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Sunday, March 27, 2011

NY Presiding Justice Accused of Lying on Mortgage Docs

Judge out of order
The New York Post by Isabel Vincent and Melissa Klein - March 27, 2011

A Manhattan judge in charge of one of the most prestigious state courts in the country lied on mortgage documents, received property-tax breaks he didn't deserve and made questionable hires that included his ex-wife. Justice Luis Gonzalez, the presiding judge of New York's Appellate Division First Department, simultaneously took advantage of both rent-stabilization rules and home-ownership tax breaks by claiming places in two boroughs as his home, The Post has learned. In 2009, he took out a $510,276 loan on a Brooklyn house, attesting on the mortgage document that the property would be his primary residence. He then got a STAR tax break in 2009, 2010 and 2011 -- a perk that amounted to $4,440 and is supposed to go only for a primary residence. But Gonzalez really resided in a rent-stabilized Grand Concourse apartment in The Bronx, a living situation that is also supposed to be a primary residence. Gonzalez confessed his duplicity to The Post, saying he designated the Brooklyn abode as his main home to get the mortgage. "To be honest with you, I did not think there was anything improper about it," he said. "It sounds super silly, super stupid." Asked whether the deception was a crime, he said, "If it is, you're talking to someone who is in deep trouble." Jonathan New, a mortgage-fraud expert and former Manhattan federal prosecutor, said it's a federal crime -- fraud -- to lie on a credit application to a federally insured institution or for a federally insured loan. It is punishable by up to 30 years' prison and a maximum $1 million fine. Documents on file with the city show that Gonzalez got the February 2009 loan through now-defunct Union Federal Mortgage Corp. and that the loan was insured by the Federal Housing Administration. Such government-insured loans are available only for a primary residence. Gonzalez has taken out four mortgages on the Williamsburg home since 2004 and paid off three. On the first, for $280,000, he also said he would live in the house, on South Sixth Street. The judge says he lived in the modest two-bedroom house sometime between 2006 or 2007 and 2009, a period in which he borrowed $467,000 in two loans. He said he moved back to The Bronx in January 2009 and was unaware the Brooklyn home had a tax break. Gonzalez, 65, was promoted from an Appellate Division judge to presiding justice in March 2009 by Gov. David Paterson, becoming the first Latino to hold to the position. As presiding judge, he was required to live in The Bronx or Manhattan. He earns $147,600. Critics say Gonzalez has allowed nepotism to run rampant in the court. Vivian Gonzalez, whom the judge divorced 10 years ago but remains friendly with, was hired in December as a $65,000-a-year court clerk. Gonzalez said there was "no prohibition" against hiring his ex. He said he signed off on recent hirings of court workers' relatives, including his secretary's brother, his executive assistant's nephew and the son of a court officer who used to be his driver. None had state court experience, state payroll records show. But Gonzalez said all were qualified. Additional reporting by Candice Giove --

Friday, March 25, 2011

'Distinguished' Lawyer Accused Of Groping, Then Sexually Assaults Cop

Brooklyn Lawyer Accused Of Groping Saleswoman
The New York Law Journal by Noeleen G. Walder - March 25, 2011

A family law attorney accused of groping a vacuum-cleaner saleswoman was released Wednesday on $500 bail. An employee from Kirby Steam Cleaners showed up at the Brooklyn Heights apartment of the lawyer, Barry Bondorowsky, after he called the company for a demonstration. When the woman went to use the bathroom, she discovered the toilet would not flush and called for the lawyer's assistance, according to law enforcement officials. But instead of helping, Mr. Bondorowsky, 66, allegedly pressed himself against the saleswoman and grabbed her. Fearing for her life, the woman fled and called police, who arrested Mr. Bondorowsky, according to prosecutors. At the precinct, the lawyer repeatedly tried to grab the arresting female officer and attempted to kiss a male sergeant, according to officials. Mr. Bondorowsky, who headed the Brooklyn Bar Association's family law committee for five years and received the association's distinguished service award in 1992, was charged with third-degree assault, forcible touching, and other charges. He did not return a call for comment.

******************************RELATED STORY:

Lawyer 'cops' a feel after sex bust: police
The New York Post by Jamie Schram and Jeane MacIntosh - March 24, 2011

A Brooklyn lawyer busted for a sex crime later tried to get freaky at the precinct -- groping the arresting officer and trying to kiss her male sergeant, authorities said yesterday. Barry Bondorowsky, 66, stunned cops at the 84th Precinct Monday when he "repeatedly tried to grab the [arresting] officer's buttocks" and smooch her boss, police sources said. Bondorowsky was in custody for the alleged sexual assault of a Kirby vacuum-cleaner saleswoman he scheduled for an in-home demo. The woman set up the vacuum, then asked to use the bathroom of his apartment in a luxury Downtown Brooklyn building. "He grabbed me hard and squeezed my breasts. I pushed him away as hard as I could," the shaken 41-year-old saleswoman told The Post. "I was scared, panicking." Cops said Bondorowsky ordered the woman to his bed. "He said, 'I don't need a vacuum, I need a woman!' " she said. She ran to the lobby crying hysterically and called 911, police said. He was hit with assault, sex-abuse, forcible-touching and other charges, and released on $500 bail. He declined comment at his office.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

More 2nd Circuit Make-Believe Ethics Oversight

New Circuit Disciplinary Rule Targets Uncooperative Attorneys
The New York Law Journal by Mark Hamblett - March 24, 2011

In re Paul E. Warburgh, 07-9056-am

Attorneys charged before a Second Circuit grievance committee who fail to respond to or comply with show cause orders can be deemed to have waived objections on appeal, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit has ruled. Announcing a new rule for attorney discipline, the circuit said the possibility of waiver was intended to reduce defaults by charged attorneys and enable the Second Circuit's Committee on Attorney Grievance and Discipline "to focus more of its resources on the substantive analysis" of cases "rather than chasing after uncooperative attorneys." The new rule was announced in the case of Huntington attorney Paul E. Warburgh, although the circuit said it would not apply to him because he had not received enough warning to put him on notice as to the possibility of a waiver. The circuit's 11-member grievance and disciplinary committee, composed of volunteer members of the private bar, is charged with investigating complaints of misconduct. It makes its recommendations on sanctions to the circuit's three-judge grievance panel. The committee found in 2008 that Mr. Warburgh warranted discipline because he had failed in five cases to comply with scheduling orders on appeals before the circuit, failed to respond to the circuit's inquiries or failed to communicate with his clients. The committee, chaired by Mary Jo White of Debevoise & Plimpton, a former Southern District U.S. attorney, proceeded against Mr. Warburgh without a hearing after he did not respond to a March 2008 show-cause order on why he should not be disciplined and then failed to respond to committee communications despite a number of extensions. The committee found no mitigating factors excusing Mr. Warburgh, although it took into account his medical problems, including multiple surgeries for cancer in 2006 and his stated intention to retire from the practice of law. The committee called for his private reprimand and said he should be allowed to withdraw from the bar. It also called for involuntary disbarment if he declined to withdraw. Mr. Warburgh answered the committee's report with an e-mail in September 2010. He disputed some of the allegations about failing to communicate with clients but stated he had "no comment" on two of the five cases and said he had "formally" withdrawn from the Second Circuit bar. In In re Paul E. Warburgh, 07-9056-am, a per curiam opinion issued Tuesday, Judges Jose A. Cabranes, Robert D. Sack and Richard C. Wesley, who make up the circuit's grievance panel, said the committee was well within its rights to take summary action once Mr. Warburgh had repeatedly refused to respond to the show cause order. But it found that a "private reprimand is not an adequate disciplinary measure when the attorney knowingly defaulted and failed to show good cause or excusable neglect for the default."

"An attorney's default in disciplinary proceedings is a serious breach of the attorney's professional obligations to the Court and the public," the circuit said. "In such a case, the attorney has not only failed to respond to a Court-sanctioned order, but has done so after the Court already has found good cause to question the attorney's very competence to continue practicing in this Court." But the circuit went further and found that the unexcused failure to respond to a show cause order and other defaults "may constitute a waiver" of his or her right to challenge the committee's findings before a three-judge panel of the circuit. The circuit cited the rule announced by the U.S. Supreme Court in Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140 (1985), where the failure of a litigant to object to a magistrate judge's findings before the district court was deemed a waiver when the objections were later raised before an appeals court—an approach derided by the Supreme Court as the "sandbagging" of the district court. The same considerations that drove the Thomas Court, the circuit said in Mr. Warburgh's case, support a waiver where an attorney defaults before a disciplinary committee and tried to contest the same issues before the circuit. "Permitting him to address those matters for the first time at this late date, without a showing of good cause or excusable neglect for his default before the committee, not only would encourage future defaults by attorneys with disciplinary proceedings but would leave the court with a seriously defective record," the circuit said. The circuit said Mr. Warburgh was essentially asking the court to start from scratch and ignore the efforts of the committee, which is composed of volunteer members who "have dedicated uncompensated hours and other resources to this and every other referred case." Having outlined the new waiver rule, however, the court declined to apply it to Mr. Warburgh for lack of notice. But in future cases, the court said, the committee should include notice to a charged attorney that the failure to timely respond or comply with a show cause order may constitute a waiver. As for Mr. Warburgh, he was allowed to withdraw from the Second Circuit bar, but the circuit ordered him to disclose its order to every client and every court he appears before as well as every bar association of which he is a member. He has 14 days to file an affidavit confirming his compliance. Mark Hamblett can be contacted at

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Court Corruption's Smoking Gun: Dishonest Non-Judicial Insiders

