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Sunday, September 30, 2007

"Foxes Make Poor Custodians of Henhouses," says Law Professor...(CLICK HERE FOR FULL STORY)

Our kind of law professor, that's what Benjamin H. Barton is, and as revealed in The New York Times on August 27, 2007, in an excellent article by Adam Liptak, "With the Bench Cozied Up to the Bar, the Lawyers Can't Lose." ..... MORE....... Judges, nor attorneys, should be reviewing allegations of misconduct against their own. Period. And as we approach the last few months of 2007- a time that will be remembered as when the clean-up of the systemic corruption in New York's legal system began- it's important to review the blunt words of Second Circuit Chief Judge Dennis G. Jacobs.

Tammany Two (Tammany Hall II) is born, Monday, October 1, 2007.

The New York Times article follows, with more related postings this week:

With the Bench Cozied Up to the Bar, the Lawyers Can’t Lose

The New York Times
August 27, 2007

Dennis G. Jacobs, the chief judge of the federal appeals court in New York, is a candid man, and in a speech last year he admitted that he and his colleagues had “a serious and secret bias.” Perhaps unthinkingly but quite consistently, he said, judges can be counted on to rule in favor of anything that protects and empowers lawyers.

Once you start thinking about it, the examples are everywhere. The lawyer-client privilege is more closely guarded than any other. It is easier to sue for medical malpractice than for legal malpractice. People who try to make a living helping people fill out straightforward forms are punished for the unauthorized practice of law.

But Judge Jacobs’s main point is a deeper one. Judges favor complexity and legalism over efficient solutions, and they have no appreciation for what economists call transaction costs. They are aided in this by lawyers who bill by the hour and like nothing more than tasks that take a lot of time and cost their clients a lot of money.

And there is, of course, the pleasure of power, particularly in cases involving the great issues of the day.

“Judges love these kinds of cases,” said Judge Jacobs, whose speech was published in The Fordham Law Review in May. “Public interest cases afford a judge more sway over public policy, enhance the judicial role, make judges more conspicuous and keep the law clerks happy.”

There are costs here, too, he said, including “the displacement of legislative and executive power” and “the subordination of other disciplines and professions.”

Yet, at the conclusion of a big public-policy case, the bar and bench rejoice. “We smugly congratulate ourselves,” Judge Jacobs said, “on expanding what we are pleased to call the rule of law.”

Benjamin H. Barton, a law professor at the University of Tennessee, examined some of the same issues in an article to be published next year in The Alabama Law Review titled “Do Judges Systematically Favor the Interests of the Legal Profession?”

That question mark notwithstanding, there is little doubt about where Professor Barton comes out.

He noted, for instance, that the legal profession is the only one that is completely self-regulated. “As a general rule,” Professor Barton wrote, “foxes make poor custodians of henhouses.”

Professor Barton explored a long list of examples, including the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s 1966 decision in Miranda v. Arizona. Miranda, as everyone with a television set knows, protected the right to remain silent and the right to a lawyer.

Over the years, though, courts have approved all sorts of police strategies that have eroded the right to remain silent. At the same time, Professor Barton wrote, the courts “chose to retain quite robust protections for accused who clearly expressed a desire for a lawyer.”

“The advantages to the legal profession are clear,” he added. “Whatever else an accused should know, she should know to request a lawyer first and foremost.”

And the cases keep coming.

This month, a New Jersey appeals court basically immunized lawyers from malicious prosecution suits in civil cases. Even lawyers who know their clients are pushing baseless claims solely to harass the other side are in the clear, the court said, unless the lawyers themselves have an improper motive.

Lester Brickman, who teaches legal ethics at Cardozo Law School, said the decision was just one instance of a broad phenomenon.

“The New Jersey courts have determined to protect the legal profession in a way that no other professions enjoy,” Professor Brickman said. “It’s regulation by lawyers for lawyers.”

Other professions look for elegant solutions. It is the rare engineer, software designer or plumber who chooses an elaborate fix when a simple one will do. The legal system, by contrast, insists on years of discovery, motion practice, hearings, trials and appeals that culminate in obscure rulings providing no guidance to the next litigant.

Last month, Judge Jacobs put his views into practice, dissenting from a decision in a tangled lawsuit about something a college newspaper published in 1997. The judges in the majority said important First Amendment principles were at stake, though they acknowledged that the case involved, at most, trivial sums of money.

Judge Jacobs’s dissent started with an unusual and not especially collegial disclaimer. He said he would not engage the arguments in the majority decision because “I have not read it.”

He was, he said, incredulous that “after years of litigation over $2, the majority will impose on a busy judge to conduct a trial on this silly thing, and require a panel of jurors to set aside their more important duties of family and business in order to decide it.”

Writing with the kind of verve and sense of proportion entirely absent in most legal work, Judge Jacobs concluded that “this is not a case that should occupy the mind of a person who has anything consequential to do.”

Online: Documents and an archive of Adam Liptak’s articles and columns: /adamliptak.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

With No Oversight, Picking the Bones of the Dead (CLICK HERE FOR FULL STORY)

Pick up today's New York Times. Stephanie Strom wrote a great article, "Donors Gone, Trusts Veer From Their Wishes." .....MORE......

Donors Gone, Trusts Veer From Their Wishes
September 29, 2007

When Mamie Dues died in 1974, she left the fortune her husband, Cesle, had made in movie theaters in El Paso to a foundation controlled by a local bank there. The couple had no heirs and no other family.

“They lived modestly in a little apartment house and spent most of their time watching TV,” recalled J. Sam Moore Jr., a lawyer who drew up their wills. “They took little or no interest in civic affairs, but they did feel strongly about this place, and they mandated that their foundation be concentrated on crippled children in El Paso, and in Texas more broadly.”

Three decades later, however, the foundation’s legal address is in Delaware, and a global bank, JPMorgan, manages it from an office in Dallas. While its assets have grown to almost $6 million, from $5.1 million in 2000, its giving has fallen sharply, and the local group that once decided who would receive its money no longer has a say in its operations.

Such is the fate of many “orphan” trusts and foundations around the country that have been left in the hands of lawyers or local banks that have then been swallowed up by multinational financial institutions.

With no family members to encourage gifts to the original donor’s favorite causes, the banks and lawyers have wide latitude to change the way the trusts operate and to decide which charities will receive grants.

Banks can reduce gifts and increase the foundation’s assets, thus increasing their fees. At the same time, banks and lawyers stand to gain personal influence and prestige by selecting new charities.

“Donors who’ve given us money for years die, their money ends up in a foundation controlled by their lawyer or their bank, and we don’t get any more grants,” said Juliana Eades, president of the New Hampshire Community Loan Fund.

An examination of several orphan trusts found these cases:

When large global banks take over, the number of grants often drops sharply, reducing the bank’s administrative costs. But bank fees, which are based on the amount in the trust, increase..

Small local grant recipients that have historically received money are either dropped in favor of larger charities or receive money far more sporadically.

New grant recipients sometimes include the alma maters of trustees or organizations with which they and their families have personal relationships.

Regulators have limited ability to identify such trusts and foundations and monitor them.

No one knows how many orphan trusts and foundations exist. At the request of The New York Times, the Foundation Center identified 3,935 foundations that reported a financial institution as their sole trustee, out of a total of more than 77,000 foundations in its database. Those foundations control $5.4 billion in assets, and gave away $256.1 million in 2005.

Several banks declined to discuss their administration of such trusts. However, a JPMorgan official agreed to an interview, and he emphasized that the bank strived to honor donors’ wishes.
“When we are determining what dollars are available for distribution, we look at I.R.S. requirements, the trust’s market value to ensure its lifelong preservation, and the number of qualifying proposals from grantees,” said Larry Bothe, senior fiduciary officer at JPMorgan. “As fiduciaries, our only guiding principle and duty is to the trusts.”

JPMorgan declined to disclose how many trusts and foundations it has sole control over.

Trustees Have Discretion

Because many wills are deliberately constructed to allow flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances, banks and lawyers have considerable discretion in managing them.

“The issue is that with the consolidation of these assets that has occurred through bank mergers, bank trusteeships — which were largely a community role for the bank — have become profit centers and a way to enhance a bank’s philanthropic image,” said Rick Cohen, the former executive director of the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, a watchdog organization. “Law firms benefit in similar ways.”

Assets at the Cesle C. and Mamie F. Dues Foundation climbed roughly 20 percent since 2000, when JPMorgan took over its management after merging with the Chase Manhattan Bank in 2000. Fees climbed by a similar percentage. But the foundation’s giving has dropped 59 percent, from a high of $330,256 in 2000, when the El Paso Community Foundation controlled the grants, to $135,200 in the last fiscal year. In the same period, the number of organizations receiving grants fell from more than 24 to 6.

In 2002 and 2003, JPMorgan moved to sever the ties between the El Paso Community Foundation and the Dues Foundation and two other local foundations that the El Paso foundation controlled.

The El Paso foundation took JPMorgan to court and, in a settlement, retained control of the largest of the three foundations. The bank became sole custodian of the other two, Dues and the small Robert U. and Mabel O. Lipscomb Foundation.

The Lipscomb Foundation’s giving has declined 72 percent since 2000, even as the foundation’s assets rose 19 percent.

Moreover, in fiscal 2006, the bank did not abide by the terms of the Lipscomb will, which stipulated that a third of the foundation’s annual distributions would go to the Roman Catholic Diocese of El Paso, a third to the El Paso Museum of Art and a third to organizations in El Paso that aided people with hearing and vision problems. Grants were made to the diocese and the art museum in 2006, according to the foundation’s tax records, but not to any other organizations.

The bank said that it made the required gifts in the next year.

Mr. Bothe of JPMorgan defended the reduction in giving by both the Dues and Lipscomb foundations.

