1. "Panel Calls for Two Brothers to Be Stripped of Judgeships" - The New York Times by JOHN ELIGON - February 24, 2009
2. "BID TO BENCH SIB JUDGES" - The New York Post by ANDY SOLTIS and MATTHEW NESTEL - February 24, 2009
3. "Conduct commission recommends judge's removal" - The Journal News by Rebecca Baker - February 24, 2009
The New York Times by JOHN ELIGON - February 24, 2009
Two brothers who are judges in New York State are facing removal from the bench after a state commission accused them of filing financial statements and loan applications that intentionally concealed a $250,000 debt they owed to a former campaign worker. The State Commission on Judicial Conduct, which on Monday made public a report detailing the allegations, also accused one of the judges of trying to defraud the campaign worker by getting out of repaying the loan. After a roughly two-year investigation, the commission sent its report and recommendations this month to the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, outlining its case against Justice Joseph S. Alessandro, who sits in State Supreme Court in Orange County, and Judge Francis M. Alessandro of Bronx Civil Court. The commission has also referred its findings to federal and local prosecutors. The judges have 30 days to contest the recommendation to remove them, and if they do, the Court of Appeals will hear the case and decide whether to remove them or impose lesser sanctions. If they do not appeal, the court will make the commission’s recommendation official. Marvin R. Raskin, a lawyer for Francis Alessandro, 70, said his client was considering an appeal. Joseph Alessandro’s law clerk said the justice, 63, would not comment, citing ethical rules prohibiting judges from publicly discussing pending litigation, and his lawyers did not return telephone calls seeking comment. Neither judge will hear any cases until the Court of Appeals issues its ruling, according to David Bookstaver, a spokesman for the Office of Court Administration, which oversees the state court system.
In an unusual twist, one of the seven Court of Appeals judges who will act on the matter — the state’s chief judge, Jonathan Lippman — shared a distinction with Joseph Alessandro in a 2005 judicial election. Justice Alessandro had been rated unqualified by several bar associations, but won election that year after the local Republican and Democratic Parties agreed to cross-endorse him and one other candidate — Judge Lippman, who also won election to the state court. The commission’s report examines Joseph Alessandro’s actions during an earlier campaign, for a seat on the Westchester County Court in 2003, when he borrowed $250,000 from his campaign manager, Barbara Battista, to pay for campaign literature. In a mortgage note to Ms. Battista dated August 2003, he declared that the $250,000 would be paid back in 30 days and would be secured by a residence in Valhalla, N.Y., that he and his brother owned jointly, the report said. Both brothers both signed the note. (Although the note outlined a 30-day repayment plan, there was a verbal agreement to give Joseph Alessandro until July 2004 to repay her, according to the report.) But just before the election in November 2003, Joseph Alessandro drafted a new mortgage note giving him 15 years to repay Ms. Battista’s loan. The commission’s lawyers argued that Ms. Battista, then 71, was tricked into signing it, and said in hearings that Justice Alessandro lengthened the repayment schedule in the hope that he would not have to repay the loan. (Justice Alessandro won the election.)
His lawyer told the commission that the note was rewritten to avoid campaign finance violations, according to the report. The report also said that Joseph Alessandro, his lawyer and Ms. Battista all testified that they did not know who stretched the repayment schedule to 15 years, or why. In 2005, Ms. Battista sued Joseph and Francis Alessandro, and they eventually settled the case in February 2006 by agreeing to pay her $273,000, according to the report. In addition to finding that Joseph Alessandro tried to defraud Ms. Battista, the commission also ruled that he knowingly omitted his debt to her in a 2004 financial disclosure report — when he had a net worth of $3.5 million, mostly in real estate — that judges are required to file annually with the Office of Court Administration. The commission also ruled that he omitted notice of that debt, as well as other liabilities, assets and mortgages, in loan applications he filed in 2004 and 2005. The commission voted 9-0 to remove him. “Over a two-year period, respondent engaged in a course of deliberately deceptive and injudicious behavior that renders him unfit to serve as a judge,” the report said. The commission voted 9-0 to remove him. According to the report, Joseph Alessandro argued that the omission of the debt was accidental. In fact, he told the commission, he and his brother gave all pertinent financial information to the broker who drafted the loan applications, and he signed the forms without realizing that some information was missing.
