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Monday, March 31, 2008

Federal Judge Refuses to Dismiss Criminal Charge Against NY Firm (MORE, CLICK HERE)

Judge Refuses to Dismiss Criminal Charge Against NY Firm
The New York Law Jourman - March 31, 2008

LOS ANGELES (AP) - A federal judge has refused to dismiss a money laundering conspiracy charge against a law firm accused in a lucrative kickback scheme. Following a hearing on Monday, U.S. District Judge John Walter ruled the law firm formerly known as Milberg Weiss was correctly charged.

Prosecutors say payments were made to people to act as plaintiffs in class-action lawsuits targeting some of the largest corporations in the nation. Elizabeth Taylor, an attorney for the firm now known as Milberg, argued that the money laundering conspiracy charge was a separate offense from the alleged kickback scheme. Trial is scheduled for Aug. 12. Four current or former partners of the firm previously admitted criminal conduct.

SEE RELATED STORY: Melvyn Weiss Pleads Guilty in Kickback Scheme

Ex-Latham Partner Pleads to Federal Fraud Scheme (MORE, CLICK HERE)

Ex-Latham Partner Pleads to Fraud Charge
The New York Law Journal by Anthony Lin - March 31, 2008

A former partner at Latham & Watkins pleaded guilty Friday to defrauding both clients and his own firm by charging them more than $300,000 in personal or false expenses.

Samuel A. Fishman, a mergers and acquisition specialist in Latham's New York office from 1993 to 2005, was designated billing partner for a number of firm clients. According to prosecutors at the Southern District U.S. Attorney's Office, Mr. Fishman, 51, used his position to carry out a fraudulent scheme over the course of several years.

Responsible for supervising and approving invoices sent to clients, Mr. Fishman added to the bills a number of inappropriate items, mischaracterizing them as charges for photocopying or express mail. He also fraudulently sought reimbursement from his firm for a number of personal expenses he claimed were for business.

The U.S. Attorney's Office did not identify Latham as Mr. Fishman's firm in a criminal information filed with the guilty plea, nor was the firm's name mentioned in court yesterday afternoon when Mr. Fishman entered his plea to one count of mail fraud. But in a statement yesterday, the firm acknowledged Mr. Fishman as a former partner and said his misconduct had come to light in 2005.

Latham "immediately acted to protect our clients fully, and disclosed the matter to appropriate law enforcement authorities," said David Gordon, Latham's New York managing partner. "Mr. Fishman resigned from the firm at the time the issues were discovered. Since that time, we have cooperated fully with the investigation." In announcing Mr. Fishman's guilty plea, prosecutors noted that the firm had reimbursed its clients hundreds of thousands of dollars that had been fraudulently charged. A firm spokesman yesterday declined to identify the clients defrauded by Mr. Fishman.

The criminal information said Mr. Fishman's clients were in the banking, utilities, telecommunications and entertainment industries. He has previously acted as lead counsel for companies including movie theater chain AMC Entertainment Inc. and JPMorgan Partners, the private equity arm of JPMorgan Chase & Co. Accompanied at yesterday's hearing by defense lawyer Jack Litman of Litman, Asche & Goiella, Mr. Fishman expressed remorse to Southern District Judge Victor Marrero.

"I am very sorry for what I did," he told the judge. Mr. Fishman's sentencing is scheduled for June 27. The mail fraud charge carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. Mr. Fishman also has agreed to forfeit $350,000 in ill-gotten wealth. He also faces likely disbarment. A number of major firms have had to deal in recent years with fraud by partners, though most instances have resulted in disbarment or other disciplinary sanction as opposed to criminal prosecution.

In 2006, former WilmerHale intellectual property partner William P. DiSalvatore resigned from the bar after admitting to a litany of misconduct, including falsifying expense reports and assigning associates to perform "pro bono" work for friends and family. He claimed more than $109,000 in false personal expense. (NYLJ, Aug. 14, 2006) Willkie Farr & Gallagher and the former Kronish Lieb Weiner & Hellman are two other firms that have also terminated partners for fraudulently seeking reimbursement for personal expenses. (NYLJ, July, 31, 2006 and June 19, 2002)

In most such cases, including that of Mr. Fishman, the defrauded amounts have been small compared to what the perpetrators earn as partners. Last month, Latham said it had profits per partner of $2.3 million in 2007. Steven Lubet, a legal ethics professor at Northwestern University School of Law, said he always found it "incredible" that highly paid partners would resort to fraud. He said he could only imagine that such people were overspending trying to emulate the lifestyles of those they represented.

"The clients have that kind of money, the lawyers don't," said Mr. Lubet. "Sometimes, lawyers decide they want to live like their clients and that extra money has to come from somewhere." Perhaps the most well-known case of a lawyer bilking his clients and firm was Webster Hubbell, the former associate attorney general under President Bill Clinton.

Mr. Hubbell was forced to resign his position in 1994 after his former partners at Arkansas' Rose Law Firm discovered billing irregularities. He later pleaded guilty to fraudulently charging almost $500,000 for personal expenses and legal work never actually performed. He served 16 months in prison.

- Anthony Lin can be reached at Additional reporting by Mark Hamblett.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Federal Judge: Lawyers Knew of Client's Fraud (MORE, CLICK HERE)

BigLaw Firm Settles Suit Claiming It Should Have Known Client Was Scamming Investors
New York Lawyer - The Daily Report by Alyson M. Palmer - March 28, 2008

ATLANTA - A federal judge has approved a settlement -- apparently totaling $4.25 million -- of a lawsuit against Paul, Hastings, Janofsky & Walker.

The suit had alleged that some of the firm's Los Angeles lawyers helped Mobile Billboards of America and its affiliates sell investments in roving billboards that they should have realized were a scam. The plaintiff was a court-appointed receiver for Mobile Billboards, but U.S. District Judge Charles A. Pannell Jr.'s March 7 order approving the settlement makes clear settlement monies will go to those who purchased billboards. The Securities and Exchange Commission has contended Mobile Billboards was a "Ponzi scheme." The receiver's suit against the firm alleged that billboard purchasers relied on misrepresentations in the circulars reviewed by the Paul Hastings lawyers.

In court filings, Paul Hastings maintained that its lawyers didn't know at the time that Mobile Billboards' promotional materials may have contained false information and had warned the company that it risked SEC problems. Pannell's order declares that the settlement agreement is not an admission of liability by Paul Hastings.

Prior to the March 7 hearing on the settlement, one investor had written a letter to the judge saying the settlement was inadequate. But Pannell's order of the same date shows that no one appeared at the hearing to argue any objection. It also prohibits all purchasers from suing Paul Hastings over Mobile Billboards.

The settlement agreement remains under seal, but Pannell's order says Paul Hastings "would have little incentive to pay $4.25 million" absent assurances the firm would not be subject to "further liability" to purchasers. The receiver was represented by lawyers at Troutman Sanders, which will receive a one-third contingency fee under Pannell's order. Sutherland Asbill & Brennan represented Paul Hastings.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Yes, Melvyn, It's a Scandal (MORE, CLICK HERE)

The Felony Bar
The Wall Street Jounal, REVIEW & OUTLOOK - March 21, 2008 (Page A12)

In an earlier day, Melvyn Weiss would have called it a "scandal" that revealed something deeply corrupt about an entire industry. But yesterday the 72-year-old godfather of the "strike suit" bar was himself the latest tort lawyer to cop a felony plea that could land him 33 months in prison and $10 million in penalties.

Weiss's law firm, Milberg Weiss, promptly renamed itself plain old Milberg and issued a statement expressing shock and dismay that Weiss's original claims of innocence weren't credible after all. The firm itself is still under indictment, while Weiss joins Steven Schulman, David Bershad and Bill Lerach in the pantheon of former Milberg partners who have admitted wrongdoing in the kickback case. At this rate, they may need their own prison wing.

Weiss himself expressed "regret" for his actions and apologized to "all those who have been affected," although he seemed to have in mind mostly his former colleagues at the firm. There are of course others "affected" by the firm's scheme to gin up shareholder class-action suits via kickbacks to professional plaintiffs -- the companies that Weiss sued, often for nothing more than a declining share price. Perhaps some shareholder should sue Weiss and his firm on behalf of all the losers from their fraudulent class-action wealth-redistribution scheme.

Meanwhile, the silence from the usual corporate scolds is telling. In the wake of the felony admissions of Weiss and Lerach and last week's bribery plea by Dickie Scruggs, where are the cries in Congress to crack down on these wealthy wrongdoers who abused their positions of legal trust? Weiss's corner of the tort bar has enriched itself for decades on the backs of shareholders who took home a pittance while the lawyers became megamillionaires.

This might be the biggest pay disparity in the country -- that between class members and the lawyers who purportedly represent them. But you won't hear that from Democrats who bray about executive pay and the "little guy." The tort lawyers have seen to that by sharing a percentage of their riches, almost like a service fee, with the politicians who prevent any meaningful legal reform.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Radio Interview Today for Party in Tammany Hall II Ethics Scandal

The national 1 hour radio interview is scheduled to run live at 1pm, today, Friday, March 28, 2008 on the internet. To hear the interview, CLICK HERE and on the right, in the blue box marked BlogTalkRadio, CLICK the play icon.   Ms. Esposito says she will voice her thoughts on her complaint of sexual assault that she brought to the attention of then-AG Spitzer, then-AG-candidate Pirro and the involved attorney ethics committee. Tune in, Ms. Esposito has a lot more to say about the state of Public Corruption in New York.  And CLICK HERE to see "Attorney Gives New Meaning to Oral Argument"

84-year-old Federal Judge Pulled from Another Case (MORE, CLICK HERE)

Controversial Judge, Who Has Faced Impechment Before, Pulled Off Case
The National Law Journal by Pamela A. MacLean - March 26, 2008

A federal appeals court removed a controversial judge, U.S. District Judge Manuel L. Real of Los Angeles, from another case, accusing him this time of "excessive and biased interventions" that denied two defendants a fair trial.

