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Monday, November 30, 2009

Judges Charge Taxpayers for Frivolous Expenses

Judges charge taxpayers for frivolous expenses
The New York Post by JAMES FANELLI - November 29, 2009
Objection, your honor!

State judges are using taxpayer money to buy everything from spa trips to self-portraits to electronics, The Post has learned. On Nov. 1, New York Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman doubled the expense allowances for his judges to $10,000 a year each. But the special compensation -- which now costs $12.6 million annually and is intended to reimburse judges for work-related costs -- isn't always spent judiciously. Meditation retreats, framed photographs of themselves, and a $233 Apple iPod Touch are among the expense claims reimbursed this year by the New York Office of Court Administration, a Post analysis found. Brooklyn Housing Court judges Cheryl Gonzales and John Stanley decided to get in touch with their inner Buddha by attending a February getaway at the Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Northern California. Gonzales and Stanley were reimbursed $890 and $780, respectively, for the cost of travel, accommodations and the program. According to the meditation center's Web site, some of the courses include "Heart Practices for Couples," "The Neurology of Awakening" and "Relationships as Spiritual Practice." Gonzales' expense allowance has also extended to her associates. She was reimbursed $1,665 for the cost of an entire table at a May dinner of the Metropolitan Black Bar Association, a group she chairs. Other judges have used their allowance to foot travel bills. Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Laura Jacobson was reimbursed $2,878.40 to travel to Cuba in late September with the National Association of Women Judges for what one attendee reportedly called a "fact-finding vacation." Vanity also seems like a justifiable cost to the OCA.

At least 10 Queens Supreme Court judges used their allowances to cover the $390 cost to get photos taken of themselves. The framed photos will hang in a public hallway of the Queens Supreme Court house in the near future, according to the OCA. Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Delores Thomas submitted a $260 claim for a Poland Springs water cooler for her chamber. Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Roger Hayes sought reimbursement for a one-year, $127 New York Times subscription delivered to his home. Brooklyn Civil Court Judge Sylvia Ash put in for a $290 room air purifier bought on Home Shopping Network, and Queens Family Court Judge Linda Tally sought state money to buy the iPod Touch. Blair Horner, legislative director of the New York Public Interest Research Group, said the OCA should review the expenses "with a fine-tooth comb." "They should reject the ones without merit. They should toss them out of court," Horner said. Lawrence Marks, the administrative director of the state court system, said that while the allowances mirror policies in other states' courts, they are especially necessary in New York because judges "have not had a raise in 11 years." Currently, salaries range from $108,800 for a full-time city court judge to $136,700 for a state Supreme Court justice to the chief judge's $156,000. State legislators must approve any raises, and they have traditionally pegged their own salaries to those of judges. Even though the expense account increase to $10,000 went into effect on Nov. 1, Marks said it would be put in next year's budget request. The court has a $2.6 billion annual budget. Most state judges choose to take the special compensation as one taxable lump sum for which they don't have to account -- a de facto raise. When the compensation was set at $5,000, judges generally took home about $3,700 after taxes, according to Marks. But some judges opt to receive the special compensation tax-free by submitting expenses for reimbursement. Marks said the expenses must be related to judicial duties.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Madoff Victims Be Damned; Lawyers Must Get Their Fees....

NY Lawyer, Firm Cleaning Up After Madoff Ask for More Than $20 million in Fees
The New York Law Journal by Noeleen G. Walder - November 24, 2009

The trustee and his team of lawyers liquidating Bernard L. Madoff's investment firm have asked a bankruptcy judge for $22 million in interim counsel fees. In papers filed yesterday in Southern District Bankruptcy Court, Baker & Hostetler and Irving H. Picard, respectively, requested some $21.3 million and $836,000 in fees for May 1 through Sept. 30, a 10 percent discount off of their customary billable rates. Mr. Picard was appointed trustee of Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities in the wake of Mr. Madoff's arrest last December.
The recent fee application comes 3 1/2 months after Bankruptcy Judge Burton R. Lifland approved about $15 million in interim counsel fees for Mr. Picard and his attorneys. Judge Lifland's ruling dispensed with objections by a number of Madoff investors who claimed Mr. Picard's failure to look at a customer's most recent statement when valuing claims violated the Securities Investor Protection Act. A hearing on Mr. Picard's approach is scheduled for Feb. 2.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

NY Partner Tapped to Head DOJ Fraud Section

NY Partner Tapped to Head DOJ Fraud Section
The National Law Journal by Mike Scarcella - November 20, 2009

The Justice Department announced Thursday that it has tapped a Davis Polk & Wardwell partner to serve as its new Fraud Section chief. The Department has been searching for a new chief since this summer, when Steve Tyrrell announced he was stepping down. The new section chief, Denis McInerney, accepted the position today, according to Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer. Breuer said today that McInerney brings an "extraordinary career as a lawyer" to the section. According to McInerney's online biography, he was as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York from 1989 to 1994, and served as a deputy chief of the Criminal Division from 1993 to 1994. In 1994, he served as an associate independent counsel in the Whitewater Investigation alongside independent counsel Robert Fiske Jr.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Enabling Public Corruption, New York Style

Where's Joe's Law?: Gross corruption shown at Bruno trial cries out for ethics reform
The New York Daily News - Editorial - November 23, 2009

Just as scandalous as the revelations coming out of Joe Bruno's federal corruption trial is the utter lack of outrage coming out of the state Legislature. Each day of testimony produces more evidence that the former Senate GOP leader - one of the most powerful men in state government - flagrantly and continuously abused his office. Yet not one former colleague, Democrat or Republican, has stood up to express shock, disgust, revulsion, betrayal, remorse - or much of any reaction at all. Nor have lawmakers rushed to stop future Brunos from fleecing taxpayers. They haven't even been motivated enough to unstall a better-than-nothing ethics proposal that would improve disclosure of lawmakers' outside income while boosting enforcement against violators. The pols' silent acquiesence is yet another reason why New Yorkers must throw the bums out next fall. On Friday, businessman Jared Abbruzzese confirmed that he secretly hired Bruno as a $20,000-a-month "consultant" in 2004, even as he was lobbying for government help with business ventures. Previously, Bruno had arranged $500,000 in state grants for an Abbruzzese firm.

Before that, a Senate lawyer testified that Bruno ignored his warnings to stop mixing public and private affairs. Before that, jurors learned that senators are routinely advised to hand-deliver financial disclosure forms to the Legislative Ethics Commission - the better to avoid federal mail fraud charges for any lies they might contain. Before that, Bruno's longtime secretary testified that she handled all the senator's personal bookkeeping - not to mention Christmas shopping - out of his Capitol office. In fact, the trial has made clear that Bruno treated his government digs, and his aides, as appendages of private enterprises. He took meetings with clients there. He received his "consulting" checks there. Government secretaries sitting at government desks opened his business mail. Government lawyers drafted his business contracts. He even named his firm "Capitol Business Consultants." What more evidence does anyone need that "Albany ethics" is a contradiction in terms? Bruno didn't just skirt the laws barring profiteering from his public office and abuse of government resources. He apparently blew right through them. And the small army of enablers surrounding him knew exactly what was going on but held their tongues. And now virtually every member of the Assembly and Senate have joined in the silence. Where are the outraged press conferences to denounce gross abuses of the public trust? Where is the rush of proposals to ban private business from government offices, to require full disclosure of legislators' outside incomes, to finally create a truly tough, truly independent ethics watchdog in Albany? Where is Joe's Law?

Monday, November 23, 2009

Judicial Immunity Must End; Animal Gives Pass to "Kids for Cash" Judges

2 Pa. judges given partial immunity in civil suit
The Associated Press by MARK SCOLFORO - November 23, 2009

HARRISBURG, Pa. Two former county judges accused of taking millions of dollars in kickbacks to send juveniles to private detention facilities are partially immune from civil lawsuits, a federal judge in Pennsylvania ruled Friday. The decision by U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo could make it harder for the people suing former Luzerne County judges Michael T. Conahan and Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. to collect damages. Caputo said Ciavarella will avoid civil consequences for "the vast majority" of his conduct, because much of it occurred inside a courtroom, such as determination of delinquency and sentencing. He said Conahan largely would not be immune, because his alleged actions were more administrative in nature, such as signing a placement agreement with the detention centers. The decisions have no bearing on the federal criminal charges that Ciavarella and Conahan are currently facing in what has become known as the kids-for-cash scandal. Marsha Levick, a lawyer with the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia, a co-counsel for plaintiffs in the case, said Friday she did not consider the ruling to be a major setback. There are more than 400 named plaintiffs in the case, and lawyers are seeking class-action status. "I think what's important is the judges remained in the litigation," Levick said. "Conahan is extremely vulnerable because most of what Conahan did with respect to the plaintiffs' allegations, it was all outside the courtroom." She said the plaintiffs cannot appeal Caputo's decision at this point in the proceedings, although Conahan or Ciavarella can if they want.

