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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Wanted: More Judges Like This

Judge calls man in NYC bus lawsuit a crook, recuses self
Newsday by ROCCO PARASCANDOLA - March 9, 2009

It's not every day that a judge calls a plaintiff a crook even before a trial starts. But that's what happened recently in Queens Civil Court, where Judge Duane Hart lit into bus rider Paul Hightower, accusing him of concocting a tall tale so he could sue New York City Transit. "What I am saying is, in this case, and I am telling Mr. Hightower on the record, I am recusing myself because I think you are a crook," Judge Duane Hart told Hightower in court in January. "I cannot give you a fair trial. It seems like you live on files, claims for accidents, real or imagined or set up."  Hart declared a mistrial and referred the case to Queens District Attorney Richard Brown for possible prosecution on fraud. That office is investigating, and for now the civil case is on hold. Hart, who didn't respond to requests for comment, is no stranger to controversy, having been censured twice by the state Judicial Conduct Commission. In this case, Hart seemed troubled that Hightower, now 37, had previously sued the city after a city garbage truck in 1994 ran him over on his bicycle, Hightower's lawyer Michael Singer, told Newsday. 

And a lawyer for NYC Transit, Moses Lachman, said in court that Hightower's boss at a Rosedale mortgage company had heard that Hightower was telling colleagues "he wanted to stage a bus accident," according to a court transcript. Hightower did not respond to requests for comment, and neither did Stephen Michaels, president of Discount Home Mortgage Corp., where Hightower was working at the time of the incident. But Singer says Hightower suffered real injuries in both cases and that no one ever testified under oath that Hightower was looking to stage an accident. "It's very unusual for a judge to do something like this," Singer said. "Paul Hightower should not be the poster child for insurance fraud." Hightower said he was hurt the morning of Sept. 11, 2006, when the driver of a Q-85 bus turned left, from Baisley Boulevard onto Bedell Street in Springfield Gardens, while speeding, sending him into the bus' rear well.

Hightower, the only passenger at the time, with no other witnesses, needed surgery to repair a herniated disc and fuse his right wrist, injuries that left him unable to work, court papers say. He said in the lawsuit that he spent the $17,000 insurance money he received from NYC Transit, then fell behind on the rent at his home in Jamaica. His electricity was shut off, the suit says, and he was forced onto welfare. With the trial about to start, Hart spoke up. "If you are not guilty of anything I apologize to you for striking this matter from the calendar, for the thoughts that I have of you," he said, according to the transcript. "But if you are guilty of what it appears you might be guilty of, you should be able to take a nice long vacation in another part of the state."

CLICK HERE TO SEE RELATED STORY, HERO JUDGE OF THE DAY, "Judge Cuts Firm's Fees for Receiver Role by 20 Percent"

CLICK HERE TO SEE RELATED STORY, "Hero Judge of the Day: Hon. Joseph W. Bellacosa"


Anonymous said...

If one-tenth of the jurists took this judge's guide, our courts wouldn't be abused by greedy litigants looking to repeatedly steal from the public pit of tax dollars.

Anonymous said...

Bad intentioned plaintiffs and lawyers with no ethics should start getting the hint. People have had it with the bull****. Judges, lawmakers AND THE VOTERS are going to stop the "business as usual" crimes that occur everyday in our courts.

Anonymous said...

I used to be a friend of Paul Hightower and I know what he's like. This story doesn't tell you that Paul has gotten away with the same scam in other states. Maybe that's not well known, but I'll bet that his NY lawyer knew about the other 'settlements.' I hope the Queens DA looks around, like starting in Pennsylvania- it's nice there this time of year. Paul's a good example of how the court system can be abused for a big payday. Or in Paul's case, MANY paydays!

Anonymous said...

Some will argue that this judge shouldn't have made these remarks but I think there's a lot more to the story. I feel very strongly that because our system of law is so corrupted, we need more judges to speak up- like this guy did. We need to stir things up to clean things up.

Anonymous said...

GIVE THIS JUDGE A RAISE AND A MEDAL! And screw anyone who says he should have simply, and silently, recused himself. No longer does Blind, Deaf and Dumb work on the bench or in the state's court system.

Anonymous said...

If every judge in New York State had the balls to confront just one lousy case a day, the courts would start becoming a place where people just might find justice. Make believe plaintiffs and lousy lawyers would get the message real quick. I agree with what this judge did.

Anonymous said...

Judges have to start being different, like this judge. They need to start speaking up against the abuses in our courts. They also need to start throwing certain attorneys out the door on their asses. And they need to stand up to crooked judges and bad administrative judges who are behind the garbage now existent in our "halls of justice." This plaintiff didn't want his day in court, he wanted free money, sucked from the public nipple. His lawyer was no better, just wanting his chunk of change.

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