In an unpublished order dated March 19, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said, "Taken together, the trial court's biased evidentiary rulings, disparaging remarks, and lengthy interrogations of witnesses, "created an atmosphere in which an objectively fair trial could not be conducted.'" U.S. v. Hall, 06-50356.

Real, 84, has run afoul of the 9th Circuit for his handling of cases for years, dating back as far as 1986. In April 2006, he faced a possible impeachment hearing in Congress over allegations that he interfered in a bankruptcy case to help a woman whose parole he supervised. Congress dropped the impeachment without action. The complaint against him in that case was thrown out twice, although a public reprimand was ultimately issued.

In January 2008, the federal judge discipline review body, the Conduct Committee of the Judicial Conference of the United States, disclosed that Real had been accused of a pattern — in 72 cases over many years — of not providing reasons for decisions as required.

The committee said private reprimand by the 9th Circuit was insufficient and sent the case back for further action. Real has been removed from at least seven other cases in the past, beginning with U.S. v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 785 F.2d 777 (1986).

Jerome "Jeru" Hall and Taansen Sumeru were charged with securities fraud, wire fraud and in Sumeru's case money laundering conspiracy and tax evasion. A jury ultimately convicted both. The ruling overturns the convictions and sends the case back for retrial before a new judge.

The four-page decision says, "the catalog of inappropriate behavior by the trial court is long, so we merely summarize it here." It states he "persistently interrupted" the defense presentation of evidence, imposed adverse evidentiary rulings so often the government was "effectively relieved of its responsibility to make objections," and admitted evidence offered by the government that he had previously excluded when offered by the defense.

"The court aggressively questioned two witnesses in a manner that crossed the line between clarifying the evidence, which is permissible, and aiding the government, which is not," it states.

U.S. Supreme Court Considers Self-Representation (MORE, CLICK HERE)

High Court Weighs Self-Representation
The Washington Post by Robert Barnes - March 27, 2008

It was six years after Ahmad Edwards was charged with firing a gun outside an Indianapolis department store that the delusional and schizophrenic man finally was found competent to stand trial. And when the day arrived, Edwards believed he should be his own attorney. An Indiana judge said no.

In lively arguments yesterday that included the plight of the mentally ill, fantasies about Martians and no shortage of lawyer jokes, the Supreme Court considered whether that decision violated Edwards's right under the Sixth Amendment to represent himself at his trial.

The federal government and 19 states have joined Indiana in urging the court to find that government should be able to set a higher standard for whether a defendant may represent himself than simply whether he has been judged competent to stand trial. Indiana Solicitor General Thomas M. Fisher told the court that states have an interest in ensuring that trials are orderly processes, fair to both prosecution and defendant, rather than incoherent proceedings "descending into a farce."

But Mark T. Stancil, who is representing Edwards, said the Constitution and the court's precedents require that when a defendant is found competent to stand trial, he must be allowed to represent himself if he chooses.

"The expressed premise of the Sixth Amendment and of our adversarial system generally is that the defense belongs to the accused and not to the state," Stancil told the court. "Eliminating the right of self-representation based on concerns about a defendant's courtroom ability violates that fundamental principle."

A majority of the court seemed sympathetic to Fisher's position, although there was one notable and relentless exception.

Justice Antonin Scalia repeatedly challenged Fisher and U.S. Deputy Solicitor General Michael R. Dreeben, who supported Indiana's position, and questioned the ability of a judge before the start of trial to determine that a defendant's self-representation would turn the trial into a farce. "Give it a try," Scalia said. "The person wants to represent himself. It's his constitutional right. If, indeed, it turns out that this is turning into a sham, fine, bring in a lawyer to represent him."

Fisher said that could mean a mistrial or taint the jury. "I think that the state's interests in having a proceeding that proceeds smoothly without episodes that render the proceedings potentially a mockery also are strong." Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg read from some of Edwards's writings to the Indiana court -- "gibberish," she called them -- and suggested "you could say when it gets to that level, you don't have to wait to see how it's going to play out."

In Edwards's case, the judge did appoint a lawyer for him, and he was convicted of attempted murder, among other charges. The Indiana Supreme Court ordered a new trial because of the self-representation issue. Several justices did not seem comfortable with Fisher's proposed test that a judge could override the right if a defendant could not "communicate coherently" with a judge or jury.

Scalia said that sounded like some lawyers he knew. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wondered about the defendant, who could quite clearly communicate to the jury that "Martians did it." Justice Anthony M. Kennedy hypothesized a defendant who was quite capable of communicating to the jury, but whose goal was to turn the trial into a farce.

Justice Stephen G. Breyer seemed an advocate of letting judges find a way to make sure the mentally ill were represented. "Very disturbed people are being deprived and end up in prison because they're disturbed rather than because they're guilty," he said.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Politician Lawyer Felon Keeps Law License (MORE, CLICK HERE)

New Kind of Jailhouse Lawyer: Pol-Turned-Felon Gets to Keep His Law License
The Associated Press by Ryan J. Foley - March 26, 2008

MADISON, Wis. - A former state senator convicted of accepting kickbacks could practice law again soon after the state Supreme Court declined Wednesday to revoke his license.

Gary George, a Milwaukee Democrat who served in the Senate for 23 years, was convicted in 2004 on a charge of accepting monthly cash payments that flowed from a nonprofit group that received state funds. He was sentenced to 48 months in prison. In a 5-0 decision on Wednesday, the Supreme Court rejected a recommendation from state regulators that George's license be revoked for misconduct.

The court said a suspension of four years and three months is enough punishment and perhaps the longest ever imposed in Wisconsin. The court applied the punishment retroactive to March 2004, when his license was suspended. That means George could be eligible to practice again as early as June.

The court said George's misconduct was extremely serious but disbarring him would be too harsh. The court noted his long public service, previously clean disciplinary record and prospects for rehabilitation. The court ordered George, who has completed his prison term and is living in Milwaukee, to pay the cost of more than $14,000 for the disciplinary proceedings.

George's attorney, Mark Hazelbaker, called the decision "a significant victory" for his client. George wants to return to work as a lawyer so he can pay a $568,000 restitution order, he said. "Gary acknowledged that he made some very serious mistakes and knew he was going to face the severest of discipline," Hazelbaker said. "But throughout the whole process he was hoping to have a chance to practice law again and ultimately be able to redeem himself."

George pleaded no contest to his role in a kickback scheme involving Opportunities Industrialization Center of Greater Milwaukee, which had contracts worth $40 million per year to administer the state's welfare-to-work program. The nonprofit group paid a monthly retainer to attorney Mark Sostarich, typically about $5,800. Sostarich would then send up to $4,670 to George, who performed no legal work in exchange for the payments. The group also "invested" $200,000 of an affiliate's money in a corporation controlled by George's family.

In all, George received $400,000 from the group. He also admitted that he used legislative staffers to perform personal work for himself and his campaign. Regulators asked for George's license to be revoked because his "conduct involved criminal behavior and dishonesty and a violation of public trust," said William Weigel, a lawyer for the Office of Lawyer Regulation. But he said he respected the court's suspension and the effect was little different.

Lawyers whose licenses are revoked can petition for reinstatement after five years. The court's order allows George to start that process April 1 instead of later this year or early next year, Weigel said. George will still have to prove that he is fit to practice law before he is reinstated, during a "rigorous process" that can take up to one year, he said.

Justices David Prosser and Louis Butler recused themselves from the case. Prosser served with George in the Legislature. Butler, who is facing a tough challenge for a 10-year seat on the court in the April 1 election, did not give a reason.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Jailed Phony NY Lawyer Must Pony Up the Money (MORE, CLICK HERE)

Jailed Phony NY Lawyer Told to Cough Up Her Cash
The New York Law Journal by Vesselin Mitev - March 26, 2008

A Suffolk County woman serving prison time for impersonating a lawyer has been required to forfeit proceeds from the sale of her house despite her claim that the sentencing judge promised she would not have to pay restitution in exchange for a longer sentence. Karen Fotiou was sentenced to four to 12 years in prison in 2004 for maintaining two fake law offices in Astoria and Patchogue.

The Suffolk County District Attorney's Office had brought a civil forfeiture action in January 2003 against Ms. Fotiou for $756,696, the amount it says she stole from clients. Ms. Fotiou's residence recently was sold in a foreclosure action, and around $200,000 of surplus money was available.

In Spota v. Fotiou, 791/03, Acting Supreme Court Justice Joseph Farneti cited CPLR 1311[1] in ruling that the action could be brought to either "recover the property which constitutes the proceeds of a crime . . . or to recover a money judgment in an amount equivalent in value to the property which constitutes the proceeds of the crime." Ms. Fotiou will still owe around $550,000 after the funds are credited, said Assistant District Attorney Craig D. Pavlik.

NY Judge's New Job with Gov. Paterson (MORE, CLICK HERE)

Looks Like NY Judge's New Job Will Be Counseling New Governor
The New York Law Journal by Joel Stashenko - March 26, 2008

Governor David A. Paterson is set to introduce Supreme Court Justice James A. Yates of Manhattan as his counsel, possibly as early as today, according to sources close to the selection process.

Justice Yates, 61, emerged as a favorite to become Mr. Paterson's counsel even before the new governor was officially sworn in on March 17. He would succeed David Nocenti, former Governor Eliot Spitzer's counsel, who has stayed on to aid in Mr. Paterson's transition following Mr. Spitzer's abrupt resignation for patronizing a prostitution ring.

Mr. Yates has been a Supreme Court justice since 1998. From 1979-1992, he was counsel to the Democratic majority in the Assembly and to the Assembly speaker. Justice Yates was also on Commission on Judicial Nomination lists for openings on the state Court of Appeals in 1998, 2003 and 2006. Then-Governors George E. Pataki and Mr. Spitzer opted for different candidates each time.  Justice Yates did not immediately return a call for comment yesterday.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Federal Judge Thumps NY Thugs’ Attempt to Trash U.S. Constitution (MORE, CLICK HERE)

Federal Judge Brieant Thumps Thugs’ Attempt to Trash First Amendment

The hijacking of law and order in New York just may have bottomed out last week. One of Public Corruption’s favorite tricks has been controlling the flow of information, mostly through manipulating the press. But certain public officials, intent on covering their misdeeds, went too far for one U.S. Federal District Court Judge, the Hon. Charles L. Brieant. 