Justice Alessandro, whom the commission said also knowingly filed incomplete financial disclosure statements and loan applications, argued that he thought the loan was his brother’s responsibility. He also argued that the first mortgage note that he and his brother gave to Ms. Battista was not filed with the county, so he did not believe that it was valid, according to the report. The commission voted 8-1 to remove Francis Alessandro, with one member, Elizabeth B. Hubbard, voting for censure instead. In a dissenting opinion, Ms. Hubbard wrote that she found credibility in Francis Alessandro’s belief that the loan was his brother’s responsibility, so “his failure to disclose this liability, even if intentional, had a rational basis that does not necessarily reflect an improper motive.” She also wrote that consideration should be given to the fact that Judge Alessandro, who took the bench in 1990, was dealing with troubling personal matters while these events occurred: the death of his parents and the deteriorating health of his wife. The Alessandro brothers once ran a law firm together, specializing in real estate law, according to the commission’s report.
BID TO BENCH SIB JUDGES
The New York Post by ANDY SOLTIS and MATTHEW NESTEL - February 24, 2009
Two brothers who serve as judges in Westchester and The Bronx should be removed from the bench because they filed "deceitful" statements after one of them tried to stiff his campaign manager out of $250,000, a state oversight commission said yesterday. Joseph Alessandro was a millionaire lawyer in 2003, when he spent $140,000 of his own money to run for the Westchester County court. He borrowed an additional $250,000 for nine months from his campaign manager, Barbara Battista, a 71-year-old nurse, the state Commission on Judicial Conduct said. To back the loan, Alessandro and his brother, Francis, a Bronx civil court judge since 1990, signed a mortgage note for Joseph's Valhalla home, which they co-owned. After Joseph was elected, he did not repay the $250,000 on time, and Battista sued him, the commission said. Both brothers then failed to reveal liabilities like the loan on state financial-disclosure forms and applications for new loans, it said. The brothers settled the suit for $273,000. But, when called to testify before the judicial commission, Joseph Alessandro showed "a level of dishonesty which is unacceptable for a member of the judiciary," the panel said. Both brothers plan to appeal the findings, said their lawyers. andy.soltis@nypost.
The Journal News by Rebecca Baker - February 24, 2009
NEW YORK - A state judicial watchdog group wants former Westchester County Judge Joseph Alessandro removed from the bench, saying he tried to cheat his former campaign manager out of $250,000. Alessandro, now a state Supreme Court justice in Orange County, should be removed from office for trying to defraud Barbara Battista out of a loan to his 2003 campaign, the state Commission on Judicial Conduct said in a statement released yesterday.
Starting today, Alessandro will be restricted to chamber assignments, meaning he cannot hear arguments from the bench, said state Supreme Court Justice Francis Nicolai, the administrative judge for the 9th Judicial District. According to the commission, Alessandro told Battista he would repay the loan in nine months. After Battista sued him for nonpayment, he claimed he had told her he would repay her in 15 years. "He later gave misleading and evasive testimony about the transaction," the commission said, concluding that he showed a "level of dishonesty which is unacceptable for a member of the judiciary." Paul DerOhannesian, who is representing Alessandro, said the judge was disappointed by the commission's decision and would seek a review by the Court of Appeals, the state's highest court.
"He feels the drastic sanction of removal is not consistent with the facts of the case or the law," DerOhannesian said, noting Alessandro has had an "unblemished record" in 38 years in legal practice. A review by the Court of Appeals would put the case before the state's new top judge, Jonathan Lippman, who was politically tied to Alessandro in a cross-endorsement deal that got them both elected to the state Supreme Court in 2005. The commission said Alessandro and his brother, Francis Alessandro, a Bronx civil court judge, filed loan applications in 2004 and 2005 that omitted certain assets and liabilities - including the Battista loan. The lawsuit was settled in February 2006 when the Alessandros agreed to pay Battista $273,000, but the commission said the brothers' "deceptive, deceitful and dishonest behavior" makes them unfit for office. The commission also accused both brothers of filing incomplete financial disclosure statements to the state court's ethics board in 2004, and noted that Francis Alessandro had filed an incomplete statement the previous year. The judicial conduct panel also wants Francis Alessandro off the bench. His attorney said they are considering asking the Court of Appeals for a review.