“When we picked things up in mid-2002 and 2003, it would not have been prudent, given market conditions, to have maintained distribution at the same historical levels,” he said. “To do so would have severely impacted the long-term viability of the trust. So we have met or exceeded the required minimum distribution and at the same time added back to value of the portfolio.”

He said the two foundations’ giving would rise, now that their assets had grown again.

In fact, its giving must increase or the foundation will fall afoul of tax laws that require foundations to distribute a minimum of 5 percent of their assets annually.

In contrast, the El Paso Community Foundation in 2005 gave more than 24 charities a total of $468,950 out of the Walter H. Hightower Foundation, the organization over which it retained control. The foundation had $9.7 million in assets and paid $64,195 to the Bank of the West for managing its money and $15,000 to the community foundation for administration.

That was only roughly $10,000 more than what JPMorgan was paid by the Dues Foundation, which had a little more than half the assets of the Hightower Foundation and made far fewer grants.

Building and Burnishing

In 2002, the Duke University School of Nursing received the largest grant in its history, $6 million, to create an accelerated bachelor’s degree program.

The university’s press release said that the “gift was given by the Helene Fuld Health Trust, HSBC Bank, USA, trustee,” and Leslie E. Bains, the bank’s executive vice president, was quoted throughout it.

The release did not mention Ms. Bains’s association with the university. Ms. Bains, who is no longer at HSBC, is a member of the board of visitors of its Terry Sanford Institute of Public Policy and its medical school, and her two children went to Duke.

“It’s not just fees that make these things attractive to banks and lawyers,” said Jack Siegel, a tax lawyer who writes a blog on charity governance. “These things are just as valuable in building business and burnishing images. The law firm gets the credit for the gift made out of a trust it manages.”

Ms. Bains, who now works for a private equity firm in New York, declined to comment. But her spokeswoman, Marcia Horowitz, said that while Ms. Bains introduced bank administrators to Duke officials, “she recused herself from any decision making regarding the awarding or the amount of a grant to Duke.”

HSBC confirmed that statement. “Because it was broadly known by HSBC senior management that Leslie Bains had a relationship with Duke, HSBC’s trust department conducted the grant-making decision without her involvement,” Francine Mindaneo, an HSBC spokeswoman, said in a statement.

The originator of the Fuld trust was Dr. Leonhard Felix Fuld, who named it for his mother and endowed it with $25 million made in the stock market and in real estate.

He was known up and down the Eastern Seaboard for wandering into hospitals and asking after the health of student nurses working there. Often, the hospital subsequently received a gift from him to underwrite a new nurses’ residence or a scholarship program.

Dr. Fuld died in 1965, and the fund ended up under the stewardship of Marine Midland Bank, making dozens of grants to develop nursing education at nursing schools in out-of-the-way places and running a fellowship program that made grants to individual nurses to further their education. In 2000, the fund made 150 grants, totaling $6.7 million.

Last year, the $136 million fund, now managed by HSBC, which took over Marine Midland, gave away the same amount of money in 28 grants. Its scheduled payment to Duke accounted for nearly 18 percent of the total. Its fees for making those grants and investment management were $576,996.

Making fewer, larger grants is a trend in philanthropy. By eliminating the labor-intensive fellowship program, reducing grants and doing away with things like an annual report, HSBC has sharply reduced the administrative costs of managing the Fuld trust. But dozens of smaller colleges and community colleges and their students no longer benefit from the trust.

“The bank decided it would rather manage the trust internally,” said Richard Mittenthal, president of TCC Group, a consulting firm that set up and administered the previous grant program for Marine Midland. “The new trust officer thought our strategy was too elaborate and that the bank could manage the trust more efficiently by making smaller numbers of larger grants.”

During his affiliation with the trust, Mr. Mittenthal said, it had never given money to Duke.

Trend Spotting

Although some states require all charitable entities to make periodic reports to their attorneys general, regulators say they have no easy way of identifying problems with orphan trusts. Such filings, for instance, would not disclose relationships between sole trustees and organizations receiving grants from the institutions they control.

“How are we going to find out?” said Belinda Johns, senior assistant attorney general in the charitable trusts division of the California attorney general’s office. “There is no way to identify these organizations easily, and so we have to rely on someone telling us that there’s a problem.”

That was the case in 2002, for example, when the Minnesota attorney general replaced three lawyers who controlled the George W. Neilson Foundation after finding that they were also billing the foundation for legal work, and reportedly doing so at excessive rates.

A complaint led the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts to rule in January that two lawyers who were the trustees of seven trusts known as the Crabtree trusts had charged excessive fees and to order their removal.

A Regulator Steps In

Once in a while, however, the regulators spot potential problems on their own.

In 2004, the New York attorney general’s office sent the Internal Revenue Service a letter alerting it to problems it had identified in the management of five orphaned foundations.

Until that year, Lawrence Newman and Albert Kalter, two Manhattan lawyers, served as paid trustees for all five foundations, frequently listing their wives as unpaid trustees.

William Josephson, the head of the attorney general’s charities bureau at that time, said his office was concerned that the total amount of compensation paid to Mr. Kalter and Mr. Newman out of the foundations’ money had been excessive and might amount to self-dealing and that the gifts they had made failed to honor the intentions of the donors who established them.

The attorney general’s office did not file any charges. What action, if any, was taken by the I.R.S. is not known because the agency is prohibited by law from disclosing investigations or discussing their outcomes.

But what is known is that the lawyers changed some practices after the attorney general’s office began raising questions.

Before the inquiry, for example, in 2003, the five foundations under Mr. Newman and Mr. Kalter’s control made grants totaling $596,731, and the two paid themselves $99,000 each. That year, one of the foundations, the F. Jackson Foundation, made just one grant, of $500, to the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, and paid Mr. Newman and Mr. Kalter $6,500 each.

Under their administration, another of the foundations, the Sewell Foundation, lost more than 60 percent of the market value of its assets from 1998 through 2005, and two others lost more than 35 percent, according to their tax forms. The assets of the two largest foundations under their control, the Milton and Miriam Handler Foundation and the 1987 Theodore H. Silbert Foundation, were largely flat over that period, when most other foundations reported increases.

The foundations made grants to Mr. Newman’s and Mr. Kalter’s alma maters and to the private school Mr. Newman’s grandchildren attend in Florida, as well as to synagogues with which they are affiliated. They also made grants to Pace University, where the two men teach, and to Columbia University, where Mr. Newman is an adjunct professor.

“It’s not a legal question in a technical sense,” Mr. Josephson said. “But it raises ethical questions about the extent to which trustees should honor donor intent.” Those patterns of payment and giving prevailed until 2004, when the attorney general’s office complained to the I.R.S.

That year, the two lawyers, who declined to be interviewed, split control of four of the five foundations between themselves and slashed their fees. They also installed their children as trustees, in lieu of their wives.

In 2005, only the two largest foundations paid them fees at all, according to tax forms.

Friday, September 28, 2007

NY Jurist Says She'll Never Judge Again....(CLICK HERE FOR FULL STORY)

As reported by Daniel Wise in the NYLJ, September 28, 2007: NY Jurist Admits Faux Pas, Says She'll Never Judge Again -

Bronx Family Court Judge Marian R. Shelton, after vigorously contesting charges of misconduct, cut a deal yesterday with the state Commission on Judicial Conduct under which she admitted a single violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct....MORE..

In a stipulation approved by the commission yesterday, Judge Shelton acknowledged that she had violated the code's injunction that judges be "patient, dignified and courteous" when she ordered the wife of a court clerk in her Bronx courtroom handcuffed and jailed over a weekend.

The judge was allowed to remain on the bench until her term ends Dec. 31 without any sanction. However, she stated that she did not intend to seek or accept judicial office or a position as a judicial hearing officer at any time in the future. The admitted count was one of 13 proffered by the commission accusing Judge Shelton of being rude, intemperate and demeaning in her treatment of litigants, lawyers and court personnel, including two judges.

Pursuant to the stipulation, the remaining 12 counts were withdrawn though they could be reinstated if Judge Shelton again seeks to become a judge or violates the terms of the stipulation. However, the commission does not have jurisdiction over hearing officers and could not reinstate the charges if she accepted such a position.

As elaborated in the stipulation, the episode that led Judge Shelton to find Michele Nusser in contempt of court started when Ms. Nusser motioned to her husband, Ben Nusser, who was working in Judge Shelton's courtroom at 6:45 p.m. after all the litigants had left. Judge Shelton then ordered Ms. Nusser to leave, and Ms. Nusser called the judge an "asshole." The judge jailed Ms. Nusser, but freed the woman a short time later after she had apologized. Judge Shelton, who was appointed to the Family Court in July 1998 by then-Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani, had previously disclosed that she would not seek reappointment.

The commission would have lost jurisdiction over Judge Shelton once her term expired. But it could not have completed a hearing before year's end given the notice and other requirements in its rules governing its hearings.

According to the commission's Web site, Judge Shelton's case was the 19th in which it has agreed to forgo pressing charges against a departing judge in exchange for an agreement to never return to the bench and, in some instances, admissions. Had the case proceeded to a hearing, the commission's charges - and Judge Shelton's defense - would have been publicly aired since Judge Shelton was the ninth judge in the commission's history to have waived the confidentiality of the process.

Until acknowledging the conduct concerning Ms. Nusser, Judge Shelton had blasted the commission's case and the commission itself on several fronts. In her answer, Judge Shelton accused the commission of doing the bidding of Dennis Quirk, the combative president of the 1,500-member New York Court Officers Association who she claimed had a grudge against her because she had "refused to accede" to his demands that he control the Family Court's courtrooms (NYLJ, Aug. 14). In a statement given to the press when she waived confidentiality, Judge Shelton denounced the commission proceedings as "surreal" and referred to the commission's selection of the referee to hear her case as "the kangaroo's latest hop."