Trouncing upon First Amendment rights afforded by the U.S. Constitution by the usual schemes was apparently not enough for certain officials in Yonkers, New York. City “leaders” decided to use Yonkers police officers to confiscate newspapers, threaten arrest, promise physical harm and to issue illegal summons. And when that abuse of power by Yonkers’ officials didn’t work, they directed City of Yonkers employees to simply remove newspaper racks from public areas. Federal Judge Brieant was not happy.

The Federal Court Decision will be posted soon; here’s the Press Release:


A Judgement for Legal fees and expenses was granted and signed by U.S District Court Judge Charles L. Brieant on March 20th, awarding the Law office of Lovett and Gould nearly fifty thousand dollars. A permanent Injunction was also signed and made final.

Sam Zherka, the publisher of the Westchester Guardian says that, “finally the First Amendment is alive and well in Yonkers. We now intend to increase our presence in Yonkers. We currently have 100 News racks and that number will go to 125. We also intend to place wired news racks inside Yonkers City Hall as early as next week.”

“We will now start working on the 10 remaining lawsuits against Yonkers for punitive and compensatory damages. We also intend to challenge the Constitutionality of laws and ordinances in over 100 other municipalities.”

The Judgement also dismisses all summonses issued to Sam Zherka and Westchester Guardian employees for handing out Newspapers in alleged violation of Section 100.35.

“This is a complete victory!” said Zherka.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Like Father, Like Son; Both Lawyers Plead Guilty to Federal Felonies (MORE, CLICK HERE)

Famed Lawyer's Son Pleads to Guilty Knowledge, Could Avoid Prison
New York Lawyer - March 24, 2008
By Jack Elliott Jr. - The Associated Press

The last defendant in the bribery case that brought down powerful plaintiffs attorney Richard "Dickie" Scruggs -- his son -- pleaded guilty Friday in a deal with federal prosecutors that could keep him out of prison.

Zach Scruggs pleaded guilty to misprision of a felony, which means he had knowledge of a felony but didn't report it. He, his father and three others were originally charged with conspiring to bribe a judge in a dispute over $26.5 million in legal fees.

In federal court in Oxford, Miss., Scruggs said Friday that he had no knowledge of an attempt to bribe the judge and would have stopped it if he had known. However, he said he knew that another lawyer had "improper contacts" with the judge and that he had a duty to report them.

"I am truly and humbly sorry for that, and I apologize to the court, to the legal profession I love so deeply, and to the people of the state of Mississippi," Scruggs told U.S. District Judge Neal Biggers, according to a transcript of the proceedings.

"Of course," Biggers responded, "the legal profession that you say you love so much, you will not be a part of it the rest of your life."

Misprision of a felony carries a three-year maximum prison sentence, but prosecutors are recommending probation for Zach Scruggs, 33. He could also be fined up to $250,000. Biggers said he expected to sentence Zach Scruggs in about six to eight weeks.

Todd Graves, an attorney for Zach Scruggs, declined to comment Friday.

Dickie Scruggs, the "King of Torts" behind legal settlements that extracted billions of dollars from the tobacco and asbestos industries, among others, pleaded guilty last week to conspiring to bribe a judge. He faces up to five years in prison, and the Mississippi State Bar has filed a petition to disbar him.

Scruggs' law partner Sidney Backstrom, attorney Timothy Balducci and former Mississippi State Auditor Steve Patterson also pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges. Backstrom also faces disbarment, and Balducci has given up his law license. A message seeking comment from the bar on whether it intends to file a petition to disbar Zach Scruggs was not immediately returned Friday.

The men were charged with conspiring to pay a judge $50,000 in a dispute over $26.5 million in fees from a settlement of Hurricane Katrina insurance lawsuits. The judge reported the bribe overture to the FBI and worked as an informant.

Joseph Langston, a lawyer who initially represented Dickie Scruggs in the bribery case, pleaded guilty in January to conspiring with the elder Scruggs to bribe a different state judge in an unrelated lawsuit over fees from asbestos litigation.

Dickie Scruggs hasn't been charged with trying to illegally influence Hinds County Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter in that other fee dispute. DeLaughter has denied any wrongdoing and defended a ruling that favored Scruggs.

On Wednesday, Mississippi's judicial watchdog agency filed a complaint against DeLaughter and recommended suspending him from the bench while it investigates judicial misconduct allegations.

Associated Press writer Michael Kunzelman in New Orleans contributed to this story.

Judge's Signature Stamps Secured After Clerk's Forgery Arrest (MORE, CLICK HERE)

Courthouses Lock Up Judges' Signature Stamps After Ex-Clerk Busted for Forgery
New York Lawyer - March 24, 2008
OGDEN, Utah (AP) - Officials' signature stamps are being locked up in the wake of accusations that a former court clerk served an eviction notice with a fraudulently applied judge's signature.

Supervisors are now keeping inventory of the stamps in 2nd District Court in Ogden. Stamps are either assigned to an individual clerk or kept locked up.

Maria Gomez is charged with forgery in the January creation of a document bearing an unauthorized recreation of a judge's signature. In charging documents, she is accused of using the notice to try to evict some tenants she was having trouble with. A preliminary hearing is set for April 15.

New York Lawyer Disbarred, Again (MORE, CLICK HERE)

Second Time's the Charm?: NY Lawyer Disbarred . . . Again
The New York Law Journal by Anthony Lin - March 24, 2008

A onetime law firm associate, disbarred in 1988 for insider trading, then re-admitted in 2003, has been disbarred again for misrepresenting his past in applications both for reinstatement and for non-legal licenses to work as an insurance agent and a stock broker.

Israel G. Grossman committed his insider trading offenses while working as an associate at the firm now known as Kramer Levin Naftalis & Frankel. The confidential information he passed to friends and family about transactions the firm was working on netted them $1.5 million in trading profits.

Arrested and convicted in 1987, the then-34-year-old Mr. Grossman was sentenced to two years in prison. He was also later found jointly and severally liable to the Securities and Exchange Commission for $2.5 million. The case attracted considerable attention at the time, coming soon after prosecutors ensnared the much larger insider trading ring led by investment banker Dennis Levine.

But the Appellate Division, First Department, ruled last week that the now 55-year-old Mr. Grossman had consistently denied having a prior conviction on professional licensing applications to the state insurance department and the National Association of Securities Dealers. He failed to disclose these applications in his successful quest for reinstatement to the bar in 2003, even though he was facing criminal prosecution at the time for allegedly lying to the NASD about his past.

"Under these circumstances, disbarment is the appropriate sanction, as respondent has engaged in a pervasive pattern of affirmative misrepresentations and failed to fully accept responsibility for his serious misconduct," the court said in Matter of Israel G. Grossman.

Mr. Grossman sought work as an insurance agent in 1994. In both his applications for employment at various insurers and for a license from the state Insurance Department, he stated that he had not been convicted of any crime other than traffic violations or a juvenile offense. He also stated that he had not been censured, fined or suspended by any regulatory agency.

In 2000, Mr. Grossman's then-employer, New York Life Insurance Co., asked him to apply for a broker's license from the NASD. The application asked: "Has any domestic or foreign court ever found you were involved in a violation of any investment-related statute(s) or regulation(s)?" Mr. Grossman answered negatively.

This response led to criminal charges in December 2001, after New York Life learned of Mr. Grossman's prior conviction and reported him to the NASD. Mr. Grossman was applying for reinstatement to the bar at around the same time.

He had been rejected on a prior attempt in 1996, but the court granted his second application in May 2003. In last week's decision, the court noted that Mr. Grossman disclosed neither the criminal charges then against him or the fact that he had been found personally liable for $2.5 million in insider trading profits.

Mr. Grossman, appearing pro se, argued unsuccessfully that he had not disclosed his insider-trading convictions in the other licensing applications because he had been advised incorrectly by one insurer and an employment lawyer at the time of his hiring that the question only applied to convictions within the last five years.

He was acquitted on the charge stemming from his NASD application after a bench trial, but only after Southern District Judge Shira Scheindlin rejected Mr. Grossman's guilty plea as equivocal and insisted on a trial.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Westchester Pair Indicted by Feds on Corruption Charges (MORE, CLICK HERE)

United States Attorney, Southern District of New York
PUBLIC INFORMATION OFFICE - (914) 993-1900 - (212) 637-2600


MICHAEL J. GARCIA, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that the former Commissioner of the Mount Vernon Department of Planning and Community Development and Executive Director of the Mount Vernon Department of Planning and Urban Renewal Agency, CONSTANCE G.

POST, and WAYNE CHARLES were indicted today by a federal grand jury in White Plains on mail fraud charges. According to the Indictment, POST and CHARLES secretly agreed that CHARLES would receive the following: (1) lucrative City contracts totaling more than $1 million, with CHARLES’s involvement in those contracts remaining hidden; (2) a loan which would not be required to be repaid and which was not entered into the books and records of Mount Vernon; and (3) payment of architectural and other services benefitting properties in which CHARLES had an interest.

According to the Indictment: CHARLES and POST secretly agreed that POST would benefit financially from CHARLES’s business dealings with the City of Mount Vernon and POST steered a series of contracts to CHARLES, while representing to the board of Mount Vernon’s Urban Renewal Agency that it was contracting with a company that was engaged in the business of providing computer services. CHARLES, however, had no prior experience in the industry. In addition, POST arranged for Mount Vernon to provide CHARLES with a loan that was not entered into the books and records of Mount Vernon until after POST was approached by federal investigators in 2005.