Joseph Alessandro, a Republican, and Lippman, a Democrat from Rye Brook, benefited from the 2005 cross-endorsement deal brokered by the political leaders in the 9th Judicial District counties of Westchester, Rockland, Putnam, Dutchess and Orange. The deal virtually guaranteed their election, even though Alessandro was rated "not qualified" by the Westchester County Bar Association. Reginald Lafayette, chairman of the Westchester Democratic Committee, said he does not regret the party's decision to endorse Alessandro in 2005. "We're in a country where you're innocent until proven guilty," he said. "At the time, there was nothing to say he was guilty or innocent of anything."
In an interview last week, Lippman said he had nothing to do with the parties' decision to endorse Alessandro. Lippman said he did not want to run a campaign while working as the state's chief administrative judge and insisted on being endorsed by all five political parties: Democratic, Republican, Working Families, Independence and Conservative. "What their package was or wasn't, as far as I'm concerned, had nothing to do with me," he said. "I put forth my own accomplishments and asked for their support. I just wanted to be endorsed." County and state judges are paid $136,700 a year.
Brotherly Shove: Sibling NY Judges Face Ouster From the Bench Over Financial Dealings
The New York Law Journal by Joel Stashenko - February 24, 2009
Supreme Court Justice Joseph S. Alessandro and his brother, Bronx Civil Court Judge Francis M. Alessandro, should be removed from office for failing to repay on time a $250,000 loan made to one of Joseph Alessandro's campaigns and for misstating their financial holdings and obligations on disclosure forms and loan applications, the Commission on Judicial Conduct recommended in two decisions made public yesterday. Both brothers "irretrievably" lost the public's trust through deceptive financial dealings that began in August 2003, when Joseph Alessandro accepted the loan from a political backer during his campaign for Westchester County Court judge. Both co-signed for the loan, which Joseph Alessandro promised to repay in July 2004. Instead, the commission found that Joseph attempted to renegotiate the terms by saying that he would repay it in 15 years. The loan was not satisfied until February 2006, after his former campaign manager and treasurer, Barbara Battista, had sued for her money back and a $273,000 settlement was reached. By then, the commission had begun to investigate the brothers' financial dealings. It found that they had misstated debts and real estate holdings on mortgage and loan applications and on state disclosure forms.
"This record of repeated derelictions has irretrievably damaged respondent's ability to carry out his constitutionally mandated duties and renders him unfit for judicial service," the commission concluded in the ruling recommending Joseph Alessandro's removal. An identical sentence was included in the determination recommending removal of Francis Alessandro. Attorneys for both judges said yesterday they are likely to seek a review of the determinations by the Court of Appeals. If the recommendations stand, both judges will be prohibited from again holding judicial office in New York state. Both Joseph and Francis Alessandro were "assigned to chambers" following release of the commission's decisions. They will review motions and do other paperwork, but not preside over any new cases in their respective courts, according to David Bookstaver, a spokesman for the Office of Court Administration.
As is its custom when the commission makes removal recommendations, the Court of Appeals sent notices to the Alessandro brothers yesterday giving them until March 6 to submit information about why they should not be suspended. The Court reserves the power to suspend judges. Joseph Alessandro was a Westchester County Court judge from 2004 to 2005 and has been a Supreme Court justice since 2006. Francis Alessandro has been a Civil Court judge in the Bronx since 1990. In 2004 and 2005, the commission contended that Joseph Alessandro did not repay any of the principal on the loan while claiming he was having trouble gaining financing from a bank. However, the commission noted that the brothers took out a $300,000 loan from a joint brokerage account to buy property in Seaside Heights, N.J., and that Joseph Alessandro had personal assets of about $3.5 million during that period. Joseph also failed to disclose on three loan applications that the Battista loan was the subject of a suit or that a property the brothers held in Valhalla was subject to foreclosure as Ms. Battista sought repayment of the campaign loan, according to the commission. The commission also determined that Francis failed to detail his assets and liabilities on 2003 and 2004 state financial disclosure forms and Joseph submitted incomplete forms in 2004.