Former Minn. court clerk pleads guilty to fraud
NBC - WFARE - March 21, 2011

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- A former senior clerk of court for the State of Minnesota's Fourth Judicial District pleaded guilty in St. Paul Federal Court Monday to failing to provide the state and its citizens honest services by improperly dismissing traffic citations and pocketing associated funds. Abdulkadir Mohamoud Afrah, 43, of Hastings, pleaded guilty to one count of honest services wire fraud. Afrah, who was indicted on Feb. 22, entered his plea before a United States District Court Judge. Afrah began working for the State of Minnesota in March of 2003. In his plea agreement, he admitted that from 2008 through 2011, he unlawfully dismissed at least 22 "no proof of car insurance" tickets. Those tickets had a value to Hennepin County Distirct Court of at least $6110. Afrah also admitted that he had sought bribes and received other payments from cited persons in the course of dismissing the tickets. To hide this scheme from his employer, Afrah admitted that he had made false entries in the court's computer system. In his professional capacity, Afrah reviewed and processed traffic citations at the Violations Bureau in the Hennepin County Government Center. Specifically, he handled "no proof of insurance" citations brought to him by members of the public. If presented with such a citation as well as an insurance card, Afrah had the authority to dismiss the ticket if the insurance company named on the card confirmed that a policy was in force at the time the citation was issued. In order to dismiss the ticket, Afrah was required to enter information, including the policy number from the applicable insurance card, into the court's computer system. A law enforcement affidavit filed in the case states that in March of 2010, authorities learned that Afrah was fixing tickets for people cited for no proof of insurance. On Jan. 10, a cooperating witness who was issued such a citation met with Afrah, asking for his help because he purportedly had no insurance. Afrah told the man he could help him in exchange for $278, which was the fine amount. Afrah met with the cooperating witness again later in the day, walking with him to a nearby building, where Afrah accepted $280 in cash. Afrah then told the cooperating witness that the citation would not go on his record. The court's electronic records indicate that Afrah dismissed the ticket at 4:10 p.m. that day. On Jan. 19, the cooperating witness returned to the Violations Bureau, met with Afrah, and received a receipt that showed the citation had been dismissed.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Law License Finally Yanked After Boatload of Scams

Attorney Suspended Following Excessive Fee Complaint
The Connecticut Law Tribune by Thomas B. Scheffey - March 21, 2011

Attorney Suspended Following Excessive Fee Complaint - New Britain solo has been in repeated trouble with state authorities

Jacek Smigelski, a New Britain solo who has been repeatedly disciplined for unethical conduct, was suspended from the practice of law this month by New Britain Superior Court Judge Patty Jenks Pittman. His client fund accounts are being secured by Hartford lawyer Bozena Wysocki, of Brignole, Bush & Lewis, who was appointed trustee, with instructions to present an accounting to the court within 90 days. Smigelski’s best-known offense stems from his representation of the heirs of Stanislaw Kosiorek, who upon his death at age 83, left his house to a woman he had married only a year earlier. Smigelski struck a fee deal with the heirs for an hourly payment at $225 or a one-third contingency for a positive result. The attorney then persuaded the woman to relinquish her claim to the house in return for $35,000, the money to come from proceeds of the house’s sale. The house was sold at the end of 2006, and the estate received the net sum of $155,300. Smigelski charged $70,833 for his services. The Kosioreks pursued a disciplinary complaint, and protested to the probate judge, and Smigelski was ordered to repay $55,000 of his fee as excessive. He refused, on grounds that he had made a valid contract with his clients, and because the money was “gone.” Connecticut Chief Disciplinary Counsel Mark Dubois, whose office has followed Smigelski’s career for years, said the “rule of reasonableness” controls, as embodied in Rule of Professional Responsibility 1.5(a). Smigelski has previously been reprimanded in 1997, 1999, 2000 and 2006. After the last reprimand, he was required to take an ethics course.

Civil Action

In addition to disciplinary complaints, the Kosiorek family, represented by New Britain lawyer William Sweeney, sued to recover the missing funds from the house sale. They were paid only $88,000 of the nearly $200,000 value. A New Britain jury last year determined that Smigelski breached his contract and wrongfully converted funds. The Kosioreks were awarded $55,000, plus $21,000 in interest. The jury also authorized punitive damages, allowing the judge to triple the actual damages and bringing the total to nearly $227,000. Sweeney also sought and won reimbursement for attorney fees and expenses that he estimates at $71,000. In an interview, Sweeney said none of the money has been paid, and that Smigelski’s suspension is overdue. “He’s legend around here,” said Sweeney. “There’s not a lawyer in New Britain who’d have one good word to say about him.” Smigelski filed appeals of the disciplinary findings, and had been seeking en banc review before the Connecticut Supreme Court. He has also sued Dubois, accusing him of withholding evidence and committing fraud. And he’s sought a new disciplinary hearing. Time ran out on the last of those measures last week, and his suspension for one year and three months began with Judge Pittman’s order. Attempts to contact Smigelski were made by phone and e-mail, but he did not respond. His attorney web site was still accessible on March 18, with no mention of his unlicensed status. Trustee Wysocki did not immediately return a call for comment. The license suspension does not mean Smigelski will stay out of court. He had been enmeshed in a separate probate court scandal, representing attorney John T. Nugent in the now-infamous Smoron Estate case. Valuable land owned by Josephine Smoron in Southington was supposed to be left to one of her farmhands, Sam Manzo. But attorney Nugent secretly changed Smoron’s will to create a result benefiting a major local developer. Former Southington Probate Judge Brian Meccariello was reprimanded for his part in the case, and farmhand Manzo is fighting to get is inheritance. Pullman & Comley lawyer Elliot Gersten is representing Manzo. “Bill Sweeney deserves a lot of credit for his perseverance, working to get Smigelski out of the picture,” Gersten said.

Reasonable Percentage

As for the housing sale case, although a one-third contingency fee is common in personal injury cases, it is seldom found in a real estate transaction. Dubois, the chief disciplinary counsel, said that before 1970, attorney “minimum fee schedules” assigned fees as one percent of the mortgage, or one per cent of the purchase price, depending on whether the lawyer represented the buyer or the seller. After fee schedules were outlawed, and the U.S. Supreme Court authorized lawyer advertising as a First Amendment right, fees in real estate transactions have “gone down and down,” Dubois said. In Fairfield County, some buyers’ lawyers will charge nothing just for the sake of getting the title insurance premium, because the sale price, and the premium, can be so big. Elsewhere, it’s a flat fee, plus the title insurance premium, said Dubois. “Smigelski’s fee was based on a combination of real estate and litigation, a blended contract that had a contingent fee based on the value of the real estate,” Dubois noted, adding, “At the end of the day, it all comes back to Rule 1.5(a), the total fee has to be reasonable.”

Sunday, March 20, 2011

NY Daily News Hosts 3-Day Corruption Festival

Dirty little secrets: City Council members have skirted laws, bent rules and abused their power

The New York Daily News by Erin Einhorn, Robert Gearty, Benjamin Lesser, Tina Moore, Barbara Ross and Greg B. Smith - March 20, 2011

More than a dozen City Council members have skirted laws, bent rules or used their positions to benefit themselves, a Daily News probe has found.

A three-month investigation found Council members who dodged taxes, violated the city's housing and building code, circumvented regulations to get cheap housing and, in one case, even ignored criminal bench warrants. As part of the probe, The News reviewed thousands of pages of records regarding judgments, liens, tax history, property ownership, building and housing code violations, campaign finance and financial disclosure. And while the Council's 51 members - one of whom is under indictment - routinely make laws on everything from smoking in public to recycling trash, The News found many have a history of ignoring the letter of the law. Confronted by the News, several Council members admitted they'd made mistakes in judgment and promised to rectify them. "There is no excuse," said one. "To me, my integrity means a lot," said another.

Among the findings, to be detailed in The News over three days: Councilman Ruben Wills (D-Queens) has two outstanding arrest warrants on pending criminal charges. He's also a deadbeat dad who owes more than $27,000. Four Council members - Fernando Cabrera (D-Bronx), Mathieu Eugene (D-Brooklyn), Peter Koo (R-Queens) and Jumaane Williams (D-Brooklyn) - get tax breaks by claiming a primary residence outside their districts. Council members are required to live in their districts. Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) is about to move into a luxury condo building where she used taxpayer dollars to resolve a conflict with a neighboring building over garbage. She's also been sued repeatedly for nonpayment of rent. Councilwoman Inez Dickens (D-Manhattan) owed $100,000 in back-property taxes - some dating to 2009 - and has been cited repeatedly for unsafe conditions in Harlem apartment buildings she owns. She's also been accused of hiding assets to dodge estate taxes. Councilman Eric Dilan (D-Brooklyn) got into affordable housing that's supposed to go to families making no more than $114,000. At the time, he and his wife made $160,000. The building owner is a campaign donor. Councilman Williams twice ignored city inspectors investigating allegations he has an illegally converted apartment in a building he owns. Councilman Larry Seabrook (D-Bronx) is under indictment for running a shakedown scheme and illegally pocketing cash, including collecting $177 in expenses - for a $7 bagel and diet soda - from a political club he runs. He has denied wrongdoing. Several Council members are swimming in debt, including James Sanders (D-Queens), who faces eviction because the $588,000 home he bought with no money down is in foreclosure. Sanders rails against "predatory lenders" without revealing his own precarious situation. Melissa Mark-Viverito (D-Manhattan) has a one-third interest in at least one Puerto Rico rental condo, but reports no income. Members are supposed to report any income over $1,000 per year. At first she told The News she was co-owner of two rental condos: a three-bedroom worth as much as $500,000 near the beach in the upscale tourist area of Condado, and a one-bedroom in secluded Punta Las Marias worth up to $250,000. Ian Malinow, a real estate broker in San Juan, said the larger unit could get $1,500 to $2,000 a month, the smaller one $1,000 a month. Mark-Viverito first said both condos were rentals. Asked why she reported no income, she replied: "You don't have to report income." After being told she must report any income over $1,000 a year, she changed her story, saying only one condo generated income, and all of that went to her mother due to an "oral agreement" they had. Seven Council members pay rent to themselves or to entities controlled by relatives for campaign offices. Mixing politics and city business is fairly common. Eight City Council members use Council employees as campaign treasurers; 10 others use city employees to oversee their campaigns. This is legal, although city workers must do all political work on their own time.