According to the Indictment, only after POST was approached by federal investigators did CHARLES make his first and only series of repayments, totaling approximately $7,500. In addition, POST authorized the payment of approximately $40,000 to pay for architectural and other services to benefit properties in which CHARLES had an interest, while not disclosing her personal and financial relationship with CHARLES as described in the Indictment. The Indictment also alleges that CHARLES and POST acted to cover-up their conduct: CHARLES lied to federal investigators

in 2006, falsely stating that he had no involvement in the contracts that POST had steered to him. Throughout the relevant time period POST failed to disclose to Mount Vernon and HUD her personal and financial relationship with CHARLES, failed to file annual financial disclosure statements that she was required to file as Commissioner and Executive Director, and failed to enforce Mount Vernon’s loan provisions against CHARLES.

According to the Indictment, POST and CHARLES traveled together, secretly agreed to engage in financial transactions, and in 2004, CHARLES made a $30,000 payment to POST. POST, 58, of Mount Vernon, New York, and CHARLES, 55, of New York City, are scheduled to appear for arraignment in United States Magistrate Court in White Plains on March 26, 2008.

Mr. GARCIA said that the Indictment was the product of a joint investigation by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He said the investigation is continuing. Assistant United States Attorneys CYNTHIA K. DUNNE and PERRY A. CARBONE are in charge of the prosecution. The charges in the Indictment are merely accusations, and the defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty.   08-070   ###

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Inside Court Information For Sale (MORE, CLICK HERE)

U.S. Department of Justice
United States Attorney - District of Connecticut
Connecticut Financial Center
157 Church Street, New Haven, Connecticut 06510


March 7, 2008
CONTACT: Tom Carson, Public Information Office
(203) 821-3722 (203) 996-1393 (cell)


Kevin J. O’Connor, United States Attorney for the District of Connecticut, announced that JILL D’ANTONA, 37, of Seymour, pleaded guilty today before United States District Judge Janet Bond Arterton in New Haven to one count of soliciting and accepting a gratuity. The charge stems from an ongoing federal corruption probe into the Connecticut bail bond industry.

According to documents filed with the Court and statements made in court, D’ANTONA was employed as a State of Connecticut judicial marshal working at the Courthouse at 121 Elm Street in New Haven. The Judicial Marshal Service is part of the Connecticut Judicial Branch and provides courthouse security and prisoner transportation. In pleading guilty, D’ANTONA admitted that she received cash payments from Robert Jacobs and Philip Jacobs of Jacobs Bail Bonds in New Haven for her assistance with their bail bonds business including but not limited to making referrals (providing early notification about an arrestee who required the services of a bondsman); providing financial and personal information about an arrestee to facilitate the writing of a bond; holding prisoners in the lock-up to expedite the bond process, and bringing prisoners to the clerk’s office to be released. D’ANTONA admitted that she received $1500 or more from the Philip Jacobs over the past five years, and an additional $800 in the form of a loan of which D’ANTONA repaid only a small portion. Robert Jacobs paid D’ANTONA approximately $50 to $100 three times per month over a two-year period, and also cashed D’ANTONA’s personal checks, which often bounced.

Judge Arterton has scheduled sentencing for May 27, 2008, at which time D’ANTONA faces a maximum term of imprisonment of 10 years and a fine of up to $250,000.

This case is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Connecticut State Police. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Nora R. Dannehy.

Friday, March 21, 2008

25-Year Kickback Scheme by NY Lawyers (MORE, CLICK HERE)

Weiss Agrees to Plead Guilty To Role in Kickback Scheme
The New York Law Journal by Anthony Lin - March 20, 2008

Famed securities class action lawyer Melvyn I. Weiss yesterday agreed to plead guilty to a federal racketeering charge over his participation in a scheme to pay kickbacks to lead plaintiffs in shareholder suits. The plea agreement recommends a sentence of between 18 and 33 months in prison for Mr. Weiss, 72. He also has agreed to pay $10 million in fines and forfeited fees.

Mr. Weiss was the last major figure indicted in a probe by the Los Angeles U.S. Attorney's Office into the payment of kickbacks by the New York-based firm known until yesterday afternoon as Milberg Weiss. At the time he was charged in September, three former name partners of the firm - William S. Lerach, David J. Bershad and Steven G. Schulman - had already agreed to plead guilty.

The plea agreement means the near-certain disbarment of Mr. Weiss, who was admitted to practice in New York in 1960.

Coincidentally, the Appellate Division, First Department, ruled yesterday to disbar Mr. Schulman, based on his guilty plea to an identical racketeering charge. The court found that the federal felony was essentially a mirror of the New York crime of enterprise corruption, meriting Mr. Schulman's automatic disbarment. (Matter of Schulman appears on page 5 of the print edition of today's Law Journal.)

The firm, which announced yesterday it was changing its name to Milberg, remains under indictment. In a statement, Milberg executive committee member Sanford Dumain said the firm was now "seeking a fair and appropriate resolution of remaining issues so that we can continue our work on behalf of injured investors and consumers."

In a statement, Mr. Weiss said: "I deeply regret my conduct and apologize to all those who have been affected, including all of the wonderful and extremely talented lawyers and other employees of the Firm, none of whom had any involvement in any wrongdoing. I believe that it is very important to preserve this unique legal resource for the benefit of victims of wrongdoing affecting the masses, who historically have been underserved in so many ways."

Only a few years ago, Milberg Weiss was the dominant firm when it came to securities fraud class actions and Messrs. Weiss and Lerach were two of the nation's best-known plaintiff's lawyers. Mr. Lerach famously carried boxes of documents into the courtroom to file a shareholder suit following the 2001 bankruptcy of Enron Corp. and the firm has been involved in several other high-profile class actions.

Such cases typically settle for millions and even billions of dollars, reaping large contingent fees for those plaintiff's firms designated as lead counsel. As a result, there is intense competition among firms to be so named.

Milberg's kickback scheme allowed it to maintain a stable of plaintiffs so it could swiftly bring a claim on behalf of shareholders. Prior to the enactment of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (PSLRA), the first law firm to file such an action could count on winning lead counsel status. The plaintiffs in the scheme were generally paid 10 percent of the legal fees received in their cases.

Such agreements are illegal because name plaintiffs in class action suits are not permitted to have interests above those of other class members, to whom they owe a fiduciary duty. The name plaintiffs also falsely certified to courts that they were not receiving any payment for their services.

25-Year Scheme

Prosecutors claim the Milberg partners earned $250 million in legal fees on cases where plaintiffs were paid.

"This kickback scheme lasted for more than 25 years and had a severely detrimental effect on the administration of justice across the nation as lies were routinely made to judges overseeing significant cases," said U.S. Attorney Thomas P. O'Brien in announcing Mr. Weiss' plea agreement. "The scheme was based in greed and it affected the integrity of the courts and the interests of an untold number of absent class members."

According to the statement of facts attached to the plea agreement, the scheme began in the 1970s and continued until 2005. During this time, Mr. Weiss exercised substantial control over the firm, wielding a sole veto over its business affairs until 1999 and again after June 2004, when Mr. Lerach split off to form a rival San Diego-based firm now known as Coughlin Stoia Geller Rudman & Robbins. Mr. Weiss personally agreed to pay one plaintiff and, on one occasion in the 1980s, personally transported cash to Florida to pay another.

Prosecutors first focused on the plaintiffs who received kickbacks, indicting retired lawyer Seymour Lazar in 2005. With the cooperation of two other name plaintiffs, Howard Vogel and Stephen Cooperman, prosecutors indicted the firm and Messrs. Bershad and Schulman in May 2006.

Mr. Bershad agreed to plead guilty in July 2007. Mr. Lerach, who had not been indicted at the time, agreed to a guilty plea in September, as did Mr. Schulman. Mr. Weiss was indicted days later. Paul Selzer, a lawyer for Mr. Lazar who allegedly helped facilitate the kickbacks, remains a defendant in the case along with the firm.

Of the former Milberg partners, only Mr. Lerach has so far been sentenced. Last month, he received two years in prison and was ordered to pay $8 million. Judge John Walter of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California imposed the longest sentence he could under the plea agreement and criticized prosecutors for not seeking more time for Mr. Lerach. "This whole conspiracy corrupted the law firm and corrupted it in the most evil way," the judge said.

Philanthropy Defense

A sentencing date will be set for Mr. Weiss after he formally enters his plea some time in the next few weeks. In a statement, prosecutors said they would ask Judge Walter to impose a 33-month sentence.

Mr. Weiss' lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, said in a statement he was hopeful the judge would substitute home or community confinement for up to half of Mr. Weiss' term. Judge Walter rejected a similar request by Mr. Lerach but Mr. Brafman said he hoped the court took account Mr. Weiss' long record of pro bono work and philanthropy.

"Accordingly, despite his participation in the criminal conduct he has today acknowledged, I am nevertheless hopeful and confident that the Court will recognize Mel Weiss to be one of the true legal giants of his generation and a consummate humanitarian whose contributions to the Bar and the world community have been nothing short of spectacular," Mr. Brafman said.

Mr. Weiss' most well-known pro bono work has been on behalf of Holocaust victims, and he has taken a lead role in lawsuits seeking compensation from German industry and government. He has been honored for his work by the Anti-Defamation League, United Jewish Appeal and other groups. Mr. Weiss also has been an active benefactor of his alma mater, New York University School of Law, where he and his wife established a fund to assist students seeking careers in public interest law.

Indeed, had Mr. Weiss proceeded to trial, his defense was expected to argue that he was so preoccupied with humanitarian and charity work during the charged period that Messrs. Bershad and Schulman had been able to carry on the kickback scheme without his knowledge.

Mr. Weiss' plea agreement comes at a time when the pace of securities class action filings may be on the rise again after a few lean years. The proposed bargain-basement sale of Bear Stearns Cos. to JP Morgan Chase & Co. quickly attracted the attention of plaintiff's lawyers and other casualties of the faltering economy are expected to trigger litigation as well.

Though it has suffered a large number of partner defections since its indictment, the Milberg firm noted in its statement yesterday that it remains one of the largest firms of its kind with 70 lawyers.

