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End Corruption in the Courts!

Court employee, judge or citizen - Report Corruption in any Court Today !! As of May 15, 2014, we've received over 137,835 tips...KEEP THEM COMING !! Email: CorruptCourts@gmail.com

Monday, December 31, 2007

Court Suspends Lawyer During Conduct Probe (MORE, CLICK HERE)

The New York Law Journal
by Anthony Lin - December 31, 2007

A lawyer accused of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from a retired Brooklyn judge whose estate she was overseeing as a guardian has been suspended from practice because her alleged misconduct "immediately threatens the public interest."

Emani P. Taylor has been the subject of disciplinary proceeding over her alleged withdrawal without authorization of $327,100 from accounts of John L. Phillips, a onetime Civil Court judge who was ruled mentally incompetent in 2002. Ms. Taylor, who served as Mr. Phillips' guardian from 2003 to 2006, has acknowledged withdrawing some money but claims she did so properly both to pay herself and others for services rendered (NYLJ, Jan. 12).

In a decision Thursday suspending Ms. Taylor pending the outcome of her disciplinary proceeding, the Appellate Division, First Department, said the lawyer's explanation for the withdrawals "strains credibility."

"At a minimum, [Ms. Taylor] withdrew funds from the guardianship account as legal fees without court permission, at worst, she intentionally converted guardianship funds," a unanimous panel of Justices Richard T. Andrias (See Profile), Eugene Nardelli (SeeProfile), Luis A. Gonzalez (See Profile), John W. Sweeny (See Profile)and Bernard J. Malone (See Profile) said in Matter of Emani P. Taylor, M-5482.

The decision appears on page 2 of today's Law Journal.

The court also said Ms. Taylor had not cooperated with the disciplinary investigation and that her lack of cooperation could "only be interpreted as a deliberate and willful attempt to impede the [Departmental Disciplinary] Committee's investigation.

Citing Ms. Taylor's lack of cooperation, the court said it would accept as uncontested an accounting prepared by a court-appointed examiner of the period during which Ms. Taylor acted as Mr. Phillips' guardian. According to this accounting, Ms. Taylor wrote $200,000 in checks to herself from guardianship accounts for supposed retainers and legal fees. Another $69,000 was paid to herself or to "cash" for supposed expenses and another $57,000 was withdrawn in cash.

In an affidavit submitted in response to the committee's suspension motion, Ms. Taylor claimed her authority for the withdrawals came from an order by Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Michael Pesce (See Profile) concerning the sale of a property owned by Mr. Phillips. But the court noted that the order cited by Ms. Taylor only specifically addresses renovation work and fees for health care professionals, not legal fees.

"While [Ms. Taylor] was entitled to be compensated for the work she performed for three years, self-help to guardianship funds is not the way to proceed," the court said.

The court also said it was "very disturbing" that Ms. Taylor had applied to the court for $853,100 in legal fees relating to her guardianship but did not disclose that she had already withdrawn from the guardianship account more than $327,000 for her own use.

The propriety of Ms. Taylor's withdrawals is also at issue in a civil case before Justice Pesce. The Brooklyn District Attorney's Office had also investigated Ms. Taylor but determined no crime had taken placealthough it said that there might have been violations of disciplinary rules.

Ms. Taylor appeared pro se and Andral N. Britton appeared for the disciplinary committee.

Earlier this month, Acting Supreme Court Justice Michael A. Ambrosio (See Profile) ordered the sale of the Black Lady Theatre in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, which is owned by Mr. Phillips. The theater has been appraised at $1.5 million and is being sold to satisfy $2 million in tax liens and other judgments, according to Mr. Phillips' court-appointed guardian, James H. Cahill Jr. of Cahill & Cahill.

Mr. Cahill also said at the time that Ms. Taylor is scheduled to appear at a Feb. 5 hearing, where more than $500,000 will be sought (NYLJ, Dec. 10).

- Anthony Lin can be reached at alin@alm.com.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

3rd Federal Lawsuit Filed in NY Legal Ethics Scandal (MORE, CLICK HERE)

Tammany Hall II - UPDATE - And then there were three. A third lawsuit in the New York State attorney ethics scandal was filed Friday, December 28, 2007 in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York in Manhattan ....MORE...

See the 20-page "ESPOSITO ETHICS SCANDAL COMPLAINT" to the right....

The latest filing was made by Luisa Esposito who says her former New York attorney, Allen H. Isaac, allegedly sexually abused her and wanted oral sex in exchange for his legal representation. And she has tape recordings to prove it.

Also troubling are the allegations of the "whitewashing" of her ethics complaint by the First Department Disciplinary Committee, the group who is supposed to oversee and discipline Manhattan and Bronx based attorneys who act unethically.

The startling allegations include an organized effort by individuals at the ethics committee to tamper with evidence to protect the once-politically connected attorney Isaac.

The latest filing again highlights the lack of oversight of New York's "Officers of the Court."

The first filing in Tammay Hall II - New York's Ethics Scandal was filed on October 26, 2007 (Anderson v. State of NY); the second action was dramatically filed December 12, 2007 (Bernstein v. State of NY), barely an hour before a court ordered hearing in the Anderson case, and which was presented to the presiding federal judge who voiced her understanding of the larger ethical issues before the court.

All three federal filings seek the appointment of a federal monitor over the state's ethical committees.

Thankfully, the 3rd ethics scandal complaint filed by Ms. Esposito is supported by solid evidence- tape recordings. Read the December 28, 2007 filing to the right, and see CAUGHT ON TAPE: "Attorney Gives New Meaning to Oral Argument" - CLICKhttp://exposecorruptcourts.blogspot.com/2007/12/attorney-gives-new-meaning-to-oral.html

SENATOR CLINTON CONDEMNED BY CENTER FOR JUDICIAL ACCOUNTABILITY, INC. (MORE, CLICK HERE)

CENTER FOR JUDICIAL ACCOUNTABILITY, INC. (CJA) - A national, nonpartisan, nonprofit citizens’ organization, working, pro bono, to protect the public interest in the integrity of our judicial selection and judicial discipline processes. Its mission is to ensure that only the most qualified trial lawyers become, and remain judges.....MORE.....

E-mail: judgewatch@aol.com Web: http://www.judgewatch.org

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE ON AND AFTER DECEMBER 23, 2007
MEDIA CONTACT: Zach Lorber Tel: 914-997-8105 ▪ Fax: 914-684-6554

SENATOR CLINTON CONDEMNED BY CENTER FOR JUDICIAL ACCOUNTABILITY, INC.

For Constitutional Violations In Not Protecting Her Constituent’s First Amendment Rights

When Her Own Staff Counsel Acted To Prevent Opposition Testimony At Judicial Confirmation Public Hearing


On May 22, 2003, White Plains, NY resident, Elena Ruth Sassower, Co-Founder and Coordinator of the Center for Judicial Accountability, Inc, rose, as the closing gavel came down at a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Public Confirmation Hearing Richard Wesley nomination to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals and respectfully asked: “Mr. Chairman, there’s citizen opposition to Judge Wesley based on his documented corruption as a New York Court of Appeals judge. May I testify?” Without answering the question, then Chairman Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) had Ms. Sassower forcibly removed from the hearing room by D.C. Capitol Police. She was handcuffed behind her back, arrested, incarcerated for 21 hours, and thereafter prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for “Disruption of Congress.”

Prior to the hearing, Ms. Sassower visited Senator Clinton’s Washington, D.C. office and requested her to withdraw her announced support for the Wesley nomination. Ms. Sassower supplied documentation substantiating his corruption of the NY Court of Appeals. Instead of probing the very serious documented charges of her constituent, a longtime judicial reform activist, Senator Clinton’s Staff Counsel called the Secret Service. In turn, D.C. Capitol Police telephoned Ms. Sassower threatening that if she came to the Public Hearing and requested to testify in opposition to the Wesley nomination, she would be arrested.

On June 28, 2004, despite recommendations of the Probation Department and the U.S. Attorney’s Office that there be NO jail-time, D.C. Superior Court Judge Brian F. Holeman sentenced her to the maximum six months in jail, with a maximum fine, without bail, and denied her repeated requests for a stay pending appeal, after she declined his long list of probation conditions. These included a direction that she “stay away from and inside the United States Capitol Complex,” have no contact with Senator Clinton and her staff, and “write and send letters of apology to Senator Clinton,” among others, “…which state…your remorse for any inconvenience caused.” When Ms. Sassower said she would not write such letters because she would “not lie,” Judge Holeman ordered her taken straight to the D.C. Jail, with no opportunity to go home and settle her affairs. There she spent the July 4th weekend in solitary confinement. She was not released from prison until December 23, 2004.

By contrast, at a May 7, 2003 U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, during testimony of then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, a group of eight protestors, loudly and repeatedly shouted “Fire Rumsfeld for war crimes!” and unfurled a banner that read “Fire Rumsfeld” before the protestors were escorted from the building. None of the eight were arrested or charged with “Disruption of Congress.” Ms. Sassower’s arrest on May 22, 2003, a mere 15 days later, was an unprecedented violation of her First Amendment and other constitutionally guaranteed rights.

In all that time, before, during, and since Ms. Sassower’s arrest, imprisonment, and release after her six-month incarceration, Senator Clinton did not lift one finger to help her constituent, whose arrest and imprisonment her own office had instigated – closing her eyes and ears to the appeals of other constituents and outraged members of the public from all over the country and abroad that she initiate remedial action. Ironically, following Ms. Sassower’s release from jail, she was voted 2004 “White Plains Person of the Year/Defender of the Constitution” in her hometown. Still no word on the subject from now Candidate Clinton. Yet, husband Bill says she is a “world-class genius”… with an unbroken record of making decisions that have had a positive change in other people's lives.”

# # #

New York Times Editorial re: federal judges (MORE, CLICK HERE)

Protection and Pay for Federal Judges
The New York Times - Editorial - December 28, 2007

In a worthwhile step just before lawmakers headed home, Congress approved legislation intended to better protect federal judges. The new measure increases the maximum prison terms for assaulting a federal judge and includes new criminal penalties for making public personal information, such as addresses, to threaten or harm judges and their families.

