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

End Corruption in the Courts!

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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Governor Names Krane to Commisson on Public Integrity

Former State Bar President Named to Integrity Agency
The New York Law Journal - NEWSBRIEFS - June 30, 2009

Governor David A. Paterson has appointed Steven C. Krane, Proskauer Rose partner and former president of the New York State Bar Association, to the Commission on Public Integrity. He will replace Sullivan & Cromwell partner Robert J. Giuffra Jr., who has been a holdover on the commission since his term expired in October 2008. Mr. Krane's term will run through October 2014. Mr. Krane, state bar president in 2001-02, was also once clerk to former state chief judge Judith S. Kaye. His appointment to the 13-member commission is not subject to confirmation by the state Senate. Members are not paid. Mr. Giuffra was originally named to the Ethics Commission by former Governor George E. Pataki and appointed by Eliot Spitzer to the Public Integrity Commission when it was formed in 2007 by the merger of the Ethics and Lobbying commissions. — Joel Stashenko

Monday, June 29, 2009

Corrupt Westchester Surrogate's Court Brings Out Worst In People

Police: Former court employee harassed co-worker
The Journal News by Rebecca Baker - June 29, 2009

WHITE PLAINS, NY - A former Surrogate's Court employee is accused of harassing a former co-worker inside the Westchester County courthouse, at one point throwing an umbrella at her during a heated confrontation. Charmain Smalls, 31, of 32-42 107th St., Queens, was arrested last week and charged with second-degree harassment, a violation. She was released on her own recognizance and ordered to appear in White Plains City Court on July 10. Westchester County police said Smalls entered Surrogate's Court on Thursday and began arguing with Deupty Chief Clerk Johanna O'Brien. The argument escalated and Smalls threw an umbrella, hitting O'Brien in the chest, county police said. The incident prompted more than two dozen court officers to respond to Surrogate's Court, which is on the 19th floor of the courthouse in downtown White Plains. State Supreme Court Justice Anthony Scarpino Jr., who heads the Surrogate's Court, directed all questions about the confrontation to David Bookstaver, spokesman for the New York State Office of Court Administration. Bookstaver identified Smalls today and confirmed that she had been arrested. He declined to offer further details about the incident, saying it was an "internal dispute." Surrogate's Courts handle wills, estates and property of those who are deceased. The court also shares authority with Family Court on adoption matters. rebaker@lohud.com

Disbarred NY Lawyer Gets 6 Months for Swindling Clients

Disbarred Westchester lawyer to spend 6 months in jail for swindling clients
The Journal News by Rebecca Baker - June 16, 2009

WHITE PLAINS, NY - A disbarred Mamaroneck lawyer was sentenced today to serve six months in jail for stealing more than $445,000 from four clients and then failing to pay taxes on the stolen cash. The sentence for Christopher Meyers, 46, was part of a five-year "shock" probation in which he will serve 4 1/2 years on probation after his jail term. Meyers, wearing blue jeans and a navy blue T-shirt to his sentencing in state Supreme Court in White Plains, said he has "extreme regret" for hurting his clients and his family. "I apologize to all parties, the victims and my family, who's been gravely affected by this," he said. Meyers, who had a law office in Buchanan, was arrested last year after stealing nearly $300,000 from the estate of John S. Burge, officials said. Meyers had told the estate's executor that he needed the money to pay estate taxes, but then kept it for his own use, officials said. He pleaded guilty in February to felony charges of second-degree grand larceny and filing a false personal income tax return. He has paid nearly $300,000 in restitution, but still owes $90,619 to the Burge estate and $56,624 to ex-client Norman Preteau. He also owes $29,302 to the state Department of Taxation and Finance and $3,000 to Springvale Apartments in Cortlandt, but was not charged with the latter theft. State Supreme Court Justice Richard A. Molea told Meyers that he had been a "fine attorney" and "a credit to his profession" before he committed these crimes, which he described as "an aberration."  Molea said Meyers' actions not only created stress on his family but caused great financial strain on his victims, especially Preteau. Meyers was disbarred early last year after an investigation was launched. He must pay $2,889 a month in restitution starting Nov. 15 as a requirement for probation.  rebaker@lohud.com

Court Corruption Begins in Nation's Law Schools

CLOUT GOES TO COLLEGE
Universary of Illinois Jobs-for-Entry Scheme
E-mails reveal law school put a price on admission of unqualified candidate
The Chicago Tribune by Jodi S. Cohen, Tara Malone and Robert Becker - June 26, 2009

What does it cost to get an unqualified student into the University of Illinois law school?
Five jobs for graduating law students, suggest internal e-mails released Thursday.
The documents show for the first time efforts to seek favors -- in this case, jobs -- for admissions, the most troubling evidence yet of how Illinois' entrenched system of patronage crept into the state's most prestigious public university. They also detail the law school's system for handling "Special Admits," students backed by the politically connected, expanding the scope of a scandal prompted by a Chicago Tribune investigation. In one e-mail exchange, University of Illinois Chancellor Richard Herman forced the law school to admit an unqualified applicant backed by then- Gov. Rod Blagojevich while seeking a promise from the governor's go-between that five law school graduates would get jobs. The applicant, a relative of deep-pocketed Blagojevich campaign donor Kerry Peck, appears to have been pushed by Trustee Lawrence Eppley, who often carried the governor's admissions requests.

When Law School Dean Heidi Hurd balked on accepting the applicant in April 2006, Herman replied that the request came "Straight from the G. My apologies. Larry has promised to work on jobs (5). What counts?" Hurd replied: "Only very high-paying jobs in law firms that are absolutely indifferent to whether the five have passed their law school classes or the Bar." Hurd's e-mail suggests that students getting the jobs are to be those in the "bottom of the class." Law school rankings depend in part on the job placement rate of graduates. It wasn't immediately clear if the private sector or government jobs were provided. Gov. Pat Quinn convened a state commission to investigate the U. of I. admissions process after the Tribune revealed that more than 800 undergraduate applicants in the last five years received special consideration because they were backed by U. of I. trustees, legislators and others in powerful posts. Commission chairman Abner Mikva, a retired judge, said he intends to call everyone implicated in this e-mail exchange to testify before the panel. He said he learned of the e-mails late Wednesday from President B. Joseph White. "It just gets thicker and thicker and it's not good," Mikva said of the scandal. On Thursday, Herman declined to discuss the exchange. "In the future, I expect to be talking to the Mikva commission and I believe I owe them my first public statement on these matters," he said. The e-mails paint a picture of how law school officials operated a parallel admissions review for clouted students. They withheld denials until the year's end, cleared decisions with top university administrators, and debated whether to accept candidates with stronger credentials -- or stronger connections. Several clouted students received full-ride scholarships.

