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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Village Voice: Justice is Blindsided

Wayne Barrett: How Shelly Silver Made His Pal Chief Judge
The Village Voice, Posted by Wayne Barrett at 10:34 AM, February 10, 2009 -

This week's Village Voice doesn't hit streets until tomorrow morning, but for our Runnin' Scared readers, we're offering tomorrow's cover story a day early. This one should rock Albany: our Wayne Barrett details state assembly speaker Sheldon Speaker's step-by-step scheme to boost his old LES pal Jonathan Lippman to the state's highest judicial post, an appointment which is scheduled to be confirmed later this week. Read it and rage. --[Village Voice] Ed.

Justice is Blindsided

Shelly Silver games Governor Paterson to get his childhood pal the state's top courts job By Wayne Barrett - February 11, 2009

Jonathan Lippman and Sheldon Silver grew up together on the Lower East Side in the 1950s, living next door in the insular Grand Street projects and sitting near each other's family in the neighborhood's Orthodox shul. After both graduated from law school in 1968 and drifted into low-level courthouse gigs in Manhattan in their early careers, one went on to become the longest-serving Democratic legislative leader in modern New York history, master of an unprecedented 107 to 43 majority in the State Assembly. The other remained largely unknown, except inside the state's vast court system. Last month, the two old friends reunited in the Red Room in the State Capitol to celebrate their emergence as the most powerful duo in state government.  Below the political radar, the black-hatted, still religious, and gravel-toned Silver, who is celebrating his 65th birthday and 15th year as speaker this month, has been quietly boosting the more secular Lippman for years. Last month, he finally pushed Lippman from the series of back-office management posts where he had labored for years to the job of top gavel in the State Judiciary.

Appointed Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals in mid-January by the accidental governor, David Paterson, whose troubled tenure continues to erode his own ranking among the state's power elite, Lippman is awaiting virtually certain confirmation in the next few days from the new and narrow Senate Democratic majority. He will take over a court system that spends $2.3 billion a year, employs 21,000, and is likely to deal with issues like gay marriage, the housing foreclosure crisis, Wall Street criminality, and the still anti-city school aid formula during the six years he will reign until his mandatory retirement at 70.  A year younger than his boyhood friend, Lippman awaits State Senate confirmation before becoming the first chief judge since 1898 to lead the state's highest court without ever serving as one of the court's nine members. When Silver gave a short speech at Paterson's announcement of the appointment, Lippman quipped: "Two kids from the Lower East Side--not too shabby."  In fact, the story of how Lippman reached this pinnacle has its shabby side. He exudes an above-politics reform aura, but he did not climb to the top of the state's judiciary without making some stops in the dark along the way. His ally, Silver, helped clear that path to power, working a system whose anti-democratic ways have been rebuked by two federal courts.

Lippman has been a hardworking ambassador and manager of the courts for decades, visiting almost all of the system's 343 locations and acquainting himself with virtually every one of its 1,300 judges. But he has also been its consummate political player, seemingly more interested in influence than law.  Jonathan Lippman will soon preside over the most complicated and significant cases in New York, even though he's never practiced as a private attorney. His legal career began in a judge's chambers as a law secretary and, when he turns 70 in six years, it will end there. In fact, he has spent so much of his career as a bureaucrat that he's written only 16 signed judicial opinions, 14 of them since Paterson's predecessor, Eliot Spitzer, made him the presiding justice of Manhattan's Appellate Division in 2007. With that scant a record as a jurist, it's impossible to know what his judicial philosophy is, and even his 24-year tenure in three appointive administrative posts offers no consistent thread about his judicial values or independence.

On one hand, he described himself in a 2006 speech as "unencumbered by parochial or partisan or political agendas," and is so widely considered a champion of court reform that New York's Bar Association found him "exceptionally well qualified" for chief judge, ahead of the "well-qualified" ratings it gave long-standing Appeals judges. The Times endorsed him, and he was given the Rehnquist Award for Judicial Excellence in November by U.S. Supreme Court Chief Judge John Roberts.  On the other hand, he is such a skilled and connected insider that when he ran for the first and only time in 2005, he was the only candidate in the state running for Supreme Court who couldn't be voted against. Lippman was on all five ballot lines: Democratic, Republican, Working Families, Conservative, and Independent. In fact, he had refused to allow his name to be put in the nomination unless every party backed him for the seat, which is the top trial court of the unified court system. (In New York, the "Supreme" Court is not actually supreme: The Court of Appeals is at the top of the judicial pile, above the Appellate Division and the Supreme Court, where major civil and criminal cases are heard.)