Unfortunately, the clock ran out without Congress also approving another needed measure: a substantial pay raise for federal judges.

In his annual report a year ago, the Supreme Court's chief justice, John Roberts, tried to prod Congress to vote for a raise, noting how inflation has eaten into salaries and the link between adequate compensation and the quality and independence of the judiciary. Despite some encouraging last-minute stirrings, the House and Senate again left town without remedying the problem.

A sitting federal trial judge currently earns $165,200, hardly a trivial amount of money and the same pay as a member of Congress. Still, the case for boosting judicial salaries is compelling. Federal judges have not received a substantial pay raise in nearly two decades. Since 1969, a federal judge's pay has actually declined by nearly 25 percent, adjusted for inflation, even as the national average for all wages rose by just under 18 percent.

Federal judges now earn significantly less than many law school deans, senior law professors and even new associates at some prestigious law firms. Small wonder judges are leaving the bench at an increasing rate, "threatening the viability of life tenure" envisioned by the Constitution, as Justice Roberts has observed.

At this point, there seems to be sufficient bipartisan support on Capitol Hill to pass a judicial pay raise. Taking a lesson from this year, its supporters should focus on moving the issue as soon as Congress returns in January rather than waiting until the agenda fills up.

The goal should be a package that grants federal judges a sizable raise. It should also improve ethical standards with strict new curbs on privately financed judicial junkets, along the lines proposed by Senators Russ Feingold, Democrat of Wisconsin, and Jon Kyl, Republican of Arizona.

Tens Years To Discipline Top Lawyer For Overbilling (MORE, CLICK HERE)

A Decade After Overbilling, Former BigLaw Partner Receives 30-Day Suspension
New York Lawyer - December 28, 2007 - By Brendan Smith - Legal Times

In a case that has taken a decade to resolve, attorney Michael Romansky received a 30-day suspension last week from the D.C. Court of Appeals relating to overbilling issues while he was a partner and leader of the health care practice at McDermott Will & Emery in the 1990s. He has since left the firm.

In 1994, Romansky overbilled two clients by disguising new premiums as additional hours on the clients' bills, the Dec. 20 decision stated. The court found that there was confusion at the time about McDermott's new billing policy, but the court took a harder line on actions Romansky took to deceive both a client and McDermott after the firm launched an internal investigation into his actions. Romansky dictated a letter to a client's secretary, which was purportedly from the client, and told the secretary to backdate the letter and fax it to him so he could submit it to McDermott as evidence that the client believed his billing practices were justified, a D.C. Bar Counsel investigation found.

Romansky, who doesn't currently list any firm affiliation with the D.C. Bar, didn't respond to requests for comment. His attorney, Earl Silbert of DLA Piper, declined to comment. A McDermott spokeswoman also didn't respond to questions about whether Romansky resigned or was fired from the firm.

Although the court previously remanded the case for additional factual findings by the Board on Professional Responsibility, it ultimately agreed with the board's recommended 30-day suspension. However, Judge Noël Anketell Kramer wrote that she favored a 60-day suspension because a 30-day suspension was "unduly modest."

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Lawyer who had sex with teens seeks bonus (MORE, CLICK HERE)

Lawyer who had sex with teens seeks bonus from law firm
BY JOSE MARTINEZ
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER - Saturday, December 29, 2007


A disgraced lawyer who paid a mother to allow him to have sex with her underage daughters is looking for a payday of his own - from the elite law firm where he once worked.

James Colliton is suing Cravath, Swaine & Moore for $1.45 million, accusing the white-shoe firm of stiffing him on an annual bonus, salary and vacation pay.

Reached by phone at his home in Poughkeepsie, the convicted sex offender refused to talk about his suit, which was handwritten on notebook paper.

"It's all in there," Colliton said.

The 43-year-old tax lawyer formerly earned $500,000 a year at Cravath, Swaine & Moore - where first-year associates make six-figure salaries with bonuses of $35,000.

Colliton cried poverty last year, saying he didn't have enough cash to pay his lawyer.

Now he wants his former employer to line his pockets with money for allegedly shorting him on salary and bonuses.

"The [firm] has breached its promise to pay [Colliton] a 'make-up bonus,' " he wrote.

Colliton accused bosses at the firm - where he worked from 2000 until his March 2006 arrest - of inflicting "emotional distress" by snooping on his phone calls and e-mails.

A spokesman for the 188-year-old firm did not return calls.

The so-called Lolita Lawyer served 19 months in jail after pleading guilty to repeatedly having sex with sisters who were 15 and 13 years old when they met Colliton.

jmartinez@edit.nydailynews.com

State Attorney's Office Fires Three, Disciplines Three (MORE, CLICK HERE)

State Attorney's Office Fires Three, Disciplines Three
New York Lawyer - December 28, 2007
By Billy Shields - Daily Business Review


The Miami-Dade state attorney's office fired three employees and disciplined three others just before the Christmas holiday weekend for a host of alleged transgressions.

And one of its top prosecutors, division chief Herbert E. Walker III, resigned by e-mail Friday afternoon. His resignation did not say why he was stepping down and a spokeswoman for the state attorney's office said she did not know what motivated the resignation.

Assistant State Attorney Antonio Jimenez was fired after pleading a case below the state attorney's office sentencing guidelines, misrepresenting facts to his superiors in a career-criminal case in an attempt to dismiss it and disregarding instructions, according to a personnel memo from Don L. Horn, chief assistant state attorney for administration. Jimenez also lied to his superiors after the fact, according to Horn's memo.

Jimenez and Walker could not be reached for comment.

Horn declined to comment and referred questions to spokeswoman Terry Chavez, who would not elaborate on the firing or provide details about the related case.

She said the office has not decided whether to file a complaint against Jimenez with The Florida Bar.

Four of the disciplinary actions, including one firing, grew out of criminal cases heard by County Judge Karen Mills-Francis.

An intern was fired and an intern and two prosecutors were disciplined for allegedly agreeing to drop misdemeanor criminal cases in exchange for defendants making donations to Safe Space, a domestic violence shelter supported by the judge, according to Chavez.

Washington Post Editorial: A Tighter Ship at Justice (MORE, CLICK HERE)

A Tighter Ship at Justice
Michael Mukasey limits political contacts.

The Washington Post - Saturday, December 29, 2007; A18

ATTORNEY GENERAL Michael B. Mukasey should be commended for making good on his promise to reverse a policy that undermined the integrity of the Justice Department.

During the tenure of John D. Ashcroft, President Bush's first attorney general, dozens of Justice Department lawyers were authorized to speak with White House personnel about pending civil or criminal investigations. During the tenure of Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, hundreds of White House and Justice Department employees were given such clearance. These extensive contacts raised concerns about too much White House intrusion in what should largely be an apolitical Justice Department.

This month, Mr. Mukasey dramatically pared back the number of officials authorized to conduct such conversations. Under the new policy, only the top four Justice officials are cleared -- and to speak only with the top two lawyers at the White House. For practical reasons, these four officials -- the attorney general, deputy attorney general, associate attorney general and solicitor general -- may authorize a subordinate to speak with the White House about a particular case, but Mr. Mukasey's Dec. 19 memorandum makes clear that these delegations should be "limited to the fewest number of people practicable."

The memo allows Justice Department employees below the top four slots to communicate directly with White House personnel on such non-law-enforcement matters as budgeting and legislation. The memo also carves out an exception for national security matters to ensure "frequent and expeditious communications" about counterterrorism and counterespionage issues, although these contacts must be brought to the attention of the attorney general or deputy attorney general.

Mr. Mukasey explains that the limitations are intended to ensure that there is "public confidence that the laws of the United States are administered and enforced in an impartial manner." That is the right goal.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

NY Lawyer's Bid to Keep "Gift" Was Naughty, Judge Rules (MORE, CLICK HERE)

New York Lawyer - December 24, 2007
By Anthony Lin
New York Law Journal


A New York judge has shot down a lawyer's claim that his client intended to give him more than $450,000 as a gift rather than as part of his legal fee in a medical malpractice case.

Norman L. Cousins represented Kevin Veneski in a 1998 lawsuit against Queens-Long Island Medical Group, whose care Mr. Veneski was in when he suffered a devastating stroke that left him disabled. The case settled in 2002 for a $3 million lump sum and an annuity yielding $750,000 over the next 20 years.

Mr. Cousins received around $948,000 in legal fees but sought more, claiming that the length and expense of the litigation had left him bankrupt.

But Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Sherry Klein Heitler rejected Mr. Cousin's request in February, finding that the lawyer had already collected over $500,000 more in fees than he was entitled to under his retainer agreement, which allocated him 30 percent only of the first $250,000 of recovery, with his share shrinking to 10 percent of any amount over $1.25 million.

The lawyer moved for reargument on the grounds that he could provide new documents to show that Mr. Veneski intended most of that amount as a gift. Mr. Cousins provided the court with a letter with an attached gift tax form he allegedly sent to his accountant in 2003 as well as a letter allegedly signed by Mr. Veneski stating his intention to make a gift to Mr. Cousins.

But Justice Heitler ruled in a Dec. 12 decision in Veneski v. Queens-Long Island Medical Group. 10011/98, that Mr. Cousins' documents were available and should have been filed with his earlier motion. She said he had provided no reasonable justification for withholding them until his motion to reargue and they were no longer timely.

Even if his documents were timely and authentic, she said, his claimed gift would not be acceptable under state legal ethics rules, which say that, prior to accepting a large, unsolicited gift from a client, a lawyer should urge the client to seek the advice of independent counsel. The rules further state that independent counsel should draw up any instrument for such a gift.

The judge said Mr. Cousins' claimed gift met neither of those requirements, and she said the advice of a disinterested party would be all the more pressing in the case of Mr. Veneski, who had suffered brain injuries in a 1988 car accident even before suffering a stroke.

"Thus the court finds it incredible that Cousins even sought to claim that his client gave him such a large gift absent careful adherence to the procedures outlined in the Code of Professional Responsibility," the judge wrote.

