MLK said: "Injustice Anywhere is a Threat to Justice Everywhere"

End Corruption in the Courts!

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Sunday, May 31, 2009

A way to reform ethics reform

A way to reform ethics reform
The Albany Times Union  - May 31, 2009

It's become clearer than ever in recent weeks that the ethics reforms New York attempted in 2007 need reforming. Gov. David Paterson's proposal to create a new ethics commission is a commendable first draft of how an effective system should look. Mr. Paterson envisions a more balanced board. He also offers an innovative idea that would add a necessary degree of separation between state officials and the panel that would investigate allegations of misconduct by those officials and the people who work for them. As we have said before, the current Commission on Public Integrity should be scrapped. The panel's members are all directly appointed or nominated by state officials. That's too direct a tie between the commission and those who may themselves come under the commission's scrutiny. Moreover, the governor has far too many appointees on the panel -- seven of the 13 members. There is no legitimate reason for one official to command a majority, or even a formidable minority. Mr. Paterson has a better idea: a five-member Government Ethics Commission that would replace the Commission on Public Integrity, and a Government Ethics Designation Commission that would appoint the ethics commission's members. That removes key officials who control virtually all of the state government from the appointment of the ethics commission. State leaders instead would appoint the members of the designation commission, a 10-member body that would seek out on its own candidates for the ethics commission. The only major problem with Mr. Paterson's proposal is that it again would give the governor an edge in the process. Of the designation commission's 10 members, four would be appointed by the governor. There is no compelling argument for that. Seven members -- one each chosen by the governor, Assembly speaker, Senate majority leader, the two legislative minority leaders, the comptroller and attorney general -- would be perfectly adequate.

Mr. Paterson also proposes to fold the Legislative Ethics Commission, a body appointed solely by legislative leaders to police the Legislature, into the Government Ethics Commission. He would also give the commission authority over campaign finance issues, an area previously overseen by the state Board of Elections. Both the Legislative Ethics Commission and the elections board have long been viewed as ineffective and designed more to serve politicians than watch over them. Such an ethics commission's authority would be strengthened by several bills percolating in the Senate to increase disclosure requirements on legislators' business relationships, reduce contribution limits for lobbyists and state contractors, and tighten up the absurdly lax rules on personal use by politicians of campaign funds. Now, with the session ending June 22, the question is whether all this is just for show, or whether the governor and Legislature are serious enough about cleaning up Albany to make ethics reform a priority. We will, hopefully not in vain, hold our breath.

The issue: Gov. Paterson offers a redesigned ethics commission. 
The Stakes: With some work, this would fix a system that has lost public confidence. 
To comment: tuletters@timesunion.com

Friday, May 29, 2009

New Focus on "Lawyers Being Lawyers"

New State Bar Head Focuses on 'Lawyers Being Lawyers'
The New York Law Journal by Joel Stashenko - May 29, 2009

ALBANY, NEW YORK - At a time when seasoned, laid-off lawyers are competing for jobs with debt-burdened law school graduates on the most-rugged legal industry terrain in memory, Michael E. Getnick said his year as president of the New York State Bar Association will focus on finding ways to help attorneys keep practicing law. "This year, the bar association is going to be refocusing on the basics," Mr. Getnick said in an interview. "My theme is going to be a little bit different than some of my predecessors, who have created wonderful committees and task forces. I do intend to continue the work of those committees and task forces, but my main goal is going to be focusing on lawyers being lawyers." Mr. Getnick, 64, formally becomes state bar president on Monday, when he succeeds Bernice K. Leber as head of the 76,000-member group. He is a partner specializing in civil and appellate work at the Utica firm of Getnick Livingston Atkinson & Priore. Mr. Getnick said the poor condition of the state and national economies demands that the state bar present itself as a resource for law firms and attorneys seeking to stay in business, for lawyers who have lost their jobs and for aspiring lawyers entering the difficult job market. Attorneys must also be encouraged to continue to honor their obligations to pro bono clients who are facing foreclosures, consumer credit problems or other personal finance issues due to the economy, said Mr. Getnick, a former Legal Aid Society attorney. "I think you're going to find the bar association is the best and closest ally to lawyers," he said.

Mr. Getnick said he would provide the necessary resources to enhance the ability of the Solo and Small-Firm Practice, the Law Practice Management, the Lawyers in Transition and other state bar committees to provide firms and individual lawyers assistance in tough economic times. The committees will work in tandem at times, he said. In addition to the health and life insurance coverage available to members through the association, Mr. Getnick said the group can give attorneys practical direction on how to use technology and other tools to run their practices. It can also be a better "clearinghouse" to line up attorneys offering their services pro bono to the agencies looking for help for poor clients, he said.  In addition, Mr. Getnick said he wants to work with law schools to enroll more students into the bar group before graduation and to ensure the schools introduce more business-oriented curriculum to prepare prospective attorneys for their entre into the profession. "I think we can really help young law students so when they come out of law school they will be more prepared to get into the business world," he said.

'Transition' Guidance

The head of the Lawyers in Transition Committee, Lauren J. Wachtler, said she welcomes Mr. Getnick's intended emphasis on heightening the use of the state bar as a tool for lawyers seeking jobs or pro bono work.  Ms. Wachtler, of Mitchell Silberberg & Knupp, said she does not mean to downplay the value of committee and task force reports commissioned by recent presidents on legal and public policy issues. But she said the poor economy has made the direction Mr. Getnick plans for the state bar an imperative. "In this economic market, people are more interested in not, 'What can I do for the bar association,' but 'What can the bar association do for me?'" she said. Ms. Wachtler's committee was initially set up mostly to aid women attorneys seeking to re-enter the legal industry after willingly dropping out to raise families. It has since transformed itself into a source of information for all displaced attorneys seeking new jobs. Ms. Wachtler said the committee has begun monthly live webcasts for attorneys looking for work in the law or other professions.

Mr. Getnick said he would continue to push the initiatives begun by Ms. Leber and her predecessors. Under an informal deal that started with Ms. Leber's predecessor, Kathryn Grant Madigan, state bar presidents have agreed to continue to promote the issues championed by previous presidents.  Committees appointed by Ms. Leber in the past year have studied wrongful convictions, the legal implications of global warming, ways to protect the privacy of personal information, the needs of solo and small-firm practitioners and the physical condition of courthouses around the state. Ms. Leber, a partner at Arent Fox, called Mr. Getnick, her frequent lobbying partner in Washington and Albany on legislation affecting the legal industry during the past year, a "terrific guy." "He's very effective as an advocate," she said in an interview. "People do respect him. He has his head on right and he understands the needs of lawyers, particularly in this economic crisis." Mr. Getnick was born in Brooklyn and grew up in Freeport, Long Island. His father, Irving M. Getnick, was a solo practitioner in Manhattan before founding Getnick & Getnick with Michael Getnick's brother, Neil.

Michael Getnick said he knew as early as junior high school that he wanted to be an attorney, but also that he wanted to practice in a less metropolitan environment than Manhattan. He earned an undergraduate degree at Pennsylvania State University, where he briefly played basketball, and his law degree at Cornell Law School in 1969. "It was the only law school that appeared to be in a country atmosphere," he said. Following three years as a Legal Aid Society lawyer in Oneida County, Mr. Getnick went into private practice.  He said he initially expected to stay in the Utica area for just a few years with his wife, Susan, a special education teacher who grew up in suburban Syracuse. But they have remained there for nearly 40 years. The couple has two grown sons. Mr. Getnick said his elevation as state bar president should be the beginning, not the culmination, of his service to the organization. "Being nominated and becoming the president of the bar association is not an accomplishment, it's an opportunity," he said. "It really is a privilege. I would hope at the end of the year . . . that people would say, 'This person did a good job. This person upheld the trust that we put in him.'" Stephen P. Younger, a partner at Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler, is in line to become the next state bar president in June 2010. Joel.Stashenko@incisivemedia.com

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Coccoma Appointed Deputy Chief Outside NYC

PRESS RELEASE

Communications Office: David Bookstaver, Director -- Kali Holloway, Deputy Director (212) 428-2500
Date: May 27, 2009
Hon. Ann Pfau, Chief Administrative Judge  --  www.nycourts.gov/press


Hon. Michael V. Coccoma Appointed Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for Courts Outside New York City

NEW YORK – Chief Administrative Judge Ann Pfau today announced the appointment of Hon. Michael V. Coccoma as Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for Courts Outside New York City. The appointment was made with the approval of Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman and in consultation with the Presiding Justices of the Appellate Divisions of the Second, Third and Fourth Judicial Departments. Judge Coccoma has been the Administrative Judge of the Sixth Judicial District since 2008. After earning his law degree at Albany Law School, he served in private practice and as an Otsego County Attorney, Assistant District Attorney and District Attorney. In 1995, Judge Coccoma was elected as a multi-bench judge of County Court, Family Court and Surrogate’s Court in Otsego County. Five years later, he was appointed Presiding Judge of the then newly-created Otsego County Drug Treatment Court. Judge Coccoma was appointed an Acting Supreme Court Justice in 2000 and elected to the Supreme Court in 2008. He is a member of the New York State Matrimonial Commission; Law Guardian Advisory and Rules Committee, Appellate Division, Third Department; Otsego County Children’s Center Committee; and Family Court Advisory and Rules Committee. Chief Administrative Judge Ann Pfau said, “Judge Coccoma is widely recognized as an outstanding and extremely hard working jurist who has made important contributions to the administration of justice in the Sixth Judicial District. His strong commitment to public service throughout his career will serve him well as he takes on the demands of managing the courts in the 57 counties outside New York City. I am grateful he has accepted this key assignment during this particularly challenging period for New York’s courts, and I look forward to working with him in this new capacity. I also want to thank Judge Plumadore for his steady and capable leadership of the courts outside New York City over the last five years. I applaud his long and distinguished record as a judge and administrator as well as his unparalleled dedication to the courts. He has my gratitude and best wishes for the future." The appointment is effective immediately.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Governor Likes New Ethics Panel

