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Thursday, August 21, 2008

The Westchester Guardian: Judicial "Intervention"

Judicial “Intervention”
The Westchester Guardian by Catherine Wilson

A visit to the web site for the New York State Unified Court System these days reveals a significant obstruction of justice and misuse of taxpayers’ funds. Plastered across the top of this web site is a banner announcing the “Judicial Compensation Lawsuit”. Our local judges are currently embroiled in a battle with Albany over their salaries. The judges are whining that they should be compensated commensurate to attorneys in private practice. However, a fact blatantly omitted from the arguments from our local judges in favor of their pay increases is the part-time nature of their positions, a mere 35 or less hours a week with six weeks paid vacation time and an additional two weeks of holidays and unlimited sick time, compared to the 70+ hour work week with limited time off for attorneys in private practice. The part-time nature of judicial employment is clearly evident from the amount of time our judges had on their hands to place volumes of materials related to their personal lawsuit on the courts’ web site! Given the fact that our courts have tremendous backlogs, why are the judges wasting precious court time advertising their lawsuit on taxpayer funded web sites?

The “Judicial Compensation Lawsuit” banner is more than just a notice. It denotes a link to an entire section of the courts web site dedicated to the judges’ court filings on this matter. The judges kindly provide a scanned copy of their full one hundred and twelve (112!) page court motion filed in July against the Albany legislature (not counting the numerous copies needed for each judge and legislator – how many trees were slaughtered for this filing alone? And what did it cost the taxpayers?). The judges also provide scanned copies of all fifty-four (54) pages of the additional lawsuit filed by the head of the court system, Judge Judith Kaye. The judges even go so far as to provide copies of four letters they signed related to this issue – another twenty-two (22) pages worth (no one ever accused the legal mind of being brief, pun intended!).

The courts have spent taxpayers’ funds to file duplicate court motions and lawsuits on this matter. They then spent even more taxpayer funds to set up this section of the court web site and to scan and link all one hundred and eighty-eight pages onto the taxpayers’ web site to publicize their demands at taxpayers’ expense. Nowhere on this site do the judges reveal the cost to the New York State taxpayers for their personal use of this web site. If indeed the judges felt the need to “get the word out” on this issue, why didn’t each judge personally chip in a portion of their current $160,000+ base (i.e. starting) salaries to fund what amounts to nothing more than a one-sided campaign smear job? If the job of the courts is to provide equal access and fair representation to all, then why haven’t the judges provided the legislative response to their lawsuits for the taxpayers benefit? Whose benefit does such a one-sided posting really serve here? Why was this skewed posting done at taxpayers’ expense in defiance of the budgetary, contractual, and legislative rules prohibiting the use of taxpayers’ systems for personal benefit? No one but the judges will benefit from an increase in judicial salaries. Therefore, no one but the judges should bear the burden of the expenses incurred in seeking those increases. And it should not be too much for the taxpayers of New York State to expect our judges to obey the laws that they enforce in the courts. And to provide us with both sides of the issue, or none at all.

This abuse of NYS taxpayers’ systems becomes even more incredulous when the Judicial Compensation Lawsuit section of the web site is compared to the information provided to litigants who must navigate the murky waters of our “justice” system alone (Pro Bono/Pro Se litigants). The web site for our local Westchester Courts does not provide any information whatsoever for “Pro Bono” help. The Westchester court site does provide a direct line for criminals to contact the court (914-995-4323) but no such information is available for law-abiding citizens of our county. Contrast that to the assistance provided to litigants in other counties: the Syracuse courts provide a full address, email contact, direct phone number, a toll free number, and both a local and 800 number for TTY lines for speech and hearing impaired litigants. If Syracuse courts and the surrounding counties upstate can provide full contact information to Pro Bono and handicapped litigants, why can’t Westchester? Why isn’t Judge Nicolai (the administrative judge of the Westchester courts) providing our residents with at least equal treatment?

The only assistance Westchester Courts will provide a frightened taxpayer facing a legal maze alone is given by their clerk’s office. But that advice is extremely limited. According to the NYS court web site:

You can find help at the Clerk's Office at any courthouse. BUT...
Workers in the Clerk's Office can't take sides or give legal advice.