Both former judges are representing themselves in the lawsuit, and neither appeared to have a listed home phone number. Caputo said the case involved principles of judicial independence that date back hundreds of years and are designed to protect judges who make sincere mistakes, uphold the reputation of the courts and meet the need for the court system to render final judgments. "I am not unmindful of the egregious nature of the alleged conduct presented in this case," Caputo wrote. "This is, however, about the rule of law. It is about the rule of law in the face of popular opinion which would seek a finding directly contrary to the result the rule of law dictates." At the heart of the lawsuit and criminal case are claims that Ciavarella routinely violated the legal rights of juvenile defendants in his courtroom as part of a conspiracy with Conahan and others to funnel them into privately run detention centers. Authorities say the judges received about $2.8 million in kickbacks as a result. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has voided thousands of juvenile convictions issued by Ciavarella. The two former judges pleaded guilty in February to honest services fraud and tax evasion in a deal with prosecutors that called for an 87-month sentence. But that plea bargain was voided in August when a federal judge decided the two were not accepting proper responsibility for their deeds. Ciavarella and Conahan changed their pleas to not guilty, and were later indicted on racketeering charges. They await trial.

Judge: Ciavarella, Conahan immune from civil suits for in-court actions

The Citizen's Voice by DAVE JANOSKI - November 20, 2009

A federal judge has ruled that former judges Michael T. Conahan and Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. are immune from damages in civil suits stemming from the kids-for-cash scandal for actions they took in court, but not for their out-of-court actions. U.S. District Judge A. Richard Caputo also denied a motion by Luzerne County claiming immunity in the suits filed by hundreds of juveniles sentenced by Ciavarella. But Caputo rejected the plaintiffs' move to amend their civil-rights compalints to present additional arguments aganst the county, leading a county attorney to call the rulings "a great victory." Because Caputo rejected the arguments that would have been made in the amended complaints, the county is a defendant "in name only" and will file motions to extricate itself from the suit, county attorney John Dean said .

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Very Interesting: NY's Top Judge Best Buddies with Top Law/Money Maker

Pal says Bruno wanted his own 'Shel game'
The New York Post ADAM NICHOLS - November 22, 2009

ALBANY, NY -- Former state Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno allegedly pitched a friend on a $30,000-a-month consultant job because he saw Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver making big bucks as a lawyer -- and he too wanted in on the side-gig action. The bombshell claim -- which exposed the routine, sanctioned dysfunction in New York's Capitol -- came from the star witness in Bruno's political corruption trial, who took the stand as prosecutors closed their three-week case yesterday. Jared Abbruzzese, a Bruno golfing buddy, said he was sharing a plane ride back from West Palm Beach, Fla., in 2004 when the powerful Republican legislator made his surprising proposal. "He started talking about Sheldon Silver and how Sheldon Silver was getting paid 40, 50, 60 thousand a month from the trial lawyers association," Abbruzzese, whose relationship with Bruno kicked off a far-flung FBI probe, said on the stand. Silver is "of counsel" to the Manhattan firm Weitz & Luxenberg and is believed to earn lucrative compensation that he's not required to disclose. Abbruzzese, an Albany-area businessman, also said about Bruno: "He brought up the possibility of a consultation agreement between my company and him. "He started talking about the uniqueness of New York state [lawmakers], about how they are part-time legislators, and how they are allowed to work away from it."

The bombshell testimony was the latest astonishing portrait painted by prosecutors of the state's Capitol, where critics have long howled that government and personal business routinely mix without clear separation. Abbruzzese said Bruno called him a few days after the plane ride to renew his pitch. "I said something like, I would consider it. What would he want? He said, '30,000 a month,' " he testified. "I said, 'I'm not going to pay you 30,000 a month. Maybe I'll pay you 10.' " They eventually agreed on $20,000 a month, he said. Bruno received $200,000 during the 10 months of the deal, he said. This drew a quick denial from Bruno, the lawyers group and Silver, a Democrat. "The evidence he was giving was that Sheldon Silver is a trial lawyer and he just misspoke," Bruno, 80, told reporters outside court. "Never did I say that [he earns that much from the association]. That would be just ludicrous." Silver's spokesman, Dan Weiller, said any notion that the speaker gets cash from a lawyers' group is "absolutely not true." Prosecutors have accused Bruno of denying citizens honest services by commingling private and public work and then trying to hide it. The stunning testimony came a day after prosecutors revealed that Bruno secured a $2.5 million legislative grant to create office space for an Abbruzzese firm. Abbruzzese said Bruno's contribution to the businessman's tech firm was providing "his contacts" and giving credibility to him and his companies by appearing with him. "I didn't need him for his telecommunications advice. I wanted him for his Rolodex," he said. But he said the only appearances he could recall were dinners they had at hard-to-book New York restaurants like Rao's.

"I used Senator Bruno to try to build credibility. It was a visual presentation," he said. He said Bruno also introduced him to Donald Trump and to businessman Richard Field, who was building a casino in Florida. Abbruzzese also hired Bruno in July 2005 to work for two of his other firms. But in August, Abbruzzese's new CEO, Bob Brumley, wondered why they were paying Bruno for so little work. "I said, 'It's your company. You do what you like,' " Abbruzzese said. "I told Bruno, 'You're terminated.' He said, 'Ouch.' " But Abbruzzese said he felt he had shortchanged Bruno. "I felt I had an obligation to come to a successful conclusion," he said -- so "I bought a horse for $80,000 from him." The horse, Christy's Night Out, has been described as virtually worthless. The defense wrapped up its case in the afternoon, and the two sides will present summation arguments in Albany federal court on Monday. Bruno won't take the stand in his defense.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Clear View of New York's Corruption

A window on the swamp
The New York Post - EDITORIAL - November 21, 2009

Has there ever been a more revealing clinic on public corruption than the ongoing trial of former Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno? None comes to mind. Day by day, it becomes clearer than ever that, in Albany, mutual back-scratching is the coin of the realm: You fill my pocket, I'll fill yours. Witness after witness has testified as to how Bruno used the perks of his public position -- paid with taxpayer dollars -- to conduct his personal business. Other witnesses have told how Bruno guided them through Albany's power structure, but only after they promised the powerful senator lush consultancies -- and, sometimes, a cut of the profits. To be sure, testimony so far has been presented solely by the prosecutors; Bruno's turn is coming up. And the veteran legislator, who retired last year, insists that such overlapping of private and official interests is not only fully legal, but par for the course in what essentially is a part-time legislative body -- "a citizen legislature," as he puts it. And it's almost -- repeat, almost -- possible to feel a twinge of sympathy for him after last Friday's testimony. Jared Abbruzzese, a technology investor, told the court he paid Bruno $20,000 a month for two years after the senator spoke to him about setting up a consulting service. He said Bruno told him that "Sheldon Silver was being paid 40, 50, 60 thousand a month from the trial lawyers association" -- an apparent reference to the Assembly speaker's "of counsel" arrangement with the tort-law powerhouse Weitz & Luxenberg. Silver refuses to discuss his outside income but historically has maintained that the arrangement is bulletproof legally -- and he's probably right: Lawmaking in Albany is formally a part-time job. Whether or not Bruno broke any laws will be for the jury to decide. Still, some of the testimony thus far has been positively jaw-dropping. Back in 1995, for example, Bruno wrote then-Gov. George Pataki, asking him to meet with an IBM executive. What Pataki didn't know, according to testimony, was that Bruno was a paid consultant to an IBM subcontractor founded by a friend. In 2004, witnesses testified, Bruno and his chief counsel assembled top state officials in his office for a meeting with the CEO of a software firm seeking state business. But he never told them he'd been paid for setting up the sitdown -- and that he would get a 10 percent commission on any government contracts. Albany has been an ethical swamp for decades. No secret there. But rarely do details of this sort emerge. How ironic, if Joe Bruno's greatest contribution to good government in New York turns out to be the light cast by his corruption trial.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Dominatrix Attorney Pleads Not Guilty to Tax Evasion

NY Lawyer Facing Fraud Charges, Dominatrix Scandal Pleads Not Guilty to Tax Evasion
The New York Law Journal by Noeleen G. Walder - November 20, 2009

A Long Island attorney targeted earlier this year in connection with a $50 million real estate scam has pleaded not guilty to charges of tax evasion, said Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota. Indicted in August for allegedly helping to recruit straw buyers at a Manhattan dominatrix club (NY Lawyer, Aug. 12), a grand jury indicted George Guldi of Westhampton Beach for failing to file personal state income tax returns for 2006-2008. A Suffolk County legislator from 1994-2003, Mr. Guldi, 56, was subsequently indicted for stealing insurance money held in escrow to build a beach house that was ravaged by fire in 2008. If convicted of the tax evasion charges, he faces up to four years in prison.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

OCA Goes Innovative While Ignoring Widespread Court Corruption

Communications Office:
David Bookstaver, Director
Kali Holloway, Deputy Director
(212) 428-2500

Date: November 13, 2009

Hon. Ann Pfau
Chief Administrative Judge

Courts and CUNY Law School Partner on Innovative New Pilot Program

NEW YORK – The Unified Court System today announced the launch of an historic collaborative effort between the courts and CUNY Law School to provide much needed legal representation to low-income New Yorkers. LaunchPad for Justice is an innovative new pilot that will train recent CUNY Law School graduates to provide free legal services to civil litigants who cannot afford an attorney. This groundbreaking partnership – the first of its kind in the country – will give graduates the opportunity to sharpen their skills professionally and gain critical courtroom experience, while also increasing access to justice for all New Yorkers. The six-month pilot project will focus on housing law, an area where thousands of underserved New Yorkers are in need of legal assistance. Participants will be trained and supervised by court-employed attorneys, practicing CUNY Law School alumni and lawyers enrolled in the CUNY Law School Community Legal Resource Network initiative, which trains attorneys to practice in under-represented communities. New York State Chief Judge Lippman said, “I am pleased to announce this important partnership, the benefits of which will be numerous and far reaching. LaunchPad for Justice will provide CUNY Law School graduates the chance to build their resumes with real-world experience; the courts additional aid in dealing with heavy caseloads; and low-income New Yorkers engaged with the court system the legal counsel they desperately need.”

Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for the Courts in New York City and Director of the New York State Access to Justice Program Fern Fisher added, “CUNY Law School’s intensive clinic program has primed its graduates to work with litigants and to quickly grasp the skills they need to be effective in court. The LaunchPad for Justice program will further hone their legal and litigation expertise and go a long way toward addressing the unmet legal needs of indigent New Yorkers.” “Providing legal representation to underserved communities is central to our mission. This unique collaboration with the courts is an amazing opportunity to increase access to civil justice and help graduates earn more experience in a tough job market. The LaunchPad for Justice program will allow us to play an expansive role through education and practice in making a difference in the courts and in New York City,” said CUNY Law School Dean Michelle Anderson. CUNY Law School CLRN Director Fred Rooney said, “LaunchPad for Justice will ensure that recent graduates entering their law careers truly understand the legal issues that affect New York’s most vulnerable communities, as well as the professional obligation of all attorneys to work toward the goal of equal justice for every citizen.” Legislative funds for LaunchPad for Justice were obtained through the efforts of New York State Assemblymen Adriano Espaillat and Hakeem Jeffries of the 72nd and 57th Districts, respectively. The pilot program will cover legal services for their constituent areas of Washington Heights, Inwood, Fort Green and Bedford Stuyvesant. The LaunchPad for Justice program will be based at 80 Centre Street in Manhattan. Participating graduates will work in Manhattan and Brooklyn Housing Courts. For more information on the pilot program, contact CUNY Law School CLRN at 718/340-4451.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Tembeckjian 'Lie-of-the-Day' - No Arbitrary Judicial Discipline

Jurist challenges discipline for slowness in cases; says missed deadlines common
The Albany Times Union by TIM O'BRIEN - November 18, 2009
Gilpatric: I'm not the only one late

ALBANY, NY -- Attorneys debated before the state Court of Appeals Tuesday over whether Judge James Gilpatric should be disciplined for slowness in handling cases. The arguments came two weeks to the day after the Kingston City Court judge won election as a state Supreme Court justice. The state Office of Judicial Conduct admonished Gilpatric over his failure to stay within required legal deadlines for handling cases while he was a part-time judge in Kingston. The position later became full time. Gilpatric had previously received a letter cautioning him that he needed to abide by the deadlines. Gilpatric, a recovering alcoholic, was also once censured for being drunk on the bench. Gilpatric is challenging the admonition, the mildest form of discipline the commission can issue, before the state's highest court. His attorney, James Long, argued that a 1989 court decision, Greenfield vs. the Commission on Judicial Conduct, limits discipline to cases where a judge either defies an order or falsifies records. Neither applies in Gilpatric's case, he said. He also argued the administrative judge, George Ceresia, did not see fit to intervene in Gilpatric's court, so the commission should not be disciplining him. "They should go to the administrative judge. They should not attack Judge Gilpatric," Long said. "This does not rise to a level of judicial misconduct." Court of Appeals Judge Victoria Graffeo questioned Long. "There is an obligation and duty owed to the litigants here," she said. "You're saying let this go," added Court of Appeals Judge Eugene F. Pigott, Jr. "That doesn't solve a problem that has happened twice with your judge."

Robert Tembeckjian, the commission's administrator and counsel, said that failing to respond to a letter of caution should be considered defiant under the court's precedents. Tembeckjian urged the court to revisit the Greenfield case and either reverse or clarify it. But he added doing so was not needed to uphold Gilpatric's discipline. "A caution is a warning," he said. But Pigott said judges throughout the state could be disciplined for failing to meet deadlines. "You could charge every single Family Court judge in the state," he said. Tembeckjian said the commission does not arbitrarily discipline judges. He said it is not the administrative judge's role to discipline judges. After the arguments, Long said, 30 to 40 percent of judges are reporting cases late. "There is not enough time to do it all," he said. Staff writer Tim O'Brien can be reached at 454-5092 or by e-mail at

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

New Trial Sought in NY State Corruption Case, AG Blasted for Massive Conflicts

New Federal Trial Requested in NY State Corruption Case, AG Blasted for Massive Conflicts

Christine C. Anderson yesterday filed a Motion for a New Trial in Manhattan's federal district court. The case is again before U.S. District Court Judge Shira A. Scheindlin after an October 29, 2009 jury found against Anderson. The motion for a new trial includes startling revelations including the fact that the District Court failed to take appropriate action after learing that there had been threats made against at least one witness in the federal proceeding. The largest problem for those involved appears to be the little tested issue of the usually-accepted widespread conflicts of interest inside the New York State Attorney General’s office.

Highlights from the motion for a new trial include:

  • Apparent abuse of discretion by the District Court Judge.
  • A new trial to “avoid a miscarriage of justice.”
  • Correction: “the district court possesses the power to rectify its own mistakes in the period immediately following the entry of judgment.”
  • “Irregularity of Proceedings: The State of New York Attorney General's Representation of Defendants Unduly Prejudiced Plaintiff and Denied Her Due Process Rights.
  • Anderson was confronted with an unquestionably unfair set of circumstances as the defendants were defended by the New York State Attorney General; and while the plaintiff charged the defendants with serious violations of law, the Attorney General stood before the jury defending these very same actions as proper and within the law. This arrangement seriously prejudiced plaintiff Anderson, as jurors could and most likely did conclude that the State of New York supported fully the conduct of the defendants.
  • Not only did the Attorney General’s representation of the defendants unduly prejudice the Anderson, it also raised serious conflict of interest issues with respect to the defendants themselves. To protect their own rights, each of the defendants should have had their own attorneys in order to permit them to cross claim or make admissions.
  • VIOLATIONS OF ETHICS RULES: Under New York State and federal conflict of interest rules, each of the defendants must be free to undertake these independent actions. To do so, they must have their own counsel. (See NYS Code of Professional Conduct Cannon 5 Conflict of Interest Rules.) The Attorney General as a state attorney is bound by these rules as well. New York State law requires that the attorney who violates these safeguards to be immediately removed from the case.
  • CONFLICT - As a result of these conflict of interest issues, the Attorney General cannot properly represent the defendants, either as a group or individually. Each defendant must have the right to cross-claim against the others, and to bring a counterclaim against the State. These actions most certainly could not be undertaken in a case where the Attorney General represents all the named defendants. Without question, the Attorney General violated its ethical rules and the public trust in undertaking to represent all of the defendants.
  • The involvement of the New York Attorney General in refuting plaintiff's allegations, which involved serious violations of federal and state law and ethical standards, and in presenting the case of each defendants, denied plaintiff's due process and equal protection guarantees, and right to a fair and impartial trial.
  • WHY DIDN”T THE NYS ATTORNEY GENERAL INVESTIGATE?? - The conflict here is particularly acute given the nature of the claims brought by plaintiff Anderson. Plaintiff’s charges warranted an independent investigation by the New York State Attorney General Office to review the basic claims given that Anderson was formerly a Departmental Disciplinary Committee staff attorney with considerable experience. The fact is that these are not allegations from a lay person.
  • While at the DDC, Plaintiff Anderson was charged with investigating cases involving possible criminal and civil misconduct. She carried out her duties as a duly authorized officer of the Court. The New York State Attorney General Office was therefore obligated to protect her and to investigate her claims of serious misconduct against the named parties. For no reason, the New York State Attorney General Office failed to do so.
  • The Attorney General is a publicly funded arm of the State. It was conflicted from the outset of this case because it could not possibly defend any of the defendants, while simultaneously investigating plaintiff ’s claims of serious ongoing misconduct by the defendants. Indeed, no explanation has ever been provided as to why the Attorney General did not represent plaintiff Anderson against any of the original defendants. This was itself a misappropriation of public funds by a state investigatory agency with prosecution powers.
  • Federal law mandates that a special prosecutor be substituted into the case, and this was not done. The actions of the Attorney General here confused, misled and confounded the jury, by creating a false impression that the acts were officially sanctioned by the state.
  • Christine Anderson’s allegations have substantial impact on the public, the bench and bar, and cannot be ignored by the New York State Attorney General Office just because they were motivated to defend this lawsuit. This serious conflict demanded independent counsel for the defendants as a matter fairness and high ethical conduct to all involved, particularly to Christine Anderson.
  • Having denied independent counsel to the defendants, the Attorney General prejudiced plaintiff by making it appear to the jury that the State of New York and the New York State Attorney General Office supported defendants’ conduct. This was a burden Christine Anderson could never overcome and, at a minimum, warrants a new trial.
  • The Court was concerned about the aforestated conflict of interest and in one of its last instructions to the jury, the Court warned the jury not to draw a negative inference adverse to the defendants for their joint representation by the New York State Attorney General Office. That instruction was injurious to the plaintiff, Christine Anderson, in that it prejudiced the jury against her and in and of itself warrants a new trial.
  • It was one of the last instructions to the jury and was thus ingrained in the minds of the jury as a lasting impression. Furthermore, as one of the last instructions to the jury, it elevated its importance over and above all prior instructions as something that had to be considered in deference to all else.
  • There was no countervailing instruction to the jury not to draw a negative inference of the joint representation by the New York State Attorney General Office adverse to the plaintiff. This failure prejudiced the jury against the plaintiff by implying at a minimum, that the state supported all of the defendants’ conduct and found that it was within the bounds of the law.
  • By the Court issuing the jury instruction not to draw a negative inference adverse to the defendants for their joint representation by the New York State Attorney General Office, the court preserved the argument to be raised in this motion and/or appeal.
  • Allowing all of the defendants to be represented jointly by the same counsel and by the New York State Attorney General Office created an impermissible conflict of interest. Indeed, the conflict was so strong, that had the jury ruled against any one or all of the defendants, they would have been entitled to seek a new trial for impermissible conflict of interest, as they would be entitled to their own independent counsel.
  • The court is thus faced with the fact any unsuccessful litigant in this case could be expected to move for and would be entitled to a new trial because of the impermissible conflict of interest, as all of the defendants are required to have their own independent counsel, and to not be represented by the New York State Attorney General’s Office.
  • The American Bar Association's Code of Professional Responsibility elaborates on the duty of a public prosecutor such as the New York Attorney General to seek justice as follows: "This special duty exists because: (1) the prosecutor represents the sovereign and therefore should use restraint in the discretionary exercise of governmental powers, such as in the selection of cases to prosecute; (2) during trial the prosecutor is not only an advocate but he also may make decisions normally made by an individual client, and those affecting the public interest should be fair to all ...."
  • A prosecutor's duty of neutrality is born of two fundamental aspects of his employment. First, the prosecutor, in this case the Attorney General, is a representative of the sovereign, and consequently must act with the impartiality required of those who govern. Second, the Attorney General can at all times call upon the vast power of the government, and therefore must refrain from abusing that power by failing to act evenhandedly.
  • These key duties are not limited to criminal prosecutions, but must also be observed in civil cases as well. These safeguards are included in the ABA Code. "A government lawyer in a civil action or administrative proceeding has the responsibility to seek justice and to develop a full and fair record, and he should not use his position or the economic power of the government to harass parties or to bring about unjust settlements or results."
  • In the present case, the Attorney General was under the ethical duty to withdraw in order to preserve plaintiff's right to a fair and impartial trial. In a case such as this, not only is the Attorney General's neutrality essential to a fair outcome for the plaintiff, it is critical to the proper function of the judicial process as a whole. Our system of justice relies for its validity on the confidence of society. Without a continuing belief by the people that the system is just and impartial, the concept of the rule of law cannot survive.
  • The New York State Attorney General is a public official elected by statewide ballot . The American Bar Association's Code of Professional Responsibility addresses the special considerations applicable to a lawyer who is also a public official as follows: "A lawyer who is a public officer, whether full or part-time, should not engage in activities in which his personal or professional interests are or foreseeably may be in conflict with his official duties." The government's investigative and prosecutorial interests must be balanced against the public interest in insuring that the individuals and organizations receive effective representation, and are accorded their full constitutional rights and protections.
  • There are at least two reasons why a court should satisfy itself that no conflict exists or at least provide notice to the affected party if one does. First, a court is under a continuing obligation to supervise the members of its Bar.(district court obligated to take measures against unethical conduct occurring in proceedings before it). Second, trial courts have a duty "to exercise that degree of control required by the facts and circumstances of each case to assure the litigants of a fair trial."
  • Occupying a position of public trust, the Attorney General, as any public prosecutor is 'possessed ... of important governmental powers that are pledged to the accomplishment of one objective only, that of impartial justice.' The duty of a government attorney has been characterized as 'a sober inquiry into values, designed to strike a just balance between the economic interests of the public and those of the landowner,' is of high order."
  • Central to the issue of preventing prejudicial influence of government attorneys on court proceedings, it is common for states to adopt statutes or regulations that prohibit those holding the office of Attorney General, as well as their deputies and staff attorneys, from participating as attorneys in private litigation matters. The reason for adopting these restrictions is most obvious. For the Attorney General or any member of the staff to participate in a civil trial involving a private litigant will create the prejudicial inference that the state has reviewed and approved the position advocated by the government attorney. Such an inference can and likely will influence the outcome of the matter to the detriment of the opposing party. It is for the stated reasons that no Attorney General or staff member should be permitted to represent a private litigant in any adversarial proceeding. Only such an outright prohibition will properly preserve the standards of fairness and impartiality guaranteed to all litigants under federal and state constitutions. The present lack of statutory and/or ethical policy guidelines barring the participation of state law officers from representing private litigants in civil proceedings which must be addressed by courts and policy makers.
  • Irregularity of Proceedings: Confusing, Misleading and Prejudicial Instructions to the Jury.
  • The Court issued detailed Verdict Sheets to the jury addressing the plaintiff's allegation of retaliation and the related issues of deprivation of a federal right and plaintiff's acts of speech. During the jury's deliberation, the foreman submitted a question to the court for review. The question (SEE EXHIBITS) sought the Court's guidance with respect to instruction number 1b which was described as “ambiguous.” The Court provided an answer (SEE EXHIBITS) to the question which addressed the fact that the plaintiff had made certain statements rather than the way in which the “DDC responded (investigated) properly to the statements [plaintiff] made.”
  • In answering the jury, the court addressed only the initial question, which dealt with the critical issue of the lawsuit, i.e., whitewashing. This key issue was specifically removed from consideration by the jury, when the Court circled the question as to whether the plaintiff had made statements to her superiors and not whether those statements averred that the DDC was not diligently prosecuting allegations of misconduct by respondent attorneys.

 Having circled that question for consideration, the succeeding questions were dealing only with plaintiff's statements [not defined] and NOT with issue of whitewashing. Thus, the succeeding questions were asked in a vacuum and expected to be answered in a vacuum.