Governor asks new ethics panel
Group with more power would replace two entities; legislative fate of bill in doubt
The Albany Times Union by Casey Seiler - May 27, 2009

ALBANY, NEW YORK — Gov. David Paterson will introduce legislation to replace two of the state's ethical watchdog entities with a single, smaller panel whose members would have greater insulation from political concerns. But with only a handful of weeks remaining in the legislative session, it remains to be seen if the proposal will make it back to Paterson's desk for his signature. The Government Ethics Commission would replace the two-year-old Commission on Public Integrity, which in recent weeks has became embroiled in controversy over its response to charges that its former executive director leaked information on an investigation to the administration of former Gov. Eliot Spitzer; it would also supercede the Legislative Ethics Commission, a body that critics have called lackluster.

"It's clear that those institutions have been ineffective and are not working," Paterson said Tuesday morning in a news conference at the Capitol. In the case of the Legislative Ethics Commission, the governor noted that a number of elected officials had been tried and even sentenced for crimes without receiving any sort of significant public sanction from the panel. Paterson's plan calls for a five-person panel whose members would be selected by another new entity, the Government Ethics Designation Commission. The CPI has 13 members, the majority selected by the governor; the LEC has nine, all selected by majority and minority conference leaders. Under Paterson's plan, the 10-member Designation Commission would be comprised of four members chosen by the governor and one each by the state comptroller, the attorney general and the four leaders of the majority and minority conferences in the Legislature. The governor's four appointees would have no more than two members from a single political party, and must include a retired judge. The end result, Paterson said, would be "a process that will serve the public interest instead of self-interest." The Government Ethics Commission would have its own enforcement power and the option to refer cases to the attorney general. It would also handle oversight and enforcement of campaign finance laws, which are currently overseen by the state Board of Elections, and state agencies' compliance with open meetings law.

Conspicuous in their absence from Paterson's news conference were the two men who will need to sign off on Paterson's plan: Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith. The governor said he would be discussing the proposal with the leaders in the near future. Tuesday afternoon, Smith released a measured statement noting his chamber was currently examining similar ethics reform legislation recently put forward by Sen. Daniel Squadron, D-New York City. Squadron's proposal calls for a single nine-member panel chosen directly by elected officials — three by the governor and one apiece by the legislative leaders, comptroller and attorney general. Good-government advocate Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group said he was waiting to see the details of Paterson's legislation. Horner, who has expressed support for Squadron's plan, said the structure of the new panel was less important that ensuring its members' independence from the people they would be obliged to investigate, and from each other. Paterson's ethics plan adds one more potentially contentious bill to the Legislature's packed to-do list — which includes everything from gay marriage to mandate relief — for the five weeks left on the legislative calendar. "If they're serious about getting it done, they can get it done by the end of session," Horner said. Casey Seiler can be reached at 454-5619 or cseiler@timesunion.com.

Sources Say Marc Dreier Has Opened Up to Feds

While legal procedures make their way through the system, as seen in the article below, Marc Dreier is apparently sticking to his own strategy, according to sources. Dreier has been telling the Feds everything he can remember: the big-money deals, the schemes and the names of the well-connected people and companies involved. "It's going to get real messy," says one source. "Marc possesses a well of information that others have corroborated in exchange for immunity. A lot of people made a lot of tainted money with this guy [Dreier]." 

"The last I heard, Dreier was still thinking he wouldn't have to do any time," says another source. "With what information he's providing, I could see him doing less than 5 years- instead of life. But he's crazy thinking he won't do a day..." 

Ex-Dreier Lawyers Face Subpoenas for Alleged Interference With Trustee

The New York Law Journal by Noeleen G. Walder - May 26, 2009

Two lawyers who worked at a California-based affiliate of now-defunct Dreier LLP could be subpoenaed for allegedly interfering with a trustee's efforts to marshal assets of Marc S. Dreier's estate. Last week, Southern District Chief Bankruptcy Judge Stuart M. Bernstein issued an order granting Chapter 7 trustee Salvatore LaMonica's request to examine Peter J. Rho, whose "possible deceptive actions" have stalled the trustee's collection of Dreier Stein Kahan Browne Woods George's outstanding accounts receivables. Mr. Rho, who represented such high-profile clients as South Korean pop star "BoA" during a two-year stint at Dreier Stein, joined the Los Angeles office of Snell & Wilmer in the wake of the collapse of the Dreier affiliate. The order came a week after Judge Bernstein granted the trustee's application to examine John C. Kirkland, a former Dreier Stein partner now at Luce, Forward, Hamilton & Scripps, whom Mr. LaMonica claims "failed to respond to countless telephone calls, e-mails and letters from the Trustee and his counsel." The judge also has given the trustee the green light to subpoena the managing partner of Luce Forward's Los Angeles office and request documents relating to clients Mr. Kirkland brought with him from Dreier Stein. Under Rule 2004 of the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure, the orders are issued ex-parte and give Mr. LaMonica, a partner at LaMonica Herbst & Maniscalco of Wantaugh, N.Y, authority to issue subpoenas to Messrs. Kirkland and Rho and Kathy A. Jorrie, Luce Forward's managing partner, who can in turn challenge the trustee's request.

Earlier this month, Mr. Dreier, 59, pleaded guilty to selling more than $700 million in fictitious real estate development notes and fake pension plan notes. The elaborate four-year scheme, which netted roughly $400 million, led to the implosion of Mr. Dreier's 250-attorney firm, Dreier LLP, and its affiliates, including Dreier Stein. In an e-mail, Mr. LaMonica explained that since Mr. Dreier was the sole equity holder of Dreier Stein, "his bankruptcy estate has a direct interest in the collection and liquidation" of the firm's assets, including its accounts receivable. And while many of Dreier Stein's attorneys have cooperated with the trustee, Messrs. Kirkland and Rho have not been so forthcoming, according to the trustee. "[D]espite repeated professional requests," Mr. Kirkland "has refused to cooperate with the Trustee, return a phone call or provide information regarding accounts receivable" of Dreier Stein, Mr. LaMonica's attorney, Joseph Maniscalco, wrote in an application in support of an order directing Mr. Kirkland's examination."As a result of the Witness' willful refusal to cooperate with the Trustee," a "significant portion" of the firm's accounts receivable remain outstanding, Mr. Maniscalco wrote. The filings do not specify how or when Mr. LaMonica attempted to contact Mr. Kirkland. As for Mr. Rho, the associate initially appeared willing to cooperate with the trustee's effort to collect his "substantial outstanding accounts receivable," according to court papers filed by the trustee's attorney. Mr. Rho claimed to have reached out to and even encouraged Mr. LaMonica to directly contact clients, the papers state. But when the trustee followed up with Mr. Rho's clients, the papers say he "received conflicting information." Some of the clients received Dreier Stein's bills, but were "unsure why payment was not authorized." And on one occasion, an accountant "may have informed the Trustee that she was told to disregard the Firm's bill." As a result of Mr. Rho's "possible deceptive actions, the collection of outstanding accounts receivables is stalled," according to the trustee's filings.

'Mudslinging' Attempts 

In an interview last week, Mr. Kirkland said, "So far this has all been one-sided, no one has heard my side of the story." Calling Mr. LaMonica's accusations "generic" attempts at "mudslinging," Mr. Kirkland insisted he does not quarrel with Mr. LaMonica's attempts to liquidate Dreier Stein's assets. All the accounts receivable for "work done before I left Dreier is payable to the old firm," Mr. Kirkland said. "That's just the rule," even if you move because a firm is "vaporized," he explained. "That's got nothing to do with me." In fact, last month, Mr. LaMonica sent a letter to Mr. Kirkland's clients informing them that attempts by Mr. Kirkland to "act or bind" his old firm "with respect to outstanding accounts receivable" would "be met with an order of the court." Asked if Dreier Stein still existed, Mr. Kirkland said he had a sense that a winding-down team was collecting old accounts receivable, but had been kept in the dark. They treated ex-employees like "mushrooms," he said. As for the trustee's purported attempts to contact him, Mr. Kirkland said he received an e-mail from Mr. LaMonica and a phone call from Dreier Stein's managing partner around the same time. While he did not return the e-mail, Mr. Kirkland and the managing partner exchanged a couple of calls, but never connected. Mr. Kirkland explained that he will respond to Mr. LaMonica's requests "if and when" he is served with a subpoena in California. Until then, Mr. LaMonica has no jurisdiction over him, he said. In any case, Mr. Kirkland said that neither he nor Ms. Jorrie have documents that would be "responsive" to Mr. LaMonica's subpoena since he left all documents relating to old accounts receivable behind when he left Dreier Stein in late January. The trustee and his attorney declined to comment on the substance of the Rule 2004 applications or orders. Mr. Rho and Ms. Jorrie did not return requests for comment.  Meanwhile, Mr. Dreier remains under house arrest at his 151 E. 58th St. penthouse pending his July 13 sentencing.