David Alpert, the onetime Democratic leader in Lippman's home county of Westchester, says the first time he ever heard of the man was when he got a call from a Republican, State Senator Nick Spano. Spano told him that he and a Westchester Democratic assemblyman, Richard Brodsky, had passed an amendment creating a new Supreme Court seat in Westchester, and Spano wanted Lippman "to be cross-endorsed for it." That meant Spano wanted the Democrats, Republicans, and other minor parties to all vote at their judicial nominating conventions to put Lippman's name on their ballot lines for this new, vacant seat, in exchange for which the Republicans would demand that the Democrats endorse at least one of their candidates.  "I didn't even know [Lippman] lived in Westchester," says Alpert, who was accustomed to promoting attorneys and county judges who had done their time for the party to Supreme Court slots. "I had breakfast with him, and the first thing he told me was that he and Shelly were raised together. He said he wanted to be cross-endorsed and that he wanted to go on to be an appellate judge." Alpert was just one of a legion of county leaders Lippman had to deal with over the years as he sought a Supreme Court seat--five counties with five parties occupy the 9th Judicial District--but Alpert says "we tried twice" (in 2000 and 2002, he believes) to deliver a multi-party cross-endorsement deal and couldn't.

Joseph Ruggiero, the Democratic leader from Dutchess County in 2002, said that on the day of the judicial convention when Democrats picked their Supreme Court nominees, Silver placed a conference call to a group of party leaders gathered at the Westchester headquarters and asked them to support Lippman. "We all said yes," recalled Ruggiero. How could they say no? With a Republican governor and Senate majority leader at the time, Silver was New York's top Democrat, and Denny Farrell, Silver's right hand in the assembly, was the state party chair. When the current Westchester Democratic leader, Reggie LaFayette, finally did deliver a deal for Lippman in 2005, he explained Lippman's unusual candidacy--clearly more top-down than the typical grassroots designation--to his executive committee this way: "I told them I don't create judge seats. It was created higher up than me, by the two houses of the legislature. And someone yelled out, 'You mean Assemblyman Silver,' and I said, 'Well, he had to vote for it.' " But the bigger problem for LaFayette was cajoling his fellow leaders into giving up a seat in a cross-endorsement deal and backing a Republican. Cross-endorsements are easy when the two parties are competitive and no one knows who will win, but Democrats had won five of six judgeships in 2004, without any deals, and felt no need to give the GOP anything.

The executive committee understood LaFayette's argument and signed on, but a few weeks later, the price of the Lippman package deal got much steeper. The leaders could live with cross-endorsing the initial Republican candidate, a respected county judge named Stewart Rosenwasser. But just days before the September judicial conventions, the Republicans replaced Rosenwasser with a candidate that horrified many Democrats: Joseph Alessandro, also a county judge.  Alessandro had been found "not qualified" by the Bar Association and was dogged by tawdry tax and lawsuit charges. The New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct is still investigating those charges, and Alessandro, who did become a Supreme Court judge, is now facing possible severe sanctions. Yet it was Lippman's demands that would put Alessandro on the bench.

Lippman wanted to be endorsed by all five parties, and that insistence created an opening for the county's most voracious party boss, Dr. Giulio Cavallo, who controlled the Independence Party. He wanted Alessandro, not Rosenwasser, to become Lippman's opposite number in the multi-party swap and get the cross-endorsements. LaFayette and the Republican leader, RoseMarie Panio, eventually decided to back Alessandro, but fights against the deal broke out on the floors of both of these ordinarily scripted and staid conventions. Challengers ran against Alessandro and, had he lost at either convention, Lippman's precious deal--and ultimately his route to the Court of Appeals--would have died. The inclusion of Alessandro so offended Working Families party chair Pat Welsh that he endorsed Lippman but refused to back Alessandro, telling the Voice that the deal was "unconscionable." (Lippman ran on five ballot lines; Alessandro, apparently unconcerned about the Working Families Party, four). A disgusted Rosenwasser wound up quitting the bench altogether.

At Lippman's January 2006 induction ceremony for Supreme Court in White Plains, Silver regaled the audience of bigwigs--at a special celebration separated from the swearing-in of the other new judges--with "our gang" stories from their first meeting at the age of six. Saying, "We have shared a common path," Silver joined in celebrating "with my colleagues in the legislature," many of whom were there, "who I say had a good hand in making today happen." While Lippman is now said to be downplaying Silver's role in his rise, he called him "family" in his speech and praised him for "marshaling the troops, and, boy, can he marshal the troops." Lippman called himself "basically an apolitical person," and then thanked 16 party leaders, referring to each of the five from Westchester, including Cavallo, as "my leader," singling out Spano, who, he said, "vouched for me on the Republican side." Judge Gail Prudenti, the presiding justice in the Appellate Division covering Westchester, spoke on behalf of what she called "the many, many, many campaign advisers to the seemingly never-ending 'Lippman for Justice' campaigns."