Corrupt Chief Judge-Wolf Eyes Changes to Corrupt Hen House

Justice Groups Support Judicial Campaign Proposal
The New York Law Journal by Joel Stashenko - March 21, 2011
The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law and the Justice at Stake Campaign have collaborated on comments supporting Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman's proposal to ban a judge from hearing a case involving a lawyer or litigant who donated $2,500 or more to the judge's campaign. "The public response to the ever-escalating price tags associated with running for judicial office—in New York and other states—has been a perception that sometimes justice is for sale to the highest bidder," Bert Brandenburg, Justice at Stake executive director, and Adam Skaggs, Brennan Center counsel, wrote to Judge Lippman. The chief judge said the proposed rule is needed to remove the public perception that judges are in a position to preside over cases involving lawyers and litigants who are also major campaign contributors (NYLJ, Feb. 14). The courts have established an e-mail address to accept comments (

Office of Court Administration counsel John McConnell said that only a handful of comments have been received so far. The comment period ends April 29. However, the Brennan Center and Justice at Stake urged Judge Lippman to make two changes in the rule. They recommended that some limitations be placed on the donations that third parties can make to campaigns, noting that the proposed rule applies only to direct campaign contributions. They said they also favored a mechanism to prohibit "judge shopping" whereby litigants try to disqualify certain judges by making contributions to their campaigns above the $2,500 limit. Justice at Stake is a nonpartisan nationwide group founded to educate the public and support reforms to keep politics and special interests out of the courtroom, according to its website.


Saturday, March 19, 2011

Corruption Keeps Court of Appeals Circuit Busy

U.S. prosecutors consider appealing the dismissal of public corruption charges for non-officials
The Star-Ledger by MaryAnn Spoto - March 17, 2011

They left the federal courthouse in Newark on Wednesday the same way they had arrived: hoping a judge would dismiss corruption charges against them. A month after the U.S. 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals dealt a crippling blow to federal prosecutors, five defendants in New Jersey’s largest federal corruption sting remained no closer to learning whether charges against them would be dropped or their cases thrown out entirely. Government attorneys said they are considering asking the full court of appeals to decide whether the five can be charged with public corruption even if they did not hold public office when they allegedly accepted bribes from disgraced developer Solomon Dwek. U.S. District Judge Jose Linares gave the government until April 4 to make a decision and file the necessary paperwork. Even then, it is unclear whether the issue will be decided. If U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman decides to ask for an appeal, it could take months for the 3rd Circuit to decide whether it wants to hear the case. The delay disappointed some of the defense attorneys. "My hope was that we were going to come here and they were just going to accept the decision," Raymond Hamlin, attorney for former Jersey City housing authority commissioner Lori Serrano, said after court. "Hopefully it will be like we said — at the end of the day Lori Serrano has done nothing wrong." Serrano, who lost a bid for Jersey City council in 2009, is accused of accepting $10,000 in bribes for her campaign from Dwek in exchange for her help in expediting permits for a supposed development project in the city. But Dwek, posing as developer David Esenbach, was secretly working with the FBI and recording meetings and telephone conversations. Some of the attorneys had hoped Linares would at least drop the extortion charges for their clients in light of his decision last year and the 3rd Circuit’s ruling last month.

In those decisions, Linares and a three-judge panel of the 3rd Circuit said brothers Ron and Lou Manzo could not be charged under a law making it illegal for public officials to accept cash for their influence. The courts said the law does not apply because they were not public officials when they allegedly took cash from Dwek. Lou Manzo, a former assemblyman, was a Jersey City mayoral candidate at the time of the alleged bribes and his brother was the manager of the failed campaign. The rulings did not immediately end the case against the Manzos and Serrano because they still face bribery and mail fraud charges. However two others have already pleaded guilty and their attorneys said they plan to ask Linares to set aside those convictions.
Former Hudson County Undersheriff James "Jimmy" King, who once served as executive director of the city’s parking authority and as chairman of its incinerator authority, pleaded guilty in September 2009 to bribery. Housing advocate LaVern Webb-Washington pleaded guilty to bribery the following month and was sentenced to one year in prison, a term Linares agreed to suspend until the appeal issue is resolved.

Lou Manzo attacks Gov Chris Christie

Former Democratic state Assemblyman Louis Manzo, one of dozens of public and political figures charged in a massive corruption sweep in July 2009, lashed out at New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who spearheaded the prosecution in his previous post of US Attorney. Manzo said the investigation was rife with conflicts of interest, misconduct and violations of federal laws. A spokesman for Christie called Manzo, 'just another official in New Jersey charged with corruption who wants to divert attention from his own conduct.' Federal prosecutors argued the extortion charge for all five defendants is appropriate because the alleged bribes would have paved the way for development permits if the candidates were elected. If the 3rd Circuit takes up the case and gives a ruling not favorable to prosecutors, the government could go to the U.S. Supreme Court, adding more months to cases that already have been pending nearly two years. Samuel DeLuca, the attorney representing Ron Manzo, said federal prosecutors should be wary of going to the Supreme Court. "I’m not sure they’re going to want to go to the Supreme Court," he said. "If the Supreme Court affirms the 3rd Circuit, that’s the law of the land. That’ll affect many cases." Serrano said she wanted the case to end Wednesday. "We all do, at this point," she said. "It’s been a long time now."

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

OCA Team Disaster, Lippman and Pfau, Fumble Financial Fiasco

With Budget in Flux, Administrators Put the Brakes on Use of JHOs
The New York Law Journal by Joel Stashenko - March 16, 2011

ALBANY, NY - The assignment of judicial hearing officers to new state court cases has largely halted as administrators wait to see if any of the $7 million-a-year program will survive budget deliberations in Albany. While Chief Administrative Judge Ann Pfau said she has issued no order to stop all new assignments to JHOs, she said she also has made it clear that JHO funding could well be suspended starting April 1, the beginning of the state's fiscal year, due to a new round of austerity measures ordered by Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman. "I think that is a prudent thing to do," Judge Pfau said in an interview as she returned Monday to Manhattan from Queens, where she met with a group of civil Supreme Court justices about JHO cuts. "I tell them [administrative judges] that I wouldn't be starting new things until I had some certainty what is going on in the budget." The suspension of the JHO program would be part of $100 million in proposed budget cuts that Judge Lippman offered (NYLJ, March 3) in the Judiciary's $2.7 billion budget as a way of falling in step with Governor Andrew M. Cuomo's plans to reduce spending in the state's 2011-2012 budget. The state has about 300 JHOs on its rolls. The retired judges are paid $300 a day to handle a myriad of judicial tasks. Those include presiding over jury selection in Supreme Court civil trials, overseeing state-mandated pre-foreclosure conferences and issuing orders of protection in Family Court. According to the Office of Court Administration, judicial hearing officers worked 19,800 days in the 2009-2010 fiscal year. Assuming that the average judge works 250 days a year, the JHO figure is the equivalent to the work done by approximately 79 full-time judges. The state has about 1,240 judges. The Legislature has created few new judges in the last decade. With caseloads continuing to increase, the availability of JHOs has helped to take pressure off the courts. "Essentially, what people are telling me is that they feel strongly they [JHOs] are an important component of court operations," Judge Pfau said. The Queens judges, for example, told her that JHOs are particularly important in keeping matrimonial cases moving. "If we can think of a way to keep some piece of [the JHO program] funded, that would be a good thing," she said. "But I can't guarantee that."

Meanwhile, Ira Gammerman, a high-profile JHO in Manhattan Supreme Court, said he has been told not to expect additional work after April 1. Working five days a week, Mr. Gammerman, 83, acts as a traffic cop in the mornings as he sorts through motions and proposed assignments to civil and commercial courts in Manhattan. In the afternoons, Mr. Gammerman, a 34-year veteran of the bench who retired in 2003, presides over a seventh part of the court's Commercial Divisions. He estimates that represents about 10 percent to 15 percent of the division's caseload. He currently has 250 to 300 cases on his calendar. Recent cases Mr. Gammerman has presided over have included a highly publicized lawsuit by Prince Jefri of Brunei against his former financial advisers (NYLJ, June 23, 2010). "Well, I have to go out and make an honest living," said Mr. Gammerman, contemplating the possibility of a second retirement from the court system. "There are highly remunerative options for me. This is something I like doing and I'd prefer to stay here. But if I can't, I can't." Attorney Mark Zauderer of Flemming Zulack Williamson, Zauderer, a frequent commercial litigator in Manhattan, said that Mr. Gammerman's departure would mean a heavier workload for already busy commercial judges. "In the case of Justice Gammerman, bear in mind that other justices have extremely heavy calenders," Mr. Zauderer said. "One cannot just assume his cases can just be distributed to other commercial justices without delays in the administration of justice." Ninth Judicial District Administrative Judge Alan D. Scheinkman recently directed judges not to send any new cases to JHOs. "Beginning April 1, I am out of business," said Joseph Owen, a former Orange County surrogate and Supreme Court justice who retired last year. Mr. Owen, 77, said he heard several medical and dental malpractice cases as a stand-in for Supreme Court justices in Orange County. "I felt that because of my expertise in handling and trying complex cases over 25 years that I could continue to be of service to the court system in taking care of some of the complex cases for some of the full-time judges," he said. "I want to be of as much help as I can. If the system doesn't want to use my services, that is up to them. If I am not going to be getting any work [as a JHO], then I will take on more mediations and arbitrations."