Attorney Sentenced to 87 Months for Money Laundering

Attorney Sentenced to 87 Months for Money Laundering
The National Law Journal by Sheri Qualters - May 26, 2009

A Boston federal judge sentenced Lawrence Novak, a lawyer and former Massachusetts Republican State Committee officer, to seven years and three months in prison for obstruction of justice and money laundering. Besides the 87 months in prison, District Judge Richard G. Stearns sentenced the 57-year-old Novak of Brockton, Mass., to two years of supervised release, a $20,000 fine and an order to pay $107,000 in forfeiture on May 22. U.S. v. Novak, No. 1:05-cr-10260 (D. Mass.). Novak pleaded guilty in February to one count of endeavoring to obstruct justice and two counts of money laundering. The indictment charged Novak with attempting to launder $107,000 of his client's profits from drug sales. Novak also allegedly filed false and misleading documents in Massachusetts state court in an effort to invalidate the client's prior state convictions and secure a shorter federal sentence. Novak's attorney, William J. Cintolo of Boston-based Cosgrove, Eisenberg & Kiley, said in an e-mailed statement that the sentence was driven by an incorrect application of sentencing guidelines. "I believe the sentence was way out of proportion to the acts of obstruction Novak was convicted of committing," said Cintolo. On May 22, Cintolo filed a notice of appeal. U.S. v. Novak, No. 07-1826 (1st Cir.). "The idea that an attorney would hide and launder illegal drug money is unconscionable and completely undermines our justice system," said Michael K. Loucks, acting U.S. attorney for the District of Massachusetts, in a statement. "Mr. Novak's actions are an affront to dedicated and hard working attorneys everywhere," Loucks stated.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

New York Attorney Convicted of Sexual Abuse

Attorney Convicted on Abuse Charge
The New York Law Journal by Daniel Wise - May 26, 2009

A 72-year-old lawyer was convicted last week after a three-day bench trial in the Bronx of sexually harassing a 34-year-old female law guardian during a Family Court proceeding in August. Acting Supreme Court Justice James M. Kindler convicted the lawyer, Robert Kahn, of third-degree sexual abuse, a Class B misdemeanor. Mr. Kahn was accused of "cupping the left side of [the law guardian's] buttocks" with his hand as she leaned over to retrieve a file from her brief case, according to the Bronx District Attorney's Office. Immediately following the conviction, Justice Kindler sentenced Mr. Kahn to a non-jail sentence upon the condition that he attend a counseling program for sex offenders. During the trial, the prosecution introduced into evidence a decision from the Firs Department Disciplinary Committee suspending Mr. Kahn for six months in 2005 for having engaged in a "pattern" of offensive remarks aimed at women lawyers, such as calling one "pig vomit on my shoes." He also acknowledged in the disciplinary proceeding asking an adversary to guess the bra size of her 14-year-old client.

AG Cuomo Asked to Attend Senator Sampson's Hearings

9:00am-----Breaking News....... New York Attorney General, Andrew M. Cuomo....formally asked to have representatives of the New York State Attorney General's Office in attendance at New York State Senator John L. Sampson's Judicairy Hearings on Monday, June 8, 2009.... Attorney General Cuomo asked to have his own senior staff witness the testimony of countless examples of the commission of crimes in and about the state's court system, including acts by state employees now protected by the NY attorney general's office...... FULL STORY Friday, May 28, 2009.........

Monday, May 25, 2009

Corruption Putting Honest Judges in Danger

Threats to Judges, Prosecutors Soaring
Worried Court Personnel Resort To Guards, Identity Shields, Weapons
The Washington Post by Jerry Markon - May 25, 2009

Threats against the nation's judges and prosecutors have sharply increased, prompting hundreds to get 24-hour protection from armed U.S. marshals. Many federal judges are altering their routes to work, installing security systems at home, shielding their addresses by paying bills at the courthouse or refraining from registering to vote. Some even pack weapons on the bench. The problem has become so pronounced that a high-tech "threat management" center recently opened in Crystal City, where a staff of about 25 marshals and analysts monitor a 24-hour number for reporting threats, use sophisticated mapping software to track those being threatened and tap into a classified database linked to the FBI and CIA. "I live with a constant heightened sense of awareness," said John R. Adams, a federal judge in Ohio who began taking firearms classes after a federal judge's family was slain in Chicago and takes a pistol to the courthouse on weekends. "If I'm going to carry a firearm, I'd better know how to use it."

The threats and other harassing communications against federal court personnel have more than doubled in the past six years, from 592 to 1,278, according to the U.S. Marshals Service. Worried federal officials blame disgruntled defendants whose anger is fueled by the Internet; terrorism and gang cases that bring more violent offenders into federal court; frustration at the economic crisis; and the rise of the "sovereign citizen" movement -- a loose collection of tax protesters, white supremacists and others who don't respect federal authority. Much of the concern was fueled by the slaying of U.S. District Judge Joan H. Lefkow's husband and mother in their Chicago home in 2005 and a rampage 11 days later by an Atlanta rape suspect, who killed a judge, the court stenographer and a deputy. Last year, several pipe bombs exploded outside the federal courthouse in San Diego, and a drug defendant wielding a razor blade briefly choked a federal prosecutor during sentencing in Brooklyn, N.Y. In March, a homicide suspect attacked a judge in a California courtroom and was shot to death by police.

"Judges today have dangerous jobs, and that danger has many dimensions," said David Sellers, a spokesman for the administrative office of the U.S. Courts. "They are worried about security and safety 24 hours a day." Although attacks on federal court personnel have not increased, the explosion of vitriolic threats has prompted a growing law enforcement crackdown aimed at preventing them. The U.S. Marshals Service, which protects judges and prosecutors, says several hundred require 24-hour guard for days, weeks or months at a time each year, depending on the case. "We have to make sure that every judge and prosecutor can go to work every day and carry out the rule of law,'' said Michael Prout, assistant director of judicial security for the marshals, who have trained hundreds of police and deputies to better protect local court officials, an effort that began last year with Northern Virginia and Maryland officers. "It's the core of our civil liberties,'' Prout said.

State court officials are seeing the same trend, although no numbers are available. "There's a higher level of anger, whether it's defendants or their families," said Timothy Fautsko, who coordinates security education for the National Center for State Courts in Williamsburg and said threats are coming from violent offenders along with divorce, probate and other civil litigants. The threats are emerging in cases large and small, on the Internet, by telephone, in letters and in person. In the District, two men have pleaded not guilty to charges of vowing to kill a federal prosecutor and kidnap her adult son if she didn't drop a homicide investigation. The judge in the CIA leak case got threatening letters when he ordered Vice President Richard B. Cheney's former chief of staff to prison. A man near Richmond was charged with mailing threats to a prosecutor over three traffic offenses. The face of a federal judge in the District was put in a rifle's cross hairs on the Internet after he issued a controversial environmental ruling, judicial sources said.

Hundreds of threats cascaded into the chambers of John M. Roll, the chief U.S. district judge in Arizona, in February after he allowed a lawsuit filed by illegal immigrants against a rancher to go forward. "They cursed him out, threatened to kill his family, said they'd come and take care of him. They really wanted him dead," said a law enforcement official who heard the calls -- which came from as far as Richmond and Baltimore -- but spoke on condition of anonymity because no one has been charged. David Gonzales, the U.S. marshal in Arizona, said deputies went online and found Roll's home address posted on a Web site containing threatening comments. They put the judge under 24-hour protection for about a month, guarding his home in a secluded area just outside Tucson, screening his mail and escorting him to court, to the gym and to Mass. "Some deputies went to church more in a week than they had in their lives," Gonzales said. Roll said that "any judge who goes through this knows it's a stressful situation" and that he and his family were grateful for the protection.

The stress nearly overcame Michael Cicconetti, a municipal court judge in Painesville, Ohio, after police played a tape for him of a defendant in a minor tax case plotting to blow up the judge's house. "I hear a man's voice talk about putting a bomb in the house, and another voice says, 'What if there are kids involved?' and the first man says, 'They're just collateral damage,' " the father of five recalled. Cicconetti evacuated his family for a terrifying week in which they were under guard and stayed at friends' houses. "I couldn't go to work for two weeks. I was too shaken up. I couldn't think," he said. For months, the judge was nervous every time a car drove by his home. His children were afraid to go to bed; their grades dropped. The judge now has a security system in his home -- and a stun gun within reach in court. Sibley Reynolds, a state court judge in Alabama who prosecutors said was threatened last year by the son of a defendant convicted of stealing about $3,000 from a humane shelter, packs the real thing -- a Colt automatic pistol. He keeps it under his robe, in his waistband. "I don't go anywhere without my security with me," Reynolds said.