The unexamined side of the Lippman saga is revealed in these salty Westchester tales, where the judge who pretends he is above self-serving politics played it as skillfully as his sidekick from the neighborhood who does it for a living. Lippman created the state's Judicial Campaign Ethics Center to guide candidates for elected judgeships, but he told Alpert, and many others, that he wanted the seat handed to him without the inconvenience of an election because it would be unseemly for the chief administrative judge to solicit contributions.  Yet he had no problem brandishing the calling card of Silver's friendship, or dialing up county leaders and other powerbrokers, some of whom, including Senate Assistant Majority Leader and onetime GOP boss Spano, were receiving lucrative patronage assignments from his courts. He even had no hesitation about going forward with the deal though he knew it would result in the elevation of an already tarnished judge, Alessandro, who may soon be repudiated by the Conduct Commission.

In fact, just as he began his efforts to secure a Supreme Court slot in 2000, he opened an elaborate office for himself in state space, across the street from the White Plains courthouse, and began spending a lot of time there, deeply involving himself in the judicial politics of that district. Shortly before that, he abruptly asked the district's administrative judge, Angelo Ingrassia, a Republican from a small county in the district, to step down a year before his mandatory retirement age. He even gave Ingrassia a car and chauffeur for his final year to induce him to do it.  He then split Ingrassia's job into two positions and gave both to Spano allies--one a Republican and the other an influential Democrat from Westchester, the populous center of the district. The new administrative judge, Frank Nicolai, denied in a Voice interview that he "campaigned for Lippman" in the long-running effort to secure a Supreme Court seat, as some sources contend. That would be a violation of judicial ethics, which only permit judges to campaign for themselves. "If someone asked," Nicolai said, "I'd say he'd be an outstanding judge." Asked if he might have initiated some of those conversations, Nicolai added: "I might have."

Nicolai presided at Lippman's 2006 swearing-in, where Lippman, Silver, and his other prestigious friends were so self-congratulatory it was almost as if he had actually won an election--when all he'd really done was collect chits and lean on the party bosses who'd installed him. With all the editorial hubbub about the judicial nominating process in New York, spurred by the federal court decisions that the process was an unconstitutional infringement of the franchise, Lippman the reformer had inadvertently established by his own experience how poisonously anti-democratic it was.  Yet, at his induction, he called his campaign "a unique experience," and even praised the mix of elective and appointive positions in New York's judicial system. Indeed, he has proven, from his Supreme Court fix to his culminating appointment as chief judge, that he is the master of both processes, each with their own brand of incestuous networking. If that is merit, then Lippman is what many of his supporters see him as, the embodiment of the merit system in our courts.

Lippman wanted a Supreme Court spot to make himself legally eligible for appointment to a second-tier appellate post, which he saw as a vital stepping-stone to the top-tier Court of Appeals. He had to do it then because his other sponsor, Chief Judge Judith Kaye, would have to step down when she turned 70 in 2008, and even a brief stint on the appellate bench would give him an opportunity to build a record as a scholarly jurist, though it would be quite a lean one in comparison with competitors who'd actually written opinions for lifetimes.  But his timely and controversial "election" was hardly the only awkwardly abetted step on his unprecedented career ascension. Prior to it, Lippman had only been a Court of Claims judge--an appointment bestowed by Governor George Pataki a few months into his first year in office (1995), when the Democrat Lippman managed to secure a spot despite the hunger of Republicans eager to grab judicial patronage slots after 12 years of Democratic rule.

At the time, Lippman was the top deputy in the Office of Court Administration, and all he had going for him were his Silver ties; an assiduously cultivated friendship with GOP Senate Judiciary Chair Jim Lack; and the backing of Judge Kaye, who argued that Lippman should hold a judicial title since she intended to install him, as she did a few months later, as the chief administrative judge.  Spano, who had just become the Republican county leader in Westchester in 1995, met Lippman in the few days between Pataki's appointment and the Senate's confirmation. Since Lippman was technically a candidate from Spano's home turf, he had to sign off and did, endorsing Lippman on the Senate floor and launching what he concedes became a series of efforts on Lippman's behalf that he would make over the coming years. Three of the pivotal party brass--Westchester Conservative Gail Burns, Rockland County Republican Vince Reda, and Cavallo--were on Spano-engineered Senate payrolls when Lippman collected his cross-endorsements in 2005, and the senator concedes that he spoke to them, as well as to Westchester Republican RoseMarie Panio, a close ally. "I'm sure I expressed support for Judge Lippman," Spano tells the Voice. "Anytime his name was up, I was an enthusiastic supporter."

