also involved.
I am no longer going to suffer in silence. Every time I get scr*wed by the misconduct of the courts and the attorneys, I write them a letter and send copies to the heads of the Judiciary Committees for the State Senate and Assembly as well as my representatives. They have probably been only getting one side of what is going on, and I want them to understand my misery.
My mission this year is to have them 'get it'.

brazen fox said...

most of these judges and their law(less) secretaries try to get into everyones pants, that's all their interested in.......castrate all of them........I tried to turn them in but, that did no good, they all cover for one another.

Anonymous said...

brazen fox? were you retaliated against after trying to turn in folks ? what appellate department did this occur in?

Anonymous said...

OCA does disclipine it's non-judicial employees...IF and I mean IF...THEY ARE NOT POLITICAL!

OCA fires them with made up lies and events, OCA commits perjury if they feel they need to remove that person, they alter under oath testimony when convenient for their side to prove their lies, and they fire that employee with all of the above and more, when it is at their whim and desire, based on absolutely no facts, just FAIRY tales, put in writing and accused by the alleged respected judicial system.. and all of these statements are provable and factual!

If you get a political employee..they are screwing someone political, most likely or have relatives that do..so much crazy nepotism..and that includes many judges, you have to then, attack them personally or watch out for their mistakes professionally.... and there are many, WAY SO MANY! OCA hires the dumbest people you can imagine, by altering civil service lists or avoiding them completely! You have to see what the hack supervisors put in writing....it appears that it comes from grammar school children in the second grade! I personally had to correct the chief clerk's correspondence leaving the building..what a disaster. She brags that she has a college degree and a teaching degree..the teaching one is a lie, but it goes towards OCA'S hiring liars and idiots!

So if you go after them...find out what they do illegally and they all do something..lots of computer misconduct..like sending filthy pass-a-longs to many other employees during work hours esp. to date and according to OCA anything not related to law is illegal and misconduct..or so they tell me... and also check flights and hotels, check e-mail all over the country , shop for anything they like, and when that is done they love to buy stolen clothes for work, and that is their chief clerk that is the biggest offender, or they take money and gifts to do favors for lawyers, and use sex to pay for legal representation or advice, or they skip out of work very early or come in very late...a common practice and now with the computer time system..someone, most likely the supervisor signs them in or out! Hacks helping hacks...so no one cares or can address.

Just stand inside or outside the courthouse and watch or befriend another employee and ask about a job, and see what they give up about the place..usually they don't mention names, but you can go from there, to check for yourself.

Once you get something you can use, it is most likely corruption, you unfortunately have to go to the uninterested FBI..but at least you have reported this, hopefully in writing, and when all this garbage about OCA gets revealed..you are set to take action! This is coming from an employee of the "prison hell"...called OCA!

Art Nickel said...

Why not thorughly investigate the appellate division, especially the third division as there appears to be some serious 'funny mony' stuff happening. In particular, Judge Peters, whose questionable receipt of $15,000 coming from a Pataki's lawyer. Judge Peters is known for not even having the read the actual record of a man's appeal(see
twominuteverdict.org)that she denied in the 3rd dept.What kind of a judge is this? Her activities are far beyond questionable!

Anonymous said...

More regarding the questionable ethics of Judge Karen Peters:Hopefully she will learn to READ the actual records of those coming before her; also must question the tie-in that judge Paul Czajka has to Peter's 'funny money' deals; perhpas he too must be investigated as this smacks of real collusive activities,

Anonymous said...

Further review of NYS Board of Elections filings show Judge Karen Peters of the Third Department Appellate Division who also sits on the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, refunded only about less than $2000 from the Campaign funds.

This left approximately $52,000 and change remaining when other disbursements were calculated and reported.

Who got the $52,000? Where is the Report on the Refund of this money? There is a Refund form at the NYS Board of Elections website.

Did this Judge who sits in Judgment of others and reviews other Judges both at the Appellate Division and the Commission on Judicial Conduct not follow the Rules? or was it her Committee? or both?

who were her Committee members?

If this is all true and nothing is missing, how does this Judge sit in review over Attorney Discipline issues? How does this Judge sit in review over Judicial Conduct cases at the CJC?

anyone have more info?

Anonymous said...

anyone know about why Third Department Judge Spain did not comment on the article by Judicial Reports?

anyone know how much his "pro rata refund" money was or who was heading up Spain's Fundraising Committee?

how about Spain's consulting fees paid after he was elected and sworn back in? a bonus maybe?

anyone know where this Judge's Refund form filings are? or are they going to be made up after the fact now that the heat is on in the State Court system and this Judge has sat on the ethical high ground over others and taking away livelihoods?

Anonymous said...

Anyone else having problems pulling Data from the NYS Board of Elections today, Monday Nov 3?

Site was working very very slow but not for all filers.

Was very difficult pulling up filing information on Judge Karen Peters from the Third Department but today there was additional Refund information showing $49,000 and change was apparently returned but this information was not available yesterday.

Anyone know who was working the Board filings today?

Anonymous said...

Judge Anthony J. Carpinello is a PHONY that well do anything to ingratiate himself with the powers that be. I do not believe anything that phony writes or states.

Blog Archive

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