Court officials could not say how often judges arm themselves. But the marshals have installed home security systems for most federal judges since the Lefkow incident, and many are removing their photos from court Web sites and shielding their home addresses. Senior U.S. District Judge Thomas F. Hogan in the District said judges who have handled terrorism matters are hesitant to travel to the Middle East, or to South America if they've had drug-trafficking cases. U.S. District Judge Wayne Andersen in Chicago said he has "stopped even mentioning publicly that I have children. Normally, parents want to be visibly associated with their kids. Judges now think everything is on the Internet.'' The Judicial Conference of the United States, the policymaking arm headed by the Supreme Court chief justice, will soon distribute a DVD with security tips. It will be called Project 365, for security 365 days a year. "Judges today are far more security-conscious than they ever have been," said Henry E. Hudson, a federal judge in Richmond who is working on the DVD. "I don't think it's at the point where it's interfering with their judgment and dedication to their jobs.'' Staff researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.

Question: Exactly When Did Robert Tembeckjian Sell His Soul?

The following is a New York Times Op-Ed by Robert H. Tembbeckjian, Chief Counsel of the Commission on Judicial Conduct, published on May 22, 2005:

Op-Ed Contributor

How Judges Hide From Justice
By ROBERT H. TEMBECKJIAN
Published: May 22, 2005 New York Times

In the last three months, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct has publicly disciplined four metropolitan-area judges: two from Brooklyn, one from Manhattan and one from Westchester. Apart from some intense public commentary over the merits of these decisions - three public censures and one removal from office - these cases had at least one thing in common. They were all conducted in secret. That should be changed. Judges are among the most powerful of public servants. They decide who goes to jail, who wins or loses millions of dollars and who gets custody of children. Public confidence in their integrity and impartiality is essential to the rule of law. While a vast majority of judges are honorable, there will always be some who engage in unethical behavior. Disciplining such judges is important business that should be transacted in public, just as any civil or criminal trial would be. In 38 states, judicial misconduct hearings are indeed open to the public. Not so in New York, where proceedings that stretch over months are held behind closed doors. Only when the results are announced does the public even learn such cases existed. By then, it is usually too late to convey in a meaningful way the strength of the case, the credibility of the witnesses and the merits of the defense. The four recent decisions in New York offer cases in point. The commission voted to remove a Surrogate's Court judge in Brooklyn for awarding a long-time friend millions of dollars in fees from estates where there was no executor, without confirming that he had done enough work to earn such fees. The judge is appealing the decision.

The commission censured a Westchester Family Court judge who attempted to influence other judges and court workers on behalf of friends in two divorce and custody cases, and who testified in a manner she conceded was inaccurate. It also censured a Brooklyn Criminal Court judge for coming off the bench in unprovoked anger and grabbing and screaming at a defense lawyer. Finally, it censured a Manhattan Civil Court judge for presiding over a personal injury case involving a litigant who was also a lawyer with whom she continued to socialize, and to whom she awarded a fiduciary appointment worth about $80,000 in fees, while the case was pending. Reasonable people may differ with these decisions. As the prosecutor of judicial misconduct cases in New York, I myself am sometimes at odds with the commission. Yet while some criticized the removal as severe, and others derided the censures as lenient, most tended to miss the context and nuance of the deliberations. The subtleties of an individual disciplinary decision tend to get short shrift in the news. Were the press and public able to follow along as these cases unfolded, the disciplinary process would not seem so sudden and mysterious, and citizens would be better informed along the way. For example, the case against the Brooklyn Surrogate's Court judge lasted 22 months, and the record was over 13,000 pages long. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to capture the complexities of such a proceeding in a single article that reported the final result.

New York's chief judge, Judith Kaye, proposed legislation in 2003, which the commission endorsed, to open up the disciplinary process at the point when a judge is formally charged with misconduct. Unfortunately, the Legislature did not act. Perhaps the commission's recent decisions might spur the Senate and Assembly to revisit the issue. The more citizens know about what goes on at the commission, the more likely they will appreciate that no case is as cut and dried as a critic may suggest. The press and public could follow the arguments as they develop, rather than try to digest them all at once when the decisions are rendered. Moreover, an open proceeding would shed important light on the rare instance in which a formal charge against a judge is dismissed without any disciplinary action. It would provide the public with the means to assess that a dismissal was deserved and the system was honest. In short, a public process would transform judicial discipline from a secretive game to one in which the commission's judgments were open to scrutiny and improvement as we went along, while there was time enough to make a difference. Public confidence in the judiciary, and in the disciplinary system that holds them accountable, requires nothing less. Robert H. Tembeckjian is administrator of and counsel to the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Old Disciplinary Problems Just Got Worse

The following article is from September 26, 1993:

Debate Over Public Disciplinary Hearings for Lawyers

The New York Times by JAN HOFFMAN - September 26, 1993

New rules of conduct for New York divorce lawyers have prompted a sharp debate on whether disciplinary hearings against them should be opened to the public. At a State Assembly hearing last week, supporters of a more open process said the system now is one of "lawyers protecting lawyers," while the State Bar Association said that changing the process could unfairly tarnish lawyers' reputations. The debate stems from a decision in August by New York's top judge to impose a sweeping new set of rules giving divorce lawyers' clients far more rights. Most of the rules, which say clients are entitled to a written fee schedule and which prohibit sexual relations between lawyers and their clients during a case, needed the approval only of the judge, Judith S. Kaye. But the rule on disciplinary proceedings needs legislative approval. Secrecy Is Suspect Assemblyman G. Oliver Koppell, who is the chairman of the Assembly's Judiciary Committee, said, "a secret process is inherently suspect." He was joined by members of the American Bar Association, who said New York, which usually takes the lead in legal developments, is behind the national trend to open disciplinary hearings.

Twenty-eight states have opened disciplinary proceedings to the public after probable cause has been established, and West Virginia and Florida open them after an investigation has begun. Beyond that, for 17 years Oregon has allowed its residents to know as soon as a grievance is filed. But Archibald R. Murray, the president of the New York State Bar Association, said he was worried about the harm that might be done to lawyers, especially in small towns, if such a system was imposed in New York. "Exoneration doesn't remove the stigma," he said. The public, Mr. Murray said, is protected through interim suspensions that grievance committees can issue during investigations. He said that an overwhelming majority of complaints against lawyers are dismissed as frivolous. In 1991, of the 2,658 complaints filed with the First Judicial Department, which includes Manhattan and the Bronx, 93.8 percent were dismissed after an initial review or a staff investigation. But clients' advocates contended and the head of the First Judicial Department's disciplinary committee conceded that many cases are dismissed not because they are frivolous, but because the investigative staff is too small to look into all complaints. Mr. Koppell said that since so many cases are dropped, clients should at least receive timely and full explanations on those that are pursued.

Now, clients file grievances with offices overseen by the state's appellate divisions. Then the waiting begins. Judge E. Leo Milonas, the chief administrative judge of New York's courts, said that filing a complaint "was like sending a letter to the Bermuda Triangle." If the grievance committee decides to dismiss the case, the client usually learns about it from a three-sentence form letter. The public, said Judge Milonas, feels summarily rejected, all of which underscores the perception "that lawyers are protecting lawyers," he said. Deirdre Akerson, a Westchester County woman whose divorce case has been in the courts for four years, described her experience before a grievance committee as "insulting and demeaning." Ms. Akerson, now a member of the Coalition for Family Justice, a group whose tales of injustice at the hands of the courts and their divorce lawyers helped prompt the new rules, was furious when she learned that the complaints she had lodged against her lawyer were dropped, without explanation.

Years can pass before a case is resolved, during which time, others argued, new clients may hire lawyers without having any notion that formal charges, much less grievances, have been filed against them. A Triage System Haliburton Fales, the chairman of the First Judicial Department's disciplinary committee, said complaints are now investigated through a system of triage. "You just have to move on to the serious cases and that's the way the world works," he said. Much of the debate was over not only whether the proceedings should be opened, but also at what stage. Gloria Jacobs, a representative of NOW-New York State, and others argued that the public should be informed as soon as a complaint is filed. But John D. Feerick, president of the City Bar Association in New York, urged that confidentiality should be dropped only when probable cause that a grievance had been committed had been established. That is when a grievance committee has decided to bring charges against the lawyer. Raymond R. Trombadore, a Somerville, N. J., lawyer who is chairman of the American Bar Association's commission on the Evaluation of Disciplinary Enforcement, played down concerns about damage to reputations of small-town lawyers. "Oregon is a state of little towns," he said. Its lawyers seem not have found full disclosure a serious problem, he said. When the proceedings were first opened in Oregon, he said, there was an initial flurry of press attention, which tapered off. The problem with New York lawyers, he said, is that "We just think we're too newsworthy. And we're not.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Federal Judge Denies Motions to Dismiss Charges Against Corrupt County Judge

Judge denies motions to dismiss against circuit judge
The Oxford Eagle by Alyssa Schnugg - May 20, 2009

A federal judge denied motions Tuesday to dismiss charges against Hinds County Circuit Judge Bobby DeLaughter who was charged with scheming with former famed attorney Richard “Dickie” Scruggs and several others to rule in favor of Scruggs during a lawsuit for his own gain. DeLaughter was indicted in February on charges of conspiracy, three counts of mail fraud and obstruction. He has been suspended from the bench since March 2008 while the state Judicial Performance Commission pursues the matter. In February, he pleaded not guilty to all charges, while Scruggs pleaded guilty and was sentenced to seven years for his role in the scheme. Prosecutors allege DeLaughter was persuaded to rule in favor of Scruggs, hoping Scruggs could get him a federal judge appointment with the help of his brother-in-law, former Sen. Trent Lott. DeLaughter’s attorneys filed motions to dismiss the charges in April, claiming that DeLaughter did not receive a “thing of value.” DeLaughter’s motion argued that “since he was never appointed to the federal bench, he did not receive anything of value as required by the statute,” the motion reads. He claims he wrote letters to Lott and Sen. Thad Cochran expressing his desire to be considered for appointment prior to alleged conspiracy.