In fact, Spano, who was widely viewed as the Senate Republican closest to Silver, confirmed his call to Alpert and acknowledged that he'd pushed midnight legislation through in 2005 and earlier, aided by Brodsky, that created new Supreme Court seats in the judicial district covering Westchester. The bill in 2005 was introduced by Pataki on June 24 and passed by both houses that day. While Spano said he didn't think "it would be fair to say" the seats were "created for anyone," he concedes that "Lippman's name came up" when the bills were adopted. Lippman needed more than one bill because the cross-endorsement deals with the Republicans fell apart, for reasons having nothing to do with him (once the Republicans demanded four Republican cross-endorsements for Lippman). He even went so far as to be nominated by the Democrats in 2002, only to file a formal declination when the deal with the GOP broke down.

A few months after Spano helped engineer Lippman's 2005 cross-endorsement, his brother, Mike Spano, an assemblyman mired in the hopelessly outmanned Republican minority, quit the assembly and joined a premier Albany lobbying firm run by Silver's former chief of staff, Pat Lynch, who is perceived to be the lobbyist closest to the speaker. When Nick Spano was defeated for the Senate in 2006, he formed his own lobbying company that Lynch invested in and allowed him to operate until this month out of her Albany suite. Mike Spano eventually went back to the Assembly, but he later became a Democrat at a press conference attended by Silver. Nick Spano, who reported half a million dollars in lobbying fees in 2007, denies vociferously that his aggressive support for Lippman has anything to do with his current business. But his ties to Lynch, and Lynch's hiring of his brother (who was hardly an influential Albany player), are a measure of his alliance with Silver, who Nick Spano says he "might have talked to" about Lippman's candidacy over the years "in social settings."

All the while that Spano was aiding Lippman's candidacy, he was reaping at least $79,739 in fees as a "court evaluator," a person paid to measure the mental competency of someone named in a legal petition. Though Spano isn't a lawyer, he has received 31 of these assignments and four other referee assignments. OCA regulations require the disclosure of these fees, but Spano's fees in 15 cases aren't listed on the office's printout. While Lippman's OCA had nothing to do with choosing evaluators (individual judges do that), it did collect applications for appointments; approved evaluators, like Spano, for the list; and set the qualifications for appointment, which appear to permit just about any professional to sign up.  Evaluators look into the eyes of the subjects of these court petitions, many of whom are elderly and in nursing homes, and decide whether they should retain control of property and other assets, the value of which they also consider. Spano sponsored the law that created this position, and he and other pols in Westchester, including then Senator Guy Velella, wasted no time collecting assignments. Velella, who has since been convicted on unrelated charges, was another social friend of Lippman's, and dined with him and Senator Lack and their wives at Rao's, the famously exclusive restaurant in East Harlem. Even one of the restaurant owners collected 19 appointments as an evaluator.

Lack, however, never dipped into the evaluator till, but he did collect 66 court appointments as a guardian or referee while chairing the Senate Judiciary, 26 of which were from Judge Prudenti, who spoke about her adviser role in Lippman's never-ending campaign at the 2006 induction. A Court of Claims judge himself by then, Lack was also present at the swearing-in and was saluted by Lippman, though he'd left the Senate after chasing a woman to her home in a road-rage dispute and ducking under the garage door when she tried to hide from him. "Do I think it's a terrible thing that people involved in public office receive this?" Lippman once told Newsday, referring to judicial patronage. "No, I don't."  There's no indication that Lippman had anything to do with directly managing this grab bag of goodies--with evaluators often earning $3,000 for a couple hours of work. But if Lippman was so concerned about the appearances of being political that he effectively exempted himself from the requirement that he actually compete in the electoral arena, he might have been a bit more careful about the appearances of his alliances with the beneficiaries of this dubious bonanza.

The day after Lippman became a Supreme Court Judge, in 2006, he asked Judges Kaye and Prudenti to name him to the Appellate Term, a job he would perform in addition to the administrative post he retained. This assignment--which allowed him to hear appeals of some lower court decisions--was his only way of acquiring appeal experience without being formally elevated by the governor to the full Appellate Division.  When a vacancy developed in the Manhattan Appellate Division and Spitzer selected Lippman as the county's presiding judge, howls were heard because two of the most respected sitting judges on that Appellate Division were bypassed by the screening panel of lawyers that vets judicial candidates, narrowing the governor's choice.