In private, law school officials showed their disdain for the special admits and even worked behind the scenes to campaign against them. At one point in March 2007, Hurd asked staffers to collect data about how the clouted students performed at law school to provide a weapon against their admittance. Admissions dean Paul Pless reported that the school admitted at least 24 "SI," or special interest, students during a four-year span. He said they had lower grades and standardized test scores than the general applicant pool and they lagged behind their classmates once admitted. On average, they maintained a 2.86 grade point average during their first year compared with the 3.2 grade point average for the overall class, he said. One faced "formal disciplinary charges" and left the school. But their dislike of the program didn't stop administrators from accepting the students. "I'll do my best to keep the number of Provostian admits to a minimum, and extract payment for them," Hurd wrote to her admissions staff in 2003. On Thursday in Chicago, university trustees met in emergency closed session for more than three hours before releasing the documents. After the meeting, Trustee David Dorris expressed his concerns about what he read. "Political pressure, power, money shall not be the basis for admission to a public university," Dorris said. He said exceptions can be made for some applicants with subpar academic records, such as athletes, but "the fact that Rod Blagojevich puts pressure on is not an extenuating circumstance."

Last week, the federal government subpoenaed three state universities, including the U. of I., seeking communications from Blagojevich and his associates concerning student admissions. University officials were ordered to respond by July 2. Eppley said little after the meeting at U. of I.'s city campus. "I can say it was a great meeting," he said. Also facing questions about the new e-mails was the university's board chairman, Niranjan Shah, whose relative was discussed in an e-mail exchange released Thursday. The relative was admitted to the law school in 2006. As Herman and Hurd exchanged e-mails about the relative's acceptance, Hurd wrote: "Any more phone calls to make to influential people just to make sure they feel the love?" Shah told the Tribune he did not deliberately sway the decision in his relative's favor. "I never requested special treatment for anybody," Shah said. The Oak Brook businessman -- who sponsored at least nine students in three years, records show -- rebuked any bartering that may have played a role in admissions. "I do not condone this kind of exchange, asking for jobs and this and that," Shah said. "I don't know if they were just playing or if they were serious." The documents released Thursday should have been provided to the Tribune last month in response to a Freedom of Information Act request. Asked why they weren't, university spokesman Tom Hardy said: "I don't know the answer ... and it is an issue that we are going to need to address." Trustee Dorris said he is disturbed by the university's failure to produce the documents earlier. "I have asked the same question," Dorris said. "You will have to draw your own conclusion and it's probably the same as mine." Tribune reporter Stacy St. Clair contributed to this report. jscohen@tribune.com - tmalone@tribune.com - rxbecker@tribune.com

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Judge: You are an Officer of the Court and Let Society Down

He Done a Bad, Bad Thing
The American Lawyer by Douglas McCollam - June 26, 2009


The call that marked the beginning of the end for James “Jamie” Perdigao came in late August 2004. The accounting department at Boomtown Casino, one of Perdigao's biggest clients, had questions about a bill that the attorney had recently submitted. Neither Perdigao, a partner at Adams and Reese, the largest firm in New Orleans, nor his secretary was in, so a temp routed the call to the firm's accounting department, which could find no record of the matter in its system. The firm asked Boomtown—a riverboat casino business—to fax over the paperwork, and checked with other Adams and Reese lawyers whose time appeared on the invoice. No one had a file number matching the one on the bill. Further inspection showed that the invoice looked “nonstandard” (as the firm would later term it), as did some other billing statements to Perdigao's clients, which included many of the country's top gaming companies.

On the Friday before Labor Day, Perdigao, the firm's top-billing partner, was placed on mandatory leave and told not to return to the office until further notice. Despite that directive, over the long holiday weekend, security cameras at the 51-story office tower in downtown New Orleans where Adams and Reese is headquartered captured Perdigao carting off about 60 boxes of files. On the Tuesday after his Labor Day haul, Perdigao faxed in his resignation and admitted that he had been misappropriating funds. In the weeks that followed, the scale of his theft remained unclear. Initially, it seemed it might just be around $1 million. But after a series of meetings between firm management and Perdigao's lawyer, he agreed to return about $9 million to the firm. About a month after that, the U.S. attorney's office and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which had been brought into the case by Adams and Reese, discovered that, even as Perdigao was negotiating with the firm following his resignation, he had transferred an additional $19 million to a branch of Credit Suisse Group in Zurich. The FBI arrested Perdigao on Oct. 16, 2004. At that time, agents found about $25,000 in cash and two cashier's checks totaling nearly $1.2 million in the trunk of his car. (He was released on $2 million bail.) After a long and often bitter four-year battle with the firm and federal prosecutors, Perdigao finally pled guilty in the fall of 2008 to 30 counts of bank fraud, money laundering and tax evasion. Perdigao further admitted making $23 million worth of unauthorized withdrawals from the firm between 1991 and October 2004, according to a summary of the case against him that he signed. As part of his plea agreement, Perdigao agreed to pay back about $23.5 million in restitution, nearly half of that amount to his former firm. (The other monies are for the Internal Revenue Service, the Louisiana Department of Revenue and Boomtown's parent company, Pinnacle Entertainment, Inc. An additional $6 million the feds seized has so far gone unclaimed.) In a statement, Adams and Reese labeled Perdigao's actions “among the most egregious of any lawyer who has ever been criminally prosecuted in our nation's history,” and the U.S. attorney prosecuting the case called him “a poster boy for all corrupt attorneys.”

