The New York Law Journal by Joel Stashenko - July 23, 2009
Chief Administrative Judge Ann Pfau is seeking to reopen more than 100,000 default judgments obtained throughout the state due to the suspected failure of a Long Island firm to properly serve debt-collection suits on consumers. A civil suit filed in Erie County by Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo on the court system's behalf seeks to vacate defaults in all cases where American Legal Process of Lynbrook was used and the only evidence that process was properly served was an affidavit from the company. It seeks to compel the assistance of 35 law firms and two debt collection agencies, each of which used the process server at least 100 times. In April, William Singler, the owner of American Legal Process, was arrested and charged by Mr. Cuomo's office with criminal fraud. Mr. Singler denied the charges and his lawyer said Mr. Singler was not aware of the activities of a few negligent process servers working for the company. Mr. Cuomo said today that the firms named in his suit are among the largest in the debt collection business in New York state. The action does not accuse the firms of any wrongdoing. The suit asks the Supreme Court to require those organizations to notify the Unified Court System of all actions in which they used American Legal Process, of any default judgments obtained in those cases and any monetary payments made to satisfy those judgments. Further, it asks the court to order the law firms and collection agencies to inform the consumers of their right to be heard. And it petitions the court to direct that restitution be made to consumers who made payments on improperly obtained default judgments.
The suit would allow default judgments to be re-filed against debtors who were served by American Legal Process, but only when the respondent law firms can show they used process servers other than those employed by the Lynbrook company and that state rules on the service of summons and complaint have been followed. Mr. Cuomo said in a statement that the fundamental right of New Yorkers to represent themselves in court was violated by the failure of American Legal Process to properly inform them of debt-collection actions. "ALP's scheme undermined the foundation of this system and denied thousands of individuals their day in court," Mr. Cuomo said. The suit was brought in Buffalo because much of the initial investigation of consumer complaints against American Legal Process was done from Mr. Cuomo's western New York regional office, a spokeswoman for the attorney general said. However, process servers for American Legal Process operated in every county in the state and default judgments against residents of all 62 counties may have been improperly obtained as a result of the company's activities, Mr. Cuomo said. Joel.Stashenko@incisivemedia.com
Originally posted Friday, September 14, 2007
Move To Bar Insider From Receiving Court Appointments Raises Brows
BY ANDREW WOLF - Special to the Sun March 2, 2006
Bronx courthouse cognoscenti are furiously attempting to determine what is behind an unusual action by the state's Office of Court Administration that bars a well-known and powerful political operative from receiving lucrative court appointments. On Monday, the administrative judge of the Bronx Supreme Court, Barry Salman, was directed by the first deputy chief administrative judge of New York State, Ann Pfau, to remove Stanley Schlein from the list of those eligible to receive judicial appointments. A spokesman for the Office of Court Administration, David Bookstaver, confirmed the action, which was first reported by the Riverdale Review, a Bronx weekly. Such appointments include assignments by judges to act as a referee for real estate sales, as an arbitrator, or as a guardian for an estate. They usually require minimal work, and most often go to a small cadre of politically connected attorneys. The action is highly unusual, and could be the first inkling of legal problems for Mr. Schlein and, by extension, the entire Bronx political establishment. Mr. Schlein serves as the counsel to the Bronx Democratic organization and is widely assumed to have enormous influence within the party and city government. These ties go back more than a quarter-century, as Mr. Schlein has served a parade of political bosses, neatly surviving each coup and scandal to solidify his position. Calls to Mr. Schlein for comment were not returned.
Mr. Bookstaver noted that the law provides for removal from the eligible list for either of two reasons: "unsatisfactory performance" or for "conduct incompatible with the responsibilities of the appointment." It is the latter that has tongues wagging in the courthouse, which sits in the shadow of Yankee Stadium in the South Bronx. Mr. Schlein was one of 17 Bronx political leaders subpoenaed by a grand jury two years ago in an ongoing probe of the finances of non profit groups tied to elected officials. There are also reports that complaints have been lodged regarding Mr. Schlein's handling of one of these appointments. However, such disputes have not in the past resulted in such a radical remedy as the directive issued Monday. Mr. Schlein, who has had hundreds of such appointments spanning many years, is thought unlikely to have egregiously mishandled any of the simple tasks associated with most of these assignments. What concerns Bronx politicos is that removal from the list might signal an impending indictment or plea bargain, an action taken to protect the parties to these actions from harm and delay. Mr. Schlein also has ties to the Bloomberg administration, having been reappointed as the chairman of the Civil Service Commission last year, a part-time post he has held through several administrations. It pays $335.60 a day. In a profile last year, the New York Times disclosed that Mr. Schlein in 2004 was able to earn $68,385 for this post despite the modest per diem rate. Mr. Schlein also serves on the Assembly staff of the Bronx Democratic leader, Jose Rivera, for which he is compensated an additional $35,742. At the same time as Mr. Schlein served as a Bloomberg appointee and lobbied the administration, he was a key behind-the-scenes player in the camp of the mayor's election opponent, Fernando Ferrer. Mr. Schlein has weathered adversity before. In 1986, when the then-Bronx County Democratic leader, Stanley Friedman, was convicted of racketeering charges, Mr. Schlein and other top Friedman officials were widely expected to be purged from the party leadership. In addition to Mr. Friedman, the scandals brought down the borough president, Stanley Simon, and Reps. Mario Biaggi and Robert Garcia. Mr. Schlein survived - and he emerged even more powerful after the 1994 ethnic coup that brought in the current Hispanic Bronx Democratic leadership.