They Can:
•Explain court rules and procedures.
•Explain available options for your case or problem.
•Provide past case rulings.
•Provide cites to, or copies of, the law.
•Explain public court operations and jobs.
•Describe court records and their availability.
•Provide public case information.
•Tell you how to make a complaint.
•Refer you to other offices or persons.
•Provide forms with instructions.
But They Can't:
•Suggest the procedures you should follow.
•Provide opinions about which option to chose.
•Predict what the court will do.
•Analyze the law based on the specifics of your case.
•Provide information derived from the decision-making process.
•Provide access to sealed or confidential case records.
•Provide confidential case information.
•Give opinions about your complaint.
•Make referrals based on personal preference.
•Provide or suggest the information to enter on forms.

Compare that to the Judicial section on their salary lawsuit which provides full details of the lawsuits and all letters and communications. A law-abiding litigant cannot be shown how to fill out the plethora of convoluted court forms and must struggle on unassisted, but the judges have been provided, at taxpayer expense, with complete scanned copies of the fully-drafted court motions file by the court administration to ‘cut and paste’ into their own personal lawsuits.
Such preferential treatment is not only limited to judges in our courts. Attorneys receive personal benefits at taxpayers’ expense. This reporter made a trip to Surrogate’s Court in White Plains this week and uncovered blatant evidence of the discrimination between attorneys and litigants in our local courts. Posted on the door of the Surrogate’s Court for Judge Anthony Scarpino was a notice inviting the attorneys who practice before the judge to a free continuing education seminar hosted by Scarpino personally. In short, a ‘meet and greet’ to smooze with the judge. At taxpayers’ expense.

Attorneys practicing in New York State must complete 24 hours of continuing education every two years. A typical 2-credit course offered by Pace Law School in White Plains costs $87.50 for an online course, other offerings are as little as $20 per credit. And unlike other professions who must pay exorbitant prices for their continuing education, many local bar associations, agencies, and law firms offer CLE courses for free. So why are our local courts offering free CLE credits to attorneys who can obtain similar information, at a similar ‘cost’, elsewhere? Since attorneys may not practice in New York State if they do not complete their required CLE training, obtaining this training is essential for them to be able to earn a living. So why are our courts providing what amounts to a personal benefit to local attorneys at taxpayer expense? Why are tax dollars and court time being used for a seminar that is clearly nothing more than a thinly disguised opportunity for the court to smooze with the attorneys who finance judicial campaigns (and for the attorneys to smooze in turn with the judge who decides their cases – an opportunity denied Pro Se litigants and therefore a violation of ‘equal access’ laws)? Plus, given the backlog of cases in Surrogates’ Court, why is Judge Scarpino dedicating his time, his court, and his staff to this endeavor? What is the cost of his staff’s time to develop, advertise, and host this ‘seminar’, the cost of court computers and copies for the materials needed, the cost of the paper and ink used, the cost for the courthouse and security staff for this event, and the facilities cost for lighting and heating? Given our budget deficit, why are we taxpayers’ paying a dime for an event that clearly is not ‘free’ at all, at least not to us? Why are we expected to subsidize overpaid attorneys with our tax dollars for their personal training? And where can the rest of us sign up to get equal face time with our local judges? With refreshments! (Judge – I like my coffee with skim milk and one Splenda).

The CLE flyer which was posted in plain site on the door of the courtroom boasts that it is not only being offered ‘free of charge’ but that the attorneys can also look forward to ‘free refreshments’. The CLE flyer also clearly notes the name of the court staff member assigned to assist them with this event (Joe Accetta), and his full contact information including address, fax number, and direct phone line (914-824-5655).

Contrast that with a flyer posted in an obscure hallway on the Surrogate’s floor for ‘Pro Bono’ help. This reporter has contacted Judge Frank Nicolai, the Administrative Judge of the Westchester courts, on several occasions about the lack of pro bono assistance available. On one occasion, this reporter contacted Judge Nicolai to inform him that the Pro Bono phone number provided nothing more to litigants than a recording which said ‘this number is out of service’! On every occasion, Judge Nicolai refused to address this reporter’s concerns. Yet on Monday, August 4, while I sat at the end of a hallway, around the corner from Surrogate’s Court and out of the line of sight of both the courtroom and the lobby, I observed Judge Scarpino’s secretary, Janet Siciliano, post a flyer for ‘Pro Bono NY’ on a door facing me, and only on that door. She walked out of her office next to Judge Scarpino’s chambers, dramatically posted the Pro Bono flyer immediately in my line of sight, and just as immediately returned to her office. Why were several flyers for freebies for attorneys posted in the lobby where they could be easily seen, yet only one solitary flyer for Pro Bono litigant’s was posted and that flyer was displayed in an area where few litigants would dare to tread? And why was that flyer only posted there (and nowhere else) only after I was seen and acknowledged by court employees? Was that for my benefit? To prove that the court really does provide Pro Bono help? If so, the court failed to convince me.