At Perdigao's sentencing in March, federal district court judge Eldon Fallon fixed the wayward lawyer with a reproving eye. “Mr. Perdigao, every day I see defendants with no education, no family, no letters [asking the court for leniency], because there is no one to write for them, no opportunity, no job, very little to lose. You don't fall into that category,” Fallon said. Below him, Perdigao, manacled hand and foot and clad in an orange jump suit, slumped. His lawyer, Charles Griffin, a solo practitioner in New Orleans, caught him around the waist. Fallon continued: “You are a lawyer, an officer of the court, you took an oath to follow the law and the Constitution of this country. You let yourself down, your family down, let society down, let the country down. This was not aberrant behavior. For a decade you did this.” And with that, the judge gave Jamie Perdigao, Phi Beta Kappa key holder, 15 years and eight months in prison, with no possibility of parole. At first glance, Perdigao might seem like just another high-living rogue of our new gilded age. (Through his lawyer, Perdigao declined to be interviewed for this story.) But in interviews with almost two dozen colleagues, classmates and family friends, the picture that emerges is hardly that of a callous huckster. To the contrary, Perdigao is often described by those who know him as a “nice guy,” “personable” and “considerate,” hardly the adjectives usually invoked when describing a hard-driving attorney who routinely billed 3,000 hours a year. In contrast to the lifestyle one might suppose Perdigao lived, he was a notorious miser—wearing rumpled suits, scuffed shoes and driving a beat-up Mitsubishi sedan that doubled as a cluttered rolling office. Though he was paid more than $300,000 a year as a partner at Adams and Reese, at the time of his arrest he still lived in the same $500-a-month rental apartment he moved into just after law school. “He came across as something of a Boy Scout,” says William Scheffler, a New Orleans attorney who worked with Perdigao on litigation matters as outside counsel. “He was very polite, very hardworking. He was really the epitome of what you'd want your son to grow up to be.” Perhaps it was unsurprising, then, that despite the energy and ingenuity Perdigao put into stealing millions of dollars from his clients and partners, he was in a good position to pay them back. It turned out that he'd never spent a penny and was able to turn it all over to the U.S. Marshal's Service to be placed in the registry of the court.

Perdigao, 47, grew up in New Orleans. He graduated with honors from Tulane University and Tulane Law School before joining Adams and Reese as a first-year associate in 1987. He arrived at the firm at an auspicious time. Long known as a no-frills insurance defense, admiralty and product liability firm, Adams and Reese was on the cusp of a rapid expansion. Within five years it opened offices in Washington and Mobile. Two years later it established a branch in Houston, and later, offices in Jackson, Miss., and Birmingham. Part of this growth was led by current managing partner Charles “Chuck” Adams Jr. (no relation to the firm's name partner), who brought in a host of big clients, including telecom giant WorldCom Inc., when he joined the firm in 1996 from Jackson-based Brunini, Grantham, Grower & Hewes. Last year Adams and Reese had 233 attorneys and revenue of $103 million. Within New Orleans legal circles, the term frequently used to describe Adams and Reese is “entrepreneurial,” that is, a firm where the partners often maintained a variety of outside business ventures, including ownership stakes in local sports teams and casinos. The firm is also known as very politically connected. Its blend of dealmaking and politics, in a state where politics is often a dirty business, fosters some ambivalence about the firm in the more buttoned-down precincts of New Orleans's legal community. “I always thought of A and R as a little schizophrenic,” says one former managing partner of a big competing firm in town. “One set of guys would have fit in at [other prominent New Orleans firms] Liskow & Lewis, Jones Walker, and Phelps Dunbar. But another set were more of the wheeler-dealer ... political types.” One practice that meshed well with the firm's mix of business and politics was gaming law. In the early 1990s, Louisiana passed a series of measures allowing the operation of video poker machines, riverboat casinos and other forms of legalized gambling. One of Adams and Reese's longtime clients, Robert Guidry—a local businessman with strong political ties to then-Gov. Edwin Edwards—decided to bid on one of the coveted licenses to operate a riverboat casino. Guidry retained Adams and Reese partner Robert Vosbein to assist him on the deal.

To help advise Guidry on gaming issues, Vosbein tapped Perdigao, then a young partner at the firm. Perdigao quickly built a reputation as one of the top legal experts in the field. Within Adams and Reese, he was seen as a rising star with a prodigious work ethic. Though not an early riser, Perdigao routinely worked until after 10 p.m. and almost every weekend. He regularly exceeded his annual billing quota and, as his gaming practice grew to include industry heavyweights like Pinnacle, Harrah's Entertainment Inc. and Bally Gaming International Inc., he became Adams and Reese's top-billing lawyer for several years in a row. According to attorneys who worked with him, Perdigao was viewed as very bright and well-liked, but he had a reputation as a loner who was intensely focused on his work and kept his social life to himself. In retrospect, Perdigao's profile as a brilliant soloist takes on a more ominous cast. Even before he made partner, according to federal prosecutors and court filings, Perdigao began to engage in fraudulent billing. At first he simply added time to legitimate bills. Later, Perdigao fashioned dummy bills to look like legitimate Adams and Reese invoices and sent them out with special return envelopes addressed to him that he personally collected from the firm's mail room. These bills were usually for no more than $15,000 and included time attributed to other lawyers at the firm. When the checks arrived, he would deposit them in the firm's trust account (which prosecutors say was not closely audited at the time). Then he would have checks from that account cut to one of several outside entities he controlled, such as Atlas Development Corp. and Capital Services Group. These companies were sham businesses created to help Perdigao launder the proceeds from his billing operation, according to federal investigators. Later, as Perdigao became more brazen, he would intercept checks from clients and deposit them directly into his personal accounts, stamping “Adams and Reese” on the back as an endorsement. The firm has sued at least one bank, JP Morgan Chase & Co., for allowing Perdigao to do this. A lawyer for the bank declined to comment except to say that his client denies any liability. Why didn't the clients catch on? Robert Murphy, a partner with New Orleans-based Murphy, Rogers, Sloss & Gambel who is representing Pinnacle in a suit against Adams and Reese, says that even though Perdigao submitted $5.2 million in fictitious or inflated bills to the company between 1999 and 2004, “no bell went off” in his client's accounting system. Murphy says Perdigao and the firm did so much legitimate work for Pinnacle that the extra billing didn't seem out of the ordinary. Perdigao alone was billing the company about 1,000 hours a year and did about $2.5 million worth of legitimate work during those same five years. “There were so many bills, it just didn't jump out,” says Murphy. He adds that Perdigao's stature in the gaming world also bolstered the scheme: “He had our confidence. He was the top guy in gaming law. I know that the Louisiana Gaming Control Board used to call him up when they had questions about how something worked.” In the end, the court granted Pinnacle $6.5 million in restitution from Perdigao. Pinnacle's suit against Adams and Reese has yet to be dismissed pending receipt of that payment. Among aficionados of the Perdigao case in New Orleans (and there are many), there is frank skepticism that one lawyer, however talented, could have pulled off a billing scheme involving almost $30 million at a medium-sized regional firm without someone at the firm getting wise. (No charges have been brought against anyone else at the firm.)