According to a recent survey, the firm led the securities class action bar last year with settlements worth $3.8 billion, though most of that figure was accounted for by a $3.2 billion settlement of securities litigation at Tyco International Ltd. The firm is also expected to receive a share of the fees from the proposed $7.2 billion settlement of Enron litigation, which is under review in federal court in Houston.

Mr. Dumain, the executive committee member, said none of its current lawyers were involved in the kickback scheme and that new procedures had been implemented "to help ensure that past problems would not occur again." "Milberg LLP apologizes to all judges, lawyers, clients and class members who deserve full and complete adherence to all legal and ethical norms," he said. "We pledge faithful adherence to those norms as we move forward to rebuild our practice."

The Milberg in the firm's name is Lawrence Milberg, who co-founded the firm in 1965 with Mr. Weiss. Mr. Milberg died in 1989.   Anthony Lin can be reached at

Judicial Watchdog Howling for Suspension of Judge (MORE, CLICK HERE)

Judicial Watchdog Howling for Suspension of Judge Linked to Dickie Scruggs Case
New York Lawyer - March 20, 2008 - by Michael Kunzelman - The Associated Press

Mississippi's judicial watchdog said its efforts to suspend a state judge while it investigates allegations that powerful plaintiffs attorney Richard "Dickie" Scruggs tried to illegally influence him are not "a finding of judicial misconduct." The state Commission on Judicial Performance filed a complaint Wednesday against Hinds County Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter and asked the Mississippi Supreme Court to temporarily suspend him from the bench.

In January, attorney Joseph Langston pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiring with Scruggs to illegally influence DeLaughter in a dispute with other lawyers over fees from asbestos litigation. Last Friday, Scruggs pleaded guilty to conspiring with others to bribe a different state judge in a separate dispute over attorneys' fees. Scruggs hasn't been charged with any wrongdoing in connection with DeLaughter.

DeLaughter has denied any wrongdoing and defended a ruling that favored Scruggs in the asbestos fee dispute. The judge did not immediately return a call to his office Wednesday. DeLaughter, a former assistant district attorney, prosecuted Byron De La Beckwith in the early 1990s for the 1963 murder of NAACP field secretary Medger Evers. DeLaughter was assigned to preside over a case involving a dispute between Scruggs and other lawyers over fees from asbestos cases.

Federal prosecutors claim Scruggs dispatched intermediaries in 2006 to tell DeLaughter that if he ruled in his favor, he would pass along his name for consideration for a federal judgeship. Former Hinds County District Attorney Ed Peters, a friend of DeLaughter's, later passed that information along to DeLaughter, prosecutors said. DeLaughter allegedly e-mailed to Peters a rough draft of a planned opinion in the Scruggs case.

"I have not taken any bribes of any sort. Have not issued any rulings in exchange for money or anything else," DeLaughter told The Associated Press in January. "If one were to go back and look at my very lengthy and detailed ruling, I think it would be very evident ... they are on a solid legal basis and would stand any scrutiny."

Scruggs is a brother-in-law of former Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., whose duties included recommending nominees for federal judgeships. Lott's former chief of staff has said the senator spoke to DeLaughter and other potential candidates about a vacancy in the federal court system, but supported Halil "Sul" Ozerden, who was sworn in as a federal judge in Mississippi last year.

However, the commission's complaint says Lott "did in fact submit (DeLaughter's) name for the federal position and so notified (him). (DeLaughter) was also fully aware that Scruggs was the brother-in-law of Senator Lott." DeLaughter violated the state's code of judicial conduct by not notifying the proper authorities of those "improprieties of counsel" and failing to recuse himself from the case, the commission's complaint alleges.

"The purpose of the recommendation is to preserve the integrity and independence of the judiciary and to assure the public confidence in the administration of justice," said Brant Brantley, the commission's executive director, in a written statement. Brantley declined to elaborate Wednesday on the allegations in the complaint.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Melvyn Weiss Pleads Guilty in Kickback Scheme (MORE, CLICK HERE)

Melvyn Weiss Pleads Guilty in Kickback Scheme
The New York Law Journal by Anthony Lin - March 20, 2008

Famed securities class action lawyer Melvyn I. Weiss has agreed to plead guilty to a racketeering charge for participating in a scheme to pay kickbacks to lead plaintiffs in shareholder suits.

The plea agreement recommends a sentence of between 18 and 33 months in prison for Mr. Weiss, 72. He also has agreed to pay $10 million in fines and forfeited fees. Mr. Weiss is resigning from the firm, according to a statement on its Web site by Stanford Dumain, a member of its executive committee. Mr. Dumain said that the firm will change its name to Milberg LLP.

In a statement, Los Angeles federal prosecutors, who first launched the investigation of alleged kickbacks in securities cases several years ago, said they would ask the court to impose a 33-month sentence. Mr. Weiss' lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, said in a statement the court would have discretion to substitute home or community confinement for up to half of Mr. Weiss' term.

Mr. Weiss and a number of his former partners at Milberg Weiss were the subject of a years-long investigation by federal prosecutors over their payment of some $11 million in kickbacks to individuals who served as name plaintiffs in their securities cases. Milberg Weiss was until recently the dominant firm in such cases, which typically settle for millions and even billions of dollars, earning large contingent fees for plaintiff's firms.

The kickbacks allowed the firm to maintain a stable of plaintiffs so it could swiftly bring a claim on behalf of shareholders. Prior to the enactment of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (PSLRA), the first law firm to file such an action could count on winning coveted lead counsel status, reaping the largest share of legal fees. The plaintiffs were generally paid 10 percent of the legal fees received in their cases.

Such agreements are illegal because name plaintiffs in class action suits are not permitted to have interests above those of other class members, to whom they owe a fiduciary duty.

"This kickback scheme lasted for more than 25 years and had a severely detrimental effect on the administration of justice across the nation as lies were routinely made to judges overseeing significant cases," said U.S. Attorney Thomas P. O'Brien in announcing Mr. Weiss' plea agreement. "The scheme was based in greed and it affected the integrity of the courts and the interests of an untold number of absent class members."

Milberg Weiss, the firm Mr. Weiss co-founded, remains under indictment in the case, though Mr. Weiss was the last major figure from the firm to be facing individual indictment.

Former name partners William Lerach, David Bershad and Steven Schulman, all pleaded guilty last year.

In a statement, Mr. Weiss said: "I deeply regret my conduct and apologize to all those who have been affected, including all of the wonderful and extremely talented lawyers and other employees of the Firm, none of whom had any involvement in any wrongdoing. I believe that it is very important to preserve this unique legal resource for the benefit of victims of wrongdoing affecting the masses, who historically have been underserved in so many ways."

Mr. Brafman said yesterday that Mr. Weiss' plea should not cloud his legacy of pro bono work and philanthropy and that he hoped the court took these into account.

"Accordingly, despite his participation in the criminal conduct he has today acknowledged, I am nevertheless hopeful and confident that the Court will recognize Mel Weiss to be one of the true legal giants of his generation and a consummate humanitarian whose contributions to the Bar and the world community have been nothing short of spectacular," Mr. Brafman said.

If Mr. Weiss had proceeded to trial, his defense was expected to argue that he was so preoccupied with humanitarian and charity work during the charged period that Messrs. Bershad and Schulman had been able to carry on the kickback scheme without his knowledge.

Mr. Dumain, the Milberg executive committee member, apologized on behalf of the firm for Mr. Weiss' misconduct and pledged "faithful adherence" to "all legal and ethical norms ... as we move forward to rebuild our practice."

"Having previously believed former leaders' assurance of their innocence, the Firm is now seeking to find a fair and appropriate resolution of remaining issues so that we can continue our work on behalf of injured investors and consumers," Mr. Dumain stated. - Anthony Lin can be reached at

Disbarment Mandatory with Moral Turpitude Failing (MORE, CLICK HERE)

Court Disbars 'Scooter' Libby
(AP) WASHINGTON - WTOP - March 20, 2008

I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby Jr. (AP) WASHINGTON - I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby Jr., the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney, has been disbarred. In an order released by the D.C. Court of Appeals, a three-judge panel stripped Libby of his ability to practice law after he was found guilty last year of obstructing the investigation in the CIA leak investigation.

"When a member of the Bar is convicted of an offense involving moral turpitude, disbarment is mandatory," reads the ruling, citing D.C. Code. Last March, the former White House assistant also was found guilty of perjury and making false statements. President Bush commuted Libby's 2 1/2 year federal prison sentence but did not pardon him.

Notice: This opinion is subject to formal revision before publication in the Atlantic and Maryland Reporters. Users are requested to notify the Clerk of the Court of any formal errors so that corrections may be made before the bound volumes go to press.

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA COURT OF APPEALS No. 07-BG-179 IN RE I. LEWIS LIBBY, JR., RESPONDENT. A Member of the Bar of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals (Bar Registration No. 950758) On Report and Recommendation of the Board on Professional Responsibility (BD No. 372-05) (Submitted March 6, 2008 - Decided March 20, 2008)

Before FISHER and BLACKBURNE-RIGSBY, Associate Judges, and WAGNER, Senior Judge.

PER CURIAM: Respondent, I. Lewis Libby, Jr., was found guilty after a jury trial in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia of the following felony offenses: one count of obstruction of justice (18 U.S.C. § 1503), one count of making false statements to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (18 U.S.C. § 1001 (a)(2)), and two counts of perjury (18 U.S.C. § 1623). After notification of respondent’s convictions, this court suspended respondent from the practice of law and directed the Board on Professional Responsibility (the Board) to institute a formal proceeding and determine whether respondent’s crimes involved moral turpitude per se. Having concluded that respondent was convicted of crimes involving moral turpitude per se, the Board filed with the court a Report and Recommendation that respondent be disbarred if his convictions were sustained on appeal. Subsequently, this court received a certified copy of an order of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit dismissing respondent’s appeal upon his motion for voluntary dismissal. Therefore, this disciplinary matter is ripe for final action.