But U.S. District Judge Glen Davidson ruled Tuesday that whether or not DeLaughter was appointed to the federal bench had no bearing on this agreement to accept consideration. Davidson ruled that a federal judgeship could be found to be a “thing of value.” Davidson also ruled Tuesday against a motion to dismiss the mail fraud and obstruction charges. DeLaughter is accused of giving Scruggs’ legal team “secret access” to the court through the use of the U.S. Postal Service, and giving Scruggs an unfair advantage. The government claims DeLaughter “accepted a secret” communication from the Scruggs legal team, essentially reversing his earlier ruling and accepting, almost verbatim, a scheduling order favorable to Scruggs and using the U.S. mail service to mail the copy of the order. DeLaughter’s attorneys argued that the mailings were required by state law and fail to allege either bribery or material nondisclosure. Davidson ruled the indictment “sufficiently alleges conduct of bribery” ... and there is enough evidence for the indictment that DeLaughter had improper communications with Scruggs’ legal teams. DeLaughter’s trial is scheduled for Aug. 17 in Oxford.
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Friday, May 22, 2009

Corrupt Legal Ethics Disparity Alive and Well in New York

Lawyers disciplined for handling of relative's trusts
The Albany Times Union by ROBERT GAVIN - May 22, 2009

ALBANY, NEW YORK -- A retired Albany attorney and his brother with four decades each of legal experience have received 1-year suspensions, but will be able to continue practicing law and must take ethics classes. Sholom Koplovitz, 70, a former Albany lawyer who now lives in Florida, and Joshua Koplovitz, 72, who still practices in Kingston, received stayed suspensions from the Appellate Division in a ruling announced Thursday. "It's serious, but we can continue to practice law," Joshua Koplovitz said when reached by phone this morning. "It was a one time thing ... I know I'll never do anything like that again." The Appellate Division ruling explained the brothers' uncle had "left several monetary bequests" to the brothers, as well as his niece, who is their cousin. His will named the brothers as executors and co-trustees of two trusts. The brothers later set up an annuity, which "accelerated the distribution of the remainder of that trust's funds to themselves and the cousin, contrary to the express terms of the will." Joshua Koplovitz said they did the move so his aunt could receive the "income she was entitled to." He acknowledged it was done without court permission. The aunt fought it. She successfully argued in Onondaga County Surrogate's Court that the brothers had "improperly applied the assets of the estate." The Appellate Division found the brothers were guilty of professional misconduct, but also noted they had made full restitution and there was no money lost to the trust or estate. Neither Koplovitz had a disciplinary record, the decision noted. The brothers "have expressed remorse, and their misconduct clearly appears to have been an aberration rather than part of a pattern of behavior," the decision stated. It immediately suspended the pair, but stayed the suspensions. Instead, it ordered the brothers to complete six credit hours of accredited continuing legal education in ethics and professionalism, in addition to other attorney requirements. Sholom Koplovitz has been a lawyer since 1964, Joshua Koplovitz since 1961.

New Chief Judge at Manhattan Federal Court

Wood to Resign as Chief Of Southern District Court
The New York Law Journal, NEWS IN BRIEF, by Mark Hamblett - May 22, 2009

Judge Kimba M. Wood said yesterday she is stepping down as chief judge of the Southern District. After almost three years on the job, she said she is relinquishing the title effective June 1 to spend more time in the courtroom, "my true calling." She also will take senior status. Judge Loretta A. Preska, the next most-senior active judge in the 46-judge district, will become the next chief. Judge Wood's tenure was marked by a renewed effort to increase transparency at the court and improve public access to documents and proceedings. Judge Wood also said she was proud of the progress made on a number of fronts during her time as chief of the nation's largest district court, including an increase in electronic case filing and the improvement of court administration through enhanced computerization. Judge Wood, who was nominated for the court in 1987 by President Ronald Reagan, has a big case starting next week, when jury selection begins Wednesday in the closely watched trial of Wiwa v. Royal Dutch Petroleum. The action, brought under the Allen Tort Claims Act, seeks to hold a foreign oil company vicariously liable for human rights violations, including the execution of activist Ken Wiwa and eight others by Nigerian authorities in 1995.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Front Page: Judiciary Committee to Hold Hearings on Disciplinary Bodies

Judiciary Committee to Hold Hearings on Disciplinary Bodies
The New York Law Journal by Joel Stashenko – May 21, 2009, Page 1

The Senate Judiciary Committee will hold hearings about how New York attorneys and judges are disciplined for misconduct, the panel’s chairman announced yesterday. Senator John L. Sampson, D-Brooklyn, said the first of two or three sessions to examine the performance of the Commission on Judicial Conduct and the attorney disciplinary committees of the four Appellate Division departments will be held on June 8 in Albany. Mr. Sampson, the first-year-chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said he has received many complaints about the disciplinary agencies, frequently citing the secrecy surrounding the process. “There is this cloud of secrecy with respect to those organizations,” Mr. Sampson said in an interview. “To do away with the whole issue of the conspiracy theorists,” he said, he will hold hearings and examine testimony, “so that we can come out with a report to determine whether [the allegations] are valid or not valid.”

Mr. Sampson said complaints about the grievance process generally have come from attorneys who contend that disciplinary committees were “out to get them” or from members of the public mistrustful of whether charges of misconduct are being investigated rigorously. Complaints about the commission on Judicial Conduct were “all over the board,” from critics who felt the commission unfairly punished judges to those unhappy that judges were not punished, Mr. Sampson said. A large number have come from judges who felt they were not given a “fair shot” or who complained that “everything was stacked against them” by the time they got before the commission to defend themselves, he said. “I have been amazed by the complaints I have been receiving from judges with respect to the Commission on Judicial Conduct,” he said, “Amazed.”

Mr. Sampson said he would like to hold another hearing in New York City and possibly a third in Buffalo. He said the hearings will be in keeping with the goal of another set of hearings his committee has been holding on the Commission on Judicial Nomination and the process it uses to nominate candidates for the Court of Appeals (NYLJ, Feb. 4). The committee had a hearing on nominees for the Court scheduled for 9 a.m. today in Old County Hall, Erie County Legislature, in Buffalo. Another hearing is scheduled for 2 p.m. on June 5 at the Brooklyn Bar Association. Those wishing to testify may call 518-455-2788.

Mr. Sampson said his office was still formulating a list yesterday of witnesses who will be asked to testify at the June 8 hearing. Oral testimony will be by invitation only. Mr. Sampson said the hearings are not in response to the complaints of any one individual. One current high-profile case involves a $10 million suit filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York by Christine C. Anderson, who contends she was fired after six years as staff lawyer for the First Department’s disciplinary committee because she complained her superiors were “whitewashing” cases (NYLJ, April 30). Judge Shira Scheindlin dismissed six other suits filed in the wake of Ms. Anderson’s action by litigants who claimed the disciplinary committee had “whitewashed” complaints against lawyers. Ms. Anderson’s attorney, John A. Beranbaum of Beranbaum Menken Ben-Asher & Bierman, said his client would not appear at a hearing like Mr. Sampson’s while her litigation against the state is pending.

Another current Southern District case involves John Aretakis, a lawyer serving a suspension recommended by the Third Department’s disciplinary committee. He is challenging the committee’s ruling in Aretakis v. Committee on Professional Standard, 08-cv-9712. The Judiciary Committee’s hearing notice referred to the record 1.923 complaints filed in 2008 against judges with the Commission on Judicial Conduct and the fact that the commission investigated “only” 262 judges. Robert Tembeckjian, administrator of the Judicial Conduct Commission, said yesterday the agency was proud of the number of cases it investigated, the second-most on record (NYLJ, May 11). The commission has traditionally found the most of the complaints made against judges are groundless, Mr. Tembeckjian said. “The fact that we have some critics who think we are too aggressive and others who suggest that we are not aggressive enough suggests to me that we’ve it just about right,” Mr. Tembeckjian said. He said he had not been asked to appear at the June 8 hearing but would if called by Mr. Sampson’s committee.