Managing partner Chuck Adams declined to be interviewed about the case, but he said in an e-mail that Perdigao's “elaborate crimes unexpectedly evaded standard safeguards that law firms routinely employ and that otherwise have served us well for decades.” Speculation about a wider conspiracy in the case was fueled, in part, because after he was arrested, Perdigao signed a cooperation agreement and was debriefed by federal law enforcement officials for more than two years before being formally indicted. That was partly due to exigent circumstances, says U.S. Attorney James Letten, such as the disruption caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. But partly it was because Perdigao had some fantastic tales to tell about his former law firm. He told prosecutors that Adams and Reese partners had buried documents to obstruct the government's investigation into the administration of former New Orleans mayor (and Adams and Reese partner) Marc Morial, who now heads the National Urban League. (Though members of his administration have gone to jail, Morial has never been charged with wrong­doing.) Perdigao told prosecutors that Chuck Adams had helped his client Bernard Ebbers, the now-jailed former CEO of WorldCom, obtain fraudulent loans by disguising the true state of Ebbers's personal finances. All of these allegations—and many, many more—found their way into a voluminous Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations suit Perdigao filed against the firm and eight of its top partners in May 2008. “It read like a damn Grisham novel,” one former Adams and Reese lawyer said of the lawsuit's explosive allegations. Indeed it did—and was about as popular around New Orleans when it was filed, with Perdigao casting himself as the lone voice of virtue, forever battling the dark designs of his nefarious partners. The problem, according to federal prosecutors, was that none of Perdigao's stories checked out. “We talked, but we came up goose eggs on his information,” says prosecutor James Mann. Another prosecutor in the office even referred to Perdigao as a “pathological liar.” (Along with Mann and Letten, other prosecutors on the case included Sal Perricone, Brian Klebba and Mimi Nguyen.)

Even though Letten and his team didn't find Perdigao's allegations against the firm credible, the charges nevertheless seemed to contain oddly detailed knowledge of certain meetings between prosecutors and Adams and Reese. Mann went so far as to suggest to the firm's leaders that they had a leak in their shop. Adams and Reese had similar concerns. For example, they found it odd that the only common thread among the eight partners named in Perdigao's civil suit was that they were the ones assigned to handle the investigation of Perdigao's billing, and liaise with the government. How could he know this? Eventually, an explanation surfaced. On Oct. 11, 2008, about six weeks before Perdigao's criminal trial was to begin, David Erwin, then the chief information officer of Adams and Reese, was reviewing computer user logs when he noticed some unusual activity. Someone using Perdigao's user name had tried to log in to the firm's network in the early morning hours. Though the attempt had been unsuccessful (Perdigao's name had been deleted from the system), one minute later someone from the same IP address had successfully logged in, using the name of a lawyer in the firm's Baton Rouge office. Curious, Erwin called the lawyer and asked if he had been on the network the night before. He said he had not. The IP address used by the trespasser was ultimately traced to the home of Perdigao's longtime girlfriend, where he had been staying. A search of her home by the FBI turned up two laptops belonging to Adams and Reese, as well as information stolen from the files of an Adams and Reese partner. In all, it turned out that Perdigao had hacked into the firm's computer network more than 400 times since his initial October 2004 arrest. Perdigao was rearrested, and his $2 million bail (secured by his parents' homes) was revoked. Prosecutors determined that, in addition to stealing information related to his case and personal information about firm lawyers and staffers, Perdigao was attempting to create a false paper trail in the firm's system that would have authorized his billing activities, which he could then obtain in discovery. With his rearrest and the revocation of his bond, all resistance within Perdigao seemed to crumble. Though he had previously rejected a plea deal (against the advice of his lawyers and others) that would have given him a maximum of five years in prison for one count of mail fraud, he now agreed to plead guilty to 30 counts of a 61-count indictment.

As part of the sentencing process, family and friends (including former Republican congressional leader-turned-lobbyist Bob Livingston) wrote to Judge Fallon asking for leniency. In the letters, those closest to Perdigao struggle to reconcile the good man they knew with the man facing the prospect of spending years behind bars. Many noted that his parents' bitter divorce while he was a teenager, and a subsequent seven-year estrangement from his mother, had a profound impact on him. His father, H. Gunther Perdigao, a New Orleans psychiatrist, described how after the divorce Jamie became much more of a loner, and how, despite the family's wealth, he began shopping for clothes at the Salvation Army because he was sure he would become destitute. Jamie, his father wrote, developed “a dark side” and would carefully manage information, “never telling any one person everything ... he began to lie so no one knew exactly what he was doing.” His son, Dr. Perdigao wrote, never had any intention of spending the money he stole, comparing him to a “homeless man found dead with a million dollars under his mattress.” Perhaps the keenest insights came from Perdigao himself in a letter he wrote to Judge Fallon. “I am not sure what is wrong with my judgment and decision-making process, but it relates somehow to the fact that I don't have much balance in my life,” he wrote, noting that at firm Christmas parties he'd been given a blanket and pillow for his office. “My life was my work. On most nights for many years, I left the office after the night cleaning crew. I never bought a house, never married, never had children.” His years as a corporate defense lawyer, he noted, had taught him how “to deflect the focus of the charges and allegations against my clients by raising all sorts of misdirections, counterpoints and counterclaims, which did not necessarily have any basis in fact. Unfortunately, trying to be my own lawyer, I used this same approach to try to deflect the charges against me.” As for what his ultimate plans were for the money, or why exactly he stole it, Perdigao offered no clue. Nor do those around him claim any special insight. As one of his defense lawyers put it: “I'm no closer to understanding that than I was in the beginning.” Douglas McCollam is a New Orleans-based freelance writer, who contributes to The American Lawyer.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Corrupt Surrogate Court Getting Testy, Fight Breaks Out

Fight on the 19th Floor
The Journal News by Rebecca Baker - Competely Legal - June 25, 2009