Judge Shelton's husband, Saul Cohen, a former partner at Proskauer Rose and general counsel of Lehman Brothers, also financed a group that took out two full-page ads in The New York Times criticizing both the commission and its chairman, Raoul Felder. Dean Yuzek, Judge Shelton's lawyer, declined to elaborate on why Judge Shelton had decided to accept a stipulation after so broadly condemning the commission's charges and its proceedings against her.

Mr. Yuzek, of Ingram Yuzek Gainen Carroll & Bertolotti, said he could not comment beyond a statement he had issued yesterday. In that statement, he said all the facts admitted by Judge Shelton had previously been admitted in her answer or "while admitted, require context supplied in the answer."

Mr. Yuzek also noted that the stipulation allows Judge Shelton to finish her term without the imposition of a sanction, and suggested that the commission's administrator and counsel, Robert H. Tembeckjian, should be asked why the commission agreed to a stipulation in which she only admitted conduct to one of 13 counts. Mr. Tembeckjian said the "admission and stipulation were appropriate" particularly because "there was not enough time to finish the hearing and the commission would have lost jurisdiction anyway."

Both sides agreed that they would not make any comments which "appear" to be at odds with any of the terms of the stipulation, including Judge Shelton's admission.

Among the charges the commission agreed to withdraw but could reinstate if Judge Shelton again seeks a judgeship are charges that she:

• Mocked a Legal Aid attorney's accent and said "where is she from" and how can she be an attorney "when you cannot understand what she is saying."

• Treated two other Bronx Family Court judges rudely, one in a dispute over who was entitled to have an attorney present in her courtroom and the other over who was responsible for a case.

• Refused a directive from the Bronx Family Court's supervising judge to continue hearing newly commenced cases in the intake part after one of her court officers was assigned to another courtroom.

• Told a litigant before her that his lawyer "has mental health issues."

• Said to a litigant from the Caribbean who had multi-colored bands in his hair that he looked "bizarre . . . like someone I would not give my pet mouse to."

Thursday, September 27, 2007

The Washington Legal Foundation - Needed in New York....(CLICK HERE FOR FULL STORY)

"The litigation Industry has grown too powerful, and the financial incentives for abuse too great, to trust lawyers to regulate themselves," says Danial J. Popeo, Chairman of The Washington Legal Foundation, based in Washington, D.C.....MORE....

The Washington Legal Foundation (WLF) website says it all- they have one goal: "To defend and promote the principles of freedom and justice."  Established in 1977, WLF brings lawsuits, files amicus briefs, and intervenes in court cases.

Mr. Popeo, referring to the Milberg Weiss "professional plaintiffs" scandal, is quoted in this past Sunday's New York Times Op-Ed by the WLF (In All Fairness: Class Action Crimes) as saying, "News of notorious class action lawyer Bill Lerach's decision to plead guilty to conspiracy is a watershed moment for those concerned with our dysfunctional civil justice system."

He also goes on to report about a federal judge in Kentucky who ordered three lawyers jailed pending their trial.  The federal judge- fuming-  said, "Not only these three gentlemen are on trial, the whole legal profession is on trial."

The Empire State's watershed moment, and the full realization that New York lawyers cannot be trusted to regulate themselves was fully exposed with the revelation of a full blown cover-up within the Disciplinary Committee at the Appellate Division, First Department, which oversees the conduct of attorneys in Manhattan and The Bronx.  (The underlying issue involved an alleged sex scandal which included state-owned office furniture being used for more than banging out paperwork.)  

Since the cover-up was made public, troubling reports of selective attorney disciplinary enforcement have surfaced from every corner of New York State.  Inside sources reveal that Chief Administrative Judge Ann T. Pfau has been reviewing various plans to overhaul the entire attorney disciplinary system.  

(The report on the cover-up scandal, and as posted on this forum on June 28, 2007, follows below)

Boy, do we need Daniel Popeo and The Washington Legal Foundation in New York. Please visit The Washington Legal Foundation website, and express to them our desperate need for their help in New York.  Please e-mail them today!!

The Following Story was posted Thursday, June 28, 2007  
(Note: as of September 27th, there were 155 comments to that story)

Sex Scandal at the Attorney Committee on Character & Fitness

The lid is off the cover-up of the recent sex scandal rocking the Committee on Character & Fitness at The New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Department on Madison Avenue.

The committee is charged with insuring that attorney applicants meet high ethical standards. While applicants usually come from the list of those who recently passed the bar exam others, including out-of-state attorneys, also need to get approval from the Character & Fitness Committee before they can practice law within the First Judicial Department, which encompasses the Bronx and Manhattan. But all applications are fully reviewed, the committee says. And it is required that all applicants appear at the committee's Madison Avenue offices for an in-person interview.

It seems, though, that one Committee employee has been working extra long hours conducting his own self-styled review of character & fitness, and this much to the displeasure of at least one cleaning woman who happened upon the intense desk-top, naked-truth, proceedings.

"The rumors had been around for a while," says a Madison Avenue employee who asked that he not be identified. "But bringing all sorts of women and hookers to the Offices of the Committee on Character & Fitness after hours is just plain stupid; night shift security once counted 3 different women in one week."

But once the cleaning lady complaint was made, the cover-up came faster than you can say "get-up-on-my-desk-so-I-can-test-your-upstanding-character-and-fitness."

According to sources, Sarah Josephine Hamilton, herself an attorney and who heads the Character & Fitness Committee, quickly tried to quash the whole story with her boss, Catherine O'Hagan Wolfe, Chief Clerk of the Appellate Division, First Department. But then complaints were made to the First Department Attorney Disciplinary Committee at 61 Broadway. "And that's when the real cover-up machine went to work," says the Madison Avenue employee. "Tom Cahill and Sherri Cohen threatened everyone to keep the lid on it."

It has been reported that Thomas Cahill, long-time Chief Counsel of the Disciplinary Committee, and his assistant Sherri Cohen are to be replaced soon amidst the call to clean up the widespread improper political interference with attorney discipline investigations.

Governor Spitzer recently named the Hon. Jonathan Lippman as Presiding Justice of the Appellate Division, First Department; David Spokony was quickly named Chief Court Clerk, replacing Catherine O'Hagan Wolfe, who has moved to a position in the federal court system.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Black Robes and Greenbacks: Judges Give Back Pay Raises...CLICK HERE FOR FULL STORY

Judges Give Back Pay Raises- In New York? you ask. Don't be silly, of course not in New York but in Pennsylvania. We like today's article by Peter Jackson in New York Lawyer, and we love the final quote: "It was a tainted process." Maybe some folks (law makers, judges, etc.) in New York should think outside of New York for some possible ideas.......MORE......

New York LawyerSeptember 26, 2007

By Peter JacksonThe Associated Press

HARRISBURG, Pa. -- At least two state appellate court judges are giving back the pay raises that the Legislature approved in 2005, and Debra Todd wants voters to know that she's one of them.

Todd, a Superior Court judge and Democratic candidate for the Supreme Court, has made payments to the state treasury totaling $17,640, the Treasury Department confirmed Tuesday — representing the after-tax value of her raise from July 1, 2005, through June 30 of this year.

The payments, which exclude the annual cost-of-living adjustments that judges receive, will continue in the future, said campaign spokesman Alison Rudolph Hall, who was spreading the word Tuesday in response to a newspaper editorial that characterized fellow Superior Court Judge Joan Orie Melvin as the only judge in the state who had given back income from the politically charged pay raises.

Melvin, a Republican, filed a lawsuit seeking to reduce her salary to the level that prevailed when she was elected in 1997 — eliminating the need to pay taxes on the income — plus subsequent cost-of-living increases. She appealed a lower court's rejection of the suit to the Supreme Court.

Melvin, seeking a second 10-year term in an uncontested "retention" vote in November, kept the after-tax portion of her raise in escrow until last month, when she sent the Treasury Department a check for more than $14,000.

Todd has been comparatively low-key about the payments she has been making since Dec. 31.
"She did it without pomp and circumstance. She didn't sue anybody," Hall said of Todd, who she said objected to the manner in which the raises were approved.

Currently, a Superior Court judge is entitled to $165,000 a year.

The Legislature's July 2005 vote to approve the pay raises for top officials in all three branches of state government — taken in the early hours of the morning, without any hearings or floor debate — ignited a political storm.

Lawmakers repealed the raises four months later. A year ago, however, the state Supreme Court resuscitated the judicial pay raises, while allowing the repeal of raises for legislators and executive branch officials to stand.

"It was a tainted process," Hall said.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Letter From Folks Re: Rigging Elections - (CLICK HERE FOR FULL STORY)

And be sure to see their website Here's the letter: New legislation that election rigging carries a penalty of treason against the country, city or state that it is committed in should prevent this.......MORE....

The death penalty or 25 to life will help prevent much of this. There can be no democracy with election fraud and from looking at the effects of election fraud from Bush we all can learn two things, it can be the worst thing for the world as a whole and the Supreme Court of the United States picked the worst, most dishonest, most dangerous to civil rights, most laughed at by foreign nations President ever.

All of this country’s current mess and New York’s alike has been created by election fraud, committed by lawyers, judges, politicians and those who think they are above the law which has thus lowered citizen confidence in a government run by schmucks and war mongering criminals who gained power through corrupt elections.

If it continues, the citizens will soon revolt on the government, as this blog proves and those who were above the law will be stomped to death by the people. History is littered with dead corrupt government employees at all levels that have the boot print of the people smashed upon their heads.

Lace up New York. A final word that may help increase integrity with the public is conduct voting with a mass of checks and balances, using the highest tech and lowest tech methods to count votes and preserve those records for checking later in the event a dispute arises later.

Everyone who votes should have record of their vote and be required to send a copy of their record in a prepaid envelope. When electronic records are created, a full print record for every digital entry should be mandated. Counting should be digital at first, with a full auditing by hand count that should follow to verify the results in time. Penalties of voting fraud by both citizen and government officials should be beyond hefty.