A Republican on the Judiciary Committee, Dale Volker of Depew, said the committee has heard complaints for years about both the judicial conduct commission and the attorney disciplinary committees. “The Judiciary Committee has every right to look into these things and I think [hearings are] a good idea.” The June 8 hearing will be in Meeting Room 6 of the Empire State Plaza in Albany beginning at 10 a.m.   Joel Stashenko@incisivemedia.com

Obama Nominates Bharara As Manhattan U.S. Attorney

Obama Nominates Bharara As Manhattan U.S. Attorney
The New York Law Journal by Mark Hamblett, NEW IN BRIEF- May 18, 2009

President Barack Obama Friday nominated Preet Bharara to be the next U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. The 40-year-old Mr. Bharara is chief counsel to New York Senator Charles Schumer. He served as a prosecutor in the Southern District from 2000 to 2005, working in the general crimes, narcotics and organized crime/terrorism units. Mr. Bharara’s nomination was one of six U.S. attorney nominations by the White House, including Paul Fishman, a partner at Friedman, Kaplan Seiler & Adelman in Newark, for the District of New Jersey. If confirmed by the Senate, Mr. Bharara would fill the post now held by Acting U.S. Attorney Lev Dassin. There have been no nominations in New York’s other three districts , but Mr. Schumer has recommended Hogan & Hartson partner Loretta Lynch to return as the top prosecutor in the Eastern District, where she served form 1999 to 2001, and federal prosecutors Richard Hartunian and William Hocheul for the Northern and Western Districts respectfully.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Two NY Lawyers' Resignations Should Close Corruption Probe, Official Says

Two NY Lawyers' Resignations Should Close Corruption Probe, Official Says
The New York Law Journal by Joel Stashenko - May 20, 2009

ALBANY, NEW YORK - The resignations of the executive director of the Commission on Public Integrity and the former Spitzer administration official to whom he is accused of leaking information have served the goal of the report accusing them of misdeeds, the state's inspector general said yesterday. Herbert Teitelbaum submitted his resignation from the integrity commission on Monday and Robert Hermann, alleged by Inspector General Joseph Fisch to have been the recipient of confidential information from Mr. Teitelbaum, stepped down yesterday as a counsel to Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith, D-Queens. "You have two resignations that have taken place within the last two days and these were the principal actors," Mr. Fisch told reporters yesterday. "One was Teitelbaum and one was Hermann. They're gone. I think it's in the public interest that they are gone. . . . I don't know whether any additional purpose would be served by any further pursuit of that." Earlier, Mr. Fisch had told members of the Senate Investigations Committee that the Commission on Public Integrity itself is the only agency empowered to bring civil charges against Messrs. Teitelbaum and Hermann for violations of Public Officers Law and Executive Law alleged in the inspector general's report.

But Mr. Fisch told senators there was no practical way for the commission to act because its own executive director was involved in alleged misconduct and the commission had already declined to formally investigate the allegations. "The commission would be conflicted and could not sit in judgment of its executive director, having not taken action against the executive director," Mr. Fisch said at the committee hearing. Mr. Fisch said he saw the conflict on pursuit of civil charges against Messrs. Teitelbaum and Hermann coming as his probe unfolded, but referring the case to the state attorney general or the Albany County district attorney was not an option because the alleged violations were civil and not criminal. The inspector general urged legislators to give power to some office or official independent of the Commission on Public Integrity to pursue civil charges against commission members or personnel if they are charged with ethics violations. Governor David A. Paterson said Monday he would file legislation later this week to scrap the public integrity commission and replace it with a new government ethics commission. The governor's aides said the proposal will call for an "independent" governing board that is not controlled by the governor or any other appointive authority in state government. Critics of the current commission, which is less than two years old, say its investigation of whether top aides to former Governor Eliot Spitzer misused State Police to gather damaging information about a political rival was compromised because the governor appointed seven of the 13 members of the commission. Mr. Fisch's report contends that Mr. Teitelbaum was tipping off Mr. Hermann, his former law partner who had become head of Mr. Spitzer's Office of Regulatory Reform, about the commission's investigation.

Probe Transcripts Released

In a resignation letter, Mr. Teitelbaum called Mr. Fisch's investigation a "witch hunt" that was premised on "speculation and rank hearsay." Mr. Teitelbaum insisted he divulged no confidential information about the commission's probe of Mr. Spitzer's office. Mr. Fisch countered yesterday that damning evidence from Mr. Hermann clearly showed Mr. Teitelbaum was the source of the sensitive information. "Teitelbaum's anger should not be at me, although I can understand that, but should be at his former law partner and his friend of over 30 years who testified under oath that he had received confidential information concerning the Troopergate investigation from Teitelbaum," Mr. Fisch told reporters. The inspector general's office yesterday posted transcripts of all testimony it gathered as part of its investigation at http://www.ig.state.ny.us/reports/transcripts.html. A spokesman for Mr. Smith announced Mr. Hermann's resignation, effective immediately, from his $140,000-a-year post as Senate counsel but gave no reason. Mr. Hermann later released a statement in which he said the "unceasing cacophony" caused by Mr. Fisch's report "has made my continued service unpalatable to me and distracting for the business of the Senate."

Senator John Sampson Announces Public Hearings on Ethics Oversight

Senate Standing Committee On The Judiciary Notice of Public Hearing

Monday, June 8th, 2009, 10:00 am - 3:00 pm

SENATE STANDING COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY

NOTICE OF PUBLIC HEARING

SUBJECT: The Appellate Division First Department Departmental Disciplinary Committee, the grievance committees of the various Judicial Districts and the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct

PURPOSE: This hearing will review the mission, procedures and level of public satisfaction with the Appellate Division First Department Departmental Disciplinary Committee, the grievance committees of the various Judicial Districts as well as the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct

Albany
Monday June 8, 2009
10 A.M.
Meeting Room 6 Empire State Plaza
Albany, NY 12247

ORAL TESTIMONY BY INVITATION ONLY

The Appellate Division of the Supreme Court is the entity that is legally responsible for enforcing the Rules of Professional Conduct governing the conduct of attorneys in New York State. The Appellate Division Departments have created grievance committees that are charged with the investigation of complaints against attorneys. Within the First Judicial Department the Departmental Disciplinary Committee of the Appellate Division investigates complaints against attorneys. The New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct was created by the State Constitution and is charged with investigating complaints against Judges and Justices of the Unified Court System.

According to the 2009 Report of the Commission on Judicial Conduct, there were 1,923 complaints filed in 2008. Yet of these complaints only 262 were investigated and of those, 173 were dismissed. This hearing will examine the processes and procedures that are followed by the various agencies charged with the responsibility of enforcing the rules and regulations that must be followed by the Judiciary and the Bar in the State of New York. It will also evaluate public satisfaction with the disciplinary process.

Twenty copies of any prepared testimony should be submitted at the hearing registration desk. The Committees would appreciate advance receipt of prepared statements.

In order to further publicize these hearings, please inform interested parties and organizations of the Committees' interest in considering testimony from all sources.

In order to meet the needs of those who may have a disability, the Senate, in accordance with its policy of non-discrimination on the basis of disability, as well as the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), has made its facilities and services available to all individuals with disabilities. For individuals with disabilities, accommodations will be provided, upon reasonable request, to afford such individuals access and admission to Senate facilities and activities.

Senator John Sampson, Chair
Senate Standing Committee on the Judiciary

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Holocaust Survivor Leads Charge in Planned NYS Senate Corruption Hearings

79-Year-Old Holocaust Survivor To Testify at NY State Senate Judiciary Corruption Hearings
by Frank N. Brady - May 19, 2009

As a young girl, Mrs. Gizella Weisshaus survived the Holocaust, but recently and now 79-years-old, she finds herself on the growing list of victims ensnarled in the Manhattan attorney ethics scandal shaking the New York State Court system. In a letter to staff at New York State Senator John L. Sampson's Senate Committee, dated May 18, 2009, Mrs. Weisshaus has formally requested to testify at hearings expected to be made public soon where the integrity of the statewide judicial and attorney oversight structure is at issue.

Background

In July of 2007, it became publicly known that many ethics complaints against attorneys in the Bronx and Manhattan were methodically mishandled-- effectively buried or stalled—due to politically-based connections, favors or back-room deals. The "Patentgate" matter, which became known world-wide, quickly highlighted the need in New York for federal intervention since the alleged theft of dozens of U.S. patents by the inventor's own New York lawyers-- the once respected and politically connected Proskauer Rose law firm-- went largely and substantively unaddressed. The Patentgate ethics complaints were obscured in New York at the very same time the identical issues found The United States Department of Justice widening their own investigation and, additionally, where members of the U.S. Senate and House Judiciary committees called for further probes. The ongoing ethics shake-up then resulted in the quickly announced "retirement" of Manhattan's top State ethics Chief Counsel, Thomas J. Cahill, Esq., and whose replacement, Alan Friedberg, quickly became the focus of even more controversy and allegations of corrupt practices.  Gizella Weisshaus quickly learned the details of "Patentgate" and of the other complaints like her own- all confirmation of the ugly underbelly of New York's so-called "ethics" committees.   

Holocaust Survivor meets New York “Ethics”

Mrs. Gizella Weisshaus was the named plaintiff in the 1996 filed historic lawsuit against Swiss banks that, after being designated as a class action proceeding, was settled in 1998 on behalf of thousands of Holocaust survivors for $1.25 billion.

