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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Hero Judge of the Day: Hon. Joseph W. Bellacosa

Spin Obscured Real Results in 'Ambrecht'
By Hon. Joseph W. Bellacosa, Retired Justice of NYS Court of Appeals – November 28, 2008

Since I argued M/O Ambrecht before the Commission on Judicial Conduct on June 19, 2008, my perspective is necessarily partisan, (“Censure Advised for Judge Whose Personal Lawyer Appeared in Court,” Nov. 10, 2008). So, too however are perspective and comments of the commission’s administrator and counsel, Robert Tembeckjian, since he argued the commission’s side at that time.

For balance, I did not know Judge Michael R. Ambrecht when former Judge John Martin asked me earlier this year to join him in representing the judge before the commission, both of us on a pro bono basis. What we two former judges did know was that a profound principle of judicial independence, critical to the fair administration of justice, was at stake. That was the crux, as we saw it, of Charge 1 of the commission’s accusation of political motivation against Judge Ambrecht. [Charge 1 alleged that before the 2005 Democratic primary in which Manhattan District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau was running for re-election, Judge Ambrecht conducted an investigation of the prosecutor’s office and issued a decision that appeared to be politically motivated accusing the office of misconduct].

I write, on my own initiative entirely, to emphasize that the baseless Charge 1 was dismissed by the commission as unproven. Notwithstanding Mr. Tembeckjian’s partisan “spin” to various media including in the New York Law Journal, a 4-3 vote does not diminish the force of the commission ruling itself. Neither does it matter one whit, as Mr. Tembeckjian argues, the commission’s chosen referee was a former “distinguished” judge of the State Court of Appeals. That referee (unquestionably “distinguished” and my former colleague) might perhaps agree with me that evidence not pedigree is what counts. Moreover, he was simply a fact finder, so the conclusion he stated is of no relevance whatsoever since the only adjudicating entity, the commission, rejected that conclusion and the Charge 1 itself.

Mr. Tembeckjian’s comments compel this commentary from me in the constructive hope that the commission, with several new members and new leadership, may find it useful and appropriate to re-examine its procedures and especially the “spokesperson” role of its chief counsel. Serious questions to explore might be whether it is appropriate for the chief counsel to media-spin a commission determination, after it is rendered, to the extent of (1) questioning the force of a 4-3 dismissal of an unfounded and unproven charge; (2) challenging a concurring opinion rendered by a voting member of the commission; and (3) re-arguing and re-iterating the merits with prejudicial rhetoric, despite the dismissal of the substantive Charge 1. In courts, like the one I served in for 25 years, opinions of the tribunal are sacrosanct and are said to speak for themselves, with no emendations allowed by anyone including the judges. Why is the commission different, and its counsel free to speak in this fashion?

Because accountability for and transparency of official conduct by all the cogs in this wheel are so important, a word is also necessary concerning the erroneous inclusion in the Law Journal of Justice James Catterson’s role in the run-up of the Alvarez matter. With all due respect to Justice Catterson, he made no rulings whatsoever; indeed he never even issued to Judge Ambrecht any kind of judicial order, the sine qua non of judicial actions. He simply conducted a single-justice prohibition stay conference at the district attorney’s insistance from which no ruling, opinion or appellate division actions ensued. Moreover, he had no authority in that posture, in any event, to countermand or even question a presumptively valid sealing order of a justice of coordinate jurisdiction. A prior sealing order was still extant, and being vigorously protected by Sullivan & Cromwell on behalf of their clients, at the very time of the Manhattan District Attorney’s application to unseal material that was sought as potentially politically detrimental to the candidate incumbent’s primary for. Even that “official” maneuver, the application itself (idiomatically referred to as “dirty tricks”), nor its sequelae, have ever been fully aired for their questionable professional conduct implications (see e.g., M/O Elizabeth Holtzman, 78 NY 2d 184).

In the end, the painful irony of this rueful saga containing yet unsolved mysteries, is that, but for the dismissed and baseless Charge 1, there never would have been a later-added Charge 2 leading to the unfortunate censure of Judge Ambrecht.

I am particularly dismayed by the skewed emphasis on this disproportionate and unmitigated sanction, without adequate attention being given to Judge Ambrecht’s successful defense of his threshold conduct, to wit, he was exonerated of political motivation and he was vindicated in upholding the principle of judicial independence. That is the real story and the real journalistic lead here, not Mr. Tembeckjian’s irresponsible commentaries, nor the Inspector Javert- like persecution for over three years of a good man and a fine judge, just for doing his duty as he saw fit.

Joseph W. Bellacosa
The author is a retired judge of the State Court of Appeals


Anonymous said...