The vote is the most sacred part of a citizen’s rights in a democracy, from the highest public office to the lowest, it must be protected or else we will be in the mess our country and states are now in, where government has been stolen and run amuck where government officials lie, change laws to allow human torture, churn legal cases, pardon felons condemning covert CIA agents, go to war on falsified propaganda and fraudulent papers, allow for perjuring Attorney General’s, etc..

What this country and New York et. al. need is law and order and that starts with strict election laws at every level and more damning penalties for violating them, not less. The fact that this country is pretty convinced that fraud occurred in the Presidential election and was aided and abetted by the legal community sends the worst signal to the People in the history of the country. If I had esq. after my name, I certainly would begin fearing the backlash and start selling insurance.

by Eliot Bernstein -

Monday, September 24, 2007

AP: Judge Indicted on Federal Perjury Charge...

September 24, 2007The New York Law Journal publication New York Lawyer, By Russ Bynum -The Associated Press
SAVANNAH, Ga. -- A magistrate judge from rural Clinch County has been charged with perjury in an indictment that says she lied to a federal grand jury investigating judicial corruption.

The indictment says Magistrate Judge Linda C. Peterson lied to grand jurors June 13 when she denied, under oath, ever suggesting to criminal defendants in her court that they use her father as a bail bondsman. In addition to perjury, Peterson was also charged one count of making false statements to the FBI. The indictment was filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Valdosta.

Judicial Steering Continues in Westchester County....(CLICK HERE FOR FULL STORY)

An overhaul of judicial assignments within the Ninth Judicial District in June of 2006 was supposed to have solved the problem concerning allegations of steering cases. It seems, however, that the situation got worse, with more and more troubling revelations nearly every day.....MORE....

Since we'll soon be posting some of the newest findings concerning allegations of judicial steering in the Ninth Judicial District, we provide the following background article by Daniel Wise of The New York Law Journal:

Judicial Steering in New York Courts
New York Law Journal

Westchester's Matrimonial Part Revamped in Wake of Infighting

by Daniel Wise


After months of bitter infighting, Ninth Judicial District Administrative Judge Francis A. Nicolai (See Profile) has reassigned all four judges who have been hearing divorce cases in Westchester County.

Two of five referees assigned to the matrimonial part are also being given new assignments, and the format for the matrimonial part itself is being revamped, said Office of Court Administration spokesman David Bookstaver.

Three new judges will be transferred into the part starting today, he added.

The judges are being shuffled and the part reorganized, Mr. Bookstaver said, because court officials have learned "from the nature of matrimonial work that it is historically prudent to rotate judges."

When the changes are fully implemented, the matrimonial part, which decides approximately 900 contested divorce cases a year, will have one fewer judge and two fewer referees.

The change in format, which will be phased in, will result in judges handling their own cases from start to finish, Mr. Bookstaver said. For the time being, though, judges assigned to the part will supervise cases until a fact issue is ready to be tried. At that point, cases will be assigned to any judge or referee in the part, or one of two backup judges, to conduct a fact-finding hearing.

Two of the judges being reassigned will continue to conduct fact-finding hearings during the transition, Mr. Bookstaver said. He added that no date had been set for the completion of the change in court procedures.

Westchester Surrogate Anthony A. Scarpino, who is coming into the part as supervising judge, will not carry his own inventory of cases, Mr. Bookstaver said. Surrogate Scarpino (See Profile) replaces Justice W. Denis Donovan (See Profile), who was responsible for assigning cases out to trial and hearings twice a week, and also carried a calendar of post-judgment enforcement motions.

The rotations are related to the controversies that have swirled through the part in recent months. Without being specific, Mr. Bookstaver said that the public has raised "a number of issues about the part's practices and policies and the changes are designed to address those serious issues."

Mr. Bookstaver would not discuss details, and said he could neither confirm nor deny whether investigations had been conducted by OCA Inspector General Sherrill R. Spatz.

But a referee assigned to the part, James A. Montagnino, has made available to the Law Journal a letter he wrote on March 13 to Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye and five other top administrative judges complaining that Justice Nicolai had improperly intervened in cases on seven occasions after having had ex parte contact with a lawyer or litigant.

And in interviews, both Mr. Montagnino and his lawyer, Fred L. Shapiro, a former County Court judge, said they had met with Ms. Spatz, who was conducting an investigation into the charges raised in Mr. Montagnino's letter to Judge Kaye.

Mr. Montagnino separately said that about a week after he wrote his letter, Ms. Spatz informed him that her office would be investigating complaints lodged against him by a number of female litigants whose cases he had handled. Other than Ms. Spatz, no agency has jurisdiction to investigate such charges.

Outcomes of Investigations

With regard to the investigation of Mr. Montagnino, Mr. Shapiro said that on June 5, Mr. Montagnino was told at a meeting with OCA's director of human relations that Ms. Spatz's investigation had resulted "in no negative findings." But he said OCA proposed that Mr. Montagnino accept a transfer to the Bronx because "it would be better for everyone if he did not continue to work in Westchester."

Mr. Montagnino, in turn, asked for a transfer to the Albany area because he could move to his vacation home in Saratoga, Mr. Shapiro said, and it was agreed he would be given an assignment in either Albany or Rensselaer county.

Mr. Bookstaver said that Mr. Montagnino was one of two referees who is being transferred out of the matrimonial part, and that starting today he will be assigned in the Third Judicial District, which includes Rensselaer and Albany counties.

To the extent that no public action has been taken against Justice Nicolai, and he remains as administrative judge for the five-county Ninth Judicial District, it can be inferred that Ms. Spatz found no merit to Mr. Montagnino's complaint.

As for the ex parte issues raised in Mr. Montagnino's March 13 letter, Mr. Bookstaver said that dealing with complaints from litigants and lawyers is "a part of what administrative judges do — it is very much a part of the administrative judge's responsibilities."

Three New Judges

Like Mr. Montagnino, Judicial Hearing Officer Edward P. Borrelli was reassigned as part of the court shakeup. Starting today, Mr. Borrelli will be working in the commercial part of the Westchester courthouse.

The three other referees who had been assigned to handle fact-finding hearings and occasionally whole cases, will now each be paired with one of the new judges handling divorces. In their new roles, they will be sent "narrowly framed issues" to try, and also handle conferences and motions in cases assigned to their judges, Mr. Bookstaver said.

The three referees who will continue to do matrimonial work are Meryl Amster, Irene Ratner and Reynold Snyder, though he is also slated for reassignment. Mr. Bookstaver said that Mr. Snyder will be replaced after he is reassigned.

The four judges being reassigned from the part are Justices Donovan, Bruce E. Tolbert (See Profile), Richard B. Liebowitz (See Profile) and William J. Giacomo (See Profile).

Justices Donovan, Tolbert and Giacomo will carry the same type of caseloads as other generalists receiving civil assignments in Westchester, though Justices Tolbert and Giacomo will remain available to conduct fact-finding hearings in divorce cases during the transition. Justice Liebowitz will also handle a normal civil caseload, but in Rockland County, starting today

In addition to Surrogate Scarpino, the judges coming into the part are Westchester Justice Linda Jamieson (See Profile), a former divorce practitioner and Family Court judge, and Justice Lewis Lubell, a plaintiffs' personal injury attorney who was elected to the bench from Westchester County last November but who has been sitting in Orange County.

Justice Lubell will be replaced in Orange County by Justice Joseph Alessandro (See Profile), who is being brought in from Rockland.

Concern Over Resources

Matrimonial bar leaders in Westchester expressed concern that the changes will leave them with one fewer judge and two fewer referees. They also said they were caught short by the changes.

Neil A. Fredman of Fredman & Kosan, who until May 17 was the head of the family law section of the Westchester County Bar Association, said that he had first heard "rumblings" of the planned changes two weeks ago. Mr. Fredman said that, even though the family law chairman historically has served as the liaison between the Westchester matrimonial bar and matrimonial judges, he had received no communication from the court about the proposed changes.

Mr. Fredman said that he was "mystified" as to why OCA was reassigning the judges. "There were charges and countercharges flying all over the place," he said, and the "only visible result is that all the judges are gone — and the complaints had nothing to do with them."

The bar fought hard to have more referees and a fourth judge added to the part, Mr. Fredman said. Now that they are gone, he added, "we will certainly be pressing to get them back."

Lonya A. Gilbert, a co-chairwoman of the Westchester women bar's matrimonial committee, said, "Our clients are required to come to preliminary conferences, and we already often have to wait a half hour. This certainly won't make the situation any better."

Fallout in Orange County

The dustup in Westchester has also had reverberations in Orange County, where lawyers are upset over the loss of Justice Lubell.

Joseph A. Owen the immediate past president of the Orange County Bar Association, said his association had written to Justice Nicolai asking that Justice Lubell not be reassigned, but was advised in a phone call that the transfer "was already done."

Justice Lubell, who was elected to the Supreme Court last November, was "a real gem," Mr. Owen said. "With his experience as a trial lawyer, he was able to move cases expeditiously and fairly," and both sides of the personal injury bar "appreciated having him on their cases."

Jonathan Jacobson, the Democratic leader in Orange County said he had contacted both Chief Administrative Judge Jonathan Lippman (See Profile) and Justice Nicolai, asking them not to reassign Justice Lubell.

Mr. Jacobson said he had gotten "lots of calls from Democratic and Republican lawyers alike expressing extreme displeasure" at Justice Lubell's transfer. They all felt, he said, that Justice Lubell had not "forgotten that he was a lawyer once, and understands the needs of lawyers."

Complaints to Conduct Panel

The infighting that led to the eventual shakeup in Westchester are reflected in the complaints against Justice Nicolai that Mr. Montagnino made in his March 13 letter and were mirrored in a complaint he filed nearly two weeks later with the state Commission on Judicial Conduct. Both the letter and complaint asserted seven instance of improper ex parte contacts in six cases.