Gizella, however, opted out of that settlement because, she says, certain involved attorneys were more interested in paying themselves millions of dollars even before some of the survivors had received any money. She would also learn, she says, that someone "manufactured" a necessary amended complaint in 2000 by backdating that court document to 1997. And she would also find that in an unrelated estate proceeding where she was the executrix, her own lawyer, Edward D. Fagan, had failed to deposit more than $82,000.00 into an attorney escrow account choosing, instead, to use the money for his own various personal expenses. (Mr. Fagan also represented Mrs. Weisshaus in the subsequent filing against the Swiss banks and from where he ultimately received millions of dollars in legal fees)

The Devil's Advocate

An attorney ethics complaint followed, and in a letter dated May 6, 1998, attorney disciplinary Chief Counsel Thomas J. Cahill's predecessor, Hal R. Lieberman, Esq., wrote to Gizella to advise that since her complaint against attorney Edward Fagan had involved an "ongoing criminal proceeding" his office would await the outcome of that proceeding before concluding their disciplinary investigation. Then-Chief Counsel Lieberman also advised Gizella that his New York State ethic's office had requested a written answer to the complaint from attorney Fagan. Edward Fagan then hired his own lawyer.

Letter to Self

Approximately 9 weeks later, in a July 15, 1998 dated formal answer to the charges against him, attorney Fagan's lawyer submitted a 6-page denial of the various charges made by Mrs. Weisshaus. Astonishingly, attorney Fagan's lawyer, who he (Fagan) had recently engaged, was none other than Hal R. Lieberman who, in a 9-week period of time, had left his position as Chief Counsel of the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Department Disciplinary Committee to join the law firm Beldock Levin & Hoffman, LLP.

So, essentially, on July 15, 1998 private attorney Hal Lieberman was responding to himself-- to his own May 6, 1998 letter wherein he, as the New York state-employed Ethics Chief Counsel had advised Gizella of the request for a written answer from the attorney she had filed a complaint against, and the same person who was to be Lieberman's client-- Edward Fagan.

Mrs. Weisshaus still seeks justice and believes the 'ethics' oversight committees in New York are in need of a complete overhaul.  "I am a survivor, and I am fighting for justice!" she says.

Here's Gizella Weisshaus' letter to New York State Senator John L. Sampson's office, dated May 18, 2009:

RE: My “whitewashed” complaints at the NYC DDC 

***** ....I want to publicly testify !! *******

1. I am a 79-year-old Holocaust survivor, and a citizen of the United States, who has been fighting to recover my father’s stolen assets since shortly after my entire family was exterminated during the Holocaust. I was the person who first filed the historic “Swiss Banks” lawsuit in 1996, against various Swiss banks, for the looting of my family’s assets. My case eventually became a so-called “class action” suit, and that action was settled on behalf of Holocaust survivors for $1.25 billion in 1998. I opted out of the settlement because involved attorneys were paying themselves millions of dollars when, in fact, some Holocaust survivors and class plaintiffs had not received a penny, and while others had only received a few thousand dollars.

2. The people at the Manhattan Grievance Committee individually, and in concert with each other, "whitewashed" my complaints of serious attorney misconduct against attorneys Feder, Urbach and Fagan, and, subsequently, Hal R. Lieberman.

3. I learned that Fagan and Urbach participated in a scheme to perpetrate a fraud upon the court involving a document purporting to be a 1997 “amended complaint” in the Swiss Banks action, but was actually a document backdated and improperly manufactured in or about 2000.

4. In addition, Fagan committed gross attorney misconduct regarding conversion of an escrow account in the amount of $82,583.04 in another matter involving me as a fiduciary in The Estate of Jack Oestreicher. (NY ignored this complaint, but New Jersey did not!)

5. Also, attorney Feder defrauded me when he lied to me and the court in failing to establish an escrow account for $112,500.00 in another matter involving a Sol Mermelstein and others.

6. The DDC "stonewalled" and "whitewashed" each and every complaint I filed with the DDC against Feder and Fagan. This occurred even while the State of New Jersey, where Fagan is also admitted to practice law, in or about January of 2008, concluded that Fagan should be disbarred from the practice of law in New Jersey for reasons including his acts of misconduct in New York against me. I would like to note that when I was interviewed by the New Jersey agency investigator, she furnished copies of the 1998 and 2000 New York State grievances, upon which the New Jersey agency thereupon took appropriate action, unlike their New York State counterparts at the DDC. Mr. Fagan was ultimately disbarred in New York but only after the DDC ignored my complaints about him which were obviously true.

DDC Complaints in 1998

7. In 1998, I filed with the DDC an attorney ethics complaint against Fagan and Feder. In a letter dated May 6, 1998, referencing File No. 1811, then Attorney Disciplinary Committee Chief Counsel, Hal R. Lieberman, Esq., wrote to me to advise that since my complaint against attorney Fagan had involved an "ongoing criminal proceeding," his office would await the outcome of that proceeding before concluding their disciplinary investigation. Then Chief Counsel Lieberman also advised me that his New York State ethic's office, the DDC, had requested a written answer to my complaint from the respondent Fagan. Fagan would then soon hire his own lawyer. (See attached Exhibit "A" - dated May 6, 1998, a one-page letter from NY State Attorney Disciplinary Committee Chief Counsel Hal R. Lieberman to Mrs. Gizella Weisshaus re: Edward D. Fagan.)

8. Approximately nine weeks after I filed my complaint against Fagan, on or about July 15, 1998, a formal answer to the charges against Fagan was submitted to the DDC. That 6-page denial of the various charges made by me was filed by Fagan’s then-newly-retained attorney, Hal R. Lieberman, who, in a nine-week period of time had left his position as Chief Counsel of the DDC to join the law firm of Beldock Levin & Hoffman, LLP. (See attached Exhibit "B" – dated July 15, 1998, a six-page Answer to Complaint from the now private attorney Hal R. Lieberman to Mrs. Gizella Weisshaus re: Edward D. Fagan.)

9. The DDC knew of the gross conflicts of interest:

a. Lieberman, acting as DDC Chief Counsel on May 6, 1998, acknowledges receipt of my grievance against Fagan, and advises me that Fagan had been requested to file a written response.

b. Then, lo and behold, no less than nine weeks later, on July 15, 1998, Lieberman files the response on behalf of Fagan, not as Chief Counsel, but as a private attorney! (See Exhibit “B” above.) Indeed, on July 15, 1998, then-private attorney Lieberman was responding to himself as the former DDC Chief Counsel, to his own May 6, 1998 letter. Lieberman, as the New York state-employed Appellate Division, First Department Ethics Chief Counsel had advised me of the request for a written answer from me and, who as it turned out would be Lieberman, as a private attorney, now representing his new client, Fagan.

10. The complaint against Fagan was, without due process, summarily dismissed.

11. On or about September 1, 2000, an expanded complaint was prepared and filed with the DDC, and given File No. 3324. That complaint was also summarily dismissed.

12. The current Chief Counsel, Mr. Friedberg, continues to ignore his duty when he chooses not to report or take any action against the conflict of interest involving Lieberman as a state-employed Chief Counsel and as a subsequent private attorney—in the very same proceeding before the DDC, which he had received and acknowledged as the current Chief Counsel.

13. I have been denied my right to fair proceedings, and have been improperly and permanently denied my rights, as state employee-Lieberman, who oversaw the intake and initiation of the 1998 grievance against Fagan, would soon become Fagan’s own retained attorney.

14. If not for the improper influence over the affairs of the DDC by certain favored people, I would have been afforded due process and a fair and impartial adjudication of my complaints. The involved members of the DDC, and former members and current attorneys, have purposely and knowingly acted to improperly influence the DDC by their own self-dealing for personal, political and financial gain. To date, and only as a result of sham DDC proceedings and coverups, my DDC complaints have never been resolved or even properly addressed as required by law.

15. The continuing improper actions by the DDC has been most recently advanced by the substantive inaction, dereliction of duty, and failings of the current Chief Counsel Alan W. Friedberg (See attached Exhibit "C" – a one-page certified letter to Friedberg dated June 23, 2008, and a four-page follow-up letter dated June 24, 2008)

16. The DDC is a division of the New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Judicial Department, and is therefore part of the New York State court system. As part of the New York State court system, the DDC is obligated and duty-bound to administer justice in a fair, honest and lawful manner. They have failed this obligation and in doing so have, and continue to, violate my rights. I have a Constitutional right to a fair, lawful and honest judicial system, free from corruption, oppression, self-dealing and bias, with impartial arbiters of the law. Through the conduct of the DDC, I have been denied access to fair, honest and lawful court proceedings. My children, grand-children and future generations have also been harmed; but I am a survivor, and I am fighting for justice!

17. I have suffered and continue to suffer extreme losses of confidence in the Legal System and Judicial Process, emotional pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, and loss of trust of attorneys who are charged with the duty to uphold ethical standards within the legal system and in the Court system. As a client of Feder, Urbach and Fagan and of all of their related legal entities, they owed me basic fiduciary duties of good faith, loyalty, and care. The DDC should hold all attorneys accountable for any improper actions, regardless of their political connections.