She said a referee would determine how much in improperly collected legal fees Mr. Cousins needed to return to Mr. Veneski.

Large cash gifts to lawyers are also at issue in a lawsuit brought against the law firm Graubard Miller by former client Alice Lawrence, the widow of real estate developer Sylvan Lawrence. The firm had long represented Ms. Lawrence in an estate battle against her brother-in-law.

According to Ms. Lawrence's suit, she was approached in 1998 by Graubard Miller partner C. Daniel Chill, who allegedly said he and two of his partners were entitled to bonuses from her because of the favorable course of litigation. He allegedly described this as a standard practice.

Ms. Lawrence paid $5 million in "gifts" to the three partners, on which she also paid $2.7 million in gift taxes. She is now seeking the return of the gifts as part of a lawsuit in which she is also challenging a 40 percent retainer fee Mr. Chill negotiated with her in the closing months of a two-decades-long litigation for which she already paid Graubard Miller $18 million in hourly fees.

Last month, the Appellate Division, First Department, ruled that the 40 percent contingent-fee agreement between Graubard Miller and Ms. Lawrence was not unconscionable on its face. The panel's 4-1 majority denied Ms. Lawrence's motion to dismiss Graubard Miller's petition to compel payment of the contingent fee and said further proceedings would be needed to determine the propriety of the arrangement.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

One NY Judge Removed From Bench, Another Admonished (MORE, CLICK HERE)


New York Lawyer - December 21, 2007
By Daniel Wise
New York Law Journal

The Commission on Judicial Conduct yesterday determined that one town justice should be removed and another admonished.

The commission removed 11-year veteran Ellenburg Town Justice Dennis LaBombard for hearing a criminal case in which two of his stepgrandchildren were defendants and contacting another town justice about a second criminal case involving one of his stepgrandchildren.

Junius Town Justice Stephen H. Brown, who has been on the bench nearly a year, was admonished for writing a threatening letter, at the request of a landlord, in an effort to enforce a settlement in a housing case that had been before him. Both justices are nonlawyers.

The commission's ruling are subject to review by the Court of Appeals.
Justice LaBombard's lawyer, Peter A. Dumas, did not respond to a request for comment.
Justice Brown, who represented himself, declined to comment.

Looks Like 2008 will be the Year of the Federal Monitor in New York...(MORE, CLICK HERE)

See 2 editorials: from The NY Daily News and from The New York Times...MORE...

How to fix an election

New York Daily News EDITORIAL
Wednesday, December 26th 2007, 4:00 AM

A U.S. judge is threatening to throw New York State Board of Elections officials into jail for failing to comply with the federal Help America Vote Act, the law that was supposed to prevent a rerun of the Bush-Gore debacle in Florida. Simply on principle we say, go for it, your honor.

The board is criminally incompetent, and its masters in the Legislature behave with contempt toward virtually anyone who hasn't written a campaign check. Such is a truth that dawned on Albany Federal Judge Gary Sharpe.

"Why is it that New York thinks it can thumb its nose at the federal government?" Sharpe asked last week, a question for which the only answer is: "Because that's how Albany works."

Even so, it should soon also dawn on Sharpe that the Justice Department has presented him with a turkey of a lawsuit. In asking Sharpe to order the board to meet HAVA standards, department lawyers are petitioning him to command the impossible.

The act is both unworkable and a danger to the democratic process. It directs states to run elections using electronic voting machines - none of which work flawlessly and all of which can be subverted by hackers.

While New York bumbled along with secure, accurate, old-fashioned lever machines, states across the country labored to comply with HAVA, only to plunge into nightmares.

Most recently, a report from Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner concluded that the state's fancy, newly purchased electronic touch-screen voting devices were susceptible to failure and manipulation.

Brunner said, "the tools needed to compromise an accurate vote could be as simple as tampering with the paper audit trail connector or using a magnet with a digital assistant."

Colorado decertified the same machines over a 1% error rate - enough to swing a close election.

Which leaves New York to either defy Sharpe or spend huge amounts on technology that could compromise elections. And to start with thousands of machines for the disabled, a population that amounts to a relative handful of votes.

In addition to floating the possibility of jail, Sharpe announced that he might order the appointment of a special master - call it an election czar - to take over the panel's job. He mused about naming Gov. Spitzer.

That would be fine with us, too. Provided Sharpe recognizes that, no matter how incompetent and arrogant they get in Albany, he doesn't have the power to mandate the impossible.

HAVA was intended to provide voters with reliable, tamper-proof electronic machines. But, as of yet, no one has figured out how to build one.

Javits junked

And so another grand plan is dead. This time, it is the refurbishment and expansion of the Javits Convention Center, a leaky, out-of-date exhibition hall that is an embarrassment to New York. Javits is so decrepit that during rain, it is fitted with giant "diapers" that hang from the ceiling to keep water off the patrons.

The place fell into ruin on the watch of Gov. George Pataki and his economic development chief, Charles Gargano, who said they could fix it up and double its size for $1.8 billion. Gov. Spitzer's development chief, Pat Foye, says the true cost would be $5 billion.

Other options? Spend $850 million on repairs. The leaks would be fixed and the diapers would be retired. Then, possibly, plow another $800 million into a "modest" expansion, which may or may not be worth the cost.

So much for attracting the biggest conventions and trade shows. This is not what city hoteliers wanted when they accepted a $1.50-per-night tax on guests to build a center fit for such events. Boy, did they get taken to the cleaners.

UN watchdog put down

Here's a question: What to do when you're the United Nations and you set up a hot-shot investigations unit, and the unit starts uncovering hundreds of millions of dollars worth of UN fraud and UN corruption and utterly brazen UN banditry?

Answer: You put the unit out of business as fast as you possibly can.

And so much for the Office of Internal Oversight Services, which, having blown the lid off a good many shady transactions, is fixing to die - thanks to General Assembly members who are declining to fund it further.

This office was created two years ago as an outgrowth of the probe into the Iraq oil-for-food scandal. Since then, its sleuths have burrowed into UN peacekeeping operations in Haiti, Congo and elsewhere. They've come up with evidence that UN procurement officials have helped themselves to whatever can be glommed up - Mercedes-Benzes, things like that - in return for contract awards.

So far, more than $600 million in unclean contracts have been documented, with maybe another billion's worth still to be examined.

But apparently they won't be. Led by Singapore, a bloc of developing nations is most indignant that the office chooses to be so scrupulous. End of story. The task force, it seems, will be out of business shortly. Business as usual at the UN. Corrupt business.



The New York TImes EDITORIAL
The Work Remaining
December 26, 2007

It has been nearly a year since the United States attorneys scandal broke, and much has changed. Many people at the center of the scandal have fled Washington, and new laws and rules have been put in place making it harder to use prosecutors’ offices to win elections. Much, however, remains to be done, starting with a full investigation into the misconduct that may have occurred — something the American people have been denied.

The primary responsibility for giving the public the final answers about what happened, and assurances that it will not happen again, lies with Attorney General Michael Mukasey, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Over the course of the year, considerable evidence emerged that the Bush administration did what seemed unthinkable: it used federal prosecutors, who are supposed to be scrupulously nonpartisan, to help the Republican Party win elections. As many as nine United States attorneys were fired, apparently because they brought cases against powerful Republicans or refused to bring cases that would hurt Democrats.

When the scandal broke, important players either refused to testify before Congress — like Harriet Miers, a former White House counsel, and Karl Rove, the presidential adviser — or professed ignorance. Then these officials began to slink away. The list of people connected to the scandal who resigned their jobs includes Ms. Miers; Mr. Rove; Kyle Sampson, the chief of staff to then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales; Monica Goodling, the Justice Department’s White House liaison; and Mr. Gonzales himself.

Reforms were instituted. Congress passed a law taking back the power it had unwisely given the president to appoint United States attorneys without Senate confirmation. That should make it harder for future presidents to put political operatives in these sensitive posts. More recently, Attorney General Mukasey issued new guidelines restricting contacts between the Justice Department and the White House, which appears to have been the conduit for the orders to politicize prosecutions.

These changes are important, but are not enough. Congress must hear from all of the major participants. The House Judiciary Committee has voted to hold Joshua Bolten, the White House chief of staff, and Ms. Miers in contempt for ignoring Congressional subpoenas. The Senate Judiciary Committee has voted to do the same for Mr. Bolten and Mr. Rove. The full House and Senate should affirm those votes and refer the witnesses for prosecution if they still will not cooperate.

The attorney general also must do more. There is evidence of impropriety in several recent prosecutions, including that of Don Siegelman, a former governor of Alabama who is serving a lengthy prison sentence. Mr. Mukasey needs to investigate Mr. Siegelman’s case and others that have been called into question to ensure that no one was wrongly put in jail by his department, and that anyone who acted improperly is held accountable.

The integrity of the Justice Department is precious. The fair application of the law is the cornerstone of American justice and American democracy. A halfway resolution of this scandal is not enough. It needs to be investigated vigorously and completely.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Ho, ho: Axed NY BigLaw Associate Calls Firing Religious Discrimination (MORE, CLICK HERE)

By Anthony Lin
New York Law Journal - December 24, 2007

Allen & Overy is facing a religious discrimination suit by a former New York associate who claims he was fired because he insisted on observing the Jewish sabbath.

Norman D. Schoenfeld claimed in a suit filed in Manhattan federal court Thursday that the British law firm fired him in October after he had worked there for two months because one partner in particular was upset that Mr. Schoenfeld was unable to work on matters from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.

According to the complaint, leveraged finance partner Mark S. Wojciechowski recruited Mr. Schoenfeld to Allen & Overy knowing he was an observant Jew but nonetheless swore at him before he left one Friday and also demanded that the associate respond to e-mails on a Saturday morning. Mr. Wojciechowski also allegedly insisted the associate work with him during a Jewish holiday.

Mr. Schoenfeld, a 1999 graduate of Brooklyn Law School, claims his observance did not interfere with his work and that he billed hours similar to other associates at the firm.