So there I was, in the third-floor hallway of the Westchester County County when 8 uniformed court officers run past me. And I mean RUN. Of course, I run after them. They won’t let me on the elevator, so I wait, and the next elevator is packed with MORE court officers. I find out they’re going to the 19th floor — Surrogate Court — so I hop on a free elevator and go to the top floor. The doors open, and it’s quiet, except for a couple of court officers behind the help desk. I ask one of the women at the help desk what happened. She smiled a tight smile and said, without moving her jaw, “This is really not a good time.” Turns out two employees got into a fight, or “altercation” as the lingo goes. Apparently one of the employees wasn’t supposed to be there. No one got arrested and no one was hurt. That’s all I got from those willing to talk with me. I left a message with the law clerk for state Supreme Court Justice Anthony Scarpino, the head of the Surrogate Court. No word yet from them. Meanwhile, if you know more about what happened up on 19, feel free to email me confidentially at rebaker@lohud.com.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Join the Call to Hold Our Public Servants Accountable

The New York march will be held in New York City on June 27th starting on the Steps of City Hall from 10:00 to 11:00, to follow with a march to Foley Square Park where there will be speakers and informational materials from 11:00 to 2:00. 

Proper Oversight of Judges and Attorneys Reduces False Convictions

NATIONAL FREEDOM MARCH FOR THE WRONGLY CONVICTED


NEW YORK— An estimated 10% of all prisoners in the U.S. have been wrongfully convicted. According to a recent report released by the Pew Center on the States, the U.S. correctional population -- those in jail, prison, on probation or on parole -- totaled 7.3 million, or 1 in every 31 adults. This means that up to 730,000 people in the correctional population may have been wrongfully convicted. In the last 3 decades 238 Americans have been exonerated with DNA evidence after spending an average of 12 years incarcerated. The severity of this problem has begun to be recognized in New York and other states. The New York Bar Association earlier this year released their Final Report of the New York State Bar Association’s Task Force on Wrongful Convictions. Also in April, Jonathan Lippman, the chief judge of New York’s Court of Appeals, said he is creating a permanent task force to examine wrongful convictions and recommend ways to minimize them. In order to raise public awareness of a national problem that has become a national shame, a National Freedom March for the Wrongfully Convicted is being held simultaneously in many states on June 27th. The New York march will be held in New York City on June 27th starting on the Steps of City Hall from 10:00 to 11:00, to follow with a march to Foley Square Park where there will be speakers and informational materials from 11:00 to 2:00. Speakers at the March will include Jeffrey Deskovic, Richard Aborn, Colleen Eren and representatives from the Campaign to End the Death Penalty and the ACLU.

Jeffrey Deskovic served 16 years in prison for a murder he did not commit and is now working to bring about reforms which will help reduce the number of wrongful convictions. Mr. Deskovic’s speech will provide insights into the devastation a wrongful conviction can cause to the innocent and their families as well as the need for systematic reform to help reduce these injustices. Another aspect will be the role that judges play in perpetuating wrongful convictions by putting procedure over innocence, rubber stamp denying appeals, and generally looking for any and every means possible to affirm convictions no matter what the facts are or the quality of the legal arguments which are based upon the fairness of trials.

Richard Aborn is a candidate for Manhattan district attorney. He was a member of the NYS Bar Association Task Force on Wrongful Convictions and a leader in helping pass a new state law calling for expanded use of DNA to fight crime and quickly exonerate the innocent. He has also long pressed for overturning the draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws, and has been a firm and consistent opponent of the death penalty. Colleen Eren is Organizing Director with New Yorkers for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (NYADP) and a doctoral candidate in Sociology at the CUNY Graduate Center. She became involved in the abolitionist movement at the age of 16, after starting a chapter of Amnesty international in her high school. She has served on Amnesty's National Steering Committee for the Program to Abolish the Death Penalty, and has been with NYADP five years. She has taught undergraduate Sociology courses at Hofstra University, Queens College and Hunter College. Please join us at this worthwhile event. More information on the National Freedom March for the Wrongfully Convicted at www.freedommarchusa.org

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Corrupt Court Actors Facing Guilt of Honest Services

U.S. Department of Justice Press Release
For Immediate Release
June 24, 2009 United States Attorney's Office
Southern District of New York - Contact: (212) 637-2600

Former New York State Assemblyman Pleads Guilty to Honest Services Mail Fraud

30-Year Queens Assemblyman Anthony Seminerio Used Consulting Company To Conceal Approximately $1 Million In Corrupt Payments

LEV L. DASSIN, the Acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that former New York State Assemblyman ANTHONY SEMINERIO pleaded guilty today in Manhattan federal court to defrauding the public of his honest services. SEMINERIO, who represented New York's 38th Assembly district in Queens until his resignation yesterday, admitted to using a consulting firm he controlled to receive corrupt payments from various entities with business before the State of New York. SEMINERIO entered his guilty plea to the charge contained in a one-count Superseding Indictment before United States District Judge NAOMI REICE BUCHWALD. According to the Superseding Indictment: SEMINERIO served as a member of the Assembly from 1978 until his June 23, 2009, resignation from that body. His official duties included voting upon legislation, acting as a public advocate on behalf of constituents and others, and discussing, persuading, and influencing other legislators with respect to matters before the Assembly. Like all elected officials in New York, SEMINERIO owed a duty of honest services to the citizens of New York State. New York law makes it a crime for a member of the Assembly to receive payments of any kind for taking official action. Similarly, New York law imposes a duty on elected officials, including members of the Assembly, to avoid any business or professional engagements that are in substantial conflict with the proper discharge of the member's official duties. From 1999 through September 2008, SEMINERIO engaged in a scheme to defraud the public of his honest services by using a purported consulting firm, "Marc Consultants," to solicit and receive "consulting" payments from persons and entities having business before the State of New York. SEMINERIO did little or no consulting work but nonetheless received approximately one million dollars from various entities with business before the State of New York, who thereby benefitted from favorable treatment within the state government. Those entities included hospitals and related entities; a consulting firm associated with an educational institution; and a firm engaged in marketing supplemental insurance packages to public institutions. In 1999 SEMINERIO, among other things, approached the founder of a Queens-based consulting company for whom he had previously worked and demanded a share of the company's revenue. When the consultant resisted, SEMINERIO retaliated by writing and calling many of the consultant's clients, telling them he was no longer associated with the firm, and pressuring some of them to stop paying the consultant and instead hire SEMINERIO. As a result, the consultant lost his client base and his company folded.