18. I support the clean-up of the ethics committees in the NYS court system and I would like to testify.

Dated: May 18, 2009 - Brooklyn, New York

Respectfully submitted,

GIZELLA WEISSHAUS
203 Wilson Street
Brooklyn, New York 11211
(718) 387-0026

Monday, May 18, 2009

Corrupt New York Ethics Commission Director Resigns

3 articles follow:

NY's ethics commission director resigns

Crains New York Business - May 18, 2009

(AP) - The executive director of New York's ethics commission is quitting after he was accused of leaking information to one of then-Gov. Eliot Spitzer's top aides during a probe of his administration.  Herbert Teitelbaum says in his resignation letter that the inspector general's report that accused him last week of the leak was flawed and he did nothing wrong. Instead, Mr. Teitelbaum says he is resigning because he became a lightning rod for criticism and didn't want to be a distraction for the state Public Integrity Commission. Inspector General Joseph Fisch's report called for dismissing Mr. Teitelbaum for unlawful contact with a Spitzer aide during the so-called "Troopergate'' investigation.

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Embattled ethics director steps down
Herbert Teitelbaum exits after scathing Inspector General report
The Albany Times Union, Capitol Bureau - May 18, 2009 

ALBANY, NY — The embattled executive director of the Commission on Public Integrity is resigning less than a week after the release of a harsh report from the state Inspector General found that he unlawfully funneled information about the commission's investigation of the travel records scandal to members of the administration of former Gov. Eliot Spitzer.  Teitelbaum's resignation arrives the same day Gov. David Paterson announced his plans to introduce legislation this week creating a new watchdog group. News of Teitelbaum's exit from the two-year-old panel came in a release that contained laudatory quotes from the commission's new chairman, Michael G. Cherkasky, who last Wednesday — the day the inspector's report was released — stood next to Paterson as the governor called on Teitelbaum and the rest of the current integrity panel to resign. "Mr. Teitelbaum has served the people of New York with honor and diligence during one of the most difficult periods ever faced by a new state agency," Cherkasky said in his statement. "With the utmost professionalism, he oversaw the Commission's investigation into Troopergate, working tirelessly to make sure all the facts became known to the public and resisting the efforts of many to stonewall his efforts. The skills he used in his many years as a successful litigator were invaluable in getting to the heart of this scandal." 

" ... While we are saddened to lose Herb, we understand that by this action he has decided to put a stop to what has become a distraction to the Commission's critical work." In a three-page letter of resignation addressed to Cherkasky, Teitelbaum says he had originally contemplated stepping down after the departure in February of former CPI Chairman John Feerick, but had allowed other commissioners to convince him that the simultaneous loss of the panel's two top officers would be "destabilizing to the Commission and its staff." Last week, Paterson said that he had been waiting to name the new chair until the Inspector General's report was released. Also Monday, the governor announced that he would submit legislation later this week to create a new watchdog agency, the Government Ethics Commission, that would be independent and have jurisdiction over State government, lobbying and campaign finance. "The general perception is that the ethics process in Albany is broken and I believe it is," Paterson said in a news release.

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
May 18, 2009
STATEMENT FROM GOVERNOR DAVID A. PATERSON 
ON THE FUTURE OF THE PUBLIC INTEGRITY COMMISSION

“The Report of the Inspector General released last week indicates that there were serious leaks of confidential information from the Public Integrity Commission that the Commission tolerated by inaction. I was careful not to accuse any one Commissioner of wrongful conduct; I have no information to indicate that any single commissioner was at fault. However, the Commission was notified of unauthorized leaks and in my judgment, and that of the Inspector General, collectively failed to act but should have. As a result, the Commission has been compromised and its public standing is in question. “The sad reality is that this issue is much larger than the Public Integrity Commission. The general perception is that the ethics process in Albany is broken and I believe it is. This is the urgent challenge that we in government must address. I intend to submit legislation later this week to create a new Government Ethics Commission that would be independent and have jurisdiction over State government, lobbying and campaign finance. “Government depends on the trust of the public and must be accountable to its citizens. The public’s trust is a function of its confidence that government affairs are conducted honestly, ethically and without conflict of interest. It is my intention to put in place an independent commission structure that will restore the public’s confidence in our government.”


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Integrity Panel Director Quits; Paterson Seeks New Ethics Body
The New York Law Journal by Joel Stashenko - May 19, 2009

ALBANY, NEW YORK - Herbert Teitelbaum resigned as executive director of the Commission on Public Integrity yesterday, five days after Governor David A. Paterson and the state's inspector general called on him to step aside for allegedly leaking information about a commission investigation of top Spitzer administration officials to the Spitzer camp.  Mr. Teitelbaum insisted in a resignation letter to Michael G. Cherkasky, the commission's new chairman, that he had acted honorably throughout the Spitzer probe and that the near-constant controversy swirling around the commission since July 2007 was due to "unfounded attacks on the Commission and me from different quarters pursuing their political self-interests." "I, as Executive Director, have been a lightning rod for controversy," Mr. Teitelbaum told Mr. Cherkasky. "This happened not because the Commission or I compromised our search for the truth, but rather because we did not. . . . We persevered and did our job honorably."

Mr. Teitelbaum attacked Inspector General Joseph Fisch's report that concluded Mr. Teitelbaum "apparently" violated state Public Officers Law and Executive Law by sharing information with Robert Hermann, a former law partner and top Spitzer aide, into the commission's investigation of whether Mr. Spitzer's office misused State Police to discredit former Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno. Mr. Teitelbaum told Mr. Cherkasky that he "unequivocally" denies the "bizarre" accusations against him and contended that Mr. Fisch had his mind made up about his guilt before he ever interviewed Mr. Teitelbaum.  "Calling something an 'apparent violation' is just another way of saying 'I have insufficient proof,'" Mr. Teitelbaum wrote in his letter. "It is reckless, unprofessional and dangerous for the Inspector General to initiate an investigation based on a claim of 'inappropriate conduct' and to then make a finding of an 'apparent violation.' If allowed to continue unchecked, these sorts of witch hunts are destined to result in unwarranted attacks on reputations." Mr. Teitelbaum urged members of the commission to continue their "principled stand" and resist Mr. Paterson's call for their resignations in light of the Fisch report. Mr. Teitelbaum, 65, said he would take a "long overdue vacation" and that his resignation from his $140,000-a-year position would take effect on June 24.

A statement from Mr. Cherkaksy praised Mr. Teitelbaum for showing the "utmost professionalism" as he directed the commission's investigation of Spitzer administration efforts to plant unfavorable newspaper stories about Mr. Bruno's travel on state aircraft. "Good riddance," Senator George H. Winner of Elmira, a Republican critic of both Mr. Spitzer and Mr. Teitelbaum, said yesterday in an interview. "I just think he has significantly harmed the reputation of that body and I think it's good that he's gone." There was no immediate reaction yesterday from Mr. Paterson's office or Mr. Fisch.

Meanwhile, earlier yesterday, Mr. Paterson announced he would introduce legislation later this week to create a new commission to oversee ethics and lobbying in state government, replacing the integrity commission. "The sad reality is that this issue is much larger than the public integrity commission," Mr. Paterson said in a statement. "The general perception is that the ethics process in Albany is broken and I believe it is. This is the urgent challenge that we in government must address." He also said the new agency would be "independent." Sources familiar with the governor's plan said he wants no one appointing authority to control a majority of the seats on a government ethics commission.  That would be in contrast to the current panel, where seven of 13 members are appointed by the governor. Critics of the integrity commission contend its independence is compromised in any investigations of the governor's office.

Mr. Paterson said the commission "tolerated by inaction" the activities of Mr. Teitelbaum. "I have no information to indicate that any single commissioner was at fault," Mr. Paterson said. "However, the commission was notified of unauthorized leaks and in my judgment, and that of the inspector general, collectively failed to act but should have. As a result, the commission has been compromised and its public standing is in question." No commission members had resigned as of yesterday, and several appointing authorities, including Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, and Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith, D-Queens, have issued public statements of support for their designees. Spokesmen for both Democratic legislative leaders said lawmakers wanted to see more details of what Mr. Paterson will propose before commenting on a replacement for the integrity commission. Sources close to Mr. Paterson said he wants Mr. Cherkasky to serve as chairman of a new ethics agency if one is created by the Legislature. Mr. Paterson last week named Mr. Cherkasky, a former Marsh & McLennan CEO with close ties to Mr. Spitzer, as chairman of the Commission on Public Integrity. Mr. Cherkasky replaced John Feerick, the former Fordham University School of Law dean, who resigned in January. The bill Mr. Paterson will send to the Legislature will also contain proposed campaign finance reforms that sources said the governor wants the new ethics agency to regulate.

A new commission would not take over the functions of the Board of Elections, which maintains the database of contributions reported by statewide and legislative candidates, sources said. A Paterson spokeswoman said the governor will still file his proposed legislation later this week, despite Mr. Teitelbaum's resignation. Mr. Teitelbaum said in his resignation letter that he was proud of the work the commission had done since its formation in September 2007 to incorporate the functions of the former state ethics and lobbying commissions.  The merger of the two agencies was billed by Mr. Spitzer as an important ethical reform, particularly with the added presence of Mr. Feerick, a long-standing authority on state government ethics. Mr. Feerick, in turn, recruited Mr. Teitelbaum. Mr. Teitelbaum spent two decades as a senior partner and founder of Teitelbaum, Hiller, Rodman, Paden & Hibsher and a decade as a litigation partner at Bryan Cave before joining state government (NYLJ, July 5, 2007). He was also a one-time legal director of the Puerto Rican Legal Defense & Education Fund.  Joel.Stashenko@incisivemedia.com

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

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


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