In addition, Barry Skwiersky, court attorney to Justice Giacomo, complained separately to the commission about Justice Nicolai's intervention in two of the cases cited by Mr. Montagnino, which had also been handled by his judge.

Mr. Montagnino's attorney, Mr. Shapiro, who handled matrimonial cases in Westchester for eight years, filed a third complaint with the commission in which he offered added factual support concerning three of the alleged episodes of improper involvement by Justice Nicolai.

In two of those episodes, Mr. Shapiro claimed to be relaying information provided by Mr. Borrelli, who is a member of the court system's Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics. According to Mr. Shapiro, Mr. Borrelli complained about two instances of ex parte intervention by Justice Nicolai in a divorce case that he was handling. Mr. Borrelli declined to comment.

Mr. Shapiro said that, as far as he is aware, his and Mr. Montagnino's complaints are still pending before the commission. Mr. Skwiersky also said he believed his complaint is still pending. Under conduct commission procedures, complainants are advised of how their complaints are disposed.

As for the complaints against Mr. Montagnino that he was biased against women, many matrimonial lawyers sent letters to Ms. Spatz's office attesting that he "was not a sexist," said Mr. Fredman of the Westchester bar. The outpouring of letters — one source said there were upwards of 30 — reflected a strong level of support.

Kathleen Donelli, another co-chairwoman of the Westchester women bar's matrimonial committee, for instance, said Mr. Montagnino is "always fair to women and women's issues and has the utmost respect of both male and female attorneys."

But some lawyers have a more negative view. Carol Most, a lawyer who was cited by Mr. Montagnino in two of his alleged examples of ex parte contacts, publicly criticized him as being "unfair" to women at a meeting of the Westchester women bar's matrimonial committee in 2003, according to Ms. Donelli, a partner at McCarthy Fingar in White Plains.

Ms. Most, who at the time was a co-chairwoman of the committee, declined to comment.

The leadership of the women's bar was so upset that its president at the time, Kathy N. Rosenthal, wrote a letter to Justice Nicolai disavowing Ms. Most's remarks, Ms. Donelli said.

Though the letter did not mention Ms. Most by name, Ms. Rosenthal stated that she was aware that "one or more members" of the association had expressed "an opinion" regarding Mr. Montagnino. She then noted that the association had not given authority to anyone "to speak about or against Referee Montagnino."

Several Westchester matrimonial practitioners identified a small group of lawyers as being highly critical of Mr. Montagnino. None of those lawyers responded to requests to speak about their views, even on a not for attribution basis.

But other lawyers who are aware of their views, described the group as believing that Mr. Montagnino is not favorably disposed to wives with high-end lifestyles who are seeking to maintain those lifestyles, without having to re-enter the work force, through a liberal award of maintenance.

Comments that Mr. Montagnino made during a continuing legal education seminar at Pace law School in 2004 resonated with the critics, some lawyers said.

Referring to the zip code for Scarsdale, 10583, Mr. Montagnino described some women litigants as having outsized and unrealistic expectations of what they can obtain in divorce, a phenomenon he dubbed the "10583 syndrome."

A reading of the full 10-paged, single-spaced transcript of the session, however, reveals other passages that would definitely be helpful to the non-monied spouse.

Tense Episodes

A couple of episodes illustrate the tensions that have marked the conflicts within the court, one involving Mr. Montagnino and one involving Justice Nicolai.

Mr. Montagnino acknowledged in an interview that the day after Ms. Most spoke at the 2003 womens' bar meeting, he bumped into her in the courthouse and asked her to come to his chambers. He said he told Ms. Most, who denied making the remarks attributed to her the night before, that making a false statement that a judicial officer is biased could constitute professional misconduct.

In a similar vein, both Mr. Montagnino and Mr. Shapiro charge that Justice Nicolai contacted court officials in charge of assigning counsel in Family Court cases after a well-respected law guardian complained that Justice Nicolai had intervened on an ex parte basis in a case where she had been assigned to be the law guardian.

According to a source familiar with the situation, the law guardian, Kathleen Hannon, had written "an over-the-top letter" to Justice Nicolai complaining about his ex parte intervention in a divorce case being handled by Mr. Borrelli. (The same case that Mr. Shapiro referred to in his complaint to the conduct commission.)

Justice Nicolai then forwarded Ms. Hannon's letter to the officials who certify lawyers for court appointments in Family Court cases in the Second Department with the notation "for whatever action you deem appropriate."

Ms. Hannon, apologized and that was the end of the matter, the source said. Ms. Hannon did not return a request for comment.

— Daniel Wise can be reached at

Sunday, September 23, 2007

URGENT: Hearing on Federal Judges Disciplining Themselves.....(CLICK HERE FOR FOR STORY)

****IMPORTANT NOTICE ***** A hearing will be held at the Federal Courthouse in Brooklyn this week, Thursday, September 27, 2007, on the issue of Federal Judges Discipling Themselves.... Please consider attending..... Read the following important message, which we received from Dr. Richard Cordero, Esq......MORE.......

Re: Hearing on Draft Rules Governing Judicial Misconduct Complaints

The Committee on Judicial Conduct and Disability of the Judicial Conference of the United States has released for public comment its Draft Rules Governing Judicial Conduct and Disability Proceedings under 28 U.S.C. §351-364. They aim at implementing the recommendations contained in the Breyer Report issued by the Judicial Conduct and Disability Act Study Committee, chaired by Justice Stephen Breyer and appointed by the Late Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

A one half-day hearing in the whole nation on those Rules is planned to commence at 10:00 a.m. on Thursday, September 27, 2007, in the U.S. Courthouse at 225 Cadman Plaza East, Brooklyn, New York. Your attendance is encouraged in view of the importance of determining whether the only rules for disciplining complained-about judges, written and to be implemented by their own peers, will work any better than the current ones.

Hence, you are invited to distribute this e-mail to your contacts and mailing list and to display it prominently on your website.

The Committee has required from those that have requested to testify at the hearing that they give in advance a written indication of their intended testimony. Dr. Richard Cordero, Esq., of Judicial Discipline Reform (, requested and was granted the opportunity to testify. To comply with the Committee’s requirement, Dr. Cordero provided an indication of his intended testimony on those Draft Rules.

Bellow is the table of contents of Dr. Cordero’s written indication as well as the link to the PDF file containing his preliminary comments on the Draft Rules. Your comments and suggestions on them are welcome; sent them to

I. Comments on the Draft Rules (see, which contains a copy of the Draft Rules and the announcement of the hearing)

II. Whether the Rules’ underlying basis, the Report of the Breyer Committee, provided any analysis not already available in, and not in contradiction with, the statistics since 1996 of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts on complaints filed under the Judicial Conduct and Disability Act of 1980

A. The system of handling judicial conduct and disability complaints is fundamentally flawed due to judges’ bias and dominating interest in self-preservation because it is based on the chief circuit judges reviewing complaints against their peers and friends

B. The conflict of interests inherent in a chief circuit judge reviewing a complaint against the circuit court’s or even his own appointee, that is, a bankruptcy judge appointed under 28 U.S.C. §152(a)(1) or (3), respectively

III. Whether the Rules or the Breyer Report deal with the fundamental institutional problems that have affected the application of the Judicial Conduct and Disability Act since its enactment in 1980

A. The fundamental problem of lack of checks and balances to control the conduct of federal judges and the dynamics of interdependent survivability of members of close and powerful groups, two factors that have prevented the removal of any federal judges from the bench except seven judges in the 218 years since the adoption of the U.S. Constitution in 1789, by the count of the Federal Judicial Center (>Judges of the United States>Impeachments of Judges)

IV. Whether the Rules have the potential to render effective the Federal Judiciary’s current mechanism of self-discipline by requiring that the Judiciary and its members be accountable for their administration of justice and perform their duty to safeguard the integrity of judicial process

A. Evidence that the Supreme Court has tolerated for years the systematic dismissal of misconduct complaints, thereby signaling that neither the Act nor the Rules were to be taken seriously

B. The Judicial Conference has known that the Act and the current rules for its implementation are ineffective given that in the 27 years of the Act it has issued only 15 opinions under it, and that for years in a row the judicial councils have not allowed a single complaint to make it even to its Committee for the Review of Judicial Council Conduct and Disability Decisions (now known as the Judicial Conference Committee on Judicial Conduct and Disability)

C. How self-discipline through peer review is ineffective to prevent that judges appointed for life and as a matter of fact unimpeachable elevate themselves above the law, where they enjoy the privilege of having justice applied to them in private given that complaints against them are treated confidentially and by peer judges, who lack impartiality due to their reputational interest, or even self-preservation interest, in their complained-about peers being found above reproach

D. The need for an independent board of citizens neither appointed by nor related to the judiciary, otherwise for a panel of three retired judges from circuits other than that of the complained-about judge, to enforce in public proceedings rules of judicial discipline and accountability aimed at providing persons injured by complained-about judges an effective remedy, that is, compensation, and at holding judges to the standard of “Equal Justice Under Law”

Dr. Richard Cordero, Esq.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Federal Judge Acts On Westchester 1st Amendment Abuse...CLICK HERE FOR FULL STORY

It's been said that only The Feds could properly confront the on-going and brazen abuse of the law in Westchester County. And every day, there is more and more encouraging news. Today: three cheers for U.S. Federal District Court Judge Charles L. Brieant, and three cheers for The Westchester Guardian for bringing a federal lawsuit in response to the actions of a bunch of thugs who violated the newspaper's Constitutional Rights.....MORE...

Here's the story by Len Maniace, in today's (September 22, 2007) The Journal News:

Federal judge sets date for newspaper lawsuit against Yonkers
(Original Publication: September 22, 2007)

YONKERS - A federal judge yesterday barred City Hall from unilaterally removing Westchester Guardian news racks from city sidewalks and set a November trial date for the newspaper's suit charging Yonkers with violating its First Amendment rights.