That summer, SEMINERIO also pressured the president of a Queens, New York-based non-profit organization that depended largely on New York State funding. SEMINERIO asked the organization's president to become his consulting client, repeatedly advancing his request when the president refused to respond. In January 2000, SEMINERIO met with the organization's president at his Albany legislative office and warned that if the president failed to hire him, SEMINERIO would "kill" any bill the president tried to pass in Albany and would ruin the relationship between the president and any legislator working with him. After this meeting, the organization's president agreed to hire SEMERINO and paid a monthly fee for approximately two years to Marc Consultants. More recently, on July 10, 2008, SEMINERIO called a senior New York State health department official and assured him that he had "a friend of me in the Assembly." The official mentioned that he had been speaking with a New York State Senator who supported the acquisition of certain hospitals by a particular hospital (that had not paid consulting fees to SEMINERIO). SEMINERIO replied that he would rather see another hospital (that had paid him consulting fees) "get it." SEMINERIO did not disclose to the official that the second hospital had hired him, nor did he disclose that the first hospital had refused to hire him. During today's plea proceeding, SEMINERIO specifically admitted that he had a conversation on July 10, 2008 with a representative of a New York State agency, during which he advocated in favor of Jamaica Hospital in connection with a New York State matter. SEMINERIO acknowledged that he intentionally did not disclose to the representative the fact that he was being paid a consulting fee by the hospital, and that his conduct had the effect of depriving others of the right of honest services, stating, "I knew that my conduct was illegal and wrong." "Instead of using his office to help New Yorkers, Anthony Seminerio used his office to help himself. Anthony Seminerio was caught red-handed violating the law and the public's trust by taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in corrupt payments," Mr. DASSIN stated. "Today's guilty plea marks another significant step in our ongoing effort to combat public corruption." SEMINERIO, 74, of Queens, New York, pleaded guilty to one count of honest services mail fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. The Government did not enter into a plea agreement with SEMINERIO. Sentencing is scheduled for October 20, 2009, at 10:00 a.m. before Judge BUCHWALD. Mr. DASSIN praised the investigative work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in this case. The investigation is continuing. The prosecution is being handled by the Office's Public Corruption Unit. Assistant United States Attorneys DANIEL L. STEIN and WILLIAM J. HARRINGTON are in charge of the prosecution.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

NY Lawyer for Holocaust Victims Disbarred Again

NY Lawyer for Holocaust Victims Disbarred (Again)
The New Jersey Law Journal by Henry Gottlieb - June 24, 2009

The New Jersey Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered the disbarment of Edward Fagan, a lawyer who won millions of dollars in settlements for Holocaust victims but who also misappropriated some of their money to pay his debts. Fagan told the justices during a hearing on June 16 that disciplinary authorities' handling of the evidence may have deprived him of a chance to prove that the money he took was for legal work and he asked for a remand for further fact-finding. But the justices declined and found him guilty of knowing misappropriation of client and escrow funds. Fagan was disbarred in New York in December for a separate offense -- shenanigans involving stolen artwork -- but under rules in that state disbarred lawyers can apply for readmission after six years. In New Jersey, disbarment is permanent. Fagan was one of the lawyers who launched federal class action litigation in the 1990s that sought reparations for Holocaust crimes from Germany, German industries, Swiss banks and other entities, resulting in a $1.25 billion settlement in 1998 for more than 30,000 victims. In the meantime, he also took sums from client accounts without authority, using some of it to pay the rent on his New York office, according to a finding last year by a special master, retired Superior Court Judge Arthur Minuskin. Minuskin said Fagan failed to hold $82,582 in escrow given to him by client Gizella Weisshaus, a Holocaust survivor, from the estate of Jack Oestreicher; that he improperly disbursed $303,582 of Holocaust settlement funds from client Estelle Sapir; and that he misappropriated $40,000 from clients' funds to pay his New York law office rent. Minuskin rejected an argument that Fagan was guilty only of negligence and bad record-keeping, which normally are punished by suspension or reprimand. Fagan made the same argument to the New Jersey Supreme Court last week and repeated allegations that the Office of Attorney Ethics mishandled his records, preventing him from proving that he had done legal work for the clients that entitled him to the money. He told the justices that the OAE examined boxes of records he had kept for safekeeping with another attorney and that by the time he could look at the documents again they were in disarray and not usable to support his contention he deserved the money. But Justice Barry Albin suggested that even without the personal records, Fagan could have shown he had done compensable legal work by reconstructing his activities on behalf of the clients, perhaps by using court files. Justice Robert Rivera-Soto said Fagan could have gone to courts, and perhaps even adversaries, and obtained records of work performed for, say, Weisshaus and then he could have told investigators, "see this is work I did for her, these are all services that I rendered for which I was not paid and therefore I am entitled to take money," Rivera-Soto said Fagan could have argued. "At least we would have something that would corroborate the version of events you are giving us today," Rivera-Soto said. "I don't see it." Fagan insisted that the evidence he had submitted was sufficient, but ethics counsel John McGill III said at the hearing that the Disciplinary Review Board had seen the evidence and had rejected Fagan's arguments. He said Fagan had made a "willful attempt to stonewall and thwart the disciplinary process since its inception in 1999." The DRB said in its opinion that Fagan's allegations about the mishandling of his files weren't true and that he had been invited to view the records at the OAE's office and copy them but had declined. Fagan won millions of dollars in fees in Holocaust-related cases. But he claimed the earnings were eaten up by debts to entities that had advanced him money and by a $2.6 million divorce settlement to his former wife. Fagan told the justices, "There have been times during my professional career when I brought honor to myself, my profession, my family, to the court and to things I believed in. This isn't one of those times." In the disbarment action in New York, Fagan was found guilty of deceiving a federal judge about a previous class action settlement, naming a nonexistent plaintiff in a suit and buying interests in stolen artwork for the sole purpose of suing over the artwork, which constitutes champerty.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Attorney Who "Helped" Holocaust Victims Disbarred

Former Parsippany attorney who helped Holocaust victims disbarred
The Daily Record by ABBOTT KOLOFF - June 23, 2009