The same thing happened in December, when the screening panel for chief judge excluded two sitting Court of Appeals judges, as well as all women and Latino candidates--giving Paterson an invitation he couldn't figure out how to refuse. The panel included four Kaye appointees and one from Silver. Panel member Leo Milonas was so close to Lippman he spoke at the induction. Lippman saluted Milonas then as "truly my friend for life," calling their friendship, which began when Lippman worked for him at OCA, "an unforgettable relationship that, to my great benefit, continues today in every way."  Reminded of that by the Voice, Milonas saw it as no reason to have recused himself from anointing Lippman, noting that he was "more qualified" to help pick a chief judge "because I know people." The panel's chair, John O'Mara, a Pataki appointee, sat with Lippman on the court's Capital Construction Board for years.  An angry Paterson asked Attorney General Andrew Cuomo to investigate the panel's exclusionary list of seven nominees, but he never released Cuomo's report or recommendations. Instead, he began openly associating the chief judge selection with the other grand decision that faced him--the choice of a new senator to succeed Hillary Clinton--sending the signal that he had to pick a woman for the Senate since the panel's list barred him from picking one for the court.

When Silver reversed course and supported Caroline Kennedy, insiders suspected it was all about his love for Lippman. At that point, the governor had also just about convinced everyone that he wanted Kennedy, and the assumption was that Silver got the message that if he wanted Lippman, he'd better sing "Auld Lang Syne" to his Kennedy animosity. Paterson was asked about this connection at the Lippman announcement and denied it, adding that he "actually did not know the extent" of Lippman's "relationship" with Silver until he called the speaker to tell him about the appointment--which would make the governor the only high-ranking New York official blind to it.  Ironically, of course, Paterson deserted Kennedy, and even claimed, improbably, that he never intended to pick her, though he revealed how important he thought Silver's opinion was about his eventual choice, Kirsten Gillibrand (another woman, to balance Lippman), when he said at her announcement that he moved it up to Friday from Saturday so the Sabbath-observing Silver could attend. It would be par for the course in Paterson's stumbling regime that he would agree to Silver's choice for chief judge in return for Silver's support of Kennedy, and then not get her, only to be stuck with Silver's pal for judge.

Whatever the deal, Paterson appeared boxed in when he announced that he would choose from the screening panel's list for chief judge. But there is one school of thought, citing interpretations from the OCA, that suggests that Paterson could simply have chosen to do nothing when the January 15 appointment deadline arrived. These analysts argue that Paterson could have named no one until later this year, when panel chair O'Mara steps down. That would have meant that Carmen Ciparick, a woman and a Hispanic who has been on the Court of Appeals for 15 years, could have continued serving as the acting chief judge, a position the other seven judges voted to give her when Kaye retired in January. The press office at the court says Ciparick is the chief judge "as long as the seat remains vacant." If Paterson had simply done nothing, he could have eventually asked the new panel for a new list, and Ciparick, who applied and was rejected by O'Mara's very politicized panel, might actually have gotten a chance to compete for the job.  The same is true should the Senate take no action now. In fact, several Democratic state senators have been making a fuss for weeks about the lack of Latino representation in positions of power--at any level of city or state government. It is an issue that threatened the Democratic takeover of the Senate majority at the same time that Paterson was deciding, unknown to anyone, to displace a sitting Latina chief judge he could have allowed to remain, and perhaps even wind up appointing. His simultaneous selection of the anti-immigrant Gillibrand for the Senate seat compounded Paterson's trouble with Hispanics.

New York's first black governor preferred the comfort of Silver and Kaye and Lippman and the old-line judicial establishment. Lippman had even been careful enough to establish a personal rapport with the governor when Paterson was the Senate minority leader, meeting with him on OCA issues. Unelected himself and unsure of the extraordinary powers of his office, Paterson seems to shrink in Silver's company, now blaming the millionaire's tax on him as if the speaker sets the budget agenda.  The graying gang from Grand Street rolled the neophyte governor from Harlem, and will soon double their choke hold on state government, a triumph of loyalty and intrigue, which, in old New York, adds up to just another measure of merit.

Research assistance by Dene-Hern Chen, Jana Kasperkevic, Sudip P. Mukherjee, and Jesus Ron


Anonymous said...

So, Lippman, Nicoali, Paterson, Silver, and now Senator Sampson and his "senate committee" have all sold their souls. Rot in hell. Justice again delayed!

Anonymous said...

Since the election rigging in Westchester is a federal crime, I'll just ask the NYS senate judicial committee to my Election Fraud complaint - the one I testified to two weeks ago. I may be anonymous to you, but I ain't anonymous to the feds!

Anonymous said...

Let's give credit where credit is due. Election Fraud was perfected in Westchester.

Anonymous said...

Maybe the house negro can withdraw his nomination of Lippman and support the black,white,yellow and brown citizens instead of the corrupt old schul boys.

Anonymous said...