In a statement responding to the suit, Allen & Overy said Mr. Schoenfeld was fired solely for performance reasons during a trial period of employment. The firm said it was committed to diversity, and a firm spokeswoman said there were a number of lawyers at the firm who observed the Jewish sabbath.

In its statement, the firm also said Mr. Schoenfeld, who joined Allen & Overy from the New York office of Andrews Kurth, had failed to disclose on his resume his employment for 32 days at another New York law firm.

Mr. Schoenfeld in represented by Anne Vladeck of Vladeck, Waldman, Elias & Engelhard; Allen & Overy has retained Rene M. Fleming of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

LAWYERS GET ON MTA GRAVY TRAIN (MORE, CLICK HERE)

By BRUCE GOLDING
The New York Post

December 23, 2007 -- The MTA is lining the pockets of some of the city's wealthiest lawyers with "astronomical" fees paid by unwitting transit riders - who next year will have to shell out an extra $163 million in higher fares.
Since 2001, the MTA has spent $57 million on outside attorneys, with wads of dough going to some of the most expensive and profitable firms in the country, according to hundreds of records reviewed by The Post.

The lion's share of the cash - more than $15 million - went to the white-shoe firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, to which the MTA paid $3.6 million last year. The authority's retainer agreement soaks riders for fees that reach an eye-popping $668 per hour - even after a mandatory 20 percent MTA discount.

That rate is more than four times the $150 per hour that the MTA pays outside counsel for negligence and other lawsuits, and nearly nine times the $75 per hour the state pays court-appointed lawyers in murder cases.

In 1995, Skadden, Arps helped beat a lawsuit to block fare hikes that year. Recently, it has cleaned up after the bungled renovation of MTA offices at 2 Broadway.

The firm ranked 14th on the latest list of the country's most profitable, with partners each taking home a cool $2.1 million last year.

Both Gov. Spitzer and his wife, Silda, worked at Skadden years ago.

Second on the authority's legal gravy train - Proskauer, Rose - bills at rates nearly as high, with fees reaching $660 an hour. The firm, which handles MTA labor matters, has collected $6.8 million since 2001.

Figures from the MTA show that it spent $9.7 million on outside counsel last year, up from $7 million in 2005 and $5.7 million in 2004.

But those numbers don't include lawyers hired by its subsidiaries, including New York City Transit and the LIRR. Last year, the total cost of the transit system's outside attorneys topped $25.6 million, up from $24.2 million in 2005 and $23.9 million in 2004, according to the state Comptroller's Office.

Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign called the MTA's legal fees excessive and said officials would never spend so freely with their own money.

Payroll records show 32 lawyers and support staffers in the MTA General Counsel's Office. They earned a combined $3 million in salaries and other pay last year.

An MTA spokesman said hiring leading outside lawyers "actually saves the MTA far more money than it spends" because major construction projects require top-notch legal advice.

bruce.golding@nypost.com

Washington Post Editorial: The Value of a Judge (MORE, CLICK HERE)

Washington Post Editorial

The Value of a Judge
It's more than Congress has been willing to pay.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007; A28

LAST MONTH, Judge Paul G. Cassell gave up his prestigious lifetime appointment to the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah, explaining that "two primary factors have led me to do something that I never thought possible -- leaving this important public service position." The first, Mr. Cassell explained in his resignation letter to President Bush, was the opportunity to return to academia and continue work as an advocate for victims of crime.

The second involved money. "I would be less than completely candid if I did not mention the uncertainty surrounding judicial pay as a factor in my decision," Mr. Cassell wrote. "With three talented children approaching college years, it has been difficult for my wife and me to make financial plans."

No one can seriously argue that federal trial judges' salaries of $165,200 constitute poverty wages; most households bring in considerably less and yet manage to meet their financial demands, including educating children. There's also no guarantee that a hefty raise would keep judges from bolting to the private sector, where they can dramatically increase their earnings. But federal judges have not had a pay increase for almost two decades; today, both law professors and young private-sector lawyers consistently out-earn federal judges.

The lag in judicial salaries has affected the demographics of the bench. Only 40 percent of sitting federal judges come from the private sector -- a dramatic change from the 1950s, when lawyers experienced in the real-world workings of the courts made up the majority of federal judges. In the future, as Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. argued in January, it will be even more likely that only those who've already made a fortune or those who are less experienced -- and for whom a federal judicial salary constitutes a raise -- will agree to serve.

A Senate bill, scheduled for debate on Thursday, would increase by 50 percent the salaries of federal trial judges, to $247,800; other federal judges, including justices of the Supreme Court, would get commensurate raises. Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) wants to cap the pay increase at 16.5 percent.

A House bill that is scheduled to be taken up today by the Judiciary Committee has the most reasonable and defensible approach. That bill calculates what judicial salaries would have been today if judges had received regular cost-of-living adjustments since 1969. The result would be a salary of $233,500 -- or a 41 percent increase -- for a trial judge. The bill would also guarantee annual cost-of-living adjustments -- a provision that should be included even if lawmakers negotiate a different baseline salary.

Corporate Attorneys Mull Meaning of NY BigLaw Partner's Indictment (MORE, CLICK HERE)

By Anthony Lin
New York Law Journal - December 20, 2007

Has the indictment Tuesday of Mayer Brown partner Joseph P. Collins sent "a chill down the spine" of transactional lawyers everywhere, as Mr. Collins' defense lawyer said it should?

"It's definitely a wake-up call," said Mark S. Vecchio, a corporate partner in the New York office of Venable. "I'm sure a lot of lawyers read about this in the morning papers and said, 'Oh my God.'"

Mr. Collins was indicted for allegedly helping executives at commodities brokerage Refco Inc. hide massive losses from investors. When those losses subsequently came to light, Refco was forced to declare bankruptcy. In a statement Tuesday, Mayer Brown said Mr. Collins had been put on leave but that the firm stood by its work for Refco.

Four Refco executives, including CEO Philip Bennett, were also indicted. Yesterday, one of the executives, Refco Capital Markets President Santo Maggio, pleaded guilty to securities fraud and conspiracy charges and agreed to cooperate in the case.

Since Enron and the savings and loan crisis before that, corporate lawyers have been on the defensive about what responsibility they have, if any, for the misdeeds of their clients. Many have argued that even experienced lawyers cannot be expected to detect fraud in a complex web of transactions.

"If he was just careless, there's a hell of a chill running down my spine about this," said the head of one New York firm who asked to remain unnamed. Another prominent corporate lawyer, who also asked to remain unnamed, said the case would be watched closely in the darkening economic climate.

"When the economy takes a hit, there is a tendency to look for scapegoats to be taken out and shot," he said.

But most of the lawyers who spoke to the Law Journal yesterday are not ready to rally around Mr. Collins. Citing the damning report of the Refco bankruptcy examiner, they noted that it was indeed possible that he crossed a line in the course of his representation. "He may just be a bad apple," said Mr. Vecchio.

Indeed, in announcing the indictment, Southern District U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia seemed keen to allay fears among the profession. He stressed that it was not a crime to represent a client who had committed a crime and described Mr. Collins as a lawyer who had become a full co-conspirator.

"[Mr. Collins] was not merely a lawyer whose client was committing fraud and who should have caught on," said Mr. Garcia. "Collins instead played an active and crucial part in perpetrating the Refco fraud."

Where that line is drawn is a major issue of concern for corporate lawyers though. While criminal cases against corporate lawyers over client representation are extremely rare, high-stakes civil lawsuits alleging law firms participated in corporate fraud have become almost routine.

Mayer Brown itself was already facing a trio of big lawsuits over its Refco work. A securities class action, a bankruptcy trustee suit and a lawsuit by private equity group Thomas H. Lee, which bought a controlling interest in Refco allegedly due in part to misrepresentations by Mr. Collins, all loom over Mayer Brown. A guilty plea or conviction in the prosecution of Mr. Collins would no doubt hurt in all three civil cases.

British legal giant Clifford Chance is also facing civil allegations in federal court in Philadelphia that it participated in fraud that led to the bankruptcy of health-care finance company DVI Inc. Clifford Chance is being represented in that case by William J. Schwartz of Cooley Godward Kronish, who is also representing Mr. Collins.

According to a recent survey of British law firm partners by Legal Week, a London-based affiliate of the Law Journal, more than half of those polled said it was "possible" or "likely" that a major law firm would collapse due to a lawsuit.

Law firms are particularly vulnerable to lawsuits because their most valuable assets, lawyers, are highly mobile. Vinson & Elkins, Enron's chief outside law firm, managed to survive that scandal and the major lawsuits it spawned. But Jenkens & Gilchrist saw its lawyers depart in droves after the firm's tax shelter practice became the target of government probes and lawsuits. The firm shut down earlier this year.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

NY Attorney Greed Knows No Bounds (MORE, CLICK HERE)

Lawyer's Bid to Keep 'Gift' Above Legal Fees Rejected

By Anthony Lin
The New York Law Journal - Monday, December 24, 2007


A New York judge has shot down a lawyer's claim that his client intended to give him more than $450,000 as a gift rather than as part of his legal fee in a medical malpractice case.

Norman L. Cousins represented Kevin Veneski in a 1998 lawsuit against Queens-Long Island Medical Group, whose care Mr. Veneski was in when he suffered a devastating stroke that left him disabled. The case settled in 2002 for a $3 million lump sum and an annuity yielding $750,000 over the next 20 years.

Mr. Cousins received around $948,000 in legal fees but sought more, claiming that the length and expense of the litigation had left him bankrupt.

But Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Sherry Klein Heitler (See Profile) rejected Mr. Cousin's request in February, finding that the lawyer had already collected over $500,000 more in fees than he was entitled to under his retainer agreement, which allocated him 30 percent only of the first $250,000 of recovery, with his share shrinking to 10 percent of any amount over $1.25 million.

The lawyer moved for reargument on the grounds that he could provide new documents to show that Mr. Veneski intended most of that amount as a gift. Mr. Cousins provided the court with a letter with an attached gift tax form he allegedly sent to his accountant in 2003 as well as a letter allegedly signed by Mr. Veneski stating his intention to make a gift to Mr. Cousins.

