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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Subway Token: $2.25, Judicial Power: Priceless

The Love of the Law, Still Fulfilled
The New York Times by William Glaberson  -  February 20, 2012
He has the white hair and the black robe.

But this judge, up on the bench in Queens Supreme Court, is a little different from most of the other 1,200 in the state’s courts. Judge Allen Beldock, 92, is paid nothing. Zip. Nada. No salary. In this era of budget cuts, no honorarium.  Not even gas money.  Of course, after 44 years on the bench, coming to work just about every day is second nature, he said recently, maybe 130 pounds soaking wet, judicial robe included, leaning back at a desk he uses at the courthouse on Sutphin Boulevard in Jamaica.  “If I were not a judge, I wouldn’t be doing anything,” he said. “What would I be doing if I were not a judge? What am I even qualified to do? I’ve been a judge for 44 years. My father was a butcher. I’m not trained to be a butcher.”  So, four days a week, Judge Beldock gets into his eight-year-old Chevrolet Impala, which has seen better days, and makes his way to the courthouse. Mondays and Tuesdays he shepherds damage suits. Thursdays and Fridays he supervises jury selection.  Of course, for most of those 44 years, he did get a check, first as a full-time judge hearing criminal cases, and later, after he officially retired more than 20 years ago, as a judge paid a daily rate of $300 to handle civil cases. Then the fiscal crisis hit the courts about a year ago, the budget was cut and a lot of the retired judges who had been $300-a-day “judicial hearing officers” went home.  Not Judge Beldock. Like a hardy few other retired judges around the state — one or two in Manhattan, at least one in Brooklyn — he has continued with a more or less full schedule for no compensation whatsoever.  Why? Well, there is the love of the law. But there are other contributing factors.  “I don’t read books,” Judge Beldock said.  “I’ve done all my traveling,” he said. And the city’s glittering cultural life? “I’m not a big fan of museums. I’ve been to them.”  One of his three quite-grown children, Neil Beldock, 55, said in a separate interview that it was almost as if his father had no choice: “I think he just loves going to court and being in court every day.”  Judge Beldock ruled out returning to practicing law, as he did for years before Mayor John V. Lindsay appointed him to the bench in 1968. “I don’t want to deal with clients,” he said.  But working, he added, does beat one of the alternatives. “Too many of my friends that I did have over the years, when they stopped working or retired, they died,” he said with a matter-of-factness befitting a lifelong New Yorker.  Judges, all-powerful when they are sitting up a step or two on the bench, evidently are just mortals. Judge Beldock said a dozen of them used to crowd around a big table every day at the Flagship Diner on Queens Boulevard. These days, he said, he is often the only one.  “They’re dead,” he said. “You’d be amazed. I could give you a list.”  In reports and hearings, bar associations have bemoaned the loss of the judicial hearing officers, saying that they helped the overburdened judiciary keep some limits on ballooning court delays and that their decades of experience could be useful. But the salad days for retired judges do seem to be over.  For some of them, the end of their judging may be a little hard to take, though they do get healthy pensions and good benefits. For Judge Beldock, the per diem job also brought growing acknowledgment as the decades passed and he became a senior statesman of the courts. The Daily News recognized him a couple of years ago as the oldest state judge at work in the five boroughs. That was before the cuts.  At first, while court officials were deciding whether to permit some of the retirees to come back as volunteers, his new unemployment was strange. Long a widower, Judge Beldock said he would be unsure how to begin the day if a tie and a black robe were not involved. “I’d just feel, ‘I gotta get up because I gotta eat to live,’ ” he said. “I’d buy the paper and I would read.”  Some paid judges and some lawyers disparage the volunteer judges as dabblers. But in his courtroom the other day, some lawyers waiting for cases said Judge Beldock seemed to be the real thing.  “He’s still as sharp as I would imagine he was,” said Bradley M. Wanner, a young lawyer.  John J. Proios, a lawyer himself for 49 years, said Judge Beldock “is like me, an old goat.”  The task at hand, setting schedules for recently filed suits, was not too demanding. But the proceedings may have seemed a touch more official because of the white-haired gentleman on the bench, peering through bifocals, as judges do.  In an interview, an appeals court judge with many years’ experience in the courts, Justice Randall T. Eng, said Judge Beldock had had that judicial look since Mr. Eng first appeared before him as a young prosecutor in the early 1970s.  “He always had white hair,” Justice Eng said. “He actually hasn’t changed much.” Judge Beldock said that even back at the beginning, he was proud of the position. “I’m called ‘Judge’ wherever I go,” he said. Maybe you cannot put a price on that.

3 comments:

insider said...

Who needs chunk change from OCA when the real money comes from those you rule for? New York is a pay-to-play judicial machine. Justice and the rule of law matter little.

Anonymous said...

We had an upstate Judge who was forced out at 76..wanted to do the same thing....work for free..the reason.....he was losing out on the sex from his judicial perks package..some court related..some from bars...Sampson's robe was taken anyway and now he must find a new method to create some power!
But that was the real reason..and then his next door chamber mate.. an appellate judge was forced out at the same time..but he promoted his trim a still much younger , still working supervisor in the court system..so she owes him robed or unrobed.
The real stories about what these guys are up to can only be known by insiders..they all sound so civic minded if reported without the background..love to FYI the public in NY.

Themis unblinded said...

Power corrupts and becomes addictive.

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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