The records of the court reflect that respondent filed with this court an “Affidavit 1 of Compliance with D.C. Bar Rule XI, § 14” on June 12, 2007. When a member of the Bar is convicted of an offense involving moral turpitude, disbarment is mandatory. D.C. Code § 11-2503 (a) (2001). When convictions on more than one count are involved, disbarment is mandated if any one of them involves moral turpitude.

In re Lipari, 704 A.2d 851, 852 (D.C. 1997) (citation omitted). This court has held that obstruction of justice (18 U.S.C. § 1503) and perjury (18 U.S.C. § 1623) are crimes of moral turpitude per se. In re Gormley, 793 A.2d 469, 470 (D.C. 2002) (citations omitted). Since respondent was convicted of each of these offenses, as the Board concluded, disbarment is mandatory under D.C. Code § 11-2503 (a). Neither Bar Counsel nor respondent has taken exception to the Board’s Report and Recommendation. Accordingly, it is hereby ORDERED that I. Lewis Libby, Jr. is disbarred from the practice of law in the District of Columbia, and his name shall be stricken from the roll of attorneys authorized to practice before this court.

It is FURTHER ORDERED that for purposes of reinstatement respondent’s disbarment will run from the date on which he filed an affidavit which conforms to the requirements of D.C. Bar R. XI, § 14 (g).1   So ordered.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Death and Court Proceedings (MORE, CLICK HERE)

Ex-Client's Death Delays NY Firm's Day in Court Over "Unconscionable" Fees
The New York Law Journal by Joel Stashenko - March 11, 2008

The challenge to a 40 percent contingency fee deal between Graubard Miller and the elderly widow of real estate developer Sylvan Lawrence will continue despite plaintiff Alice Lawrence's death last month. The state Court of Appeals had scheduled oral arguments for March 18 under an expedited process when Ms. Lawrence was diagnosed with terminal cancer. Following her Feb. 16 death, the case has been stayed as her attorney, Leslie D. Corwin of Greenberg Traurig, seeks to have the two executors of her estate substituted for Ms. Lawrence, who was 83, as plaintiffs in the action.

Mr. Corwin said yesterday he now expects the Court of Appeals to hear arguments in the matter in five to six months under its customary timetable.

Ms. Lawrence is appealing a 4-1 determination by the Appellate Division, First Department, that a payment of about $42 million to Graubard Miller under the fee agreement is not unconscionable on its face. The fee was in addition to about $18 million Ms. Lawrence had been billed by the firm for hourly fees over the previous two decades and the $5 million she paid to three partners at the firm in "gifts."

The firm represented Ms. Lawrence in a protracted fight with Mr. Lawrence's brother and business partner Seymour Cohn over the sale of Mr. Lawrence's properties following his death in 1981. Mr. Lawrence amassed real estate holdings estimated at more than $1 billion, including several Wall Street office towers.

"All litigants...are entitled to a fair trial" (MORE, CLICK HERE)

From New York Legal Update:
Not A Good Idea For Judges To Give Gifts To Litigants
Trial judges are supposed to maintain an impartial attitude towards litigants and not show any favoritism. Who knows what the trial judge was thinking in DeCrescenzo v Gonzalez, 2007 NY Slip Op 09720. In that medical malpractice case, the trial judge had given a gift to the infant plaintiff during the trial and in front of the jury. The judge also gave gifts to the jury when the court recessed for a holiday break. Based on this conduct, as well as demonstrating a propensity to admonish defense counsel, the Second Department found that the defendant was deprived of a fair trial. It thus reversed the jury's verdict in favor of the plaintiff and ordered a new trial.

DeCrescenzo v Gonzalez
2007 NY Slip Op 09720 [46 AD3d 607] - December 11, 2007
Appellate Division, Second Department
Published by New York State Law Reporting Bureau pursuant to Judiciary Law § 431.
As corrected through Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Patrick DeCrescenzo et al., Respondents,
Orlando Gonzalez et al., Appellants.

—[*1] Amabile & Erman, P.C., Staten Island, N.Y. (Mauro, Goldberg & Lilling, LLP [Barbara DeCrow Goldberg and Katherine Herr Solomon] of counsel), for appellants Orlando Gonzalez and Orlando Gonzalez, M.D., P.C.

Heidell, Pittoni, Murphy & Bach, LLP, New York, N.Y. (Daniel S. Ratner of counsel), for appellant St. Vincent's Catholic Medical Center of New York.

Kramer, Dillof, Livingston & Moore, New York, N.Y. (Thomas A. Moore and Matthew Gaier of counsel), for respondents.

In an action to recover damages for medical malpractice, etc., the defendants Orlando Gonzalez and Orlando Gonzalez, M.D. P.C., appeal, and the defendant St. Vincent's Catholic Medical Center of New York separately appeals, from a judgment of the Supreme Court, Kings County (Bayne, J.), dated May 17, 2006, which, (a) upon a jury verdict on the issue of liability, (b) upon a jury verdict on the issue of damages awarding the infant plaintiff the sums of $50,000 for future medical care, $40,000 for future medical equipment, $40,000 for future physical therapy, $40,000 for future occupational therapy, $40,000 for future psychological therapy, $40,000 for future aide service, $250,000 for past pain and suffering, and $100,000 for future pain and suffering, (c) upon an order of the same court dated February 28, 2005, granting that branch of the plaintiffs' motion which was to correct an error in reporting the jury verdict on the issue of damages to the extent of directing a hearing on the issue of whether the jurors made a ministerial error in recording the verdict, (d) upon an order of the same court dated March 11, 2005, which, after the hearing, granted that branch of the plaintiffs' motion which was to correct an error in reporting the jury verdict on the issue of damages to reflect the jury's intent to award the infant plaintiff the sums of $3,300,000 for future medical care, $2,640,000 for future medical equipment, $2,000,000 for future [*2]physical therapy, $2,000,000 for future occupational therapy, $2,320,000 for future psychological therapy, $2,000,000 for future aide service, $250,000 for past pain and suffering, and $6,600,000 for future pain and suffering, and (e) upon an order of the same court dated July 22, 2005, denying those branches of the defendants' separate motions which were, inter alia, to set aside the verdict and for a new trial on the ground that certain improper conduct occurred during the trial, and granting those branches of the defendants' separate motions which were to set aside the verdict as excessive to the extent of reducing the award of damages for future medical care from the sum of $3,300,000 to the sum of $180,226, the award of damages for future medical equipment from the sum of $2,640,000 to the sum of $508,872, and the award of damages for future pain and suffering from the sum of $6,600,00 to the sum of $4,950,000, is in favor of the infant plaintiff and against them in the aggregate sum of $14,209,098.

Ordered that the judgment is reversed, on the law, those branches of the defendants' separate motions which were to set aside the verdict and for a new trial on the ground that certain improper conduct occurred during the trial are granted, the order dated June 22, 2005, is modified accordingly, and the matter is remitted to the Supreme Court, Kings County, for a new trial before a different justice, with costs to abide the event.

"[A]ll litigants, regardless of the merits of their case, are entitled to a fair trial" (Habenicht v R. K. O. Theatres, 23 AD2d 378, 379 [1965]; see Salzano v City of New York, 22 AD2d 656 [1964]). A trial judge should " 'at all times maintain an impartial attitude and exercise a high degree of patience and forebearance' " (Salzano v City of New York, 22 AD2d at 657, quoting Buckley v 2570 Broadway Corp., 12 AD2d 473, 473 [1960]). A trial judge may not " 'so far inject himself [or herself] into the proceedings that the jury could not review the case in the calm and untrammeled spirit necessary to effect justice' " (Schaffer v Kurpis, 177 AD2d 379, 379 [1991], quoting Kamen Soap Prods. Co. v Prusansky & Prusansky, 11 AD2d 676, 676 [1960]).

Throughout this lengthy and acrimonious trial, the Trial Justice demonstrated a propensity to admonish the defense counsel at a substantially more frequent rate than she did the plaintiffs' counsel, often admonishing the defense counsel for actions about which she failed to comment when committed by the plaintiffs' counsel. She gave the plaintiffs' counsel significantly more leeway in cross-examining witnesses and in making extraneous comments than she gave the defense counsel. During the trial and in front of the jury, she gave a gift to the infant plaintiff. Later, also during trial, she gave each jury member a gift when the court recessed for a holiday break. Under the circumstances, the defendants were denied a fair trial by virtue of the cumulative effect of the improper conduct of the trial court, and as a result, the jury could not have considered the issues at trial in a fair, calm, and unprejudiced manner (see Ougourlian v New York City Health & Hosps. Corp., 5 AD3d 644, 645 [2004]; Gentile v Terrace Hgts. Hosp., 57 AD2d 585 [1977]; Perkins v New York Racing Assn., 51 AD2d 585 [1976]). Accordingly, a new trial is warranted.

We note that the trial court also erred in granting the plaintiffs' motion to correct an alleged ministerial error made by the jury in recording its verdict, based upon the submission of affidavits of each juror sworn to more than a week after the verdict was rendered, and upon improperly holding a hearing to determine whether the affidavits reflected each juror's true intent. Here, although the plaintiffs' counsel allegedly learned from at least two jurors, immediately after their discharge and before they left the courthouse, that they had intended their award of damages in each category to be on an annual basis, the plaintiffs' counsel did not procure affidavits from any of the jury members until more than one week later. During that time, the plaintiffs' counsel [*3]obviously communicated with each juror, exposing them to "outside influences of the most prejudicial sort" (Moisakis v Allied Bldg. Prods. Corp., 265 AD2d 457, 458 [1999]). In the interest of protecting against the posttrial harassment of jurors and the instability of jury verdicts, the trial court should not have altered the jury's verdict under these unique circumstances (see Moisakis v Allied Bldg. Prods. Corp., 265 AD2d at 457, 458; cf. Smith v Field, 302 AD2d 585 [2003]).