The order issued by U.S. District Court Judge Charles Brieant in White Plains contained a series of conditions for both the city and the newspaper to observe. It permits the weekly newspaper, whose articles and headlines have regularly lambasted Mayor Phil Amicone, to be handed out on city sidewalks and outside City Hall, but not in Yonkers streets nor on City Hall steps.

The New Rochelle-based Guardian had sought an injunction against the city, barring it from interfering with the newspaper's distribution, but instead the city proposed the series of conditions that were included order.

The dispute began after the city's confiscated Guardian news racks and ticketed its employees as they handed out the newspaper in July and August. After the Guardian sued the city Aug. 8, it was able to retrieve 36 of its news racks. The Guardian said 56 of its news racks were taken, a figure the city has disputed.

Yonkers officials said the racks blocked public sidewalks and that the distribution of the newspaper by hand violated city law. The Guardian's publisher, Sam Zherka, said the action was City Hall's retribution for a series of critical articles about Amicone.

The Guardian has filed two lawsuits: the one in August on behalf of specific Guardian staff and readers, which seeks $40 million in damages; and a class action suit that seeks up $200 million.

Amicone spokesman David Simpson said he was pleased that Brieant set the trial date, Nov. 12, after the Yonkers mayoral election.

Reach Len Maniace at or 914-694-5163.

Friday, September 21, 2007

A Witness Writes In....(CLICK HERE FOR FULL STORY)

Court Report 07/26/2007 - This morning I accidentally witnessed a clearly erronous rulling of Hon. Francis Nicolai. The Defendant was the pro-se homeowner Ms. Sunshine, against whom there was a monetary ruling for $30,000 which she allegedely owned to the home owner assotiation and which would have to be satisfied by the sale of her home.....MORE....

The attorney of the homeowner association was presented too. According to Judge Nicolai, today's court appearance was about the sale of the home of Ms. Sunshine. Judge Nicolai noted that there is already a ruling against Ms. Sunshine by Hon. Belantoni.

Ms. Sunshine had a signed order to show cause for the stay of the ruling against her. The hearing on her order to show cause was scheduled for today's date. According to homeowner association's attorney the order to show cause was unproperly served by Ms. Sunshine - she simply faxed the two page order without any supporting document.

Ms. Sunshine requested a stay of the rulling against her since she had initiated an appeal by filing a Notice of Appeal. She claimed that depite the ruling agains her, she does not owe any money to the homeowner's association.

Ms. Sunshine stated that she has only $5000 available. When asked by Hon. Nicolai about her other possible financial sources, Ms. Sunshine replied that she can charge up to $20,000 on her credit cards, but she cannot take any cash advance. Ms. Sunshine stated that the APR of her credit cards is 22%.

Judge Nicolai did grant a stay of the monetary judgment against Ms Sunshine until November 5, 2007, provided that she pays to the homeowner association by 2PM tomorrow the amount of $5000 and in a few weeks the amount of $15,000 charged on her credit card.

There are two problems with Hon. Nicolai's ruling:

1. The condition of stay ($20,000) was extremely and unreasonably high for a three months stay (6% interest on $30,000 for 3 months is approximately $450).

2. The monetary part of the stay condition (the so called undertaking) shouldn't be handed to the homeowner's association. It should be posted to an account sometimes under the control of the court, but in any case out of reach of the homeowner's association and Ms. Sunshine.

Ms. Sunshine walked out of the court room seemingly happy by the rulling, which would allow her to keep her home for at least a couple of months.

What she didn't know was that pursuant to CPLR Article 55 19 she was entitled by law to a stay w/o a court order of the monetary judgment against her pending the appeal. Another thing that Ms. Sunshine was not aware of was that the condition of the stay should be an undertaking and not paying two thirds of the amount owed to the Plaintiff.

A reasonale undertaking most probably already existed - against the equity of Ms. Sunshine home Ms. Sunshine could have easily found an agency to issue her a surety bond.

All Ms. Sunshine needed to get the stay was to post the undertaking with the County Clerk.

Besides the good thing (preventing the immediate foreclosure of Ms. Sunshine's home), the rulling of Hon. Nicolai creates future problems for both litigants: If Ms. Sunshine wins the appeal, it is not clear if and how she could get back the $20,000 that she will pay to the homeowner's association. It is very likely that the association refuses to pay her back the money and this is a potential source of another lengthly and costly litigation.

There will be at least one compliance hearing in a couple of days, i.e. missed work and attorney fees for the litigants.

Probably there will be more hearings for the extention of the stay period since it is very unlikely that the appeal will be decided by November 5, 2007.

Ms. Sunshine will have to pay 22% APY (the actual yield is probably much higher) and it is not clear why does she need to pay such a high interest provided that she owns a home and $5000 in cash.

The clear beneficieries from Judge's Nicolai's today's rulling are the homeowner association's attorney (more hearings means more attorney fees) and Hon. Nicolai himself (as long as this attorney is a potential judicial campaign contributor). The clear losers are the taxpayers, who will pay the expenses of the prolonged litigation and countless court appearances and Ms. Sunshine, who is to pay 22% APR on her credit card debt.

I think Ms. Sunshine was screwed by Nicolai simply because she appeared pro-se.

Peter Petrov
White Plains, NY

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Nostalgically, One Last Rigged Supreme Court Judge Election...(CLICK HERE FOR FULL DETAILS)


Ah, the good old days: controlling judicial elections by manipulating the names on the ballots, and by providing voters with limited information. Some say the scheme was perfected in Westchester County. One New York federal judge said the state wide judicial election stunts are unconstitutional-- and the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals agreed. And soon the United States Supreme Court will have a say in exactly how corrupt the New York state judicial elections have been....MORE....

A good New York Law Journal article by Daniel Wise follows below. More on this soon...

Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2007
p. 1, col. 4

Late Entry Into Race Kept Them Off List Of Screening Panel ‘Qualified,' Hopefuls Say.


TWO JUDGES who are likely candidates for Supreme Court in the Ninth Judicial District, were not on a list of candidates found qualified by a court system-established panel because they decided to become candidates after the screening panel's deadline. The two candidates - Ninth Judicial District Administrative Judge Francis A. Nicolai and Westchester County Court Judge Rory J. Bellantoni- were not on the list of candidates released by the screening panel for candidates in the Ninth Judicial District on Friday.

Under court rules establishing the new screening system, only the names of candidates who are found qualified are released. The rules specifically bar the panels from providing information as to whether candidates who are not named were found unqualified or declined to participate in the process. Candidate participation is voluntary.

Judge Nicolai said in an interview that he had entered the race after the screening panel's deadline and had not submitted an application because he believed that the panel would not accept it. JudgeBellantoni, who also entered the race late, said that he had contacted the panel but had been told it was too late to apply. Asked about the panel's policy on late applications, Matthew G.Kiernan, the panel's interim director, said he was precluded from commenting by "the confidentiality of the review process."

Republican and Democratic Party leaders in the five Ninth Judicial District counties identified Judge Nicolai, a Democrat and JudgeBellantoni, a Republican, as among the six candidates for three court vacancies their two parties are likely to select at their nominating conventions next week. The other four likely candidates were all found qualified by the court system panel, which is formally called the Independent Judicial Election Qualification Commission for the Ninth Judicial District.

They are incumbent Supreme Court Justice William E. Sherwood and Christine P. Krahulik, a Family Court support magistrate, the likely Republican nominees, and Rockland County Surrogate Robert M. Berliner and Orange County Surrogate Elaine Z. Slobod, the likely Democratic candidates. The Ninth Judicial District covers Rockland, Orange, Westchester, Putnam and Dutchess counties.

The deadline for applying for review for all five judicial districts within the Second Department, including the Ninth District, was set for July 2 (NYLJ, June 13). In interviews, both Judge Nicolai, who was elected as a County Court judge in 2004, and Judge Bellantoni said that they are seeking to fill the vacancy that was created by the resignation of Justice Lawrence I. Horowitz while he was under investigation by the state Commission on Judicial Conduct (NYLJ, July 18, 2007). Although Justice Horowitz resigned on June 20, the vacancy that arose from his resignation was not officially created until July 14, both Judge Nicolai and Judge Bellantoni said. It was not until the end of July, Judge Nicolai added, that he decided to run for the vacancy, and he formally notified the Office of Court Administration of his intent to do so after lining up political backing. Judge Bellantoni said that it was not until mid-August that he had decided to pursue the vacancy.

Judge Nicolai said that he had not sought to be interviewed because by the time he decided to make the race the screening panel's July 2 deadline had passed. If there had been an opportunity to be interviewed, he said "I would have been the first to attend-it is the policy of the court administration that candidates should be", interviewed and I am a strong supporter of that policy."

Judge Bellantoni said that he had contacted personnel from the review committee trying to arrange an interview but had been told that it was too late and that there would be no negative ramifications from his not being on the list because the process is voluntary. "I want to be interviewed and have been interviewed by dozens" of panels reviewing judicial qualifications in the past, he said.

Reginald Lafayette, the chairman of the Westchester Democratic Party, called both Judge Nicolai and Judge Bellantoni well regarded jurists and said that he did not expect the absence of their names from the list of qualified candidates would cause either of them any political problems. In fashioning a system for the screening of judicial candidates seeking to be elected, the court system adopted a recommendation of a panel appointed by Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye to suggest reforms to shore up public confidence in the state's elected judiciary (NYLJ, Feb. 7, 2006).

The 180 members of the 12 panels, one in each of the state's judicial districts, were appointed in February (NYLJ, Feb. 9, 2007). Each panel has 15 members, 10 appointed by the chief judge and a presiding justice of the Appellate Division, and five by bar association leaders.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The Thugs Won't Get Away With It, Judge Phillips ! (CLICK HERE FOR FULL STORY)

The Institute for Judicial Studies has published a great and comprehensive article about the lawless abuse thrust upon retired New York State Supreme Court Judge John Phillips. A horror story which we covered in September 1st, 2nd and 3rd postings....MORE....