Strong Case for Family Court

Michael V. Coccoma, the deputy chief administrative judge for courts outside of New York City, said he is acting on the assumption that no JHOs will be available in Supreme Court for the year starting April 1. But he said he thinks a strong case can be made for retaining some JHOs in Family courts. "The volume and impact it would have on Family Court would be too much to absorb," Justice Coccoma said in an interview. "It would create delays that would be unacceptable. We are pretty confident that the judicial hearing officers in the Family Court would continue the work they are doing." If the program is suspended, Justice Coccoma said he hoped that it would resume next year. "Our goal is to have the program back next [fiscal] year," he said. "We are hoping that the JHOs who are on our list reapply next year. They are highly thought of and do a wonderful service to the state." For now, however, Justice Coccoma said he is not authorizing any JHOs to work past April 1, although he would seek an exemption for any JHOs already on trial that is likely to go past that date. Albany County Family Court Judge W. Dennis Duggan said he gets a JHO once every three weeks. "It gives us a break in catching up in chambers," Judge Duggan said. "They are just the kind of relief you need to keep your head above water. It doesn't sound like much, but that one day every three weeks is big. They are also available if you get jammed up where double trials or conferences are scheduled." Without JHOs, Judge Duggan said, "The only option we have is that cases will have to be pushed further and further out down the road because you can't expand the work day and there is no way we can cram more into our work day." New York City Family Court currently employs 16 JHOs working on a host of duties such as custody, visitation, guardianship, family offenses, adoptions and post-dispositional child protective matters, said Judge Edwina Richardson-Mendelson, administrative judge for New York City Family courts. She said the loss of JHOs would "clearly" impact judges and referees, who would have to pick up the caseloads of lost JHOs. "Due to necessary budget cuts we are certain we will not be able to keep all our JHOs," Judge Richardson-Mendelson said. "Our ability to keep any JHOs in the NYC Family Court will depend on the final budget outcome." Until that is settled, Judge Richardson-Mendelson said that JHOs have been directed not to take on any new cases and to conclude any pending cases as soon as possible. In the six-county Fifth Judicial District in central New York, Administrative Judge James C. Tormey III said 12 JHOs typically work two days a week. "We are hopeful of keeping some of the JHOs in Family courts," Judge Tormey said. "Family Court is like an emergency ward. We have to be very careful there and we can't suffer a lot of delays in that court. The old saying about 'justice delayed is justice denied' is very true. It's really critical to try and resolve their issues and move on." The heads of two judicial associations said they had not been consulted about the possibility of suspending the JHO program before it was first raised by Judge Lippman. "This is one of the issues that was dealt with by OCA without official consultation with my association," said Phillip R. Rumsey, president of the Supreme Court Justices Association of the State of New York. Added Justice Rumsey, who sits in Cortland County, "Having said that, I certainly understand that Judge Lippman is in a situation where he has to react aggressively with the budget." Justice Rumsey said he expected his group's executive committee to discuss responses to the JHO cutbacks during a conference call this Friday. He said he was uncertain what the group could do, practically speaking, past objecting to the cuts. Margaret Olszewski Szczur, president of the Family Court Judges Association, said her members have told her of worries of losing JHOs. "The responses have been, 'Where is the time going to come from to pick up the slack?'" said Judge Szczur, an Erie County Family Court judge. She also complained that court administrators in Albany had sprung JHO cuts on judges without warning. "By and large, OCA does not consult with any judicial associations about their initiatives," Judge Szczur said. "I know I was never consulted. The administration takes the position that they are in charge of the administration of the courts and the rest of us have to live with what they decide." Judge Pfau said she speaks "regularly" with the associations and is committed to keeping the lines of communication to them open. "I look forward to hearing from them on the impact as we move forward," she said. Joel Stashenko can be contacted at

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Lippman Has Advanced Lawless System of Crimes Against Families

Nursing home official Jennifer Robinson bilked 85-year-old dementia patient for $220K: prosecutors
The New York Daily News by Thomas Zambito - March 14, 2011

The suspect allegedly preyed on victims in the nursing home where she worked. A Queens nursing home official bilked an 85-year-old dementia payment out of $220,000 in life savings by pretending to be his niece, prosecutors say. Jennifer Robinson, 36, was charged with theft and falsifying business records for a scheme that dates back to 2009, when victim Walter Witko was admitted to the Long Island Care Center in Flushing. Prosecutors say Robinson, the center's social work director, seized the chance to steal Witko's savings when she realized he had no living relatives. Witko, a retired music teacher from Brooklyn, died in July. "The defendant is accused of stealing the life savings of a helpless individual to whom she was supposed to be administering care," said Queens District Attorney Richard Brown. "Instead she allegedly treated him as a cash cow, writing checks off of his bank account and pocketing the money." Robinson was held in lieu of a $15,000 bond after an appearance in Queens Supreme Court Monday. She faces 15 years in prison. In May 2010, Witko signed a document giving Robinson power of attorney over his finances. A month later, after Witko returned from a hospital stay, Robinson arranged to have him admitted to a different nursing home, prosecutors say. On admission papers for Atlantis Rehabilitation and Residential Care Facility, Robinson listed herself as Witko's niece, prosecutors say. Between March and July, they say she withdrew $220,000 from Witko's bank account. After he died, she arranged to have his body cremated.


Monday, March 14, 2011

Drinking Lippman Lemonade; Falling for Lippman Three-Card-Monty

Listen to Judge Lippman
The New York Times - EDITORIAL - March 13, 2011

Acknowledging New York’s deep fiscal crisis, Judge Jonathan Lippman, the state’s chief judge, has reluctantly agreed to make cuts in his $2.7 billion budget request, including a reduction in the number of people working for the court system. But he is refusing to back down on his call for a $25 million increase, to $40 million, in support for civil legal service programs that help low-income New Yorkers faced with foreclosures, evictions, domestic violence and other serious legal problems. His commitment comes at a time when Republicans in Washington are determined to slash the federal contributions to these essential programs. Judge Lippman knows what he is up against politically but is undaunted. In a recent talk at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in Manhattan, he described the shocking need for help out there — and the cost to justice and the judicial system if it continues to go unmet. He told of state courtrooms that are “standing room only, filled with frightened, unrepresented litigants — many of them newly indigent — who are fighting to keep a roof over their heads, fighting to keep their children, fighting to keep their sources of income and health care.” And he cited the astonishing fact that in New York City 99 percent of tenants in eviction cases and 99 percent of borrowers in consumer credit cases have no lawyers. “What is at stake,” he said, “is nothing less than the legitimacy of our justice system,” adding that the rule of law “loses its meaning when the protection of our laws is available only to those who can afford it.” Judge Lippman offered a final practical reason for increasing spending on civil legal services: preventing unwarranted evictions, avoiding foster care placements, helping clients get access to federal benefits and easing court delays will carry real economic benefits for the state. He is right on all counts. The Legislature should approve the increase.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Forgotten Lawyers' Ethics in The News, Issue in Court

Propriety of Barring Blumenfeld Ruling in D.A. Case Questioned
The New York Law Journal by Daniel Wise - March 14, 2011

Queens Assistant District Attorney Donna Aldea fought hard on Friday to persuade an appellate panel to block a judge from ruling on the ethics of her office's practice of interviewing suspects shortly before they are arraigned. A flurry of questions from the bench, suggesting that it would be premature to bar a ruling from Queens Acting Supreme Court Justice Joel L. Blumenfeld, stretched her scheduled 15-minute argument to nearly one hour. Mark F. Pomerantz, who represents Justice Blumenfeld, also faced some tough questions, particularly from one judge who asked whether the court had the power to remand a suppression hearing to a different judge. At issue is whether Justice Blumenfeld has the jurisdiction to examine whether the pre-arraignment interview program the Queens District Attorney's Office has operated since 2007 comports with the state's ethical rules governing attorney conduct. In its Article 78 proceeding for a writ of prohibition, the Queens office is also seeking to bar the judge from considering the opinion of an ethics expert. Assistant district attorneys in Queens have regularly conducted videotaped interviews of suspects as they pass through the central booking unit. Prosecutors read from a two-page script in which suspects are encouraged "to tell us your story" and if "you tell us about" something that needs to be investigated "we will look into it." As of last September, when the office filed its Article 78, more than 3,500 defendants had given either confessions or statements during pre-arraignment interviews (NYLJ, Oct. 15, 2010). In the course of conducting a suppression hearing in 2009 about statements made during a courthouse interview, Justice Blumenfeld sua sponte requested an ethics opinion about the program and rebuffed prosecutors' demand that he not rule on the ethics issue.

At the Appellate Division, Second Department, Justice Robert J. Miller on Friday challenged Ms. Aldea's use of "kitchen sink" to belittle the potential disciplinary violations that Justice Blumenfeld said he would examine in the context of a suppression hearing. Justice Miller also seized on a comment Ms. Aldea made that he interpreted as conceding that she did not have a problem with Justice Blumenfeld obtaining an ethics report to aid his decision making. Ms. Aldea was also repeatedly questioned by Justice Ruth C. Balkin about whether it was appropriate for the court to block a judge from issuing a ruling and telling him what he could consider. Regardless of how the judge rules, she asked, "Aren't we on the precipice of some area that we should not be?" Ms. Aldea proved to be a tenacious advocate and was not thrown by the questions. She repeatedly returned to her central theme that Justice Blumenfeld had "hijacked" a routine suppression hearing, where the sole issue under Criminal Procedure Law §60.45 is whether the statement was voluntary, by insisting on judging whether the interview program is ethical. Justice Blumenfeld, in seeking "to satisfy his intellectual curiosity," raised a "wholly collateral issue that, far from being a simple error of law, was egregious, unheard of," she told the panel. Though Ms. Aldea acknowledged that the court's questions had delayed her from getting to the "crux" of her argument, the pace of the questions slowed once she presented it. She quoted Justice Blumenfeld saying the sole issue that concerned him was whether the office was making a false promise when it offered to investigate a suspect's claims. That would require a post-statement investigation, she said, and "there has never been a situation" where facts occurring after a statement is taken "have been considered in a suppression hearing."