 Also, by structuring the questions as the court did, the jury never reached other issues of retaliation or damages, even after it found in plaintiff’s favor in Question 1. The jury was confused by the unclear, very puzzling and convoluted nature of the instructions.
  • This confusion on the part of the jury resulted in a verdict which is in a word repugnant.
  • By eliminating whitewashing from Question 1, the court effectively excised the key gravamen of the complaint , i.e., retaliatory discharge, as a result of plaintiff's complaints of whitewashing and corruption. This constitutes judicial error of the highest order.
  • Juries only get to see and use the instructions for a short time, thus it is crucial that they be clear and understandable to the laymen and laywomen. The court and counsel have the luxury of days to craft and understand the instructions as professionals. The instructions presented in this case are unclear, quite confusing and simply impossible to apply to the facts adduced at trial.
  • There is also no record that the role of the Attorney General as defense counsel was properly and adequately explained to the jury. This also constitutes another reversible error by the Court which could have been rectified.
  • Newly Discovered Evidence
  • The court gave the jury above-referenced instructions and its members adjourned to the jury room to deliberate at approximately 1:25 pm on Thursday, October 29. After the jury left the courtroom, Judge Scheindlin first announced that she had denied the defendants’ pending motion for a directed verdict. She next stated words to the effect that she found that , "....Cahill was aware of the whitewashing allegations..." The judge read this statement related to defendant Cahill’s conduct into the record as part of her order denying defendant's directed verdict. This fact alone requires a new trial.
  • In addition, Courts have an obligation to report and order investigation into official and at times criminal misconduct. This is a duty of the Court. There is no record to date as to any action having been undertaken by the Court regarding this central question. The Court’s finding of culpability on the part of Defendant Cahill constitutes newly discovered evidence, which directly supports the fundamental allegations of Plaintiff.
  • Clearly the newly discovered fact that defendant Cahill, as the head of the DDC and supervisor of the other named defendants, had full knowledge of whitewashing activities would in all likelihood have changed the outcome of the case. This central fact establishing the liability of all named defendants could not have been discovered earlier and is not merely cumulative or impeaching.
  • The new evidence establishes that in the view of the Court, Defendant Cahill, the head officer of the DDC and the supervisor of Cohen, had full knowledge of the practice of whitewashing as alleged by Plaintiff, leading to the parallel conclusion that whitewashing was accepted as a common practice by the defendants, and presumably other staff members of the DDC. Had such facts been confirmed during the trial stage, the jury would have come to know and understand the illegal activities that were accepted as everyday practice by the DDC staff, a finding totally consistent with a main element of Plaintiff’s case.
  • The Court’s statement after the close of trial accepting the establishing the whitewashing activities by Defendant Cahill must be found to constitute grounds for granting the instant motion.
  • Witness Tampering – Threat on Witness in a Federal Proceeding
  • Based on information submitted in the proceeding, the court is aware that one of Plaintiff’s witnesses, DDC staff attorney Nicole Corrado, was confronted by her DDC supervisor on the street just prior to her deposition in this proceeding.
  • As the court was also aware, plaintiff’s former counsel, John Beranbaum, advised the court of this incident in a letter to the court dated October 24, 2008. (SEE EXHIBITS) In the Beranbaum submission, it was made clear to the court that Ms. Corrado was given a ‘“warning’ about the testimony she was to gave at the deposition[,]” and further advised that “Ms. Corrado is very upset about the entire experience.”
  • Mr. Beranbaum again raised the issue on the record four days later on October 30, 2008. (SEE EXHIBITS– Transcript of October 30, 2009 hearing, Page 26 (lines 17-25), and page 27 (lines 1-8)). The court, in responding to the letter advising of the threat on plaintiff’s witness, commented, “You [Mr. Beranbaum] seem to want to tell me something or report it to me. Okay. You reported it to me.”
  • It is plaintiff’s belief that the court had an obligation to report the matter to federal agents and, further, to interview Ms. Corrado concerning the incident. Plaintiff believes she has been severely prejudiced by the threat upon witness Corrado, and, as the court is aware, Ms. Corrado did not appear at a witness in this proceeding.
  • While plaintiff is aware that counsel within the Office of the New York Attorney General’s office offered to “fully” compensate Mr. Beranbaum for ALL of his legal fees, expenses, etc., if plaintiff settled her case, I am unaware of the exact timing of when the compensation offer, believed to be between $120,000.00 and $150,000.00, was actually made.
  • Conclusion
  • For the reasons set forth in detail herein, Movant respectfully requests that this Court in the interest of justice grant a new trial. As noted, the participation of the Attorney General in failing to investigate the charges submitted by plaintiff against the defendants, and subsequently representing these same persons in the instant court proceedings, denied plaintiff’s constitutionally protected right to a fair and impartial trial. This denial of basic rights was compounded by unclear, confusing and convoluted instructions to the jury, discovery of new evidence and serious allegations of intimidation of witnesses, which all support the instant motion for a new trial. For all of the reasons set forth herein, the plaintiff is entitled and warrants being accorded a new trial. Furthermore, Movant is Ready willing and able to go to trial immediately and no delay, harm, or prejudice will occur to the other parties as a result of Movant's motion. Inasmuch as the Attorney General should even be denied the opportunity to answer, and as justice demands, the court should sua sponte, grant the herein sought relief.

Christine C. Anderson

Bottom Line: Little Faith in Our Judiciary

Commission Leader, Judge Respond to Judicial Qualification Commission Comments
Letters to the Editor, The New York Law Journal - November 17, 2009

Commission Leader Takes Issue With Counsel's Comments

I am the chair of the Manhattan Independent Judicial Election Qualification Commission and was appointed by former Chief Judge Judith Kaye. The article, "After Three Elections, Voter Awareness of Screening and Participation by Judicial Candidates Stays Low," which appeared in the Law Journal on Nov. 12, quotes Arthur Greig, former counsel to New York County Democrats, as follows: "Moreover, he said party-backed candidates had been treated unfairly by the First Judicial District commission since it has been operating. Two candidates were found unqualified and a third, Mr. Greig said, was given a hard time. After Mr. Greig protested the two unqualified ratings, the panel reversed itself, he said." Without violating the confidential nature of the screening commission, this statement is not factual. In fact, I do not recall Mr. Greig's name even being mentioned in a meeting of the commission. No decision made by the commission was ever based upon a communication from Mr. Greig. Moreover, I was never asked by the Law Journal to comment on Mr. Greig's statement or proceedings before the commission. Throughout my legal career, I have been a strong advocate of judicial screening committees. The Manhattan commission consists of lay persons, lawyers and former judges. The commission provides a valuable service to the public. If results of the commission are not publicized, then efforts should be made to publicize them. I remain ready, willing and able to discuss and/or debate the merits of these commissions at any time.

George Bundy Smith
New York, N.Y.

Judge Urges Reform of Review Commissions

I read the Nov. 12 article, "After Three Elections, Voter Awareness of Screening and Participation by Judicial Candidates Stays Low," with great interest. My name is mentioned as the only candidate who received a negative rating from the Independent Judicial Election Qualification Commission, yet no one contacted me to find out how I had been treated by the committee. Below is a copy of a letter I sent to the committee at the time I requested a re-evaluation hearing. In short, I was treated in an unbelievably shabby fashion. The very first question I was asked was whether or not I was a Republican, and the interview (in fact, both interviews) quickly went downhill from there. However, I was found qualified by the bar associations of the Bronx and New York County. I have no confidence in the so-called "Independent" committee, and I will not participate in their screening again until their process is reformed. The following is a slightly edited version of the letter Judge Wilson sent to the Twelfth Judicial District's committee.

I am in receipt of your letter of Sept. 14, 2009, informing me that the Commission 'has not found (me) qualified at this time for election' to the Supreme Court, Bronx County. Pursuant to Appendix A, Sec. 7a of Part 150 of the Rules of the Chief Administrative Judge, I hereby request a reconsideration of the Commission's determination. At the outset, I must express my surprise at the decision of the Commission. In 2002, I was approved for election to the Supreme Court, Bronx County by the Committee of the Judiciary of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York. In November of 2004, I was elected to the Civil Court, Bronx County, and was assigned to serve in the Criminal Court, Kings County. In January of 2006, I volunteered to serve in Night Court, Kings County, where I continue to exercise the powers of an Acting Supreme Court Justice. Thus, I cannot understand how I could be qualified for Supreme Court in 2002, perform the duties of a Supreme Court Justice since 2006, and not be qualified for election to the Supreme Court in 2009. In any event, I am at a distinct disadvantage in making this request for a reconsideration, since I do not know the basis for the Commission's determination. When I spoke with…[the office, I was told] that the ballot is secret, and no reason is given for the decision of the Commissioners. Of necessity, I must protest the untenable position in which I, or any other candidate in a similar situation, am placed. Your letter of Sept. 14 allows me the option of submitting additional materials, however, I do not know what deficiencies in my original materials and interview are to be addressed. Since the Commission has not given me notice of their concerns regarding my qualifications, how can I, or any other candidate, reasonably answer those undisclosed concerns?

What if some of the Commissioners hold an insidious bias, or an intent to discriminate against me, or any other candidate? By not giving me, or any similarly situated candidate a rational basis for their rejection, the Commissioners are given free reign to act on any such bias, unchecked and unaccountable. Since your rejection of my credentials will no doubt appear in the New York Law Journal, it is appropriate that the method by which the Commission makes its determinations should be examined in the same public venue. Therefore, in an effort to foster transparency in what appears to be a veiled and secretive selection process, I have taken the liberty of submitting a copy of this letter for publication. Whether your Commission reconsiders my qualifications, or not, I urge you to reform the process by which you make your decisions. Rather than reject the qualifications of a candidate for judicial office without explanation or reason, the Commission should give an objective, rational explanation for its decision to find a candidate unqualified for judicial office. To continue the current practice deprives candidates of a meaningful opportunity to respond, and is unseemly for a profession dedicated to the zealous protection of the due process of all individuals who appear before the Court."

John H. Wilson
The author is a Bronx Civil Court judge assignedto Brooklyn Criminal Court.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Lying, Stripper-Loving, Disbarred Judge Avoids Jail

Judge Whose High-Flying Career Crashed and Burned Over Affair With Stripper Avoids Jail
The Associated Press by Mitch Stacy - November 16, 2009

A former Florida judge whose esteemed legal career ended amid accusations about his relationship with a stripper was sentenced Friday to serve one year of probation for bank fraud. Thomas E. Stringer, 65, lamented his damaged reputation and the pain he has caused to his family and others. "I'm deeply sorry for my conduct," he told U.S. District Judge Elizabeth A. Kovachevich of the Middle District of Florida, who ordered him to also do 150 hours of community service and pay a fine. Kovachevich said the light sentence was justified because of Stringer's long, distinguished legal career and service to the community. Prosecutor Robert O'Neill agreed, saying Stringer's crime "centered on a private matter." The former 2nd District Court of Appeal judge resigned in February, months after stripper Christy Yamanaka appeared on a Tampa, Fla., television station and detailed how Stringer let her put money she made into his bank accounts. That allowed her to hide her income from creditors trying to collect hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt. Yamanaka said the two had a 13-year romantic relationship. Stringer pleaded guilty in August to using false information on a mortgage application for a home in Hawaii. He was disbarred by the Florida Supreme Court last month. The Judicial Qualifications Commission, which oversees judges in Florida, investigated and found probable cause to believe Stringer opened bank accounts in his name and let Yamanaka use them from 2003 to 2007 to hide assets. The commission also accused him of listing himself as the sole owner of the Hawaii home and accepting lavish gifts. The commission dropped its ethics complaint after Stringer resigned. According to the plea agreement, Stringer lied about the source of funds for a down payment on a home in Ewa Beach, Hawaii. On the loan application, he said none of the money was borrowed. In fact, prosecutors say that money came from another individual, identified only as "Jane Doe," who transferred funds into his account. Yamanaka, who does not have a listed phone number, is not named in any of the court records. Prior to the allegations involving Yamanaka, Stringer was a highly respected figure in the Florida legal community. He was the first black graduate from Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport, Fla., and was inducted into the school's hall of fame in 2007. Before serving on the appeals court, he was a circuit court judge in the family law division.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

UPDATE On Chicken Noodle Judge

UPDATE: Judge Denies Buying Sex, Only Visited Sex Shop For Tasty Chicken Soup


Judge Hecht Resigns After Guilty Verdict

Pierce County Superior Court Judge Michael A. Hecht has resigned his seat on the bench.