But Justice Heitler ruled in a Dec. 12 decision in Veneski v. Queens-Long Island Medical Group. 10011/98, that Mr. Cousins' documents were available and should have been filed with his earlier motion. She said he had provided no reasonable justification for withholding them until his motion to reargue and they were no longer timely.

The decision will be published Friday.

Even if his documents were timely and authentic, she said, his claimed gift would not be acceptable under state legal ethics rules, which say that, prior to accepting a large, unsolicited gift from a client, a lawyer should urge the client to seek the advice of independent counsel. The rules further state that independent counsel should draw up any instrument for such a gift.

The judge said Mr. Cousins' claimed gift met neither of those requirements, and she said the advice of a disinterested party would be all the more pressing in the case of Mr. Veneski, who had suffered brain injuries in a 1988 car accident even before suffering a stroke.

"Thus the court finds it incredible that Cousins even sought to claim that his client gave him such a large gift absent careful adherence to the procedures outlined in the Code of Professional Responsibility," the judge wrote.

She said a referee would determine how much in improperly collected legal fees Mr. Cousins needed to return to Mr. Veneski.

Large cash gifts to lawyers are also at issue in a lawsuit brought against the law firm Graubard Miller by former client Alice Lawrence, the widow of real estate developer Sylvan Lawrence. The firm had long represented Ms. Lawrence in an estate battle against her brother-in-law.

According to Ms. Lawrence's suit, she was approached in 1998 by Graubard Miller partner C. Daniel Chill, who allegedly said he and two of his partners were entitled to bonuses from her because of the favorable course of litigation. He allegedly described this as a standard practice.

Ms. Lawrence paid $5 million in "gifts" to the three partners, on which she also paid $2.7 million in gift taxes. She is now seeking the return of the gifts as part of a lawsuit in which she is also challenging a 40 percent retainer fee Mr. Chill negotiated with her in the closing months of a two-decades-long litigation for which she already paid Graubard Miller $18 million in hourly fees.

Last month, the Appellate Division, First Department, ruled that the 40 percent contingent-fee agreement between Graubard Miller and Ms. Lawrence was not unconscionable on its face. The panel's 4-1 majority denied Ms. Lawrence's motion to dismiss Graubard Miller's petition to compel payment of the contingent fee and said further proceedings would be needed to determine the propriety of the arrangement (NYLJ, Nov. 28).

- Anthony Lin can be reached at alin@alm.com.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Milberg Weiss' Melvyn Denied New York Fix (MORE, CLICK HERE)

NY Firm, Founder to Stand Trial in LA
By Anthony Lin
New York Law Journal - December 21, 2007


A Los Angeles federal judge has denied a motion by class action firm Milberg Weiss and its senior partner, Melvyn I. Weiss, to have their upcoming trial on conspiracy charges transferred to New York.

Mr. Weiss, who is charged with orchestrating a scheme by which the firm paid kickbacks to named plaintiffs in securities class action cases, had argued that the case should be moved because it would be an enormous hardship for him to be away from his New York home, family and friends while on trial. He also noted that New York was where many of the events at issue in the indictment took place.

But Judge John F. Walter of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California said the convenience of the government needed to be weighed against that of Mr. Weiss and added that it was not a "case in which jurors might benefit from a trip to the crime scene or might require some understanding of the local geography or culture."

The judge further noted that he had overseen the case for 17 months, during which he had accepted seven guilty pleas and decided numerous motions.

The guilty pleas include those of former Milberg Weiss named partners William Lerach, David Bershad and Steven Schulman, as well as former class action plaintiffs who received kickbacks.

Judge Walter said "it would be a waste of judicial resources and against the interest of justice for a Judge in a different district to spend the time necessary to learn the intricacies of what Defendants admit is an extremely complex case."

Mr. Weiss' lawyer, Benjamin Brafman, said in a statement yesterday that he was disappointed in the ruling but added, "Nevertheless, I remain confident that no jury, whether sitting in New York or in Los Angeles, once it has the opportunity to hear all of the evidence to be presented in this case, will ever convict such an extraordinary man as Melvyn I. Weiss."

In his motion to transfer the case, Mr. Weiss had offered a glimpse of his defense. He said New York-based character witnesses would testify that he was pre-occupied with humanitarian and charitable endeavors during the charged period. He said this testimony "will help explain, for example, how Bershad, Schulman, and others, could be involved in wrongdoing without Mr. Weiss' knowledge or participation."

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Attorney Calls Judge "Evil Unfair Witch" on Blog, Gets Ethics Probe (MORE, CLICK HERE)

Attorney Who Called Judge an "Evil Unfair Witch" on Blog Fights Ethics Probe

By Jordana Mishory
Daily Business Review - New York Lawyer
December 20, 2007

Do lawyers check their free speech rights at the courthouse steps?

That's exactly what some are wondering after it was disclosed that a criminal defense attorney is facing Florida Bar ethics charges for critical comments he posted on a Web log about a controversial Broward, Fla., judge.

A number of constitutional experts claim attorneys give up the full force of the First Amendment when they join the Bar, but other lawyers say they have every right to speak their mind.

The debate resurfaced after the Bar found probable cause against Fort Lauderdale, Fla., criminal defense attorney Sean Conway for calling Broward Circuit Judge Cheryl Aleman an "evil, unfair witch" who is "seemingly mentally ill" on a blog about the courthouse. Formal charges against Conway are pending.

Bar rules ban attorneys from making statements that impugn the integrity of a judge or the judiciary. Attorneys who violate the rules of professional conduct could face discipline ranging from a reprimand to disbarment.

Conway's attorney, Fred Haddad, claims the First Amendment protects his client's online comments posted on JAABlog in October 2006. The post criticized Aleman for allegedly forcing defendants in her courtroom to choose between the right to a speedy trial and the right to a well-prepared defense.

The controversial judge is facing her own disciplinary proceedings.

Haddad said Conway's situation is "absolutely absurd."

"You don't give up any constitutional rights when you become a lawyer," he said. "A lawyer has an obligation to educate the public. The choice of words is immaterial."

Attorney Louis Jepeway Jr., who represents lawyers before the Bar, said Conway should not be facing any sanctions. "Lawyers aren't second-class citizens," he said. "It is unfortunate the judge is so sensitive, but it's not a reason to violate [Conway's] First Amendment rights."

The Bar's Fort Lauderdale office, which found probable cause against Conway, did not return a call for comment by deadline Wednesday.

But several constitutional experts said an attorney's ability to speak about a judge ends when the statements cross from criticism about a judge's conduct or decisions to a personal attack. The intent is to ensure public confidence in the judiciary and the courts system, but it could undermine public trust in court operations.

Lida Rodriguez-Taseff, a Miami attorney and a former president Miami chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the Bar can mandate ethical rules as a condition for admission, and the rules can limit First Amendment rights. "The practice of law is considered a privilege," Rodriguez-Taseff said. "When lawyers choose to be admitted to the practice of law, they do so because they know they have to abide by rules of conduct of The Bar."

Rodriguez-Taseff, who declined to comment specifically about Conway's case, said the rules aren't designed to muzzle attorneys. She said attorneys are still able to comment on the qualifications of judges and the merit of legal rulings. "The Bar can regulate the decorum in which you express opinions," the Duane Morris partner said. "As lawyers, we have to be careful that in seeking to bring unfairness to the forefront that we do so in a manner that elevates the profession."

Nova Southeastern University law professor Robert Jarvis, who teaches classes in constitutional and ethics issues, echoed Rodriguez-Taseff's position that the Florida Bar has a right to limit First Amendment rights as a condition of a law license. Jarvis said attorneys can talk about the qualifications of the judiciary but shouldn't resort to name-calling.

Conway should have turned to the chief judge or Judicial Qualifications Commission if he believed Aleman's actions were wrong, Jarvis said. Conway said he filed a JQC complaint against Aleman."The purple prose is designed to inflame the passion of the public against this judge, which has the effect of inflaming the passion of the public against all judges," Jarvis said.

Both Jarvis and Rodriguez-Taseff note the Bar has the power to limit lawyers' commercial speech in advertising and client recruitment.

Florida has one of the nation's most stringent rules regulating attorney advertising. Attorney Barry Richard, a partner at Greenberg Traurig in Tallahassee who has advised the Bar in disciplinary appeals, said the Bar rarely reviews claims of attorneys bad-mouthing judges in public. "Only since the advent of Internet and blogs did things get widely disseminated that at one time would be discussed at a cocktail party," Richard said.

"Most lawyers are usually pretty cautious to avoid that kind of public commentary out of respect for the system, even if they don't respect the individual judge."

Conway acknowledged he may be a test case for the Bar.

Constitutional attorney Rick Ovelmen, a Miami partner with Jorden Burt, said Conway has some "strong First Amendment defenses" to the anticipated Bar charges. He said the rule barring false and reckless statements by attorneys against judges is based on the defamation rule for public officials and follows accepted constitutional law against libel of a public figure.

But Ovelmen said opinion is protected speech. He said Conway would have defamed Aleman by saying she was accepting bribes. However, Ovelman thinks Conway has some good defenses on his "witch" remark.

"I pray to Aleman's God that the right result will come out. I just wish they would leave me alone," Conway said. "I wish Judge Aleman would stop reading the blog and get back to work."

In Conway's case, he used his name on JAABlog when he complained about Aleman's "new (illegal) 'one week to prepare' policy" setting felony trials one to two weeks after arraignment. Conway claimed the judge was forcing defendants to choose between a speedy trial and the right to a fully prepared defense.

JAABlog is a popular legal blog run by a small band of Broward criminal defense attorneys. The blog focuses on claims of judicial abuse and misconduct as well as courthouse happenings.

In an October post, Conway wrote that Aleman had an "ugly, condescending attitude" a during proceeding he sat through." But as anyone who has been in [Aleman's courtroom] knows, she is clearly unfit for her position and knows not what it means to be a neutral arbiter," Conway wrote. For the Web site, he replaced Aleman's name with the words "evil, unfair witch" when transcribing one of his exchanges with the judge.