It's about time people stand up to the grossly improper conduct of the Commission on Judicial Conduct. The CJC, as we know it, needs to be shut down.

Anonymous said... you have Judges who are coming forth and reporting about CORRUPTION..What the heck are they doing about this..Governor Paterson and AG Cuomo? I'm sure Judge Bellacosa has alot to tell about the Court of Appeals... God Bless Judge Joseph W.Bellacosa-which, if you translate his last from Italian to english, it means beautiful things.

Anonymous said...

What about the rights of all the non judges who made complaints? Did Judge Bellacosa reveal any of the corruption he saw in the courts? Justice is not giving privileges and rights to Judges and denying them to the people who the CJC is supposed to serve.

Anonymous said...

CJC stands for Corrupt Jerk-Off Courts...All of these CLOWNS belong in Jail..LOCK THEIR CORRUPT ASSES UP and throw away the key.

Anonymous said...

If it happened at CJC, then it happened at the DDC's. Should Anderson have filed for Summary Judgment, granted. Related cases, remanded with a similar result.

On another, but similar note, Westchester Guardian, this A.M., reports former Sen. Alphonse D'Amato threatened the Independence Party Chairman (the swing vote around here) to support incumbent Janet DiFiore for Westchester County DA.

As part of the cases allegations, Denis Glazer (DiFiore's husband) similarly threatened the Independence Party chairman to switch his support from Tony Castro to DiFiore. Fed suit claims $40 million in damages.

What's wrong with this picture and where's Washington, Jefferson, Madison, FDR, JFK, and RFK when you need them?

Anonymous said...

DC Feds out of Public Integrity Investigate NY Judge tied to Florida 2000 Bush - Gore recount:

below is a link to a Breaking Albany Times Union story by Brendan Lyons indicating that Federal Agents out of the Washington, DC Public Integrity Unit of the Department of Justice are investigating former NY State Supreme Court Judge Thomas Spargo, who was removed from the bench.

Spargo was a consummate Republican insider at the State level as an elections lawyer and locally served as the election lawyer for Beth Cozzolino during her 1995 bid to be reinstated to the Primary Ballot on the Republican ticket during her original run for District Attorney.

Spargo also was known for the work he did in Florida during the 2000 Bush - Gore recount process and Spargo was joined in Florida by others on the Bush Team such as now former Congressman John Sweeney who is also reported as under federal investigation.

Sweeney is tied in with convicted Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff who, among other things, had ties to Organized Crime members alleged to have been involved in the Shooting death of a Greek business owner in Florida that owned the Sun Cruz Casino line.

Locally, Spargo also has ties to sitting Judge Paul Czajka of the Columbia County Court and District Attorney member Neal Conolly who formerly worked in the Pataki Administration.


Anonymous said...

the times union has the beginning of a major story that goes to nyc and a big time white shoe firm currently under criminal probe on an unrelated matter that was invoved in the florida litigation. go times union and don't get spiked, the flood gates of corruption need to be opened.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

If Paterson doesn't shut down the completely corrupt CJC very soon, then we need to have him removed as Governor.

Anonymous said...

sometime ago I filed complaints against a JUDGE and it was whitewashed. I gave up because I couldn't afford to fight the BLACK WALL of silence. The lawyers all sold me out to be nice to the JUDGES.

This JUDGE Joseph W. Bellacosa from what I have read is a STAND UP guy. GOD BLESS HIM because he's not like by the mutts he called out.

Anonymous said...

the CJC should be shut down immediately is agreed and this bunch has whitewashed many a valid complaint to the detriment of ny citizens and a fair judicial system

yet, according to the statement by the federal agent in this upstate ny case, public corruption is being taken very seriously as shown by today's Indictment of a former NY State Supreme Court Judge in upstate who had been an election lawyer and who was involved in the 2000 Bush - Gore recount mess on behalf of Team Bush


Anonymous said...

I suspect more and more judges will be coming forward soon.

Anonymous said...

look closely at the clients of the law firm of Sullivan & Cromwell. Believe they are allpart of a corrupt criminal enterprise of law firms that get paid to play. Robert Tembeckjian is a cover up artist, and not a very good one that should have been fired along time ago. It's too late to fire him, just put him in jail. Think he will rat out many of his fellow lawyers
The Hon. Joseph W. Bellacosa needs the support of all good citizens of New YOrk State.

Anonymous said...

Why not appoint Joseph Bellacosa as Chief Judge? He REALLY knows how bad OCA is.

Anonymous said...

Finally a judge that fits the title..

I for one, thank you, your Honor...

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
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