An attorney who gained fame for helping Holocaust victims, and who at one time lived in Parsippany, has been banned from practicing law in New Jersey by the state Supreme Court in a ruling filed on Tuesday. That put an end to a four-year case that began with the state Office of Attorney Ethics charging Edward D. Fagan with misappropriating hundreds of thousands of dollars entrusted to him by two Holocaust survivors. Fagan has been representing himself, according to state officials, and was unavailable for comment. State officials said his latest contact information lists a Short Hills mailing address. A request for an interview sent to his e-mail address resulted in what appeared to be an automated response saying he won't be available until today. Fagan had been disbarred by New York state officials last year for unrelated reasons. A special ethics master last year recommended disbarring Fagan in New Jersey. The State Supreme Court Disciplinary  Review Board made the same recommendation in January. State officials said in court papers that Fagan was in financial trouble and took about $500,000 from two accounts, later paying back a portion of that amount. No criminal charges have been filed. Fagan, who was living in Parsippany's Powdermill Heights apartments at the time the ethics charges were made, has denied wrongdoing in court papers. He has claimed one victim, who has since died, gave him permission to use her money and that another victim's charges stemmed from a fee dispute. Abbott Koloff: 973-428-6636; akoloff@gannett.com

Proper Oversight of Judges and Attorneys Reduces False Convictions

NATIONAL FREEDOM MARCH FOR THE WRONGLY CONVICTED

NEW YORK— An estimated 10% of all prisoners in the U.S. have been wrongfully convicted. According to a recent report released by the Pew Center on the States, the U.S. correctional population -- those in jail, prison, on probation or on parole -- totaled 7.3 million, or 1 in every 31 adults. This means that up to 730,000 people in the correctional population may have been wrongfully convicted. In the last 3 decades 238 Americans have been exonerated with DNA evidence after spending an average of 12 years incarcerated. The severity of this problem has begun to be recognized in New York and other states. The New York Bar Association earlier this year released their Final Report of the New York State Bar Association’s Task Force on Wrongful Convictions. Also in April, Jonathan Lippman, the chief judge of New York’s Court of Appeals, said he is creating a permanent task force to examine wrongful convictions and recommend ways to minimize them. In order to raise public awareness of a national problem that has become a national shame, a National Freedom March for the Wrongfully Convicted is being held simultaneously in many states on June 27th. The New York march will be held in New York City on June 27th starting on the Steps of City Hall from 10:00 to 11:00, to follow with a march to Foley Square Park where there will be speakers and informational materials from 11:00 to 2:00. Speakers at the March will include Jeffrey Deskovic, Richard Aborn, Colleen Eren and representatives from the Campaign to End the Death Penalty and the ACLU.

Jeffrey Deskovic served 16 years in prison for a murder he did not commit and is now working to bring about reforms which will help reduce the number of wrongful convictions. Mr. Deskovic’s speech will provide insights into the devastation a wrongful conviction can cause to the innocent and their families as well as the need for systematic reform to help reduce these injustices. Another aspect will be the role that judges play in perpetuating wrongful convictions by putting procedure over innocence, rubber stamp denying appeals, and generally looking for any and every means possible to affirm convictions no matter what the facts are or the quality of the legal arguments which are based upon the fairness of trials.

Richard Aborn is a candidate for Manhattan district attorney. He was a member of the NYS Bar Association Task Force on Wrongful Convictions and a leader in helping pass a new state law calling for expanded use of DNA to fight crime and quickly exonerate the innocent. He has also long pressed for overturning the draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws, and has been a firm and consistent opponent of the death penalty. Colleen Eren is Organizing Director with New Yorkers for Alternatives to the Death Penalty (NYADP) and a doctoral candidate in Sociology at the CUNY Graduate Center. She became involved in the abolitionist movement at the age of 16, after starting a chapter of Amnesty international in her high school. She has served on Amnesty's National Steering Committee for the Program to Abolish the Death Penalty, and has been with NYADP five years. She has taught undergraduate Sociology courses at Hofstra University, Queens College and Hunter College. Please join us at this worthwhile event. More information on the National Freedom March for the Wrongfully Convicted at www.freedommarchusa.org

Monday, June 22, 2009

Tembeckjian's Crimes, Part 1 - Coming Monday, July 6, 2009 at 9am..... (multi-part, of course...)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

NY Daily News Editorial: This Court is a Crime...

This court is a crime: Judges are drowning in misdemeanor cases
The New York Daily News - EDITORIAL - June 21, 2009

The campaign to succeed Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau has produced a markedly good idea: Criminal Court must be rescued from the disaster it has become. Candidate Cy Vance has keyed on the court's dreadful performance as the tribunal charged with dispensing justice in misdemeanor cases. He's promising to lead a crash fixup program for Manhattan, but the dysfunction extends to all five boroughs. Starved for resources, the court has become the weak link in the justice system. As the place that determines what happens to arrests in crimes like vandalism, petty theft and prostitution, it is critical to quality of life. But it no longer remotely fits the definition of a court as an institution where charges are tried before an impartial magistrate. Not when, last year, it managed to hold trials in one-tenth of one percent of its cases. "Kafkaesque" is the right word for a court where the odds that any defendant will stand trial are, literally, 1,000 to 1. What happens day in and day out are paper-shuffling and endless plea bargaining, often by repeat offenders who spin the revolving door faster than a roulette wheel. Every performance measure is appalling. The caseload is up; so are dismissals, backlogs and the time cases linger before disposition. The number of judges and trials is down. Last year, the court initiated 357,480 cases, 21% more than in 1990, the high year for crime in New York. But, with a third fewer judges, the number of cases awaiting action has soared 169% and the number of dismissals has climbed 28%. Ten years ago, arraignment to disposition took an average of 69 days in Brooklyn. By 2008, it was 122 days, up 77%. During that time, Queens was up 58%, Manhattan, 54% and Staten Island, 45%. Such statistics are not kept for the Bronx because of an experiment in courthouse management. And all the trends have worsened over the past five years. By state law, Criminal Court can have up to 107 judges. But many were reassigned to other courts even as caseloads increased. For example, Staten Island has two criminal court judges. Last year they processed 13,051 filings - 26 each per working day. What's happening in Criminal Court is not fair to defendants and deprives the public of tough law enforcement. Vance is right to call for reform. State Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, the city's five DAs and City Hall Criminal Justice Coordinator John Feinblatt need to swing into action.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Corrupt Judicial 'Ethics' Commission Up to Old Tricks