Hecht, 59, notified the court and Gov. Chris Gregoire of his decision by letter Monday. His departure takes effect Nov. 16 – three days before his scheduled sentencing on charges of felony harassment and paying a man for sex. A jury returned guilty verdicts against Hecht last week. “Regrettably, as a result of my conviction in Pierce County Superior Court, in order to uphold the integrity of the court system of which I feel strongly about, I do not believe I have any choice but to resign,” Hecht’s letter stated. Before and during the trial, Hecht said he was innocent. His letter underscored that position, hinting that he will appeal his conviction. “It is my intent to keep fighting to reverse this injustice and reinstate my good name,” Hecht wrote. “But I will do that independently of attempting to remain on the bench under the current situation. I have requested nothing in return for this resignation.” By resigning, Hecht will remove himself from the county payroll. His annual salary is $148,000. He hasn’t worked since March when he took a paid leave of absence shortly after the criminal charges were filed. His decision forestalls a clash between the executive and judicial branches of Pierce County government. The debate among county leaders revolved around the process of removing Hecht from the bench. The executive branch, citing state law, contended that a felony conviction automatically removed Hecht from the bench and the county payroll. The judicial branch argued otherwise, citing the state constitution, which outlines the process for removing judges. That removal process, which promised to last into next spring, would have forced the county to continue paying Hecht’s salary, even if his sentence included jail time.

Last week, executive branch leaders raised the prospect of cutting Hecht off the payroll immediately and forcing a legal confrontation. In his resignation, Hecht alluded to the conflict, stating that he hoped “to avoid any further discourse between the County Executive and those who protect the Washington State Constitution.” Judge Bryan Chushcoff, who presides over the Superior Court, released a statement welcoming Hecht’s decision. “It was probable that but for Mr. Hecht’s resignation, it would be some considerable time before the matter would be resolved,” Chushcoff wrote. “We believe that this decision will begin to restore public confidence in the court and will allow the governor an opportunity to appoint a new judge who can help shoulder the heavy workload in Pierce County Superior Court.” Hecht’s decision triggers the search for his replacement. The process could take as long as three months. Superior Court judges are elected, but vacancies are filled by appointment. Gregoire will make the selection after consulting with leaders of the state and local bar associations. The process starts with a formal notice of vacancy sent to the bar association. That announcement was expected Monday or today, said Marty Loesch, senior counsel to the governor.

Next, the bar association requests applications. The window typically stays open for a month, Loesch said. Candidate interviews follow, then a poll of the bar association, then analysis and finally a recommendation to the governor, who makes the pick. Loesch said the holidays might slow the process. On the other hand, the Superior Court has been operating minus one judge for most of the year. “We understand that they’d like to get the position filled as quickly as possible, as does the governor,” Loesch said. Reiko Callner, executive director of the state’s Commission on Judicial Conduct, said Hecht’s resignation wouldn’t necessarily stop her agency’s investigation into the disgraced judge’s behavior. The commission filed a “statement of charges” against Hecht earlier this year, accusing him of violating judicial canons by allegedly trading cash and legal advice for sex, threatening two men, using racially insensitive language and engaging in unfair campaign conduct.

Hecht denies the charges.

The commission’s fact-finding hearing is set to begin Feb. 22 at the King County Courthouse in Seattle. The hearing will proceed unless Hecht negotiates a resolution to the matter beforehand, Callner said. Whatever the outcome, the commission cannot overturn Hecht’s criminal conviction; that power rests with state appeals courts.

Sean Robinson: 253-597-8486 - - Staff writer Adam Lynn contributed to this report.

Here's Judge Hecht's resignation letter:

November 2, 2009

The Honorable Bryan E. Chushcoff
Pierce County Superior Court
930 Tacoma Avenue South
Department 4
Tacoma, WA 98402

Dear Judge Chushcoff:

Regrettably, as a result of my conviction in Pierce County Superior Court, in order to uphold the integrity of the court system of which I feel strongly about, I do not believe I have any choice but to resign. Therefore, to avoid any further discourse between the County Executive and those who protect the Washington State Constitution, I submit my resignation as Superior Court Judge, Department 9, effective November 16, 2009. It is my intent to keep fighting to reverse this injustice and reinstate my good name. But I will do that independently of attempting to remain on the bench under the current situation. I have requested nothing in return for this resignation. As a result, you may begin the process of appointing a successor to my position so that Pierce County Superior Court will not be burdened any longer. I want to thank all of the Judges and my loyal staff for their kind words of encouragement and support during this whole process. Thank you for your consideration in this matter.

Very truly yours,
Michael A. Hecht

MAH: smh

Cc: Gov. Christine Gregoire

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Famed Judge Gets 18 Months for Lying to FBI

Famed Miss. judge gets 18 months for lying to FBI
The Associated Press by HOLBROOK MOHR - November 13, 2009

ABERDEEN, Miss. — Bobby DeLaughter, a history-making prosecutor who became a judge, was sentenced Friday to 18 months for federal obstruction in a case that ended his career and brought down some of the most powerful lawyers in Mississippi. The 55-year-old DeLaughter, sentenced by U.S. District Judge Glen Davidson in Aberdeen, apologized in the courtroom. "I do want to express my sincere apologies not only to this honorable court, but to all my former colleagues, the people of Mississippi, and especially the people of Hinds County," DeLaughter said. He must report to prison on Jan. 4. The former Hinds County circuit judge pleaded guilty in July to obstruction of justice. He admitted lying to an FBI agent during a judicial corruption investigation. Davidson said DeLaughter had brought shame to the profession. The judge told DeLaughter he had experienced extreme highs and lows in his career. "You've been to peaks and today you stand in a very deep valley," Davidson said. The bearded DeLaughter was visibly tense. Wearing a dark gray suit, he fidgeted with a jacket button as he approached the bench. DeLaughter (deh-LAW'-ter) made a name for himself in 1994 when he was an assistant district attorney and helped convict Byron de la Beckwith for the 30-year-old murder of civil rights leader Medgar Evers. Evers was gunned down in 1963. The trial was the basis for the 1996 movie "Ghosts of Mississippi," with Alec Baldwin playing DeLaughter. DeLaughter also wrote a book about the case, "Never Too Late: A Prosecutor's Story of Justice in the Medgar Evers Case." DeLaughter's attorney, Thomas Durkin, said he hoped his client's life wouldn't be judged on the obstruction case. "But for this incident, Bobby DeLaughter's life has been nothing short of noble and spectacular. Nothing that happens here today will diminish that," Durkin said after the sentencing. DeLaughter's reputation was solid by 2002, when then-Gov. Ronnie Musgrove appointed him to an open judicial seat. He was later elected to the position. His storied career came crashing down in the bribery scandal that also snagged Richard "Dickie" Scruggs, the chief architect of the multibillion-dollar tobacco litigation of the 1990s, depicted in the movie "The Insider," starring Al Pacino and Russell Crowe. DeLaughter was presiding over a lawsuit in which a lawyer sued Scruggs for a bigger cut of millions of dollars in legal fees from asbestos litigation. Prosecutors said DeLaughter ruled in Scruggs' favor in the case in exchange for a promise that he'd be considered for a federal judgeship. DeLaughter ruled in 2006 that Scruggs didn't owe the former partner anything more than a belated $1.5 million payment. The ruling was contrary to the findings of a special master appointed to weigh the evidence before trial. A settlement was reached in the lawsuit Thursday, said Charlie Merkel, an attorney who represents the lawyer who sued Scruggs. The terms of the settlement agreement were confidential, Merkel said. DeLaughter only pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. As part of DeLaughter's plea deal, prosecutors dropped conspiracy and mail fraud charges. He asked to serve his sentence either in a prison in Montgomery, Ala., or one in Pensacola, Fla. Beckwith's son, Byron de la Beckwith Jr., said, "He's getting a slap on the wrist. A very light slap." He also said DeLaughter should not be allowed to self-report to prison or request where he can serve his time. Wearing a maroon jacket with a Confederate flag pin on the lapel, Beckwith said DeLaughter should have left the court in handcuffs. Medgar Evers' widow, Myrlie Evers-Williams, said earlier during a telephone interview that she was saddened by DeLaughter's fall. "It's just very sad about what has happened in Bobby's life. I have known him only to be an upstanding citizen, dedicated to his work, and certainly a large degree of bravery that has run through his adult life," Evers-Williams said.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Memo to NY AG Cuomo: Have Georgia on Your Mind