Grand Street Pals Silver and Lippman outdo in audacity anything the
Grand Old Party in eclipse can do these days on the
eve of the GOP's favorite son Lincoln's birthday now that 2/3 of the 3 men
who used to run NYS (Bruno and Pataki) are out of power. Where is Inspector General (Gadget) Spatz in all this? How come the Village Voice didn't mention her name once? Is it because Lippman and now his successor Chief Administrative Judge Pfau have defanged her? They know where their bread is the Silver controlled Senate with this done deal for the next how many years?

There is no oversight worth mentioning of the Judicial Branch of NYS. It is a very thin sham and facade. We need the feds and we need the
people of NYS to shout out loud. Don't confirm Lippman tomorrow or we will have a new unholy alliance of power built by this back room manipulated undemocratic ascension orchestrated by the two old pals from Grand Street. Governor Paterson, please speak up!

Anonymous said...

Barrett's article was great on the "politics" but appears short on the court corruption and OCA issues. Hopefully his staff will dive in head first to help this cause to expose and undo Court corruption since the Politicians elected in office appear to be hand in hand with it and not desirous of change including the AG.

Anonymous said...

Well, Well, isn't nice to know that Sheldon Silver and Judge Lippman are childhood buddies ..Glad to hear that.. So, I guess they won't mind sharing the same JAIL CELL together...I hoep they both ROT in HELL.

Anonymous said...

The Village Voice should have included Judge Lippman in their picture with Lippman licking Silver's BUTT.

Anonymous said...

wow, did not realize that good old guy vellela of the bronx was a lippman pal?

wasn't there back several years ago that now indicted Joe Bruno was very worried when the Velella investigation was going on then and how it may reach albany then?

and back then King George Pataki had Transplanted Judge Buckley from Upstate down to the First Dept to Squash the Velella Wiretaps!!

Would be Great for the Village Voice to Recap their work on "Hear no evil and See No evil" and Buckley and the First Dept and the Squashing back then and tie it in to the present!

Anonymous said...

During my years with the NY Legislature I sat in on many meetings with Jim Lack. The guy loved the sound of his own voice. Everytime he would start to speak, pompous ass that he was, the whole room would quietly groan. Doesn't surprise me at all that he's in bed with Lippman. He did chase a woman with his car and scared the hell out of her.

As for Velella, another dirtbag senator, yes, Bruno was afraid that he would be dragged into Velella's cesspool, instead he managed to make one of his own.

Anonymous said...

Shame on Paterson. Spineless.

Anonymous said...

What did you really expect from Paterson...he was a Ho hand-me-down!

Anonymous said...

Name Recognition
By Heidi Bruggink
Posted 01-30-08

Appellate court leader Gail Prudenti benefited early on from family political connections, but today her record speaks for itself.

For a public official whose surname is entwined with political brawling, Second Department Presiding Judge A. Gail Prudenti counts a surprising number of admirers — on both sides of the aisle.

The secret, according to the recipient of these platitudes, is simple: “I try to treat everyone as I’d like to be treated.”

Prudenti served as the first person simultaneously to hold the positions of Surrogate Judge and Administrative Judge in Suffolk County. That was in the late 1990’s before her ascent to the Appellate Division, a post she has found “a very humbling experience.”

But striving to be known for her accomplishments alone was an issue for Prudenti in her early career. The judge has been dubbed part of a political aristocracy,” according to a 1991 Newsday article. Her husband, Robert Cimino, served as Suffolk County Attorney for many years, and her father, Anthony Prudenti, was a Suffolk Republican leader during the late 1970s.

Prudenti’s landslide election to the Supreme Court in 1992 was backed by Suffolk GOP leaders, including party chief John Powell, who told Newsday that the then-probate attorney was “very qualified and well respected in legal circles . . . and she is my son's godmother."


In a January interview in her chambers reflecting back on that watershed, Prudenti conceded that her family connections gave her a leg up — but only that.

“Do I think that my father and friends and my husband have helped open doors for me?” she asked rhetorically. “Yes. But I think at this point it’s been a long time now, and I’m judged by my record and how I conduct myself.”

The thought is echoed by none other than Rich Schaffer, Chairman of the Suffolk County Democratic Committee. “She has the name ‘Prudenti,’ which helped,” he said. “But once she got in, a lot of it had to do with how she handled herself.”

Prudenti recalls her father warning against a premature campaign for Supreme Court because he thought she needed more experience. A year after his 1990 death, however, she finally ran for the post and won in a landslide election in Suffolk — despite initially having had doubts about the race.

“In1991, I didn’t want to be a Supreme Court Judge,” she said. “All I wanted was to be a Surrogate, but people said if you really want [that position] you have to run for elected office.”

However, political consultant Jerry Skurnik offered a larger context for that analysis.

“In most cases people think Surrogate is a more prestigious position,” he said. “The Surrogate is his or her own boss. They hire their own staff and are in charge of a court, as opposed to a Supreme Court Justice.”