The defendants' remaining contentions are without merit or have been rendered academic in light of our determination. Prudenti, P.J., Mastro, Santucci and Lifson, JJ., concur.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Urgent Need for Reform in NY (MORE, CLICK HERE)

Cheers for David Paterson are fine, but reform must be order of the day
The New York Daily News by Errol Louis - March 18, 2008

David Paterson's inaugural speech did not include the word "reform," and that is as good a reason as any to worry about what the future holds for New York. After 14 tumultuous months of hand-to-hand combat between the Legislature and ex-Gov. Eliot Spitzer, Paterson drew laughs, cheers and nodding heads by promising to end the hostilities. "What we are going to do from now on is what we always should have done: We're going to work together," he said.

That is exactly what needed to be said, and the olive branch had the intended effect. The friendship, joking and optimism in the corridors of the Capitol yesterday were genuine and contagious; everybody wants Paterson to succeed.

But months from now, after the last "good riddance" jokes about Spitzer have been told - and the final bucks raked in by America's best-known whore - New York will remain the most taxed state in the union, and Albany will still be a place where lobbyists, unions and corporate pitchmen wield far too much influence over who gets the sweet slices of the $124 billion budget cake.

Unless, that is, the effort to reform Albany gets back on its feet. Spitzer's disastrous political and personal decisions must not eclipse the need to slash the state's army of unneeded patronage jobs, reel in the debt-binging public authorities, implement true campaign finance reform and make government operations more transparent.

Nearly 70% of the public - the voters who elected the Spitzer-Paterson reform ticket - said they want and expect fundamental change. It's not at all clear if or when they will get it. Paterson, perhaps understandably, used his first speech as governor to begin dissolving the personal bitterness that stymied Spitzer. He also showed every sign of knowing how dire the state's fiscal crisis has become.

"We are looking at the economy that is reeling, and I must say to all of you in government and all of you in business that you must meet with me in the next couple of weeks and adjust our budget accordingly." That's a signal to legislators and lobbyists that the budget due in April will have to shrink and that beloved pet programs will have to be shelved. The speech was hailed by no less a budget hawk than former Republican Assemblyman John Faso, who ran against Spitzer two years ago.

"He struck the perfect note today," Faso told me on his way out of the Assembly chamber. Sen. Eric Schneiderman, a leading voice for reform, agreed. "It's not that reform is off the agenda. Neither is changing the Rockefeller drug laws or cleaning up the environment or dealing with our mass transit system. This was not the day for it," he said.

And so the Paterson era begins on a high note. We should all wish him the time and good luck to make good on the reform mandate that Spitzer squandered.

Monday, March 17, 2008

NY Lawyer Can't Represent Suspect and Alleged Victim (MORE, CLICK HERE)

Too Many Clients: NY Lawyer Can't Represent Suspect and His Alleged Victim
The New York Law Journal by Mark Fass - March 17, 2008

A Westchester judge has ruled that a single attorney cannot defend both a defendant in a domestic violence case and the defendant's purported victim in her suit against the town and the prosecutor she claims coerced her into providing evidence in the case.

"While multiple representation is not per se, ineffective assistance, such representation should be entered into very cautiously because of the danger of conflicting interests," Supreme Court Justice Sam D. Walker wrote in People v. Tancredi, 07-60256. "It is clear that defense counsel has an ethical obligation to avoid conflicting representations and to notify the court if such a conflict occurs during the course of a trial. Given the facts presented, it is practically guaranteed that should the victim testify at trial defense counsel would be placed in the irregular position of having to cross examine his own client."

In October 2007, Westchester prosecutors charged defendant Ralph Tancredi, a suspended Harrison police officer and former head of its patrolmen's union, with harassment following two incidents that took place the preceding summer.

In the first incident, in June 2007, Mr. Tancredi allegedly hid outside his ex-girlfriend Sofia Saenz's house. When she returned, prosecutors said that, among other things, he pulled down her dress, called her a "slut" and a "whore," and took off in her car, which he did not return until the following day.

Then in August, Mr. Tancredi purportedly confronted Ms. Saenz outside of Annie's Cafe in Harrison, where she worked, asking her why she allowed her boyfriend Joshua Clark "to touch her," according to Justice Walker's decision. "As Mr. Clark took the victim's hand in his, defendant slapped Mr. Clark's hand," the judge wrote.

Mr. Tancredi was arrested and charged with harassment. The Harrison Town Court also issued an order of protection, which Mr. Tancredi repeatedly violated by text messaging Ms. Saenz and by encouraging his mother to call her to plead with her not to press charges, according to the decision.

Three months later, on Nov. 21, Mr. Tancredi's counsel, Lovett & Gould, filed a federal action on Ms. Saenz's behalf against the town of Harrison and Westchester Assistant District Attorney Barbara Egenhauser. (Ms. Saenz has since withdrawn the claim as to Ms. Egenhauser.)

"In the suit the victim [alleges] that on August 20, 2007 [she] was detained several times by the Harrison police and coerced to offer evidence against the defendant," Justice Walker wrote. "The victim's complaint states that ADA Egenhauser and Harrison Police Officer Edward Lucas threatened the victim with deportation if she did not assist them."

The Westchester County District Attorney's Office moved for the court to appoint Ms. Saenz with independent counsel. In a recently handed down decision, Justice Walker granted that motion.

"Defense counsel's mutual representation of the victim in the federal civil rights suit and the defendant in a related criminal matter poses a conflict that warrants the appointment of independent counsel to meet with and advise the victim," he wrote.

"Given the serious allegations present in the case at bar it is a very proper exercise of this Court's discretion to assure that the victim has been fully informed of the potential for conflict that exists in selecting counsel who also represents the defendant in this criminal prosecution."

The court cited the Westchester County Integrated Domestic Violence Court's status as a unit in the "community's coordinated response to domestic violence" as a factor in its order.

"It would be contrary to our purpose and mission, if individuals charged with domestic violence offenses are permitted to utilize such a questionable attorney client relationship, as a sword, and thereby strategically block the prosecution of their cases," Justice Walker wrote. "In such a perverse fashion, defendants would be permitted to proceed, aided by their attorneys in complete disregard of the lawyer's ethical obligations."

Justice Walker said the court would provide Ms. Saenz with a list of advocate organizations that could refer her to "an independent and experienced attorney who is fully familiar with the special and unique dynamics of representing a victim of domestic violence."

The judge said the attorney would be directed to inform her of the potential for conflict and the possible consequences of recanting previous statements or refusing to testify. Reached by phone Friday, Jonathan Lovett, the attorney for both Mr. Tancredi and his purported victim Ms. Saenz, called the decision "garbage."

He called the case against Mr. Tancredi "retaliation" for his ongoing civil rights claims against the police department, in which Mr. Tancredi alleged among other claims that the department secretly tape recorded officers' private conversations. A spokesman for the district attorney's office did not return a call seeking comment.

Judge Named as Unindicted Co-Conspirator in Extortion Case

Judge Named as Unindicted Co-Conspirator in Extortion Case
The New York Law Journal by Janet L. Conley - March 17, 2008

ATLANTA - Brooks E. Blitch III, the chief judge of the Alapaha Judicial Circuit, has been named as an unindicted co-conspirator in a federal superseding indictment filed Tuesday against one of his former employees, one-time Clinch County Magistrate Judge Linda C. Peterson.

Blitch, according to the indictment, gave Peterson a $14,000 raise after she helped him and his son resolve a legal claim in a manner that the indictment alleges is extortion.

Though the indictment refers to Blitch only as “co-conspirator #1”, his attorney, John F. Salter Jr. of The Barnes Law Group, confirmed his identity, as did Annie Ruth Steedley, the chief magistrate judge of Clinch County, which is part of the Alapaha Circuit. Steedley is Peterson's former boss; Peterson was suspended from the bench after she was indicted last year. Salter and Steedley also confirmed that Blitch's son, Brooks E. Blitch IV, is the person

identified in the indictment as “co-conspirator #2.” Neither Blitch has been charged with a crime, although the elder Blitch is the target of an FBI investigation and is also the subject of misconduct proceedings initiated by the Judicial Qualifications Commission.

Peterson's lawyer, Valdosta attorney William “Bill” E. Moore Jr., was not in the office Friday and could not be reached for comment. The assistant U.S. attorneys who filed the indictment, James “Jim” N. Crane and Leah E. McEwen of the U.S. attorney's office for the Middle District of Georgia, could not be reached for comment.

The indictment, filed in Georgia's Middle District, indicates that the Blitches owned commercial logging equipment that they had stored on property rented by the younger Blitch, known in his Homerville community as “Little Brooks.” Little Brooks owed about $900 in back rent, according to the indictment, and when he failed to pay, the owner of the property asked a person identified only as “TS” to remove the logging equipment, which TS began to do.

On or about Dec. 19, the indictment says, Judge Blitch “personally confronted TS at the location of the real property, cursed and yelled at TS, and threatened legal action if TS did not pay” him and his son “the estimated value of the logging equipment.”

Around that same time, according to the indictment, Judge Blitch met with Steedley and asked her to issue a warrant for TS' arrest. Judge Blitch told Steedley that his son was the owner of the logging equipment and did not disclose, the indictment says, that he was a half-owner. Little Brooks then filled out an application for arrest. Steedley said she told the Blitches she did not want to be involved in the case because of what she perceived to be a conflict of interest.

“I felt like that since Judge Blitch was my superior court judge, that we did not need to hear the case, that we needed to call in a judge from another circuit,” Steedley said. “And Judge Peterson felt that she could handle it without no problem, and I told her I didn't want it done, I didn't want no part of it but if she felt secure at it, go at it.”

Peterson did proceed with the case, according to the indictment, holding a hearing on the arrest warrant application Dec. 22, 2006. Peterson, according to the indictment, told TS that she would issue an arrest warrant against him, and that he “could avoid arrest and incarceration if he immediately went and got money to pay” Little Brooks.

TS, according to the indictment, went to a local bank and withdrew money to pay Little Brooks. Salter said in a telephone interview that the equipment at issue was worth about $4,000. In an e-mail message, he said that the person identified as TS “admitted he wrongfully damaged property belonging to Brooks Blitch IV.”