The Pro Bono ‘notice’ (shown, insert) was a pathetic attempt at providing information, especially when contrasted with the flyers distributed for the attorneys. Local attorneys who charge between $300 and $450 an hour, thereby earning revenues between $600,000 and $900,000 a year, are provided with free training and free refreshments and complete contact info, yet local taxpayers who cannot afford an attorney and who may be struggling on $40,000 a year, a fraction of the over-priced attorneys earnings, are not even entitled to get a phone number of who to call for help? Is this a joke? If so, the joke is on us, the taxpayers. For the discrimination practiced by our courts goes even deeper.

I attended Judge Scarpino’s court on August 4th out of curiosity. Judge Scarpino is the Surrogate judge for Westchester County. Surrogates, as it is commonly called, is a specialized court that handles only cases concerning the distribution of a deceased persons' estate. Surrogate courts hand out judicial appointments to greedy attorneys like candy since the litigants involved, i.e. the dead people, can’t complain. Anyone familiar with Charles Dickens’ “Bleak House” can readily see the comparisons in Westchester County Surrogate Court’s handling of the Carvel estate: by the time the attorneys are through fighting, there will be nothing left for any family member or charity to inherit. Yet in addition to his plethora of opportunities for political appointments within Surrogates, Judge Scarpino has also been appointed head of the Matrimonial Courts in Westchester County. It was a matrimonial case that drew me to his court. I was curious when I saw that Judge Scarpino was personally handling the divorce of the head of security for Westchester Community College, a divorce case (Allyson v Allyson) previously handled by disgraced Matrimonial Court referee James Montagnino.

As Guardian readers’ will recall, the Allyson case has a long history. The divorce decree was rendered by disgraced referee James Montagnino whose appointment to this particular case remains the focus of investigative attention since there was never any record of his appointment! The Appellate Courts have already noted that they found no order appointing Montagnino, in violation of New York State court proceedings. So if the referee’s appointment is non-existent, how can any order that referee issued be valid since he had no legal authority to issue the orders to begin with? Upon further investigation, former referee Montagnino resigned under suspicious circumstances and now resides in Saratoga Springs where he can do no further damage to hard-working Westchester families. In 2007, the New York Post reported that Montagnino gave the following warning in a CLE seminar he was hosting for attorneys at Pace Law School:

'beware of the 10583 Syndrome,' (a reference to posh Scarsdale's ZIP code). 'The 10583 mentality...says that 'I'm entitled and I ought to be able to get the house, I ought to be able to get support... I ought to be able to live with my son's drum instructor happily ever after and it all should be on his dime.'"

Such remarks are clear evidence of the influence judges and court referees can have on local attorneys and why such individuals should not be conducting thinly disguised CLE seminars for local attorneys which are nothing more than vehicles for them to influence those attorneys to their way of thinking. Yet despite the past horrors suffered by Montagnino’s victims, his cases are now being resurrected in Surrogates’ court by a judge who is following in Montagnino’s footsteps in more ways than one. One wonders what ‘advice’ Judge Scarpino will be offering local attorneys at his ‘meet and greet’ CLE seminar on September 17. Will it be more of the ‘beware the 10583 syndrome’ variety’? The mere presence of this reporter in his courtroom apparently made Judge Scarpino nervous since he took the unusual step of asking, on the record, ‘who was in the courtroom’? Nervous judges or not, the Guardian will continue to monitor the behavior of our local courts and their preferential treatment of attorneys and discriminatory treatment of litigants. We will continue to keep an eye on Surrogates and other courts and the Allyson case in particular. Illegal orders from disgraced court referees should not be resurrected to induce further harm upon innocent victims. And our local judges and courts may not use their positions to as an opportunity to intervene with local attorneys and personal issues or to interject their personal agendas.


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

Montegnino was the only guy with the spine to stand up to the head hoodlum Nicolai.

Anonymous said...

Great Job!! and an Excellent Article!!!

but one point should be made...

If you are Pro Se, don't expect the small bit of help you are entitled to...

Some higher up will be watching... so even if the Pro Se department wants to help you... they will feel the heat...