Special Prosecutor to Handle Charges That Judge Bullied Lawyers and Clerks, Kept Porn on Laptop
The Daily Report by R. Robin McDonald - November 13, 2009

ATLANTA, GA - The Georgia attorney general will appoint a special prosecutor to investigate allegations of criminal conduct by Appalachian Circuit Superior Court Judge Oliver Harris “Harry” Doss Jr. Appalachian Circuit District Attorney Joe W. Hendricks Jr. sent a letter to Attorney General Thurbert E. Baker on Wednesday asking him to appoint a district attorney pro tem to review criminal allegations contained in a list of formal charges the Judicial Qualifications Commission filed against Doss on Monday. Hendricks recused as prosecutor, citing “the appearance of a substantial conflict of interest.” Daryl A. Robinson, counsel to the AG's office, said Thursday that a special prosecutor will be appointed “pretty quickly,” most likely within the week. Doss' attorney, Troutman Sanders senior counsel Norman L. Underwood, declined to comment on the attorney general's decision to appoint a special prosecutor. He said he intended to recommend that Doss retain criminal defense counsel. Underwood said that he and his client are preparing a formal response to the JQC charges, although he said Doss had addressed some of them earlier in private with JQC members. Since the charges were filed Monday, he said, “There have not been any negotiations” with the JQC over the conditions attached to Doss' resignation. The JQC charges against Doss accuse him of violating the state's judicial canons by engaging in lengthy delays, often a year or more, before issuing court orders on motions; abusive behavior toward lawyers and others; and misappropriating state property and funds by giving county laptops to his wife, his son and a former law clerk and unauthorized raises to his personal staff. The JQC charges followed a 10-month investigation of Doss and came three days after Doss submitted his resignation to Gov. Sonny Perdue. In his resignation letter, effective Dec. 5, the judge blasted the JQC for alleged bias and for its lack of confidentiality in handling the inquiry. The JQC earlier had given Doss until Nov. 6 to resign. In a letter to Doss dated Tuesday, Perdue accepted the judge's resignation. Last Saturday, the circuit's other two judges issued an order stripping Doss of his criminal docket, citing tension between the judge and the DA and identifying an incident found in the JQC charges in which Doss had threatened an assistant prosecutor who refused to change a negotiated plea agreement and, according to Hendricks, “acted like a bully.” The judges' order was issued after Doss refused to voluntarily step aside in favor of a senior judge. Since then, Hendricks said, Doss has informed the circuit's Superior Court Chief Judge Brenda W. Weaver that he will voluntarily cancel his pending civil docket and take action only on those civil cases where he has held hearings and motions are still pending. Hendricks said he has asked that an independent prosecutor review the JQC charges alleging criminal behavior because, “A state constitutional commission has found probable cause that he [Doss] has committed acts of theft, physical assault and falsification and theft of documents. I believe that someone needs to make an independent judgment about whether those acts should be prosecuted. I haven't asked that he be prosecuted. I'm just asking that someone independent make that decision who hasn't been so deeply involved.” “In these kind of circumstances,” Hendricks continued, “if I have a finding of probable cause and there is sufficient evidence that someone has misappropriated government property, that requires a prosecutor to make a decision about whether or not that case is prosecuted and, if so, how it is prosecuted.” Hendricks also noted, “I have prosecuted public officials or initiated the prosecutions of public officials when the value of the amount of property taken was less than what was alleged to have been taken in this case.” The commission's findings constitute probable cause to believe Doss committed the alleged criminal acts, Hendricks added.

The JQC charges include the following criminal allegations, according to Hendricks' letter to the state attorney general:

• Doss misappropriated government property, specifically four laptop computers, and he used more than $3,000 in county funds for unauthorized expenditures, including bonuses for his staff and a baby car seat for a county deputy clerk—an alleged violation of Georgia statutes barring theft by taking and theft by conversion by a government officer. Doss admitted to the JQC investigator that he gave his wife, the Fannin County attorney, one laptop for her law practice as compensation for “hours of work done by my spouse and her staff and the use of my spouse's professional equipment.” The JQC charged Doss with providing two other laptops to his son and a former law clerk. Three of the laptops have been located and are in the JQC's custody. The fourth remains missing, but Hendricks' letter states it was reportedly disposed of when it failed to operate properly, although it “was likely still under warranty when it disappeared.” Hendricks told Baker that the GBI had examined the hard drives of the recovered laptops, finding that one contained “a significant amount [of] work for Ms. Doss' private law practice; a second contained “a significant amount of files in the nature of school work;” and a third held “some disturbing pornographic images” on the hard drive.
“Since I don't have access to the commission's investigative files ... I do not know if there has been a determination as to how or who put the pornographic materials on the computer,” Hendricks told the Daily Report.

• Doss engaged in physical altercations of “an insulting and provoking nature” with staff, including pushing or shoving them and, in one instance, throwing documents at the Gilmer County clerk during a court proceeding in alleged violations of the state's simple battery or simple assault statutes.

• Doss solicited a county probation officer to falsify a disposition in a criminal case by asking him to change the written sentence of a defendant to reflect, instead, a conditional dismissal of the case known as pretrial diversion—a violation of the state's criminal statute barring the falsification of a public document.

• Doss took original court files on pending cases from courthouses—a violation of the theft of public documents statute. The chairman of the JQC on Wednesday distanced the commission from Hendricks' request. The JQC has authority to remove a judge from office, but any criminal prosecution is “outside the scope of our regulatory authority,” JQC chairman Benjamin F. Easterlin IV said. “This is something that the local district attorney is undertaking on his own. The JQC has nothing to do with it. We don't have any opinion as to its propriety.” The DA's letter to Baker also set the stage for a possible conflict between a special prosecutor and the JQC by suggesting that “the state will need to obtain access to the commission's files and debrief the commission's investigator.”

Although JQC charges and trials—the latter are rare—are open to the public, the agency's investigative files normally remain confidential. But the JQC's governing rules state that confidentiality “shall not apply to any information which the commission considers to be relevant to any current or future civil or criminal action against a judge.” The rules also state that “upon receipt of a duly issued subpoena or court order by any state or federal court of record, the Commission is authorized to comply ... .” Asked if the commission would turn over its confidential files to a special prosecutor, Easterlin said, “Not voluntarily.” He added, “We would certainly respond appropriately to any subpoena.” “The JQC would follow its rules regarding confidentiality,” Easterlin explained. “To the extent that those rules do not provide for us to disseminate information, we're not going to do it. To the extent they don't prohibit that, we are going to cooperate with any authority.”

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Judge Suspended for 45 Days for Violating Man's Due Process

Judge suspended for 45 days without pay
The Herald Leader by Shawntaye Hopkins - November 11, 2009

FRANKFORT, KY — A Central Kentucky family court judge accused of judicial misconduct has been suspended for 45 days without pay and publicly reprimanded. The Judicial Conduct Commission, the state's judicial oversight body, ruled that Judge Tamra Gormley, whose district covers Scott, Woodford and Bourbon counties, inappropriately handled two cases: a domestic violence hearing in Scott County and a child custody hearing in Woodford County. A third count against Gormley, which stemmed from a child custody case in Scott County, was dismissed because the commission said the charge was not proven by clear and convincing evidence. Gormley's attorney, William Hoskins of Lexington, said he reviewed the order Monday and discussed it with Gormley. Hoskins said they appreciate the commission for dismissing one charge but respectfully disagree with the findings on the other charges. Hoskins said they are contemplating an appeal. The commission released its ruling Friday — nearly a month after Gormley's hearing. The commission, the only entity authorized to discipline a sitting Kentucky judge, had until Feb. 19 to render a decision. The ruling says Gormley violated a man's due process rights in a Scott County case. The commission said she held a man in contempt without advance notice and without his attorney present. Gormley did not witness the actions outside the courtroom that led to the contempt charge. The commission said that while "a court undoubtedly has the power to hold a person in contempt of court for actions outside the sensory perception of the judge" (as was true in this situation), it "may not exercise that power without holding a hearing that provides the person with advance notice of the contempt proceeding." On the second count, the commission found that Gormley entered a change of custody order that removed a child from the custody of her father but denied the father the right to put on his own evidence. Gormley, the commission found, acted as an advocate for the mother in that case. Gormley's actions "were not mere legal error," the ruling says. "A reasonably prudent and competent judge would conclude the conduct of Judge Gormley to be obviously and seriously wrong in all the circumstances of the cases." Hoskins disagreed. The commission did not cite any Kentucky law that was violated, he said, and there were no independent witnesses who testified against Gormley during the hearing on the charges. "We truly believe Judge Gormley applied the appropriate Kentucky law and did so in good faith," he said.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

U.S. Head In Sand While Russia Admits WIdespread Public Corruption

Russia admits police corruption
BBC News by Richard Galpin - November 10, 2009

Moscow - The Russian government has admitted that parts of the police have been turned into what the interior minister has described as criminal businesses. It is the most frank admission so far of corruption and other crimes being committed by members of the police. It came after a senior policeman in southern Russia posted a video on the internet in which he appealed to the prime minister to tackle the problem. It is the latest in a series of highly embarrassing revelations about police. Earlier this year a senior police officer went on a shooting spree in a Moscow supermarket, killing three people. The incident was recorded on security cameras and the video was widely broadcast on Russian TV and on the internet. Now a serving police officer, Major Alexei Dymovsky, has spoken out in a video, also posted on the internet which has registered more than 700,000 hits in just a few days. The officer from southern Russia accuses his superiors of forcing policemen to arrest innocent people to ensure monthly quotas are met. And he says they are paid so little they have no choice but to accept bribes.