The e-mail went on to say, “As it is appropriate to do, the matter was handled through the legal system. Rather than jail [TS] for wrongful destruction of the property, Magistrate Peterson allowed [him] to make restitution for the damage. … In this instance, it was Blitch who was the victim. …” The month after TS paid Little Brooks, on Jan. 2, 2007, according to the indictment, Judge Blitch “issued a judicial order resulting in a $14,000 per year raise” for Peterson.

Salter, in his e-mail, wrote, “Linda Peterson has testified under oath and denied any connection between the hearing and any decisions about her pay as a magistrate. The federal government's charges against Peterson are the exact opposite of reality: They treat an admitted wrongdoer like a victim and, worse, label as criminals the true victims and a magistrate who was just doing her job.”

Salter said his client denied any involvement in the alleged extortion. Peterson also was charged in the indictment with perjury and false statements made in matters unrelated to the alleged extortion. She was indicted on those counts last fall. No co-conspirators were identified in those charges.

Also on Tuesday, the sheriff of Clinch County, Winston C. Peterson, was the subject of a superseding indictment that accuses him of two counts of obstruction of justice; one count of perjury and one count of forced labor. All of the counts refer to co-conspirator #1, who is identified in several of the counts as a judge. Salter said Friday that he was not able to confirm whether “CC #1” in the Peterson superseding indictment refers to Judge Blitch.

Staff Reporter R. Robin McDonald contributed to this story.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Top Federal Judge Linked to Prostitution Ring (MORE, CLICK HERE)

Another One: Top Federal Judge Linked to Prostitution Ring
Officials: Edward Nottingham Was 'Implicated as a Customer' in an Investigation of the Denver Sugar/Denver Players
ABC NEWS By VIC WALTER - March 14, 2008

One of the country's top federal judges has been linked to an investigation of a Denver-based prostitution ring, according to federal officials. Edward Nottingham, the chief federal judge in Denver, Colo., was "implicated as a customer" in an ongoing IRS and Denver police investigation of an alleged prostitution operation called Denver Sugar/Denver Players, according to officials. The service advertised on the Internet as having "gorgeous adult Colorado companions."

According to a Denver television station, KUSA, Judge Nottingham's nickname among the prostitutes was "Naughty." Several "professional athletes," lawyers and businessmen are also involved, officials said. Unlike the prostitution investigation in New York that led to this week's resignation of New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer, the Denver case has received little attention outside Colorado.

The chief judge of the 10th Federal Circuit Court, Robert Henry, is "taking under advisement a complaint about a judge's conduct," according to the Rocky Mountain News. The person who filed the complaint confirmed to the paper that the judge is Nottingham.

Judge Nottingham has remained on the bench since being publicly linked to the investigation last week. His office referred calls to his lawyer, Stephen Peters, who said Judge Nottingham "has no public comment at this time." Based on the Web site of Denver Sugar/Denver Players, prostitution prices seem to be substantially lower than those in New York.

According to published reports, Judge Nottingham, appointed to the federal bench in 1989 by President George H.W. Bush, paid $300 to $400 for "all-inclusive" sex with prostitutes working for the Denver Sugar/Denver Players service. New York Gov. Spitzer paid $4,300 for two hours with a prostitute named "Kristen," according to an FBI affidavit in which he was referred to as Client 9.

Judge Nottingham's conduct has been in question twice before. Last year, the Denver Post reported that FBI agents questioned his ex-wife "after she revealed he spent thousands of dollars at the Diamond Cabaret strip club and subscribed to an Internet dating site that contains pornography." Judge Nottingham testified in the divorce proceedings he "had a lot to drink" he didn't remember what happened at the strip club, according to the paper.

In another case, a Denver disabled woman filed a complaint against Judge Nottingham after she said he parked illegally in a handicapped spot and then threatened her when she tried to get him to move his car. Jeanne Elliott, a lawyer who was disabled after being shot by a client's husband, told Judge Nottingham "waved his judge's badge and threatened to have me arrested by U.S. Marshals."

According to reports, Nottingham was ticketed by police, paid a $100 fine and in a statement said he regretted parking in the handicapped space in his haste to pick up a prescription but disagreed with Elliott's version of events.

Judge Nottingham presided over the high-profile insider-trading trial of Qwest CEO Joe Nacchio, which ended in Nacchio's conviction last year.

Judicial Raises Unlikely as Attention to Ethics Grows (MORE, CLICK HERE)

Chances for Pay Raise for NY Judges "Very Difficult," Incoming Governor Says
The New York Law Journal by Joel Stashenko - March 14, 2008

ALBANY - Citing grim economic news in New York and the rest of the nation, soon-to-be-governor David A. Paterson said yesterday it would be "very difficult" to adopt a pay raise for state court judges this year.

At his first news conference since Eliot Spitzer resigned in disgrace over his alleged involvement in a prostitution ring, Mr. Paterson said his biggest challenge is to negotiate a budget with the state Legislature amid a stock market slump, a subprime mortgage crisis and other economic drags. "I think that, given what's happening in the economy it's going to be very difficult to move on any type of enhancements at this particular time," Mr. Paterson said yesterday.

He noted that legislative salaries are "obviously" connected with the judges. And he acknowledged that many judges "have weighed in on the need to find a way to raise their salaries because we are trying to get the best and the brightest to stay on the bench, knowing that their salaries sometimes are not even up to first-year associates at major law firms."

Mr. Paterson said he eventually would like to break the linkage between legislative and judicial pay hikes, a separation he acknowledged "has not worked to this point." The deadline for adopting a state budget for the 2008-09 fiscal year is March 31. Many judges and court officials had been optimistic that the spending plan would include the first raise for the state's 1,300 judges since January 1999.

But the nation's economic ills have prompted budget officials to slash their estimates for state revenues. Mr. Paterson and the Legislature will have to close a budget gap projected at more than $4 billion when they adopt a new budget of about $124 billion. The largest of several judicial pay raise proposals before the Legislature, giving judges raises retroactive to April 1, 2005, would cost $143 million. That plan was advanced by Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye.

Two lawsuits filed by various judges and supported by some judicial organizations have been filed to force the Legislature and the governor to grant a raise. In addition, Chief Judge Kaye has retained former White House Counsel Bernard W. Nussbaum to prepare a suit she has threatened for nearly a year if the other branches of government do not act. The logjam in Albany "may well result in litigation," Mr. Nussbaum, a partner at Wachtell Lipton Rosen & Katz, said yesterday during remarks at a Manhattan luncheon where he was honored by New York Lawyers for the Public Interest.

Mr. Nussbaum decried the "terrible and growing disparity" between judges' pay and lawyers in private practice, which he said has undermined the state's system of justice. He said that tying judicial salaries to the pay of executive branch officials and legislators was "sheer folly and may well be unconstitutional."

Show of Solidarity

Mr. Paterson automatically will become governor at noon on Monday. He will be sworn in at 1 p.m. by Chief Judge Kaye in the Assembly chamber. Legislators and members of the Court of Appeals have been invited to attend.

Mr. Paterson said he wanted representatives of all three branches of state government to attend in a symbolic show of solidarity following the wrenching events of this week, culminating with Mr. Spitzer's resignation, which he announced Wednesday. "Bringing the whole government together . . . that is the only way we're going to have progress," Mr. Paterson said.

The question of whether Mr. Spitzer should face criminal prosecution for his links to a high-priced call-girl ring is up to law enforcement officials, Mr. Paterson said.

"In my heart, I think he's suffered enough," Mr. Paterson said. "There are probably people who don't know him that well, who just look at government and feel very disappointed, very dispirited and confused and probably think that whatever punishment he might get wouldn't be enough. This is why we have dispassionate law enforcement that looks into these situations and decides what the charges will be."

Looking on at a packed news conference at the Capitol yesterday were dozens of Mr. Spitzer's top administrators. They and Mr. Paterson's aides applauded when Mr. Paterson appeared. "If most of you weren't being paid, I'd be very flattered," Mr. Paterson quipped.

In other developments yesterday:

• Without elaborating, Mr. Paterson said he has "a serious concern" with the rising numbers of violent A-1 felony offenders being released by state parole boards. Between 20 percent and 25 percent of the A-1 offenders coming before boards over the past several months are winning release compared with the 3 percent to 5 percent who were granted release for most of the final two terms of former Governor George E. Pataki, a Republican.

• Charles O'Byrne, Mr. Paterson's chief of staff as lieutenant governor, will be his secretary starting Monday. Secretary to the governor is the top staff position in the executive chamber. Mr. Spitzer's chief of staff, Rich Baum, is expected to depart following a short transition period.

• Sean Patrick Maloney, Mr. Spitzer's deputy secretary, apparently has been asked to stay on.

• Lloyd Constantine, special adviser, mentor and friend to Mr. Spitzer, has resigned, according to Mr. Spitzer's aides. Mr. Constantine was among the circle of aides and attorneys who advised Mr. Spitzer in the days leading up to his resignation.

• Luther Smith, Mr. Paterson's campaign manager in 2006 and a former aide to then-Manhattan Borough President Virginia Fields, has emerged as the favorite to be Mr. Paterson's chief counsel as governor.

Unresolved Issues

Left unresolved yesterday was how quickly the new governor will move to fill pending top-level judicial appointments. Currently, there are four Appellate Division vacancies: three in the First Department and one in the Third. There are also five vacancies on the Court of Claims and four interim positions on the Supreme Court to be filled until new justices are elected to 14-year terms starting next year.

Screening committees had forwarded Mr. Spitzer lists of names of candidates they found "highly qualified" for the openings. According to court officials, Mr. Paterson could begin the screening process anew for the judicial openings or, more expeditiously, conduct his own review of the candidates whose names were before Mr. Spitzer.

Mr. Spitzer's departure also put into question his administration's negotiations with the Interest on Lawyer Account Fund board over the possibility that director Lorna K. Blake would resign and the governor's proposal to hire the fund's executive director be withdrawn. The fund distributes the interest earned on client escrow funds held by lawyers to groups that provide civil legal services to the poor.

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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