Judge's Position

Mr. Pomerantz, a partner at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, argued that in requesting an outside expert's opinion and considering an ethics issue that "had been percolating in the courthouse," Justice Blumenfeld's actions, "far from being excessive," were within "the mainstream of what judges do and he should be commended for it, not lambasted." Mr. Pomerantz, a former federal prosecutor, argued about five minutes longer than the 15 minutes he requested. Justice Mark C. Dillon asked Mr. Pomerantz whether Justice Blumenfeld had "crossed a line by stepping into the shoes of defense counsel." Mr. Pomerantz rejected that notion, saying it is "flatly wrong" to say that a judge has no role to look at a lawyer's ethics in the context of a suppression hearing. Justice Dillon followed up by asking whether, if the court denied the writ, it nonetheless had the power to assign the case to a different judge on remand. Mr. Pomerantz responded that the court had the power but Justice Blumenfeld had done nothing to warrant the court's exercising it.

Based on 2009 Case

The case that prompted the ethics question involved Elisaul Perez, who is accused of robbing a man of $300 and his iPod. Mr. Perez first moved to suppress statements he made during a courthouse interview in July 2009. Justice Blumenfeld conducted a hearing over five days in the last two months of 2009. The following April, while still keeping the hearing open, Justice Blumenfeld received a report from Professor Ellen Yaroshefsky of the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, who concluded that the prosecutors' questioning was misleading in violation of the disciplinary rules because it insinuated that they where offering to help Mr. Perez when that was not the case. The Queens office countered with an affidavit from former Court of Appeals Judge Joseph W. Bellacosa, stating that Ms. Yaroshefsky's report contained "egregious" errors of law and fact (NYLJ, Dec. 20, 2010). Mr. Perez is not a party in the Article 78 proceeding. Justice Blumenfeld, however, upon the consent of both prosecution and defense, has stayed the criminal case until the Second Department rules on the writ. In the meantime, Mr. Perez is free on bail. The five groups that filed amicus briefs in support of Justice Blumenfeld's jurisdiction to rule on the ethical issues are the Legal Aid Society, the New York Civil Liberties Union, the New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the New York County Lawyers' Association's Ethics Institute and a coalition of law professors. The District Attorneys Association of the State of New York submitted an amicus urging adoption of the Queens District Attorney Office's position. Justice William F. Mastro also sat on the panel. Daniel Wise can be contacted at

Law Professor Named in Child Exploitation Charges

D.C. law professor named in child exploitation charges
The Washington Times/The Associated Press by Jerry Seper - March 11, 2011

An attorney and adjunct lecturer at George Washington University Law School was arrested in Washington on Thursday by agents at U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) in Tampa, Fla., charged with six counts of child sexual exploitation. Richard D. Lieberman, 64, of Washington, D.C., was charged by the State Attorney's Office in Florida with two counts of receiving online statements for the purpose of sexual conduct with a child, two counts of using the computer to seduce a child, one count of transmitting harmful material to minors and one count of lewd or lascivious battery. According to the charges, between Aug. 11 and Aug. 25, 2010, Mr. Lieberman used the Internet to sexually entice those he believed were two different girls under the age of 16 years. In fact, the charges said, he was engaging in online conversations with two undercover agents in Florida posing as 10 and 13-year-old girls. Mr. Lieberman is accused of sending the "13-year-old girl" an image of a naked man, engaging in a sexually explicit conversation with the "10-year-old girl" and sending her website links to images of male and female genitalia. "All children have an absolute right to grow up free from the fear of sexual exploitation," said Special-Agent-in-Charge Susan McCormick, who heads ICE's Tampa field office. "ICE will continue to police cyber space to investigate predators and ensure that they feel the full weight of the law." Agents and officers with the Maryland State Police, Florida Office of the Attorney General, U.S. Marshal's Service and ICE's Homeland Security Investigations Division in Maryland and Virginia participated in the arrest. An undercover officer with the Citrus County Sheriff's Office, Fla., participated in the investigation leading to the arrest. The investigation is part of "Operation Predator," a nationwide ICE initiative to identify, investigate and arrest those who prey on children, including human traffickers, international sex tourists, Internet pornographers, and foreign-national predators whose crimes make them deportable. This case is being prosecuted by Assistant State Attorney Victoria J. Avalon for Polk County, Fla.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Federal Judge OK's FBI Secreting NY Rampant Corruption- For Now

State corruption case kept sealed
The Albany Times Union by Brendan J. Lyons - March 11, 2011
FBI actions still secret four years after plea deal in $111,500 theft

ALBANY, NY -- A judge has ruled that federal prosecutors may keep secret details of their dealings with J. Felix Strevell, a former barber who pleaded guilty to looting a high-paying state job that he had landed through political connections. A recent ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Gary L. Sharpe allows federal prosecutors to keep sealed, for at least another year, court records containing information about Strevell's cooperation with the FBI and Internal Revenue Service. Two years ago, prior to sentencing Strevell to six months home confinement and five years probation, Sharpe granted a request by attorneys for the Hearst Corp., which owns the Times Union, to unseal court records related to Strevell's cooperation. But the judge's ruling had a caveat that key details of the court records would remain sealed for one year -- at the government's request -- in part because it could jeopardize ongoing investigations. No one has been prosecuted as a result of Strevell's cooperation, which helped him avoid a prison sentence. Last week, the judge approved a second, one-year extension that could keep the records sealed until March 2012. The records sought by the newspaper relate to seven debriefings Strevell gave federal agents after his guilty plea in April 2007, two years after he was indicted. Strevell, 49, of Castleton, pleaded guilty to a felony count of honest services wire fraud. He admitted using his politically appointed position as the former head of the Institute for Entrepreneurship in Albany to fleece the now-defunct agency of $111,500. Federal prosecutors said Strevell also set up jobs for friends and relatives and that the actual losses may have topped $200,000. Strevell's sentence included repaying $111,500 in restitution to the state of New York. Court officials this week said Strevell has paid back just $4,100. Federal prosecutors recently obtained authorization to garnish Strevell's estimated $12,800-a-year state pension, payable monthly when he reaches age 55 in about six years. The debriefings with Strevell took place six years after he quit his $263,000-a-year state job as revelations of financial abuse surfaced. People familiar with the debriefings said Strevell, who had strong ties to top state Republicans, provided information about alleged corruption within the ranks of local and state government, and also about mortgage fraud. "He provided names, incidents, locations, relationships, things that were said to him and that he observed,'' Strevell's sentencing memorandum states. However, the next four lines of the document were redacted by the judge before the narrative continues: "The high-level nature of many of the persons against whom Mr. Strevell provided information is a cause for anxiety beyond ... the run-of-the-mill white collar case." Federal prosecutors have sought the continued sealing of Strevell's cooperation details while acknowledging the information was not very useful, in part, because so much time has passed. It's not unusual in New York's Northern District for investigations involving public officials and white-collar crimes to languish for years, records show. Rex Smith, vice president and editor of the Times Union, said the newspaper intends to challenge the latest sealing order. "Felix Strevell's crime was misuse of New York taxpayers' dollars, and there's every reason to believe that he avoided prison by cooperating in the investigation of some other misuse of taxpayer dollars," Smith said. "But that has so far been concealed from the citizens who were victimized by that corruption. Our argument is simply that the people have a right to know." Assistant U.S. Attorney William Pericak declined to say why federal prosecutors have taken extraordinary steps to prevent public disclosure of the details of Strevell's cooperation. "We are acutely aware of our responsibility under the First Amendment to make public everything that can and should be made public and we take that responsibility seriously," he said. "There are countervailing considerations which have been recognized by the court. ... We will look at this every year to see whether circumstances have changed." The murky Institute for Entrepreneurship, Inc., a quasi-public agency, was developed by the State University of New York to support small business efforts in New York state. Strevell, a high school graduate, joined state government in 1990 as a state Senate employee and later became deputy secretary of state for business and licensing. He had strong political ties to former Republican Chairman William Powers as well as former U.S. Rep. John Sweeney, R-Clifton Park. Strong supporters of the institute also included the Pataki administration and former Senate Majority Leader Joseph L. Bruno, a Brunswick Republican convicted of honest services fraud in an unrelated case. Brendan J. Lyons can be reached at 454-5547 or by e-mail at

Strevell highlights

The case of J. Felix Strevell:
  • Used the institute's credit card to pay $7,500 in personal expenses, including a family vacation at Disney World.
  • Fraudulently gave himself a $95,000 salary increase on top of his $124,000-a-year salary.
  • Improperly had the institute pay $9,000 for his father, a Florida resident, to take two trips to China as part of a "delegation" to foster New York business.
  • Sold his used recreational vehicle to the institute for $64,000; did not disclose his interest to the board of directors.
Strevell, 49, is in line to receive a $12,800-a-year state pension beginning Aug. 24, 2016.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Ex-Federal Judge Gets 30 Days in Prison for Crimes

Ex-federal judge gets 30 days in prison for crimes
The Associated Press by Greg Bluestein - March 11, 2011