But, he added, “In Suffolk they actually have contested elections for Supreme Court, unlike in New York, so one theory is you run for Supreme Court, get your name out there, show you can raise money and run a decent campaign, then run for Surrogate.”


Prudenti’s two years on the Supreme Court were generally unremarkable; her most newsworthy case involved denying a motion to shut down a “family farm stand” operating across the street from a vacation home in East Hampton.

Elected Surrogate Judge in 1994, Prudenti initially managed to avoid the scandals plaguing many other Suffolk Republicans. Newsday wrote at the time that she “is popular among leaders, lawyers, and party rank and file. She's considered a high-powered campaigner.”

But the judge’s fundraising soon came under fire, when Democratic attorney Jack Braslow assailed a letter she sent “for identifying people on her campaign committee as lawyers, contrary to bar association rules . . . and [for] including among her list of backers a member of the Suffolk County Bar Association's screening committee, which rates candidates as qualified or not.”

John Gross, then-bar association president, also told Newsday that the listing of people on Prudenti's committee "as attorneys . . . is inappropriate."

At the time, Prudenti's campaign coordinator, Vincent Berger, told the paper that though the name of a bar association screening committee member did appear on the letter, the person in question “was not a member of the campaign committee.”

In that race, Prudenti’s campaign also took Surrogate Judge opponent James F. X. Doyle, now an Acting Supreme Court Justice in Suffolk, to court to remove his name from the Right to Life Party ballot, raising objections to a duplicate signature on his petitions. But she withdrew the action, after it was discovered that the repeat signature stemmed from “a legally blind nun who asked someone to sign for her because she didn't have her magnifying glass handy — then later signed herself.”

Yet Doyle downplayed the run-in, and he is another Prudenti booster.

“Part of the sequence of primaries, at least in Suffolk, involves litigation over whether the technicalities were met,” said Doyle. “That’s not unusual at all, that’s par for the course. It really was no big deal.”

And Prudenti herself? “I think Gail is terrific,” he added. “I like her, I liked her then, I like her now. She manages to have an equanimity of temperament and treats people well, I give her an ‘A.’ ”

This from a candidate against whom Prudenti took 64 percent of the vote.


Only two months after taking the position, however, Prudenti had to recuse herself from the multi-million dollar estate probate of deceased real estate investor Aaron Rimland — because Powell had signed a lease for one of his properties For Prudenti’s campaign headquarters. The case expanded that summer when Rimland’s sister, Marilyn Waxman, filed a RICO lawsuit alleging that Rimland had given Prudenti and Powell free or reduced rent to buy influence.

Asked about the Rimland case, Prudenti looked blank.

“I don’t remember dealing with those people!” the judge said. “As with all campaigns, you protect yourself — I personally had no knowledge of anything.”

According to the state’s ethical guidelines, Prudenti’s lack of knowledge is actually required: “Judges are not supposed to know who’s financing their campaign,” said Skurnik, the consultant. “They appoint a treasurer, who keeps track of campaign finance rules.”

“There is a theory that if someone in her camp did something wrong, she’s ultimately responsible, but not necessarily,” he added.

Prudenti immediately recused herself from the case, which was transferred to Magistrate Arlene Lindsay before being moved to the Bronx.

Prudenti came under fire later that year for hiring Suffolk County Executive Robert Gaffney's wife as her law secretary to replace Teresa Powell, the mother of the Suffolk GOP leader. She had previously held the position and was moving to a more lucrative job as principal court analyst.

"If it were a television show it would be 'All in the Family' meets 'Let's Make a Deal,' " East Hampton Supervisor Tony Bullock told Newsday. The issue splayed over the papers the following year, when Prudenti promoted Powell’s mother to deputy public administrator, and county officials filed objected, citing nepotism laws.

The judge told The New York Times, "I chose Teresa because I truly believe she is the best person for the job," and the appointment was ultimately approved by the County Legislature.

“It’s very difficult, “ said Prudenti, reflecting on the negative media attention. I’ve tried to learn from my mistakes and realize that not everyone is going to think you’re right. You just have to have confidence in yourself and your abilities.”


Prudenti made headlines for something other than her connections in November 1995, when she ruled that “some civil laws override doctor-patient confidentiality,” according to Newsday. At issue was her order for a doctor to testify in a lawsuit brought by a deceased patient’s sons; Prudenti wrote that the new laws were “based upon the notion that the decedent would expect the seal of confidentiality to be lifted in the interests of resolving disputes over his will.”

Subsequently, Chief Administrative Judge Jonathan Lippman appointed Prudenti the county’s Administrative Judge in 1999, making her the first woman to hold the post, as well as the first Surrogate in county history to fill the dual role.