In the process to expose, and end, the corruption in our treasured courts, we are encouraged by The Institute for Judicial Studies' motto: Defending Independence.  Demanding Accountability. 

And to those who attacked Judge Phillips, and to the others who so brazenly corrupt our system of law, we refer you to what Margaret Mead said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed individuals can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has."

The September 12, 2007 dated Judicial Reports story, Fallen Guardian Angels, by Leah Nelson, follows.

Make part of your required reading !!

Fallen Guardian Angels

By Leah Nelson
Posted 09-12-07

The guardianship imbroglio of a former Brooklyn judge has always been populated with enough shadowy facts and characters for a novel by Tom Wolfe. But now someone is trying to make a federal case out of it.

Four court-appointed fiduciaries and Kings County Supreme Court Justice Michael Pesce have been referred to the Internal Revenue Service for alleged violations of tax law pertaining to their role in the guardianship of John L. Phillips, a former judge himself.

John O’Hara — a Brooklyn political figure known variously as a rabble-rouser, a crusader for justice, and a gadfly with a vendetta against Brooklyn’s courts and District Attorney — filed the Information Referrals on September 8. He did so under an IRS procedure that permits such actions by concerned citizens.

According to the filing: “From 2000 to 2007, four separate court appointed guardians — Harvey Greenberg, Frank J. Livoti, Ray Jones, and Emani Taylor — sold approximately $10 million of real estate for an alleged incapacitated person, retired judge John L. Philips. No tax returns were filed or paid; current estimates are $1.5 million in taxes are owed. All above said guardians are lawyers.”

As to the judge, O’Hara wrote: “Justice Pesce . . . has obstructed all attempts by current guardians to obtain records for tax returns.”

According to the Office of Court Administration spokesman David Bookstaver, Justice Pesce was unable to speak for this article due to a court rule that forbids judges from commenting on pending litigation.

As for the IRS referrals, Bookstaver said, “It would be inappropriate to comment on an allegation that is not substantiated.”

But Pesce’s predecessor, former Supreme Court Justice Leonard Scholnick, said, “I know that Pesce is a conscientious guy. I would vouch for his integrity. [And] what advantage is there to the court to allow such neglect? It reflects poorly on yourself as a judge.”


In an interview, O’Hara said he based his claims on the court file. A long-time friend of Judge Phillips, he maintains his own set of papers on the guardianship.

O’Hara, a onetime lawyer, is no stranger to the Brooklyn courts. In the late 1990s, he was convicted of voter fraud, a felony, for being registered to vote at the wrong address, and sentenced to 1500 hours of community service. He was also disbarred.

Though Phillips’s guardianship case is sealed to all but certain court officials and parties to the case, O’Hara said he has been collecting filings since proceedings began.

Parties entitled to see case filings made a substantial portion of recent documents available to Judicial Reports. While their contents neither confirmed nor refuted O’Hara’s allegations in full, they did indicate apparent failure on the part of court-appointed guardians to comply with filing requirements.

In a letter dated August 13, 2007, Phillips’s current financial guardian — court-appointed attorney James Cahill, Jr., of Brooklyn’s Cahill and Cahill, P.C. — informed Justice Pesce of “serious problems that have arisen concerning John Phillips’ tax affairs,” – specifically, that the IRS had confirmed that no tax returns were filed between 2001 and 2005.

Cahill, who declined to comment for this article, became financial guardian in 2006 and filed tax returns that year. His letter to Pesce affirmed that Greenberg, Livoti, Jones and Taylor — all previous financial guardians to Phillips — had not filed such returns.

He had only become aware of the situation, he wrote, after receiving a notice from the IRS “concerning the failure to file tax returns for Phillips’s affairs for the tax years 2003, 2004 and 2005 by the predecessor guardians. In speaking with a representative at the Internal Revenue Service, I was informed that returns were not filed for the years 2001 and 2002.”


Complicating matters, Justice Pesce apparently sealed not only the case, but the sealing order itself, to all except “those who have appeared,” plus the court evaluator, court examiner, and court-appointed guardian.

Part 216 of the Uniform Rules for New York State Trial Courts, states that “a court shall not enter an order in any action or proceeding sealing the court records, whether in whole or in part, except upon a written finding of good cause, which shall specify the grounds thereof.” (The Institute for Judicial Studies, publisher of Judicial Reports, has asked Justice Pesce to unseal the sealing order.)

According to a transcript of the proceedings from the early days of the case, Justice Scholnick orally issued an order to seal the case on February 21, 2001, the day that Phillips was declared an incapacitated person (IP).

The conversation that preceded his oral order was off the record. The court reporter’s note is simply followed by Scholnick’s on-record statement, “I am sealing it. I will order it sealed.”

Based on the Clerk’s Minutes, it appears that Scholnick did not officially enter the order.

Scholnick, who took early retirement after decades on the bench, now lives in Florida. Although he did not recall failing to issue an official order, he reaffirmed the propriety of his decision to seal.

“It was a delicate matter because he was an ex-judge,” Scholnick said. Sealing guardianships is a practice that he supports because “[f]or one thing, it’s personally embarrassing to the person and to their family.”

Scholnick was appalled to learn that Phillips’s case remained such a mess, saying that the case had made an “indelible impression” on him. “I spent a lot of time with the man because, needless to say, I had a lot of compassion for him,” he said. “It’s hard to see when the mighty have fallen.”

Following Scholnick’s retirement in February 2002, Pesce replaced him as Presiding Justice of the Second Appellate Term, Second and Eleventh Judicial District. According to the Clerk’s Minutes, he issued an official sealing order on September 18, 2002. The file now resides in the office of the King’s County Guardianship Department, so secret that it is not even kept in the same room as other sealed cases.


The Office of Court Administration is aware of problems with the case. Articles about irregularities have appeared often, and supporters of a “Committee to Free Judge Phillips and Restore his Estate,” headed by Dee Woodburn, a community activist from Phillips’s home neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant, have been publicly protesting his situation for years.

Woodburn, a former paralegal who worked in the special defender services office of the Legal Aid Society’s criminal defense division, has sent complaints about Pesce’s management of the case to three overseers: The New York Attorney General and Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye in December 2005, and the Commission on Judicial Conduct in April 2006. The Commission contacted her in November 2006, but Deputy Administrator Alan Friedberg declined to comment, saying that ethics rules prevent Commission members from confirming or denying whether an investigation is even taking place.

Woodburn’s concerns touch on five irregularities: The unexplained sealing of the court file; the predecessor guardians’ failure to turn over accountings of assets; Taylor’s long-term appointment as “interim” guardian between 2003 and 2006; the circumstances of several real estate transactions involving property belonging to Phillips; and Pesce’s sealing of the reason he chose to recuse himself from overseeing the sale of three of Phillips’s buildings.

Cahill, too, noticed irregularities, and reported his concerns directly to Justice Pesce in no uncertain terms.

On December 6, 2006, after reviewing transaction records available from Taylor’s tenure as financial guardian, he filed papers with the court on his findings. “I make this supplemental affirmation to update the court with regard to improper disbursements of approximately four hundred thousand dollars ($400,000) from the guardianship account maintained by the prior Guardian of the Property, Emani Taylor, to herself, family, and/or associates. Moreover, this additional information is relevant to apprise the Court of the nature and extent of funds that appear to have been distributed by the prior guardian as the result of intentional conversion and/or grossly negligent conduct.”

On October 16, 2006, Pesce granted Cahill’s request that a private investigator be hired to look into Phillips’s and Taylor’s assets, and referred the matter to the King’s County District Attorney and to the Second Appellate Department Grievance Committee.

The DA’s office said it found no evidence of wrongdoing. The Grievance Committee has not yet issued a report.

Since then, Pesce has ordered that Taylor hand over her files and an accounting record. He also held her in contempt, eventually fining her $250.


The tax issues surfaced only recently. Cahill’s August 13 letter followed on the heels of a report by Seth Coen, the court examiner appointed to compile a final accounting of Taylor’s activities and evaluate Phillips’s estate. In his June 20, 2007 report, Coen confirmed that Taylor had not filed taxes, and he expressed frustration at the “incomplete records, poor recordkeeping and the lack of cooperation encountered.”

Cahill had objected to the report on 89 points, according to the papers he filed on July 5, 2007.

The identity of the Court Examiner who preceded Coen — or whether, in fact, such an appointment was made — is another of the mysteries buried in the sealed case file. Without access to those records, it is unclear who, if anyone, was supposed to be making sure that Phillips’s guardians stuck to the rules.

The OCA did not respond by deadline to requests for either specific information on the examiner in this case or the protocols of adminisrative oversight of a judge's failure to adequately oversee that role.

The rules of administration are governed by Article 81, which was rigorously reviewed and rewritten between 2000 and 2002. The rewrite came after explosive evidence of corruption within the guardianship system came out of Kings County in the form of a well-publicized letter from two politically connected attorneys. The lawyers had written to a Democratic Party boss in Brooklyn, complaining that they were not receiving the guardianship appointments they felt entitled to for years of “diligent work and unquestioned loyalty” to the party.

In 2000, Chief Judge Kaye announced a comprehensive program to reform fiduciary appointments.

Her plan had three parts. It established a permanent Office of Inspector General for Fiduciary Appointments, with jurisdiction to monitor and enforce existing rules governing appointments; asked administrative judges to review appointment processes in their district and make recommendations for change; and established a commission on fiduciary appointments to examine current rules and make recommendations for improvement.

The Commission on Fiduciary Appointments and the Inspector General’s office released reports in quick succession in December 2001, laying out the main problems with the state’s guardianship system. Their findings were similar: Guardians across the state were failing to comply with filing requirements; judges were often indiscriminate in granting high fees to guardians; and guardians often failed to act in the best interest of their wards, especially with respect to personal care and financial decisions.