The Bar notified Conway in April that they opened an investigative file against him. The Bar's 17th Judicial Circuit Grievance Committee told Conway this month it found probable cause against him for violating five Bar rules. One requires that a lawyer not disparage the qualifications or integrity of a judge by saying something "the lawyer knows to be false or with reckless disregard as to its truth or falsity." Another rule he is accused of violating states a lawyer can not "engage in conduct in connection with the practice of law that is prejudicial to the administration of justice." The other counts allege violations of a rule requiring attorneys to uphold standards of professional conduct.

The grievance committee found probable cause against Conway as the state Judicial Qualifications Commission wrapped up a three-day hearing against Aleman. She faced charges claiming she behaved in a vindictive manner, used fear to control her courtroom and exhibited a pattern of arrogant, impatient and discourteous conduct.

Lansing Scriven, a Tampa, Fla., attorney prosecuting the JQC case, recommended a public reprimand for the judge, the lightest form of punishment for a judge. The commission's six-member hearing panel has not ruled.

Sanctions for judges found guilty of violating the code of judicial conduct range from a public reprimand to removal from the bench.

Conway stands by his actions. He said he was respectful and courteous before Aleman in court but felt the need to publicly expose her behavior. "Because our judges are elected, we should not have gag orders over the very people that work in front of those judges every day," Conway said. "When something illegal is going on, we expect those people to tell the public."

Conway said the Bar's probable cause finding against him indicates people would be better off posting anonymously instead of signing their name to their comments."But speaking from hiding is not free speech at all," he said. "I don't think the founders of our country intended us to use free speech from secret hiding spots."

Haddad contends the Bar is overstepping its bounds. He pointed to Aleman's hearing as evidence that his client's statements weren't unfounded." Conway didn't say anything that every other lawyer doesn't say in the elevator every day," Haddad said.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Tammany Hall II - Attorney Ethics Scandal Update (MORE, CLICK HERE)

Lawyer Discharged in Federal Suit Against First Department
by Daniel Wise
The New York Law Journal – Page 1, Col. 1
News in Brief - December 19, 2007

Christine C. Anderson, a former staff attorney at the First Department Disciplinary Committee who filed a federal lawsuit in October seeking $10 million in damages against her superiors, has discharged her attorney, Frederick K. Brewington of Hempstead. In a Dec. 12 letter, Mr. Brewington advised Southern District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin, who is presiding over the case, Anderson v. State of New York, 07-cv-9599, that Ms. Anderson had relieved him as her counsel because of “irreconcilable differences.” Mr. Brewington declined to elaborate as did Ms. Anderson’s daughter, Tembani Selepi Xaba, who said she is stepping in temporarily as counsel for her mother while she seeks a new lawyer. Mr. Brewington filed an amended complaint on Nov. 7, and Ms. Xaba said that Judge Scheindlin had set a Jan. 2 deadline for filing a second amended complaint at a scheduling conference on Dec. 12. The state must submit its response to the amended complaint by Feb. 14. In the lawsuit, Ms. Anderson charges she was fired in June, after working for the committee for six years, because she had complained that her superiors were “whitewashing” complaints against “certain select” lawyers (NYLJ, Oct. 30).

End of New York Law Journal article

See Related Story: Ethics Scandal Hearing Greeted with 1.5 Billion Dollar Lawsuit

Washington Post: Giuliani's Kerik Woes Resurface Through Informant (MORE, CLICK HERE)

Giuliani's Kerik Woes Resurface Through Informant
Candidate Distancing Himself From Former Confidant

By John Solomon and Matthew Mosk
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, December 19, 2007; A01

In the heady days of the 1990s when Rudolph W. Giuliani was mayor of New York and Bernard B. Kerik was one of his most trusted lieutenants, Lawrence Ray enjoyed his own wild ride.

Ray was one of Kerik's closest friends and the best man at his 1998 wedding. As Kerik was rising to become New York's police commissioner, Ray was in touch with him regularly -- lending him money, discussing possible business opportunities, and using Ray's contacts in Russia to arrange a meeting for Giuliani with former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.

Much has changed since then. Giuliani is now a leading Republican presidential candidate. Kerik has pleaded guilty to state ethics charges and is under federal indictment. And Ray, a convicted felon now in prison on a parole violation, has turned on his former friend. He has provided to state and federal authorities half a dozen boxes of e-mails, memos, faxes, financial statements, photographs and other materials about Kerik's alleged wrongdoing.

That evidence, reviewed by The Washington Post, shows that Kerik brought Ray into contact with Giuliani on a handful of occasions documented in photos and that he invoked Giuliani's name in connection with a New Jersey construction company with alleged mob ties that is now at the heart of the criminal cases.

While campaigning, Giuliani has sought to distance himself from Kerik, his mounting legal problems and associates such as Ray. Asked about Kerik and Ray during a recent appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press," he said: "I made a mistake in not vetting [Kerik] carefully enough. And it's my responsibility. I should have."

This spring, Ray's friend Sidney Baumgarten, a New York lawyer, told former deputy mayor and longtime Giuliani ally Ninfa Segarra that Ray was embroiled in a bitter divorce and an even worse custody dispute over his two daughters. Baumgarten said he told Segarra that Ray possessed "damaging" information about Giuliani but that he would not go public with his allegations if he could receive help with the mounting legal troubles.

"That was the implied quid pro quo," Baumgarten recalled in an interview with The Post, saying the conversation stemmed solely from his desire to help Ray's children in the custody case.

The following day, Baumgarten received an e-mail from Segarra advising Ray to call an acquaintance of hers, a "political heavyweight" lawyer who could assist Ray in the custody dispute in New Jersey. "For now I would ask not to identify me as the referral," Segarra wrote in the March 5 e-mail obtained by The Post.

In an interview, Segarra said she recommended the lawyer for Ray after talking with Baumgarten but did not consult with the Giuliani campaign or anyone else. She said she was not motivated by Baumgarten's offer that Ray would keep silent.

"Baumgarten described to me a very nasty child custody battle," said Segarra, who spoke with The Post at the request of Giuliani aides. "He may have implied something like that and I emphatically told him I didn't want to get involved. Because the welfare of children was at issue, I recommended a well-respected lawyer that was capable of dealing with the child custody issue in New Jersey."

Ray, who has been in prison since July on a parole violation, never acted on the referral. Instead, he reported it to the FBI, wearing a wire to record his friend recounting the referral.

Giuliani's aides dismissed Ray as not credible.

"Larry Ray's accusations are completely false and without merit," said Daniel Connolly, a partner in Giuliani's security consulting firm. "Let us remember Mr. Ray is a convicted felon with a track record of dishonesty whose statements continue to lack one iota of credibility. As anyone familiar with Mr. Ray's history will attest, his character, credibility and motives are all quite suspect and any statements he makes should be judged accordingly."

Kenneth Breen, an attorney for Kerik, said: "As we have consistently maintained, Bernie Kerik denies the allegations in the indictment and will address them in court. Larry Ray's accusations are not worthy of a response."

Speaking last Wednesday from the federal detention center in Brooklyn, Ray said that his motivation is to get the truth out.

"I could have negotiated a great deal for myself," he said in a telephone interview that was monitored by corrections officials. "If I wanted to forget about this thing, I could. But ultimately, this is about the truth. There's no motivation for me to walk away from the truth."

'Too Many Questions'

Larry Ray's five-year friendship with Kerik spanned the same time period that is now at the heart of the federal case against Kerik.

Ray, 48, met Kerik at a New Jersey bar during Kerik's rise through the ranks of the Giuliani mayoral administration. In the mid-1990s, Ray said, he and Kerik saw each other almost daily and they e-mailed
frequently. Kerik often signed his missives to Ray, "I Love You -- B." In fall 1997, Kerik asked Ray to use his contacts in Russia to try to arrange a meeting between Giuliani and Gorbachev, Ray said. Among his many hats, Ray said that he had managed to become a security advance man for some of Gorbachev's trips to the United States.

"At first, I told him there was no way," Ray said in an interview. "Gorbachev met world leaders, not city mayors. But Bernie kept insisting, and eventually I made it happen."

Ray provided law enforcement officials with photos of the gathering that showed himself, Gorbachev, Giuliani and Kerik at City Hall as well as a letter from Gorbachev via an interpreter thanking him for arranging the New York visit. In addition, Ray provided copies of memos showing that he coordinated the visit with Kerik.

One December 1997 fax from Kerik to Ray, sent on the eve of Gorbachev's arrival, suggested that the city, not the FBI, should provide security for the visit. "This is not an official government trip. FBI is not indemnified being on duty. Off duty if something happens, there will be too many questions . . . that we don't want to be involved in," Kerik wrote. "There would be no questions of City personnel, not to mention the mayor is aware of the trip."

Connolly, Giuliani's partner, said the former mayor "denies making any request of Bernie Kerik or Larry Ray to arrange a meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev."

In the late 1990s, Ray worked as a security consultant for Interstate Industrial, a New Jersey construction company that had been wrestling with allegations of ties to a New York crime family. Kerik, then commissioner of New York's corrections department, offered to help Interstate contest those allegations so it could win contracts from Giuliani's administration, according to the indictment. At the same time, Kerik accepted $255,000 in illegal gifts from Interstate that included extensive renovations to one of his apartments, prosecutors say in court records. The Giuliani administration never approved Interstate for the contracts.

New York investigators told The Post that Ray provided evidence to them before Kerik pleaded guilty in June 2006 to two state misdemeanor charges involving the gifts. Ray also provided similar evidence to the FBI before the recent federal indictment of Kerik on corruption and tax charges, according to interviews with law enforcement officials and e-mails between Ray and the FBI obtained by The Post.

FBI documents show that while Ray has served as a confidential informant, agents have at times questioned his credibility. He can ramble for hours, weaving conspiratorial theories with folksy tales about his high-flying days as Kerik's buddy and his secretive work for the FBI and U.S. military.

Ray was described as a "calculating, manipulative and hostile man" in a psychological evaluation conducted by an expert his wife hired for the divorce case.