Prudenti confirmed her initial hesitation at accepting the administrative post. “I’d always wanted to be Surrogate,” she said. “Then I realized that my talent lies in administration.”

Newsday reported that many lawyers praised Prudenti for having “the personality to cajole often intractable judges.”

Which means what? Lippman, now an appellate judge, recalled that Prudenti, after creating a matrimonial division in Islip, “got senior judges, new judges, to be assigned there, and to Matrimonial – which is not the most popular assignment. They went, liked it, and felt they were doing something important. . . . They ended up thinking it was a prime assignment.”

That praise is a common accolade echoed by many who have worked with the judge. Supreme Court Justice Gary Weber, who served as Acting Surrogate with Prudenti, taking some of her caseload to allow her to fill both roles, said, “She’s got a way with people that I’ve never seen. She can defuse the worst situation and get people going to put forth their best efforts.”

“She’s truly terrific – the best I’ve ever seen,” he added. “Her big thing was continual communication with judges, geared toward finding the best way to resolve things in best way and keep cases moving.”

Of her time as Administrative Judge, Prudenti said she was most proud of eliminating the court’s backlog, her comprehensive civil case program, expanding the county’s dedicated matrimonial parts and guardianships, preparing for a dedicated commercial part, and implementing mental health, domestic violence, and drug treatment courts. She won praise for “making the courts more accessible to the public,” according to Newsday, and she cited that as one of her priorities in all her judicial posts.

Lippman confirmed Prudenti’s accomplishments, saying, “There was a huge backlog when she came in, and — by getting people to sit in conference parts, getting law clerks involved with motions, getting judges based in Riverhead to tackle it — she ended up getting rid of it so fast that by the end people were complaining because you walked in the door and you got a trial.”

“Prudenti was one of the most outstanding jurists and humanitarians who’s ever been on the bench,” said Lynne Adair Kramer, Supervisor of the Court Observation Program at Touro Law School. “I don’t think you’ll find anyone here in this county who doesn’t like Gail Prudenti. I can’t say a bad word about her, and I don’t know anyone who will.”

Schaffer, the Democratic chair, gives the judge credit for “reaching out to the minority parties,” adding, “she’s very good at herding cats, being the administrative judge, keeping everybody happy, and she seems to do a pretty good job at that due, I think, to her personality.”


Only midway through her term as Surrogate Judge, Prudenti mounted a 2000 run for the State Supreme Court to devote herself solely to the administrative position.

As a full-time Supreme Court Justice, as Newsday noted, “she could also be in contention for a gubernatorial appointment to the Appellate Division” following the much-anticipated retirement of two Brooklyn judges.

When she received a call from the governor’s office regarding the Appellate Division appointment, Prudenti said, “Did I think I’d get it? Probably not. Did I want to be considered? Absolutely.”

Prudenti did, in fact, receive the appointment, and only months after ascending to the appellate bench, the Governor named her the first female Presiding Judge of the Appellate Division's Second Department.

As Presiding Judge, Prudenti formed an advisory panel to examine a proposed departmental ban on allowing 18-b attorneys representing the indigent from representing their assigned clients for a fee. She also held hearings on Staten Island for the first time ever, citing the court's "continuing outreach efforts in bringing the court to the people whenever we can."

“I’m a firm believer that the courts need to be restructured,” she said, stressing the need for a fifth appellate division — a change she stressed “is going to take legislation — we have to give everyone on both sides a comfort level.”

“It would have to be part of an entire restructuring package to do with selection of judges. . . .and the discussion of appointed versus elected judges,” she said. “But right now [the Second Division] is almost like running on a treadmill just to keep cases moving in a timely fashion.”

Prudenti was nominated by the Commission on Judicial Nomination for the State Court of Appeals in 2006 but failed to receive the post. The justice – who called herself the ‘poster child’ for judicial selection, having been through a variety of processes — feels strongly that the commission system is a model for judicial selection.

“The Commission system is so varied,” she said. “It takes away some of the appearance, as in the appointed system, that the system is not impartial.”

Prudenti expressed happiness in her current position, but said, “I have seven years left on my term. At that point I’ll be 62 — and looking for new challenges.”


According to the attached article it was Judge Prudenti, a political operative herself that heaped praise on Judge Lippman, a man of equal 'qualifications' of Judge Prudenti - she knew somebody.

What I was looking for was her achievments in the Law that afforded her the honor of being the Most Learned of the Learned in an appellate court. Surely it has nothing to do with her scholarly application of the law.

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See Video of Senator John L. Sampson's 1st Hearing on Court 'Ethics' Corruption

The first hearing, held in Albany on June 8, 2009 hearing is on two videos:

               Video of 1st Hearing on Court 'Ethics' Corruption
               The June 8, 2009 hearing is on two videos:
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