ATLANTA, GA (AP) — A former federal judge who was involved in a scandal involving drugs, guns and a stripper was sentenced Friday to 30 days in prison by a visiting jurist who told him he shamed the profession. Former U.S. District Senior Judge Jack Camp had asked that he be sentenced to community service and probation after he pleaded guilty to charges of using drugs with the stripper and giving her an $825 government laptop. Prosecutors said he should serve between 15 days and six months to repay his debt to society. In the end, Judge Thomas Hogan, a Washington judge flown in to hear the case, said he understood Camp has been forever humiliated and "has a scarlet letter chiseled on his forehead the rest of his life." But he said he couldn't get around the serious misconduct of a high-ranking official. "He has disgraced his position and himself and denigrated his office," Hogan said. "I could not only give him a sentence of probation and spare him confinement." Camp's attorneys said in documents that his decades-long battle with depression and a bicycling accident in 2000 caused brain damage that led him to use drugs and start seeing the stripper in May 2000. But the former judge said at the sentencing hearing that his struggles don't excuse the conduct. "I understand that I have brought it on myself and I am committed to overcome that stigma. I want to pay the debt that I owe and rebuild my reputation," said Camp, who was also ordered to serve one year of probation, pay $1,000 and complete 400 hours of community service. He added: "The only thing I can say is that I'm so very sorry." Prosecutors said there was no denying Camp was a community leader, a family man and a respected jurist before he struck up the relationship with the stripper. But they said he owed a debt to society for conduct that put the integrity of the federal courts at stake. "Mr. Camp engaged in repeated criminal conduct over four months. This was not a one-time thing," said prosecutor Deborah Mayer. "This was not a one-time lapse in impulse control." Camp, who is married with two adult children, is a Vietnam War veteran who was appointed to the bench by Ronald Reagan in 1987. After he started seeing the stripper, prosecutors say he soon began paying her for sex and using drugs with her. Over the next few months, the two used cocaine and other drugs together at strip clubs and other places. In June, prosecutors said he brought a semiautomatic handgun with him when he followed her to a suburban Atlanta home where she was buying drugs. She became a government informant by October, when Camp was arrested in a parking lot by federal agents after he gave the stripper $160 for a drug deal. They also recovered two guns from his front seat and discovered that he gave the stripper his government-issued laptop computer. As part of the plea agreement, he stepped down from the bench and agreed to cooperate with authorities looking into any of the cases he handled while he was being investigated. He could have faced up to four years in federal prison, but prosecutors and defense attorneys acknowledged he was going to receive substantially less time.

The judge's arrest and prosecution created a mess in the busy Northern District of Georgia, which covers metro Atlanta. Hogan, a veteran judge from the District of Columbia, was assigned the case because the other judges recused themselves, and prosecutors from the Justice Department's central office flew in to handle the case. Camp's legal team filed a flurry of legal motions and provided more than a dozen letters urging Hogan to back a sentence of community service and probation instead of jail time. And at the hearing, four longtime friends of Camp, as well as his son Harry, vouched for the ex-judge. Harry Camp said his father was training for a father-son bicycling trip across southern France in 2000 when he got into an accident that left him with broken ribs, a concussion and brain damage that could have worsened his impulse control. After the accident, Harry Camp said the two seemed to grow further apart. He said his father seemed more irritable, troubled and embittered over the next few years. When his father called him in October with the news about his arrest, Harry Camp said "something within me instantly knew it was a part of that internal struggle." But Harry said the arrest had a silver lining: It finally forced his father to get proper treatment of his psychiatric problems. "I admired my dad before he was a judge," he said. "And I admire him still for facing these demons head on, for not shying away from responsibility for his actions in this matter and for persevering so that he may become a better, more whole person in the end."

************************** RELATED STORY:

Ex-judge Camp sentenced to 30 days in prison
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution by Bill Rankin - March 11, 2011

After telling him he has “a scarlet letter chiseled on his forehead the rest of his life,” a federal judge sentenced disgraced ex-jurist Jack Camp to 30 days in prison for committing repeated crimes with a stripper. “He has disgraced his office,” Senior U.S. District Judge Thomas Hogan said of Camp, the ex-federal judge from Newnan. “He has denigrated the federal judiciary. He has encouraged disrespect for the law.” Camp, who was arrested Oct. 1 in an undercover drug sting, pleaded for leniency. He asked to be allowed to remain in his home and community to repair his marriage and rebuild his name. “When I look back at the circumstances which brought me here, it makes me sick to think I did them,” he said. “They were illegal, wrong, foolish. … The only thing I can say is that I’m so very sorry.” In court filings, Camp’s lawyers told Hogan that depression and a bipolar disorder as well as brain damage sustained in a 2000 bicycle accident — all exacerbated with improper prescriptions — help explain the ex-judge’s erratic and reckless conduct last year. Camp’s voice broke when he thanked Elizabeth, his wife of 35 years, and his son Harry and daughter Sophie for supporting him. Camp’s son, an Atlanta lawyer, asked Hogan to sentence his father to probation. “My admiration for dad began long before he became a judge,” he said. “And I admire him still for facing these demons head on, for not shying away from responsibility for his actions.” But Hogan, a Washington judge with 29 years’ service on the bench, said he could not get around the fact that a high-ranking government official had committed such serious offenses. He then read aloud the oath of office Camp took 22 years ago in the ceremonial courtroom across the hallway on the 23rd floor of the U.S. courthouse in Atlanta. This included Camp’s pledge, he noted, to follow the law. “Instead, for whatever reasons, the demons he had made him go another way,” Hogan said as Camp, stone-faced, stood before him. At the time of Camp’s arrest, Hogan added, “There was no suggestion this conduct was ending.” Hogan also ordered Camp to serve 400 hours of community service, pay a $1,000 fine and reimburse the government for the cost of its prosecution, which has yet to be determined. Camp will get credit for the weekend he spent in jail after his arrest. Camp said he has been working at a Habitat for Humanity warehouse and would like to help a Coweta County commission that supports Vietnam veterans like himself and assist the local public defender’s office in any way he can, even though he no longer has a law license. Hogan told Camp, who has been free on bond, that he can voluntarily report to a prison once one is designated for him.

Camp, 67, was appointed to the federal bench by President Ronald Reagan in 1987. He resigned in November shortly before pleading guilty to drug charges and to giving the stripper his $825 government-issued laptop computer. Camp met the exotic dancer at the Goldrush Showbar in May when she did a table dance for him. He was soon paying her for sex and together, they began smoking marijuana and snorting cocaine and a synthetic form of heroin. But by October she had begun cooperating with undercover FBI agents who lured in Camp to help her make a drug deal. He gave her $160 and told her to make the purchase because she already had a criminal record. In a parking lot off of Chamblee Tucker Road, she handed over the cash to the dealer, who was actually an undercover agent. Prosecutor Deborah Sue Mayer of the U.S. Justice Department’s public integrity section reminded Hogan that Camp showed up for the that deal armed with two handguns. One was found in the console of his car and the other was found on the seat with a round in the chamber and the hammer locked, she said. After the deal was consummated — and just before he was arrested — Camp told the undercover agent he’d come calling again for more drugs. “He engaged in repeated criminal conduct over four months,” Mayer said. “This was not a one-time thing. This was not a one-time lapse in impulse control.” In one ruling issued Friday, Hogan found that Camp had not committed a felony, as prosecutors believed he did had when they signed the plea agreement. Instead, Camp committed three misdemeanors, exposing him to a sentence of up to 6 months in prison. Prosecutors asked Hogan to sentence Camp to at least 15 days in prison. Camp’s lawyers asked for probation and community service. Camp said the past few months had been a nightmare for him and said it has been a struggle to go out in public because of his humiliation and shame. “I had worked hard as a judge and earned a respected reputation,” he said. “Now I’ll be known as the judge who disgraced himself at the end of his career."

Thursday, March 10, 2011

More Light on Another Lippman-Silver Sham

Tort-bar canard
The New York Post - EDITORIAL - March 9, 2010

The trial lawyers won't give it up with out a fight.

At issue is Gov. Cuomo's Medicaid Redesign Team, which has proposed a diet for New York's well-fed tort bar. The lawyers have enlisted a front, the grotesquely mislabeled Center for Justice & Democracy, to file an ethics complaint with the state Public Integrity Commission, charging members of the Medicaid team with conflicts of interest. Fronting for the CJD is agitprop filmmaker Michael Moore and lefty icon Erin Brockovich -- the latter a shill for tort-law kings Weitz & Luxenberg, which also employs Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver. Cuomo's team wants to cap non-economic damages in medical malpractice cases -- i.e. "pain and suffering" -- at $250,000 and set up an indemnity fund for brain-damaged babies, which could save New Yorkers $700 million. That would come right from the tort-lawyers' deep pockets. The CJD claims the Medicaid team is actually an official board whose members are covered by the state's public-officers law. Which means that the four hospital-affiliated members whose industry stands to save money under tort reform shouldn't have been allowed to serve. What nonsense. The whole point of the team was to get people from across the health-care spectrum to speak to their particular needs. Certainly, the CJD saw no ethics problem when it was part of then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer's Medical Malpractice Liability Taskforce four years ago. But real reform was never on the table back then. Now it is -- hence the blowback from the ambulance-chasers.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Another Reason Fraud Has Skyrocketed in Legal Community

Armies of Expensive Lawyers, Replaced by Cheaper Software
The New York Times by John Markoff - March 4, 2011