Anonymous said...

Montagnino did not stand up to anyone. He did not stand up to Nicholai. I'll ask the same simple question....Why were there several other judges removed at the same time as montagnino?? Montaganino got caught along with several other judges...he was given a deal to get out of town and he took it....end of story....If he was standing up to the injustice then where has he been...Saratoga??...How about filing some charges Jimmy and testifying openly about the judicial steering of cases....oh wait...I forgot he is now running for a judge in Saratoga and needs to cover his past and re-invent himself...."Jim Montagnino the Martyr fighting corruption....."
With friends like that who needs enemies?

Anonymous said...

Gov Paterson should not even be considering judicial payraises until all the judges and court clerks and officers come clean - give the clerks and attendants the immunity to come forward and expose the wrongs - then when the cleansing is done the state can see where it is and see if raises are appropriate for anyone

Anonymous said...

I second the above comment.
The only way to clean out OCA is to protect the ones beneath the judges...the court clerks, reporters etc., because if they are not protected ,the ORGANIZED CRIME ENTITY OF OCA, will make absolute sure they will pay mentally, physically and financially!
The judicial beast lurks behind every well paid employee...and they are well paid to keep quiet for the BOSS!

Anonymous said...

The Westchester Guardian has been doing an excellent job of putting the truth and the facts out for everyone to see. In my opinion they are the only ones doing anything, no one else has the guts to up against the crime boss Frank N. and his minions For all their efforts both Richard Blassberg and Sam Zherka have been attacked in various ways. The establishment doesn't want the taxpayers of West. Co. reading about corruption and all the stealing that they are doing. If people get wise, the gig is over. Rich and Sammy, guys keep telling the truth about these rats, bring it to where they live, they can't take the heat they're really wimps! God Bless you're doing a great job

Anonymous said...

curious how it goes in other counties. up here the judge or judges who get away with outrageous conduct in the "unreported" cases, meaning not much media or scrutiny despite attempts, then get spoonfed the "look good" "be good" Easy cases where the media makes them look like a great hero and upstanding citizen like being able to sentence an admitted child sodomizer to 50 years or something and that is the case that gets all the press attention. do folks see similar patterns in other counties?

Anonymous said...

BTW - The appellate division is full of a-holes who consider a father a endless hole of $$ and yet remove their constitutional rights to raise their children on a whim. These dopes bounce off each others decisions until the case record is so screwed up that it would take NASA to figure out.
This is nothing new to anyone with 1/2 a brain left after surviving the corrupt and rotten ny legal system here in NY. The lawyers and judges are laughing now but one of these days they will be caught and hopefully they will be publicly humiliated and there families will abandon them.
**Here is an idea***
If you know a lawyer or a judge who drinks too much and drives or is having an affair and .....why don't you properly document it and call the police when they enter their car or call their spouse. It is time to turn the digital age and youtube against the lawyers and judges here in NY. Don't harass or unjustly bother anyone. Just do your civic duty in appropriate fashion. Criminals are on both sides of the bench and should be reported.

Anonymous said...

by the way, if federal Judge Scheindlin had already marked the 6or 10 cases other than Anderson as "related" to Anderson and the Anderson "Discovery" is Just Now going forward, How could Scheindlin have Dismissed the "Related" cases without waiting for the "Related" evidence to come in from Anderson? Would seem like a Clear Error of Law to me. I guess the Anderson Discovery could be "new evidence" for Rule 60 when it comes out or will they try to Cover Up the Anderson evidence?

Inquiring minds determined for Reform and Justice want to know.

Anonymous said...

The problem is not just some of the Judges but the system it self and Law Enforcement, especially the Westchester District Attorney, under Jeanine Pirro and now Janet Difiore. The Westchester D.A's office is beholded to these corrupt people. How can we expect Janet Difiore to investigate and prosecute any elected officials, especially the Judges in question when she and they are in it together. Janet Difiore goes to lunch on a daily basis with Frank Nicolai, Scarpino, Moley, and other Judges, the same Judges who are always in question and accused by members of the public of misconduct, stearing, and corruption. The Judicial system in Westchester is broken, and thanks to our District Attorney, Janet Difiore, who instead of being part of the solution has become head of the problem. Prosecutorial misconduct, police brutality, political corruption are out of control in what was once one of the best counties in the country in which to reside "Westchester"
We need help, maybe an honest Distrcit Attorney to clean things up.

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