Debra Sacks, senior staff attorney at Hunter College’s Brookdale Center on Healthy Aging and Longevity, was part of the Commission.

“The main thing in Article 81 that should be preventing this stuff is the court examiner,” she said. “There’s no way to monitor a case if you don’t have these reports; that’s the whole role of that monitoring function. Article 81 was supposed to really buckle down and improve that — and it has, in many cases.”

Part of the problem, Sacks said, is chronic understaffing in the guardianship department.
But ultimately, she said, it is “[t]he judge’s responsibility to oversee the whole process and make sure what happens is statutorily correct. . . . The writers of Article 81 put in as much detail as possible because we didn’t want to leave it to guesswork.

“When a judge does an Article 81, what is required is pretty clear — especially, the whole monitoring process and guardianship is really clear,” she continued. “It’s disturbing to know that amendments have been made to correct past behavior problems and things are still going on.”

Scholnick sees things slightly differently.

“It’s very easy to throw it in the lap of the judge. The truth is someone has to bring it to your attention because you don’t have personal knowledge. You rely on the guardians. . . . The only time I would call them to task would be if I got a complaint from someone in the community or even the IP himself,” he said. “I didn’t even meet with examiners unless there were problems.”

In the Phillips matter — after repeated requests from Cahill and Coen — Pesce did take steps to hold Taylor accountable for her failures as a guardian, acceding to their recommendation that he hold her in contempt.

But his record on responding to motions in this case in a timely fashion is far from stellar.

Uniform Civil Rules for New York trial courts require judges to report quarterly on motions taking longer than 60 days to decide, explaining in each case the reason for the delay. Records obtained by Judicial Reports show that not only has Justice Pesce been behind on deciding at least one motion in the Phillips case almost every quarter since 2005, but that his explanations as to why are hardly illuminating.

In the last quarter of 2006, for instance, in the space on the Administrative Justice’s form entitled “Nature of matter pending,” he wrote, “Various matters.” Under “Reason decision not rendered,” he wrote, “Ongoing proceedings.”

In contrast, his statements regarding other cases in which he has failed to meet the motion deadline are practically verbose. Just below the Phillips case is a guardianship case for another woman. The “Nature of matter pending” is a “Motion to settle final accounting.” The reason for the delay, he wrote, was that the accounting was “[w]aiting to be checked by the guardianship clerk and return for decision.”

“A law is only as good as how it’s implemented,” said Sacks of the statute she helped rewrite. “Article 81 has really good things in it, but if the system doesn’t enforce those things, it’s a chase after wind.”

To the right see: "Judicial Reports: Fallen Guardian Angels"

Also See:

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

NY Justices Have 2 Jailed Mississippi Judges On Their Mind....CLICK HERE FOR FULL STORY

The FBI announced on September 7, 2007 that two former Mississippi state court judges, along with an attorney, were sentenced to hefty prison terms for their recent conviction involving bribery, racketeering and fraud-- a good ol’ boy scheme nervously familiar ‘round these parts of New York…..MORE…..

“In these old days, it was brown bags of cold hard cash,” says one New York insider. “Now, the arranged payoffs come through utilizing the services of a judge’s “favored” company or by 'bank loans' that others pay off.”

Of course, there are two big questions, common to litigants around both the Bayou and The Bronx: who is really paying off the “supposed” loans? and why?

Read the following FBI press release. It contains the story of a sad Mississippi fraud involving 2 judges and their attorney friend.

Then consider some of the stories on this forum. Anything sound familiar?

It is no wonder that the Justice Department almost doubled the number of FBI agents in the New York City Public Integrity Unit earlier this year.

Here's the F.B.I. Press Release:

PHONE: (202) 514-2008
TDD (202) 514-1888

BILOXI ATTORNEY PAUL MINOR AND TWO FORMER MISSISSIPPI STATE COURT JUDGES SENTENCED ON CONVICTION IN BRIBERY SCHEMEWASHINGTON – A Biloxi attorney and two former Mississippi state court judges have been sentenced for their roles in an extensive bribery scheme, Assistant Attorney General Alice S. Fisher of the Criminal Division announced today. Chief Judge Henry T. Wingate sentenced attorney Paul S. Minor, 61, to eleven years incarceration, a $2.7 million fine, $1.5 million restitution (to be paid jointly with a co-defendant), and a $1,100 special assessment. Walter W. Teel, 56, former Mississippi state chancery court judge, was sentenced to five years and ten months incarceration, $1.5 million in restitution (to be paid jointly with Minor), and a $400 special assessment. John H. Whitfield, 44, former Mississippi state court circuit judge, was sentenced to nine years and two months incarceration, as well as a $125,000 fine and a $600 special assessment.

On March 30, 2007, a federal jury in Jackson, Miss., found the defendants guilty on all 14 counts charged against them including bribery, racketeering and fraud. Evidence at trial showed that in November 1998, Minor guaranteed a $25,000 line of credit for Teel at a Biloxi bank while Teel was a candidate for a judgeship in chancery court of Harrison County. The line of credit purported to be for campaign expenses.

After Teel was elected, Minor, in an effort to conceal the fact that he was paying off the loan himself, used cash and an intermediary to disguise the true source of the loan payments. Thereafter, then-Judge Teel was assigned to a civil case in chancery court in which Minor’s firm represented a local bank in a bad-faith declination of coverage suit against the bank’s insurance provider. The case was to be tried without a jury. As the case proceeded in 2001, Teel made favorable rulings for Minor’s client on issues of discovery and summary judgment.

Around that time, then-Judge Teel and two other chancery court judges became the subject of a state criminal investigation for misappropriation of funds. Among the efforts Minor made to assist the judges under investigation was a meeting Minor arranged between the judges and the then-Attorney General of Mississippi. Minor provided transportation to the meeting via his private jet and also hired a public relations firm to assist the judges. After Teel was indicted on state charges, Minor paid a portion of the legal expenses for Teel’s defense.

Teel was ultimately acquitted. Within weeks of the meeting with the Attorney General, Teel presided over a settlement conference in the lawsuit between Minor and the attorneys for the bank’s insurance provider. During the negotiation, Teel made statements to the parties indicating his belief in the strength of the plaintiff’s case and insinuated that, were the defendants to push the case to trial, Teel would be inclined to award punitive damages to the plaintiff. The insurance provider promptly agreed to settle the case for $1.5 million dollars. None of the attorneys representing the insurance provider were made aware of the financial relationship between Teel and Minor.

On March 30, 2007, a federal jury in Jackson, Miss., found the defendants guilty on all 14 counts charged against them including bribery, racketeering and fraud. Evidence at trial showed that in November 1998, Minor guaranteed a $25,000 line of credit for Teel at a Biloxi bank while Teel was a candidate for a judgeship in chancery court of Harrison County. The line of credit purported to be for campaign expenses.

After Teel was elected, Minor, in an effort to conceal the fact that he was paying off the loan himself, used cash and an intermediary to disguise the true source of the loan payments. Thereafter, then-Judge Teel was assigned to a civil case in chancery court in which Minor’s firm represented a local bank in a bad-faith declination of coverage suit against the bank’s insurance provider. The case was to be tried without a jury.

As the case proceeded in 2001, Teel made favorable rulings for Minor’s client on issues of discovery and summary judgment.Around that time, then-Judge Teel and two other chancery court judges became the subject of a state criminal investigation for misappropriation of funds. Among the efforts Minor made to assist the judges under investigation was a meeting Minor arranged between the judges and the then-Attorney General of Mississippi. Minor provided transportation to the meeting via his private jet and also hired a public relations firm to assist the judges.

After Teel was indicted on state charges, Minor paid a portion of the legal expenses for Teel’s defense. Teel was ultimately acquitted. Within weeks of the meeting with the Attorney General, Teel presided over a settlement conference in the lawsuit between Minor and the attorneys for the bank’s insurance provider. During the negotiation, Teel made statements to the parties indicating his belief in the strength of the plaintiff’s case and insinuated that, were the defendants to push the case to trial, Teel would be inclined to award punitive damages to the plaintiff. The insurance provider promptly agreed to settle the case for $1.5 million dollars. None of the attorneys representing the insurance provider were made aware of the financial relationship between Teel and Minor.

In November 1998, Minor guaranteed a $40,000 loan for Whitfield at a Biloxi bank while Whitfield was a candidate for re-election to the Circuit Court of Harrison County. The loan purported to be for campaign expenses. After Whitfield was elected, Minor guaranteed an additional loan for then-Judge Whitfield for $100,000, purportedly for the down payment on a house. Minor, in an effort to conceal the fact that he was actually paying off the loans himself, used cash and an intermediary to disguise the true source of the loan payments.

Whitfield was later assigned to a personal injury case in circuit court in which Minor’s firm represented an oil rig worker injured as a result of his employer’s alleged negligence. Whitfield presided over the trial and found in favor of Minor’s firm’s client. He awarded damages in the amount of $3.75 million dollars, an award he later reduced by approximately $100,000. Minor continued to disguise the fact that he was making payments on the Whitfield loans and ultimately paid them off through the use of an intermediary.

“There is no place in our judicial system for the bribery of judges, and the sentences imposed today recognize the severity of the crimes committed by the attorney and the former judges in this case,” said Assistant Attorney General Fisher. “I congratulate the federal prosecutors and FBI agents who worked on this case and thank them for their continued pursuit of corruption at all levels of government.”

The case was prosecuted jointly by the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Mississippi. The case was tried by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ruth R. Morgan and David H. Fulcher, and Trial Attorney Natashia Tidwell of the Public Integrity Section, headed by Chief William M. Welch, II. Senior Deputy Chief Peter J. Ainsworth of the Public Integrity Section participated in the investigation and indictment of this matter. The case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

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
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