Interior ministry pledge

It is very unusual for a policeman to speak out so openly. And he has clearly had a major impact - holding a packed news conference in Moscow on Tuesday. He said he wanted to meet the Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to ensure there was a proper investigation to restore the honour and dignity of the police force. The interior minister has announced that any policeman accused of committing serious crimes will face prosecution.


Whistleblower Tackles Russian Police Corruption
CBS by Alexsei Kuznetzov - November 10, 2009
This story was filed by CBS News producer Alexsei Kuznetsov in Moscow.

Tired of working amid corruption, a 32 year old Russian police officer made an unthinkable video appeal directly to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. He says he now fears for his life, but thinks this whistle had to be blown. "Vladimir Vladimirovich, I am appealing directly to you," says Major Alexei Dymovsky in his video (at left), referring to Putin's by his traditional name. "You have been talking about corruption – you have been saying that not only should corruption constitute a crime, you said it should also be unseemly to engage in corrupt practices. But this is not the case in this country." The words were more likely to come from a human rights activist or an opposition politician. But this rare outpouring of emotion came from within the Russian power structure, from Dymovsky, a cop in the city of Novorossiysk. "I want you to know how we live – ordinary officers, ordinary policemen – those who solve and untangle (crimes) and detain (criminals), those who do the real work," Dymovsky said in his recorded speech, during which he looked visibly nervous and stumbled at times. He's clearly had enough. In his appeal, full of pain and desperation, he criticizes his superiors for neglecting the needs of police officers, for low wages and for trumping up criminal cases, something he even confesses to doing himself. "I was promoted to the rank of Major last May for having given a promise [to my superior] to put an innocent person in prison. I am not afraid to say this, even though I know that I can be punished for that. But it is a fact."

Reached by CBS News on the phone in Novorossiysk, Dymovsky explained what prompted him to take such an unusual step. "Now I have got nothing to lose. I decided to burn my bridges and posted the video on the Web because I am a Russian man… I could no longer live and work like that – I could no longer stand being treated like cattle. So even if I am to go, I want my younger colleagues to have a normal life — to work hard, to be paid well and to be treated with respect." The real situation inside the Russian police today, Dymovsky said, could not be farther from that. Policemen in his city are paid about $400 per month, have to work, "30 days out of 31 without any paid overtime," and are often denied basic medical attention for not solving enough crimes. But worst of all, "when young guys come to work on the force and say that the wage of 12,000 rubles (about $400) does not frighten them, they know they will be making some extra money on the side. How can it be that a police officer is making money on the side?" Andrei Narvatkin, a former police operative in Novorossiysk seems to have the answer. "What we have in Russia today should not be called the police. It is a complete mess with police bosses taking tremendous bribes collected for them by their underlings. While the bosses are basking in the sun on the Canary Islands, rank and file policemen work round the clock to collect bribes from citizens and businesses to be passed on to the top," Narvatkin told CBS News. Having quit the force after seven years of service, Narvatkin knows what he's talking about. "Those officers who try to stay honest and do not take bribes, are eventually gotten rid of. Others just keep their mouths shut and keep collecting – they have families to support. No wonder the entire police system is corrupt to the core." "Dymovsky said what nearly every police officer feels in Russia," Mikhail Pashkin, chairman of the Moscow police union's coordinating committee, told Ekho Moskvy radio station. "We have the same happening in Moscow."

To most Russians, what Dymovsky said hardly comes as news. Opinion polls show the public views the police as one of the nation's most corrupt agencies. Nevertheless, his video appeal was a sensation on Russian Web sites, attracting over 450,000 viewers in a matter of several days. So, what was so special about Dymovsky's appeal? "He was the first one from within the system who openly told this indifferent country the exact same thing that is being discussed in private over kitchen tables. One man against the system – that deserves respect," wrote a blogger going by the name "anna_amelkina". The ultimate questions facing Russian society was iterated by another Russian blogger, who asked, "Will honest police officers give their support to major Dymovsky? Will Russia rise in his defense? Will this small stone ever become a landslide that will transform our society?" So far, there are no signs of a looming landslide. Vladimir Putin and his press service have remained silent. In a trademark Russian manner, Dymovsky was quickly fired from the police for "spreading slander about his colleagues and actions besmirching the dignity and honor of a Russian policeman." Short of counterarguments and apparently unwilling to properly investigate the incident, the police authorities even resorted to a tried-and-true method in from Soviet-era (and Putin's) Russia — blaming all problems on an outside enemy. "The way, the form and the timing of the publication of the video appeal bear witness to the fact that Alexei Dymovsky is getting support from some third parties," a source in the Department of Internal Security of the Russian Interior Ministry told Interfax news agency, hinting that the United States Agency for International Development could well be that "third party." The Russian blogosphere brushed off this idea with a smile: "Dymovsky – an American provocateur!!! I can literally see the CIA plotting a crafty conspiracy of how to recruit Major Dymovsky! Apparently, the Interior Ministry is low on fresh ideas – it is the Americans again! Poor imagination and no creative work!" wrote a blogger nicknamed "alga72". Alexei Dymovsky is in no joking mood. Fearing retributions, the Major has all but gone into hiding – he changes his cell-phones frequently, does not spend nights at home, has hired a bodyguard and is planning to send his wife, who is six months pregnant, to Moscow.

But he remains true to his quixotic crusade. "If I do not get killed, I am planning to travel to Moscow and meet with Vladimir Putin personally," he told CBS News. "I am ready to tell Putin everything and I am not afraid to die or that my family may be persecuted. I am ready to carry out an independent investigation and I will show him the seamy side of a Russian cop's life - with all the corruption, all the ignorance, all the rudeness, when honest police officers die because their commanders are blockheads." Logic dictates that Mr. Putin should be interested in meeting the Major - a broader issue that Alexei Dymovsky's personal drama raises is how heavily the Kremlin can rely on a police force staffed by disgruntled and desperate officers like him. As the economic crisis deepens in this country and more lay-offs are looming this winter, Moscow could one day find local police siding with outraged citizens, instead of following orders and dispersing unsanctioned rallies. "The system has already started to come apart at the seams. If our needs are simply ignored, there will be a cop revolt in Russia. I have lost my job, but other officers will heed my words – those who do not want to keep living on their knees," Dymovsky told CBS News. "In any case, after what I have done, the police will never be the same again. This is my truth, and I am fighting for it."

Federal Appeals Court Supports Hiding of Corruption Data

Appeals court dismisses order to reveal cops' names by David Heinzmann - November 10, 2009

A two-year legal battle to open up disciplinary records of Chicago police officers suffered a setback today when a panel of federal judges decided to keep the files secret -- denying an attempt by a journalist and 28 aldermen to open thousands of documents to public scrutiny. The fight over the files has unfolded amid a broader public debate about police oversight in the city, with some critics suggesting the files would reveal evidence of police department leaders ignoring rogue cops for years. But the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals decision came down to a simpler legal matter. The files had been exchanged as discovery evidence between parties in a federal misconduct lawsuit against eight police officers. But the files had never been formally placed in the case file. The three-judge panel ruled that legal precedents favoring public disclosure of court records do not apply to records not in the case file. A South Side woman, Diane Bond, had sued the police department in 2004, alleging repeated abuse by officers. Her lawyer, University of Chicago law professor Craig Futterman, had demanded the disciplinary files in order to show a pattern of police misconduct condoned by department officials. Futterman's analysis of the records showed that fewer than 1 percent of misconduct allegations were sustained by the department's internal investigations, a far lower rate than the national average. Just before the city settled Bond's lawsuit in 2007, independent journalist and community activist Jamie Kalven filed a motion to intervene and lift a protective order that had sealed the police records. U.S. District Court Judge Joan H. Lefkow decided to lift the protective order, but the city appealed the decision. While the appeal was pending, a group of 28 aldermen signed onto the case with Kalven, saying they too wanted access to the files. At the time, aldermen were dealing with police-oversight reforms in the wake of several police scandals, including allegations ofd misconduct by officers in the department's Special Operations Section.

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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