When five television studios became entangled in a Justice Department antitrust lawsuit against CBS, the cost was immense. As part of the obscure task of “discovery” — providing documents relevant to a lawsuit — the studios examined six million documents at a cost of more than $2.2 million, much of it to pay for a platoon of lawyers and paralegals who worked for months at high hourly rates. But that was in 1978. Now, thanks to advances in artificial intelligence, “e-discovery” software can analyze documents in a fraction of the time for a fraction of the cost. In January, for example, Blackstone Discovery of Palo Alto, Calif., helped analyze 1.5 million documents for less than $100,000. Some programs go beyond just finding documents with relevant terms at computer speeds. They can extract relevant concepts — like documents relevant to social protest in the Middle East — even in the absence of specific terms, and deduce patterns of behavior that would have eluded lawyers examining millions of documents. “From a legal staffing viewpoint, it means that a lot of people who used to be allocated to conduct document review are no longer able to be billed out,” said Bill Herr, who as a lawyer at a major chemical company used to muster auditoriums of lawyers to read documents for weeks on end. “People get bored, people get headaches. Computers don’t.” Computers are getting better at mimicking human reasoning — as viewers of “Jeopardy!” found out when they saw Watson beat its human opponents — and they are claiming work once done by people in high-paying professions. The number of computer chip designers, for example, has largely stagnated because powerful software programs replace the work once done by legions of logic designers and draftsmen. Software is also making its way into tasks that were the exclusive province of human decision makers, like loan and mortgage officers and tax accountants. These new forms of automation have renewed the debate over the economic consequences of technological progress. David H. Autor, an economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says the United States economy is being “hollowed out.” New jobs, he says, are coming at the bottom of the economic pyramid, jobs in the middle are being lost to automation and outsourcing, and now job growth at the top is slowing because of automation. “There is no reason to think that technology creates unemployment,” Professor Autor said. “Over the long run we find things for people to do. The harder question is, does changing technology always lead to better jobs? The answer is no.” Automation of higher-level jobs is accelerating because of progress in computer science and linguistics. Only recently have researchers been able to test and refine algorithms on vast data samples, including a huge trove of e-mail from the Enron Corporation. “The economic impact will be huge,” said Tom Mitchell, chairman of the machine learning department at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. “We’re at the beginning of a 10-year period where we’re going to transition from computers that can’t understand language to a point where computers can understand quite a bit about language.” Nowhere are these advances clearer than in the legal world. E-discovery technologies generally fall into two broad categories that can be described as “linguistic” and “sociological.”

The most basic linguistic approach uses specific search words to find and sort relevant documents. More advanced programs filter documents through a large web of word and phrase definitions. A user who types “dog” will also find documents that mention “man’s best friend” and even the notion of a “walk.” The sociological approach adds an inferential layer of analysis, mimicking the deductive powers of a human Sherlock Holmes. Engineers and linguists at Cataphora, an information-sifting company based in Silicon Valley, have their software mine documents for the activities and interactions of people — who did what when, and who talks to whom. The software seeks to visualize chains of events. It identifies discussions that might have taken place across e-mail, instant messages and telephone calls. Then the computer pounces, so to speak, capturing “digital anomalies” that white-collar criminals often create in trying to hide their activities. For example, it finds “call me” moments — those incidents when an employee decides to hide a particular action by having a private conversation. This usually involves switching media, perhaps from an e-mail conversation to instant messaging, telephone or even a face-to-face encounter. “It doesn’t use keywords at all,” said Elizabeth Charnock, Cataphora’s founder. “But it’s a means of showing who leaked information, who’s influential in the organization or when a sensitive document like an S.E.C. filing is being edited an unusual number of times, or an unusual number of ways, by an unusual type or number of people.” The Cataphora software can also recognize the sentiment in an e-mail message — whether a person is positive or negative, or what the company calls “loud talking” — unusual emphasis that might give hints that a document is about a stressful situation. The software can also detect subtle changes in the style of an e-mail communication. A shift in an author’s e-mail style, from breezy to unusually formal, can raise a red flag about illegal activity. “You tend to split a lot fewer infinitives when you think the F.B.I. might be reading your mail,” said Steve Roberts, Cataphora’s chief technology officer. Another e-discovery company in Silicon Valley, Clearwell, has developed software that analyzes documents to find concepts rather than specific keywords, shortening the time required to locate relevant material in litigation.

Last year, Clearwell software was used by the law firm DLA Piper to search through a half-million documents under a court-imposed deadline of one week. Clearwell’s software analyzed and sorted 570,000 documents (each document can be many pages) in two days. The law firm used just one more day to identify 3,070 documents that were relevant to the court-ordered discovery motion. Clearwell’s software uses language analysis and a visual way of representing general concepts found in documents to make it possible for a single lawyer to do work that might have once required hundreds. “The catch here is information overload,” said Aaref A. Hilaly, Clearwell’s chief executive. “How do you zoom in to just the specific set of documents or facts that are relevant to the specific question? It’s not about search; it’s about sifting, and that’s what e-discovery software enables.” For Neil Fraser, a lawyer at Milberg, a law firm based in New York, the Cataphora software provides a way to better understand the internal workings of corporations he sues, particularly when the real decision makers may be hidden from view. He says the software allows him to find the ex-Pfc. Wintergreens in an organization — a reference to a lowly character in the novel “Catch-22” who wielded great power because he distributed mail to generals and was able to withhold it or dispatch it as he saw fit. Such tools owe a debt to an unlikely, though appropriate, source: the electronic mail database known as the Enron Corpus. In October 2003, Andrew McCallum, a computer scientist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, read that the federal government had a collection of more than five million messages from the prosecution of Enron. He bought a copy of the database for $10,000 and made it freely available to academic and corporate researchers. Since then, it has become the foundation of a wealth of new science — and its value has endured, since privacy constraints usually keep large collections of e-mail out of reach. “It’s made a massive difference in the research community,” Dr. McCallum said. The Enron Corpus has led to a better understanding of how language is used and how social networks function, and it has improved efforts to uncover social groups based on e-mail communication. Now artificial intelligence software has taken a seat at the negotiating table.

Two months ago, Autonomy, an e-discovery company based in Britain, worked with defense lawyers in a lawsuit brought against a large oil and gas company. The plaintiffs showed up during a pretrial negotiation with a list of words intended to be used to help select documents for use in the lawsuit. “The plaintiffs asked for 500 keywords to search on,” said Mike Sullivan, chief executive of Autonomy Protect, the company’s e-discovery division. In response, he said, the defense lawyers used those words to analyze their own documents during the negotiations, and those results helped them bargain more effectively, Mr. Sullivan said. Some specialists acknowledge that the technology has limits. “The documents that the process kicks out still have to be read by someone,” said Herbert L. Roitblat of OrcaTec, a consulting firm in Altanta. Quantifying the employment impact of these new technologies is difficult. Mike Lynch, the founder of Autonomy, is convinced that “legal is a sector that will likely employ fewer, not more, people in the U.S. in the future.” He estimated that the shift from manual document discovery to e-discovery would lead to a manpower reduction in which one lawyer would suffice for work that once required 500 and that the newest generation of software, which can detect duplicates and find clusters of important documents on a particular topic, could cut the head count by another 50 percent. The computers seem to be good at their new jobs. Mr. Herr, the former chemical company lawyer, used e-discovery software to reanalyze work his company’s lawyers did in the 1980s and ’90s. His human colleagues had been only 60 percent accurate, he found. “Think about how much money had been spent to be slightly better than a coin toss,” he said.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Judicial System Greed Using Families a National Problem

County Children and Youth - State court is asked to step in
The Times Leader by Terrie Morgan-Beseckertmorgan - March 4, 2011

Attorney’s petition likens workings of county dependency court to “kids-for-cash” scandal.

An attorney who represented parents who have lost custody of their children to Luzerne County Children and Youth Services has asked the state Supreme Court to take jurisdiction over the county’s dependency court based on numerous abuses he alleges are being committed by caseworkers and others involved with the court system. Attorney James Hayward, whose license is now under suspension, said he filed a King’s Bench petition with the Supreme Court on Feb. 18, one day before his suspension took effect. Hayward said he filed the petition – an extraordinary measure that is utilized in cases alleging egregious violations – as a last-ditch effort to help his clients before he began serving the one-year suspension of his law license. “I’ll admit I made mistakes, but that doesn’t change the fact they are stealing kids,” Hayward said in an interview Thursday, referring to Children and Youth.

The Children and Youth director and a court-appointed attorney in such cases disputed the allegations. Hayward, of Wilkes-Barre, has spoken out passionately about abuses he believes are being committed against parents by Children and Youth. He made headlines in June after he held a press conference to announce he planned to file a federal class-action lawsuit against the agency, alleging widespread violations of the constitutional rights of parents. Hayward said Thursday the suit was never filed because of procedural issues relating to class-action suits. He said he decided to file the King’s Bench petition because he wants to ensure the problems are exposed in the hopes the Supreme Court will take some action. “If they don’t look at this ... no one is ever going to stop what’s going on here,” Hayward said. “Kids are being ruined. Families are being ruined ... If we can’t protect our children and protect our families, what are we?”

Review of cases sought

The petition asks the high court to review all cases in dependency court dating back to 1999 to determine if children and/or their parents were denied the effective assistance of counsel. It was not clear Thursday whether the high court will accept the petition, however. A clerk in the Supreme Court’s prothonotary’s office said the court is now reviewing the matter. Hayward said he understands he cannot do any further work on the petition, but believes it should be accepted because it was made before his suspension. “I hope it doesn’t matter. If it does matter, I’m hoping another attorney in Luzerne County or Pennsylvania has the guts to step forward and take it over,” he said. Hayward said he modeled the petition after the one that was filed in 2008 by the Juvenile Law Center on behalf of juveniles who appeared without attorneys before former Judge Mark Ciavarella in juvenile delinquency court The 19-page petition likens the workings of dependency court to the “kids-for-cash” scandal involving Ciavarella, who was accused of jailing juveniles for financial profit, except dependency court is worse, Hayward says.