More Than Carelessness
The commission voted 9-0 for the removal of Joseph Alessandro. It rejected his arguments that mere "carelessness, sloppiness and inattention to his ethical responsibilities" were behind his misconduct. "It is clear that respondent in several instances intentionally provided incomplete information and made statements that were patently untrue (e.g., stating on loan applications that he was not a party to a lawsuit)," the commission determined. "A pattern of providing incomplete, inaccurate information about his financial status on his financial disclosure statement, coupled with similar derelictions on multiple loan applications, is unacceptable." The commission also contended that Joseph gave testimony under oath that was "misleading and evasive" concerning requests he had received for a letter and affidavit from Ms. Battista and in his dealings with a bank. Of Francis Alessandro, the commission ruled that he engaged during a two-year period in "deceitful and dishonest behavior that renders him unfit to serve as a judge." He commission continued, "He intentionally withheld information on his mandatory financial disclosure statements and on multiple loan applications. In its totality, respondent's conduct demonstrates 'a pattern of injudicious behavior and inappropriate actions which cannot be viewed as acceptable conduct by one holding judicial office.'"
Eight members of the commission voted for Francis Alessandro's removal. Elizabeth B. Hubbard dissented, arguing that censure was the proper punishment. She wrote that she believed the Battista loan was Joseph's obligation and that Francis relied on his brother's assurances that he would repay it. "Finally, I note respondent's testimony as to the circumstances in his household throughout this period involving the deteriorating health of his spouse and the death of his parents, who lived with him and his wife," Ms. Hubbard wrote. "While I understand that a judge's professional obligations must take precedence over his extra-judicial activities, it appears to me that respondent's negligence should be considered in view of those personal circumstances." Francis Alessandro was represented by Marvin Ray Raskin of the Bronx. "I am reviewing the commission decision with Judge Alessandro and we are contemplating requesting a review by the Court of Appeals," Mr. Raskin said. Joseph Alessandro's attorney, Paul DerOhannesian of DerOhannesian & DerOhannesian in Albany, said the justice has an otherwise "unblemished and commendable" record during his 38 years as a lawyer and a judge. "He deeply respects the position of justice of the Supreme Court and the role of the commission in maintaining respect for that position," Mr. DerOhannesian said. "Because he feels the drastic sanction of removal is not consistent with the facts and law, he looks forward to a review of the decision by the Court of Appeals."
Joseph Alessandro was elected to Supreme Court in the Ninth Judicial District, which covers Westchester, Putnam, Dutchess, Orange and Rockland counties, in 2005. He has been sitting in Orange County. Under a deal worked out by political leaders in the five counties, Joseph Alessandro, a Republican, won the cross endorsement of Democratic leaders while Democrat Jonathan Lippman received the endorsement of Republican leaders to a second Supreme Court seat open that year in the district. The cross-endorsement deal held even though Joseph Alessandro was found not qualified for the Supreme Court seat by the Westchester County Bar Association . Judge Lippman has since become the state's chief judge. Since 1978, the Commission on Judicial Conduct has recommended the removal of 160 judges, 41 of them full-time. The Court of Appeals has reviewed 88 commission recommendations and accepted 74.
And from The Journal News Blog COMPLETELY LEGAL - February 23, 2009
We’re talking BIG trouble here for the Alessandro brothers, Judge Joseph of Orange County and Judge Francis of the Bronx. The state Commission on Judicial Conduct wants both Alessandros to be kicked off the bench and has recommended as much to the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, which will have the final say on the matter.
Click here for a summary of the Alessandros’ problems.
The commission’s beef with the brothers involves a $250,000 loan to Joseph Alessandro’s cash-strapped 2003 campaign for Westchester County Court. It also involves the brothers not being completely forthright with their financial disclosures to the court’s ethics board.