Ray's expert provided a more favorable analysis. Earlier this year, federal officials gathered evidence suggesting that he had, for a second time, violated his probation in connection with his conviction in an earlier organized-crime securities fraud case. They declared him a fugitive, even as Ray continued talking to and e-mailing the FBI.

U.S. marshals spent weeks tracking Ray's cellphone traffic across New York, with agents working 24-hour shifts until they caught his signal in July in an apartment on the city's Upper East Side. Five marshals burst in, pinned him to the floor and handcuffed him, breaking his arm. Inside, they found two computers, six cellphones and photographs of Kerik. As they hauled Ray away, one marshal recalled hearing his 18-year-old daughter scream, "Police corruption! This is because of Mayor Rudy Giuliani and Bernard Kerik!"

His legal problems aside, Ray has supporters in government circles who say that over the years he assisted them with delicate matters. Ray's court files include a letter from NATO thanking him for his "efforts to ensure good communication and understanding between ourselves and the Russian leadership" in reaching a deal to end bombing during the Kosovo crisis in the late 1990s. FBI files reflect his help with organized-crime cases.

"One of the problems with Larry's story is it is so complex," said retired three-star Marine Gen. Charles H. Pitman, a Purple Heart recipient who befriended Ray a decade ago. "It is like reading a novel, you can't put it down but it goes on and on. In fact, he has been straightforward. He was anxious to help the government. He was kind of a wannabe minuteman."

The Evidence

Larry Ray began providing New York authorities with evidence of Bernard Kerik's wrongdoing in December 2004 when the former New York police commissioner was nominated for the post of homeland security secretary. The nomination was pulled within days because of questions about Kerik's background.

Ray turned over voice recordings, e-mails, photographs, city documents and other items outlined in a 33-page roster of evidence. That material offers new details about the Interstate matter.

Records, for instance, show that Interstate first faxed a copy of its application to the Giuliani administration to Kerik in November 1998. A separate affidavit that Ray filed with New Jersey gambling authorities, which rejected Interstate for business, also alleges that Kerik arranged for meetings between company representatives and gambling authorities.

Kerik told Ray repeatedly that Giuliani was aware of Interstate's desire to secure city contracts, Ray alleged in an interview with The Post. Ray added that he once sat in Kerik's office as Kerik discussed the matter in a phone call with Giuliani. After hanging up, Ray said, Kerik went over to City Hall to meet with Giuliani.

Connolly said that Giuliani never had a conversation with Kerik regarding Interstate at the time. "The only conversation he recalls ever having with Bernie regarding Interstate occurred in December 2004 when the press was reporting that relationship in connection with events at the time," Connolly said, adding, "There were never any one-on-one meetings with Larry Ray and Rudy Giuliani ever."

On April 29, 1999, Kerik sent Ray an e-mail titled "Important!!!!!!!!!!!!" that said that the mayor had appointed Raymond Casey, one of his relatives, to a top job at the city's Trade Waste Commission, which Interstate was trying to influence. The e-mail was turned over to authorities and The Post.

"Rudy's nephew in the Tradewaste has been appointed from Inspector General to Deputy Commissioner of Investigations," Kerik wrote. "That's how he's aware of everything going on. He's overseeing all of the investigations. That could be bad for me at the moment but I think overall good for us."

In the same e-mail, Kerik lamented his problems paying for his new apartment. He also mentioned that his brother Donald was looking for a new job. Within months, Interstate started renovations at Kerik's apartment and hired Donald.

Interstate President Frank DiTommaso wrote to the trade waste agency to announce his new employee. "The day to day operations of Interstate Materials Corp. have been taken over by Mr. Don Kerik," the note said. "Don is a fine individual and will continue to provide your agency with full cooperation."

In July 1999, Bernard Kerik arranged a meeting with Casey and a New York Department of Investigations agent at a Manhattan restaurant to discuss Interstate, according to the recent federal indictment of Kerik. Kerik "questioned" city officials' concerns about the company having alleged mob ties. "I put my reputation and integrity on the line" for the company, he wrote in an e-mail to the company's owners after that meeting.

Kerik arranged a subsequent meeting between city officials and an Interstate representative later that summer in his Department of Corrections office, the indictment states.

As Kerik pressed Interstate's case, he asked Ray for money. "I've got to take care of those things we talked about a few weeks ago," he said. "If possible, I need about 2 to 2,5 to take care of it," Kerik wrote in an e-mail in May 1999 asking for $2,000 to $2,500. A few weeks later, Kerik sought more. "If possible I don't want to spend any of the down payment for the apartment and I've got a few things that I've got to pay off," he wrote to Ray. "Can we spare 2500 to get me by until something else comes up."

The materials Ray provided to law enforcement also suggest that he and Kerik discussed a range of private business proposals. Kerik sent and received numerous faxes from his city office addressed to Ray about several possible deals, including one in 1998 titled "Proposed Acquisition of Sugar From Brazil for Russia." Another in 1997 from a major international bank concerned possible real estate transactions in New York and Russia. The investigative files give no indication whether any of the deals occurred. Ray also alleges that Kerik notified him when Giuliani planned to appoint Kerik in 1997 to New York's gambling regulatory commission. Ray had an application for a license to run a riverboat, according to the documents he turned over to police.

"Kerik was real excited about that. He wanted me to purchase the ship and do the retrofitting," Ray said. "It was supposed to be offshore. He would get 50 percent. We would set up a company to own the ship." That plan never materialized.
Parting Ways

Kerik and Ray began parting ways in 2000 around the time Ray was indicted on charges of securities fraud in connection with the mob stock scheme. The indictment surprised Ray and his lawyers because Ray had worked with the FBI as a confidential informant to make the case, according to FBI documents. The documents show that the FBI eventually came to believe that Ray had not told them everything about his own role in the scheme.

In a November 2001 e-mail exchange, Ray reached out to Kerik for help. "I am sorry I have to burden you with any of this at all. But I need you and my family needs you. I have done my best to keep you out of it all along. . . . As a friend I was mindful of the sensitivity of your position. . . . Now I need you as a friend to do nothing more than be willing to state the truth as to the things that you do know."

Kerik's stinging reply arrived the next morning. "In the event that I am called to testify, I must tell you that my recollection of the events is not consistent with what you remember. And this would have a severely negative impact on your credibility." Ray eventually pleaded guilty to the securities charge in 2003 and was sentenced to house arrest and probation.

When Kerik's nomination to head up the Department of Homeland Security was announced in 2004, Ray went public with his allegations about Kerik and Interstate, giving an interview to the New York Daily News and going to authorities in New York and New Jersey. Kerik's nomination was quickly withdrawn.

The next year, Ray's life continued its downward spiral. His marriage fell apart, and he became embroiled in the custody battle. Ray's New Jersey home was raided by police in connection with the dispute. Eventually, the case led to Ray's probation violation -- he was accused of ignoring a restraining order to stay away from his children -- and he was sent to prison.

Ray became convinced that Kerik was exerting influence behind the scenes to damage his reputation with police and prosecutors in New Jersey. He said that a local prosecutor told him "the party line is to get Larry Ray." That prosecutor, Michele D'Onofrio, concluded that the police search of Ray's home was illegal and recently was interviewed by the FBI about the search, according to court records.

Ray filed a civil rights lawsuit against local authorities about the search. His 18-year-old daughter hired Florida lawyer Mark Gelman, a specialist in child sex abuse cases, to prepare a lawsuit that was filed last Friday alleging that she was abused by her mother and one of her relatives. A lawyer for the wife has said that Ray has repeatedly made such allegations and that they have always been determined to be unfounded. Messages left for Ray's ex-wife were not returned.

The ugliness of the New Jersey custody case is what prompted Baumgarten, whose law license was recently restored after it was revoked over billing issues, to reach out to Segarra, the former Giuliani deputy mayor.

"It just sickened me what was going on against the children," said Baumgarten, a retired brigadier general who was a deputy mayor in New York. He was credited during the 1970s with overseeing a law enforcement effort to clean up vice-infested Midtown Manhattan.



See Related Story on Giuliani-Kerik-Judith Regan

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Judicial Ethics Holiday Gift for Surrogate's Court Victims (MORE, CLICK HERE)

It is reported that The New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct has initiated formal charges against Westchester County Surrogate's Court Judge Anthony A. Scarpino, Jr., and who has also been acting as a Westchester County Matrimonial Judge pursuant to Chief Administrative Judge Francis Nicolai....MORE...

A source close to the White Plains, New York court reveals that the decision to proceed with formal charges against Scarpino was made during the Judicial Ethics oversight committee's most recent meeting.

Formal charges against a judge by the N.Y. State Commission on Judicial Conduct are confidential unless the justice facing charges waives that confidentiality.

"I guess Surrogate Scarpino waived that confidentiality when he voiced his anger over the charges against him to his close circle of friends," says the source. "He's furious, and a bit shell-shocked because he thought he was protected—immune from ever receiving any formal charges. Everyone, including him, thought he was untouchable"

Though long-rumored to have been pushed out of the FBI, observers say Scarpino has always touted his short tenure as a special agent for the FBI before taking a job at Bankers Trust Company where, it is alleged, he was also pushed out. Bankers Trust Company later became a felon and is now owned by Deutsche Bank.

"Tony really believed that he could do anything and get away with it because he worked for the FBI for a few years," says the source. "He used to be the 'golden boy.'"

One FBI insider sees it another way. "No one at the bureau is happy that a former agent would attempt to use their past status as a special agent to get away with illegal or improper acts—especially as a judge," he says. "It makes us—and all law enforcement—look bad."

The exact formal charges by The Commission on Judicial Conduct are unknown at this time, but as readers are aware the list of possible issues facing the Surrogate is long and from various places from around the world.

Sources within the federal investigation into the City of Mt. Vernon have indicated that disturbing information concerning the former resident, Scarpino, has emerged. This while some Westchester attorneys have recently complained that Surrogate Scarpino has merely been acting as a "traffic cop" in court, simply directing attorneys to staff and not making any decisions himself.