“The ‘kids-for-cash’ scandal only sent children away for months or longer. This scandal takes children off their parents forever while caseworkers and their supervisors do what they want at will with no consequences,” Hayward says in the petition. The petition makes allegations against Children and Youth caseworkers, as well as two judges who hear dependency actions and attorneys who represent parents and children. Hayward says some caseworkers have told parents they “have more power than God.” One caseworker brags her nickname is the “terminator” because she has had only two children returned to their parents in four years, he says. Caseworkers routinely mislead judges, lie to parents and “gang up” on them to coerce them into agreeing to turn over custody by threatening them that they will never see their child again, Hayward says. The agency also orders parents with no history of substance abuse to undergo drug-and-alcohol counseling and intentionally delays referrals to various programs, particularly parenting classes, so that it can keep children in placement longer.

The petition also faults the court system for failing to ensure parents and children are adequately represented at hearings. While praising county Judge Tina Polachek Gartley and Senior Judge Chester Muroski, Hayward harshly criticizes senior judges Clinton Smith and Charles Brown, who hear many of the dependency cases, and attorney Michael Shucosky, a court master who makes recommendations to the judges. Hayward contends Smith, Brown and Shucosky routinely grant Children and Youth’s petitions to remove children from their homes even though little to no evidence is presented to support the action. He also takes aim at attorneys John Bellino, who serves as guardian ad litem – the court-appointed attorney who represents the child independent of the parents -- and Andrew Lentkowski, a court-appointed attorney who represents parents. Hayward alleges Bellino rarely interviews the children before making his recommendations. He makes similar allegations against Lentkowski, whom he alleges would not meet with parents until five or 10 minutes before the hearing.

Allegations denounced

Frank Castano, executive director of Children and Youth, denounced Hayward’s allegations. “You can make any allegations you want,” Castano said. “Does he have any factual evidence to support that?” Castano said Hayward’s allegation that Children and Youth intentionally works to keep children in placement is especially “ridiculous.” The agency has reduced the number of children in placement by 250 over the past two years, he said, due in large part to its participation in two state programs. “We’ve worked hand in hand with (the state) to improve practices and implement programs to improve permanency outcomes,” he said. Contacted Thursday, Lentkowski said he “obviously does not agree” with Hayward’s allegations. He declined to comment further, saying he had not yet seen the petition. Bellino, Shucosky, Smith and Brown did not immediately return phone messages seeking comment. Michael Pendolphi, a Forty Fort attorney who handles many Children and Youth cases, said he agrees with many of the allegations Hayward makes against Children and Youth, but he disputes allegations relating to Bellino and Smith and Clinton. Pendolphi reviewed the petition filed by Hayward at the request of a reporter. He said he often disagrees with Bellino’s assessment, but he believes the attorney does a thorough investigation of each child’s case before he makes a recommendation. He said he also believes Smith and Clinton take great care in reviewing cases. “I have practiced before both of them and think they are exemplary,” he said. As for caseworkers, Pendolphi said Hayward’s allegations are “100 percent true.” “I’ve witnessed them lie. I’ve witnessed them manipulate people. It’s absolutely true,” Pendolphi said. “They intimidate and threaten parents. I’ve witnessed that first hand.” Told of Pendolphi’s comments, Castano said attorneys should bring those issues before the judge if they believe their clients are being abused. “Without knowing case specifics, it’s very difficult to comment,” Castano said. “If he has evidence of that and wants to present to he has an opportunity to do so.”

Friday, March 4, 2011

New York's Kickback Conflicts Via Estates and Trusts

Judge in Alan Hevesi pension fund pay-to-play case tangled in lawyer's family business
The New York Daily News by Kenneth Lovett - March 4, 2011

Alan Hevesi pleaded guilty last year to pocketing $1 million in gifts for himself and colleagues in a pension fund pay-to-play scandal.

ALBANY, NY - The judge overseeing disgraced ex-Controller Alan Hevesi's conflict of interest case may have a major conflict of his own. Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Lewis Bart Stone has a financial relationship with the estranged father of Hevesi's lawyer, it was revealed in court this week. While the potential conflict isn't expected to impact Hevesi's felony corruption guilty plea, it could lead to a new sentencing judge. Hevesi's lawyer, Bradley Simon, asked Stone to recuse himself from the sentencing - which has been postponed to March28. "I think the ethical quagmire is overwhelming," a transcript shows Simon told the judge. Stone is a longtime friend of Simon's dad and informed the lawyer at the March 1 hearing that he is the executor of the father's wills and trustee of his living trust. He then blabbed that Simon wasn't listed as a beneficiary of his father's trusts or will. "I may have overspoke," Stone acknowledged at one point. He insisted multiple times he sees no reason for recusal, saying he did not prepare any of the Simon family documents nor have a financial interest with Bradley Simon. Hevesi pleaded guilty last year to pocketing $1 million in gifts for himself and colleagues in a pension fund pay-to-play scandal. He faces up to four years in jail.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

As Symbol Of Court Waste and Corruption, Lippman Must Step Down

Judiciary Promises More Budget Cuts
The New York Law Journal by Joel Stashenko - March 3, 2011

ALBANY, NY - The judiciary promised the cash-strapped state government to make an additional $100 million in budget cuts yesterday—economies that Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman predicted would cost some court employees their jobs. "We are going to need layoffs here," the chief judge said in an interview after announcing that the courts would cut from the $2.7 billion budget proposed in December. "We're not talking about a large system of layoffs of 2,000 people. But whether it will be 25, 50, 150 or 200, I just don't know." Judge Lippman said employees who work in courtrooms or back-office workers who support courtroom functions would be protected from cuts. But he said there are "loads" of court administrators and others in jobs that do not affect courtroom operations whose positions could be sacrificed. Yesterday's comments were the first time the courts have raised the possibility of layoffs. The courts employ about 15,200 non-judicial workers, approximately 1,100 less than three years ago. But the cuts in payroll have been achieved through early retirements coupled with a hiring freeze. Governor Andrew M. Cuomo last month criticized the Judiciary for "not participating" in his efforts to close a budget gap of around $10 billion in the year that begins April 1. Mr. Cuomo is proposing to cut spending by 10 percent and to eliminate about 10,000 positions from the executive agencies he controls (NYLJ, Feb. 2).

Judge Lippman said yesterday the Judiciary's budget was proposed two months before Mr. Cuomo's and that he has intended for weeks to answer Mr. Cuomo's call for cuts in the court budget. The Judiciary's initial budget proposal was higher by $50 million, or 1.7 percent, than in the current fiscal year. Chief Administrative Judge Ann Pfau argued that the increase was due to negotiated salary and pension benefits over which the court system did not have control (NYLJ, Dec. 2. 2010). Mr. Cuomo's office had no immediate response to Judge Lippman's announcement. "This reduced budget request will have a significant impact on every part of our court system," Judge Lippman said in a statement released by his office yesterday. "Nevertheless, we can and will keep the doors of our courthouses fully open while fostering equal access to justice. Difficult sacrifices will be made, but this is exactly what we should be doing as a good partner in government at a time when the State is facing extraordinary fiscal challenges."

In addition to continued attrition and possible layoffs, Judge Lippman said that the courts would re-examine all non-personal service spending such as aid to town and village courts, the New York State Judicial Institute and legal reference materials. He said in the interview that the entire judicial hearing officer program might have to be scrapped. The program employs some 300 retired judges who issue orders of protection, preside over jury selection in civil trials and otherwise relieve judges of some duties. JHOs are paid $300 per day for their services and the program costs the state about $7 million a year, according to Judge Pfau. The Legislature has created almost no new judgeships in the last decade, and the courts have come to rely on the JHOs to cope with rising caseloads. Judge Lippman also said that he would push for long-term changes in court operations. That would include the renewal of the Judiciary's push to consolidate the state's 11 separate trial courts, a system the chief judge called "archaic and inefficient." Such an initiative, most recently championed in 2007 by a task force appointed by then-Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye, would require amendments to the state Constitution, and the Legislature has traditionally shown no interest in moving ahead. But Judge Lippman said he believes the tenor of the times makes court consolidation more attractive than it has been in decades. He based that reaction on the state's bleak fiscal outlook and the fact that Mr. Cuomo has made consolidation of in other areas of government to lower costs and eliminate redundant services a chief priority of his administration. "We can save hundreds upon hundreds of millions of dollars by having a more efficient [court] structure," the chief judge said in the interview. "Let's look at it fresh because we have to in this economic climate. We can't continue to have such a structurally inefficient model." Various studies of a consolidated court system have placed savings to the state at between $200 million and $500 million a year.

Judge Lippman also pledged to implement mandatory electronic filing for all New York state courts. Finally, he said the Judiciary would forward to the Legislature within 10 days a package of proposals to streamline proceedings in civil, criminal, family and surrogate's courts. Among those ideas are eliminating the requirement to exhaust remedies before courts can enforce an order of support through a contempt proceeding and to elevate the status of part-time city court judges to full-time so they also can serve in Family Court. James Hennerty, deputy director of the Civil Service Employees Association, said yesterday he hopes the court system moves quickly to identify jobs that might be targeted for layoffs. "Obviously, we want to discuss the specifics," Mr. Hennerty said. "We are in a somewhat difficult position. Management has a unilateral right to lay off employees. We cannot stop them. We are hoping that layoffs will not be necessary, or at least are minimal. We don't even like minimal, but we realize that times are difficult." The CSEA represents 5,890 state court employees, many of them in the management or administrative capacities that Judge Lippman said would be targeted. Judge Lippman told reporters after his State of the Judiciary address last month that the Judiciary was willing to make sacrifices that would not affect access to justice or result in curtailment of courthouse hours. He said the budget the Judiciary proposed in December was a starting point in negotiations with the governor and Legislature (NYLJ, Feb. 16). Joel Stashenko can be contacted at

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

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

               Video of 1st Hearing on Court 'Ethics' Corruption
               The June 8, 2009 hearing is on two videos:
               CLICK HERE TO SEE Part 1
               CLICK HERE TO SEE Part 2
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