Just recently, Surrogate Scarpino publicly expressed his displeasure with the Manhattan District Attorney's office involving the Brooke Astor Estate currently in his court.

It does appear, however, that the current charges against Scarpino do not involve the recent revelation that Surrogate's Court staff attorney Jody Keltz and her attorney-husband Carl Peluso somehow managed to move into a nice Scarsdale home from a estate once handled by Ms. Keltz. While current inquiries exist into the alleged unseemly appointment of guardians and real estate transactions under Scarpino's tenure, the questionable and highly unusual Keltz real estate matter occurred under Surrogate Scarpino's predecessor, Judge Albert Emanuelli.
CLICK HERE TO SEE THE JODY KELTZ STORY

If a Scandal Has Legs, It's on the List (MORE, CLICK HERE)

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Washington Post by Elizabeth Williamson
Tuesday, December 18, 2007; A23

Tough competition for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington's inaugural list of the year's top 10 ethics scandals. The government watchdog's list, posted at http://www.citizensforethics.org, pays special attention to scandals that appear likely to blow into something bigger next year, said Melanie Sloan, CREW's executive director.

The list "seemed like a good way at the end of the year to keep track of what happened and what's on the horizon," Sloan said. "If a scandal seemed to conclude this year, it's not on the list."

The scandals, with headings taken from the CREW report, are not listed in order of magnitude. They're all pretty bad, the CREW people say.

1. No new enforcement mechanisms for congressional ethics: A House panel convened by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has yet to come up with recommendations -- originally due in May -- on establishing an independent ethics oversight panel, amid reports of bipartisan resistance.

2. Ted Stevens still sitting on Senate Appropriations: The senator(R-Alaska) and his son Ben are embroiled in a federal corruption probe in their home state.

3. Senate Ethics Committee looking into Sen. Larry Craig, but not Sen. David Vitter: Craig (R-Idaho) is defending himself against charges that he solicited sex from an undercover male law enforcement officer in an airport restroom. Vitter (R-La.) was outed as a client of an alleged prostitution ring run by Deborah Jeane Palfrey, the "D.C. madam," after his phone number appeared in her records.

4. Millions of missing White House e-mails still unaccounted for: CREW and the National Security Archive are seeking information and backup copies of more than 5 million e-mails deleted from White House computer servers between 2003 and 2005.

5. Rep. Murtha's abuse of the earmarking process remains unchecked: Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) has drawn scrutiny for channeling millions of federal dollars, much of it in defense contracts, to his (formerly) hard-luck district.

6. Lurita Doan remains chief of GSA despite illegal conduct: Lurita Alexis Doan denies allegations that she gave a contract to a longtime friend and was involved in illegal Republican politicking inside the General Services Administration.

7. White House possibly covering up its role in the firings of the U.S. attorneys: Congressional investigations of the firing of nine U.S. attorneys have been stymied as the White House keeps key players, including former White House counsel Harriet Miers and Chief of Staff Josh Bolten, from testifying.

8. No Child Left Behind funds directed to Bush fundraisers who provide inadequate reading materials for kids: A Department of Education inspector general's probe found that Bush-connected companies and donors got contracts for providing reading materials found to be of questionable value.

9. Court decision regarding search of Jefferson's office limits ability of Justice Department to investigate corrupt lawmakers: The federal corruption probe of Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) experienced a setback this year when an appellate judge ruled that "legislative material" seized in a search of his office cannot be used to prosecute members of Congress.

10. FEMA knowingly let Katrina victims live in hazardous trailers: Records indicate that the Federal Emergency Management Agency had cautioned its workers about trailers contaminated with formaldehyde. But the agency has been accused of delaying testing for the substance in trailers occupied by people left homeless by the hurricane.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Lawyer Seeks Divorce From Judge - Good Luck! (MORE, CLICK HERE)

Breaking Up Is Hard to Do: Divorcing a Judge, Local Lawyer Has Trouble in Mind

New York Lawyer - December 17, 2007
By Thomas B. Seffey - The Connecticut Law Tribune

A lawyer seeking a divorce from a state judge has expressed concern that he will have trouble getting a fair shake because other judges will likely side with one of their own.

The unusual case, which has already involved the state Supreme Court, centers on prominent Hartford criminal defense attorney Hubert J. Santos and Superior Court Judge Thelma A. Santos, a Rockville juvenile judge.

Hubert Santos is represented by another formidable defense lawyer, Hugh F. Keefe of New Haven. In court documents, Keefe argued that because Thelma Santos was a Hartford family court judge in the 1990s, Hubert Santos would face an "unconscious bias" that exists "when a judge has to decide a case involving one of his or her own."

Keefe argued that all applicable case law and the Code of Judicial Conduct requires a transfer, and proposed either Waterbury, Litchfield, New Haven or Bridgeport, to assure a fair trial and the appearance of propriety.

Hartford Superior Court Judge Jorge Simón utterly disagreed. He penned his one-sentence ruling directly on Keefe's Oct. 30 motion: "There is no basis in law or equity" to send the case out of Hartford.

The following day, Keefe took the extraordinary step of petitioning the Supreme Court to immediately overturn Simón's decision under C.G.S. § 52-265a, the emergency interim appeal remedy for matters of great public importance. In a brief, he cited 1954 New York case, Arkwright v. Steinbugler, for the premise that judges have an "unconscious bias" in favor of their local colleagues.

Need For Openness

"The fact that Judge Santos has so vigorously opposed the transfer of this case only highlights the advantage she feels and the inequality that will result if this case proceeds in Hartford," Keefe wrote.

Gerald Roisman, of Hartford's Roisman & McClure, who is representing Thelma Santos, produced a U.S. Supreme Court precedent to buttress his arguments that the divorce should not be moved out of Hartford. He cited the 1947 case of Gulf Oil v. Gilbert, in which the justices wrote about the importance of having local controversies decided in view of the interested public.

He also argued that this divorce needed to be handled in a normal manner "for public policy reasons, namely the public criticism of a judiciary which permitted sealed files, etc., and the expressed dedication on the part of the judiciary to openness in the court system." Roisman noted the public outcry that arose after it was revealed some cases, including divorce cases involving lawyers, had been "super-sealed."

Justice Joette Katz, acting on behalf of the chief justice, rejected the Hubert Santos emergency appeal bid.

On Nov. 13, Santos and Keefe moved to seal the entire divorce file, a request Simón also denied. Instead, he unsealed the parties' financial affidavits, because their contents had become part of the case in dispute.

On Nov. 16, Simón ordered Hubert Santos to pay $35,000 in attorney fees by Nov. 30. Roisman's law partner, Edith McClure, said in a Dec. 12 interview that the firm has still not been paid. "It's always been our view that this case should be settled," she said, adding: "All of the hoopla surrounding this case has not been of our making."

Unlevel Field

The Santos divorce file reveals a classic family court scenario of a wife with fewer assets up against a wealthy husband backed by impressive legal firepower.

In their 2006 federal income tax filings, which are part of the record, Hubert Santos listed his adjusted gross income from his law practice and an antiques business he runs as $868,923. His wife declared earnings of $138,614.

According to his affidavit, Hubert Santos's weekly net income of $4,293 is exceeded by his weekly expenses of $5,380, of which $2,000 was for antique business purchases. The judge noted that Santos's "claimed social security deduction [of $496 per week] was substantially more than allowed." The maximum, accountants say, is about $285 per week.

The break-up began in early June when Thelma Santos moved out of the family home in West Hartford, which is valued at $630,000, according to Hubert Santos's financial affidavit. Thelma Santos paid a $25,000 down payment to move into a Litchfield condominium with the couple's 23-year-old son, who has mentally disabilities.

On July 17, she filed for divorce in Hartford on grounds the marriage had broken down "irretrievably." Thelma Santos, citing the costs of her son's education, has sought alimony and attorneys fees to pay Roisman.

On Sept. 18, Hubert Santos objected to fronting the fees. Because McClure is a "close personal friend" of Thelma Santos, Hubert Santos suggested that McClure's and Roisman's firm "will no doubt agree to this arrangement" and not seek legal fees now.

Roisman did not agree, and kept filing for pendente lite fees.

During September and October, Hubert Santos advanced a range of arguments why his wife should pay her own legal fees. When she left the West Hartford home in June and put down $25,000 on her Enfield condominium, "some of that could have been used to pay her lawyers," he contended.

She could also use some of the $103,507 in the retirement account from her time in private practice, he contended. Furthermore, before she left the family home, she sometimes had checking account balances in excess of $10,000, Hubert Santos argued.

Thelma Santos countered that, to meet the costs of her son's education, she had to borrow from her brothers, listing $3,800 in loans from them.

Six days after he failed to move the trial from Hartford, Hubert Santos filed a Nov. 6 motion seeking immediate payments of expenses at the family home his wife had left in June. On the basis of her one-half interest in the house, he sought $900 for her portion of the gas, water and electrical bills, and $600 for maintenance. He demanded the repayment of a $10,000 loan he had made to her a month before, plus a $3,250 contribution to their son's college. He also sought $3,000 for real estate taxes on the West Harford home, for a total of $40,550.

Judge Simón declined to award Thelma Santos alimony pendente lite, but he also didn't require her to pay the interim expenses on the West Hartford house, deferring that reckoning until later.

Simón ordered Hubert Santos to pay the $1,042 per week for expenses for his son, and ruled that neither his wife's retirement account nor the son's mutual fund account are to be invaded to make those payments.

Hubert Santos skipped a scheduled Dec. 3 deposition, according to court documents. On Dec. 5, he requested details from his wife's bank accounts, listing the account numbers in their entirety. Keefe, when reached for comment, said he had not included the full bank account numbers as a tactic to make a better case for sealing the file.

Keefe also relayed Hubert Santos's request that the Law Tribune not report on the divorce case. Hubert Santos is currently appealing Judge Simón's order for pendente lite attorney fees to the Appellate Court.

Keefe conceded that it is difficult to argue that a divorce case is an entirely private matter when public arguments are being made to the state's highest appeals courts.

Blog Archive

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

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


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