Commission admonishes Kingston judge
The Daily Freeman by Paul Kirby - June 19, 2009

KINGSTON, NY — City Court Judge James Gilpatric has been admonished by the state Commission on Judicial Conduct — the commission’s second action against the judge in four years. The commission found Gilpatric failed to render decisions in a timely manner in 47 cases, “notwithstanding having been cautioned by the commission (previously) ... about his delays and notwithstanding the intervention of his administrative judge and inquires by litigants.” “We view such delays as serious misconduct because of the adverse consequences on individual litigants who are deprived of the opportunity to have their claims resolved in a timely manner and on public confidence in the administration of justice,” the commission wrote in its decision. Gilpatric said on Thursday that he “respectfully’ disagreed with the commission’s opinion, noting that the cases in question were heard when he was a part-time judge, had no secretary or law clerk and was developing the Ulster County Domestic Violence Court. Gilpatric also had a private law practice at the time. “I was doing the best I could under the circumstances,” the judge said. Gilpatric’s attorney, James Long, said the state does not provide judges, particularly part-timers, with the proper tools or pay to provide swift justice. “I would say that the commission has opened a Pandora’s Box,” Long said, adding that the admonishment probably will be appealed. “We are seriously thinking about it,” Gilpatric said of brining the matter to the state Court of Appeals. In 2005, Gilpatric was censured by the judicial conduct commission for being under the influence of alcohol while on the bench 16 months earlier.

The commission, in its written decision at the time, said Gilpatric admitted to the panel that he had been drinking before he took the bench on Sept. 1, 2004, and was unable to carry out his duties. A censure is more serious than an admonishment, but neither action carries any punishment or fine. The least serious action the commission can take against a judge is the issuance of a cautionary letter; the most serious is removal from the bench. Robert H. Tembeckjian, administrator for the Commission on Judicial Conduct, said the vote to admonish Gilpatric was seven in favor, one seeking a cautionary letter sent and one wanting to dismiss the matter. Gilpatric, a Democrat, became a part-time city judge in 1994 and a full-time judge in April, 2007. In November 2007, he was elected to a 10-year term on the City Court bench, defeating Republican Michael J. Bruhn, 4,022-2,801. Gilpatric now wants to seek a state Supreme Court judgeship in New York’s Third Judicial District, which includes Ulster County. Kingston Mayor James Sottile said the commission’s decision to admonish Gilpatric was “unfortunate” and that he always has known Gilpatric to “be a hard-working judge.” “He’s not just down there twiddling his thumbs,” Sottile said. Gilpatric’s salary as City Court judge is $108,800 per year.

Friday, June 19, 2009

U.S. House Impeaches Federal Judge

House impeaches federal judge from Texas
The Associated Press by SUZANNE GAMBOA - June 19, 2009

WASHINGTON, DC – The House on Friday impeached a federal judge imprisoned for lying about sexual assaults of two women, in the first such vote since impeaching former President Bill Clinton a decade ago. The impeachment of U.S. District Judge Samuel Kent of Texas sets up a trial in the Senate. Kent is the first federal judge impeached in 20 years. The House approved four articles of impeachment against Kent accusing him of sexually assaulting two female employees and lying to judicial investigators and Justice Department officials. All four articles passed unanimously. "The conduct at issue here is both shocking and shameful," Michigan Democratic Rep. John Conyers, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said at the start of the debate. Kent, 59, entered a federal prison in Massachusetts on Monday to serve a 33-month sentence. He pleaded guilty last month to lying to judicial investigators about sexual assaults of two female employees. Kent is refusing to resign until next year so he can continue to draw his $174,000 a year salary. If he is convicted of the impeachment charges in the Senate, he will be forced off the bench. When contacted for comment, Kent's lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, cited an earlier statement in which he said Kent's troubles might be enough for impeachment in the House but would not produced conviction in the Senate. Texas Rep. Lamar Smith, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, said he was not unsympathetic to Kent, who has said he has suffered depression since his first wife's death and had problems with alcohol abuse. But Smith said Kent does not have the right to continue as a federal judge and collect his salary.

"It is now time for justice: justice for the American people who have been exploited by a judge who violated his oath of office," Smith said. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Florida, sat in the chamber early in the debate. Hastings was acquitted of bribery charges as a federal judge, but later impeached by the House in 1988. The Senate convicted him on similar impeachment charges. The Senate found Clinton not guilty on his impeachment charges. As part of his plea bargain, Kent admitted that he tried to force Cathy McBroom, his former case manager, into unwanted sex acts in 2003 and 2007, and did the same with Donna Wilkerson, his secretary, from 2004 through at least 2005. The Associated Press does not normally name alleged victims of sexual abuse. But McBroom's lawyer and her family have used her name publicly in discussing the case. Wilkerson knew her lawyer gave her name to reporters during Kent's trial. Both women also testified before the House committee. He must participate alcohol-abuse program while in prison. He also was fined $1,000 and ordered to pay $6,550 in restitution to the secretary and case manager whose complaints resulted in the first sex abuse case ever against a sitting federal judge. Kent was nominated to the bench by President George H.W. Bush and has served since 1990.

New York Judge Charged at DWI Checkpoint

Albany family court judge charged with DWAI
Police say Gerard Maney was chased after he turned around near DWI checkpoint
The Albany Times Union by BOB GARDINIER - June 19, 2009 

GREEN ISLAND, NY -- Albany County Family Court Judge Gerard Maney was charged with driving while ability impaired during a Thursday night sweep, according to the Albany County Sheriff's Department. Maney turned his car around to avoid the DWI checkpoint near the Green Island Bridge, deputies said. He was chased by police for 1.5 miles before being apprehended, law enforcement sources said. He was taken back to the Green Island police station and registered 0.07 percent on an alcohol test, just below the 0.08 percent legal limit for DWI, sources said. Maney, a longtime family court judge, also is the supervising judge for the third judicial district of New York and announced his candidacy for state Supreme Court justice in the district earlier this week. The judicial district comprises Rensselaer, Columbia, Greene, Ulster and Schoharie counties, along with Sullivan and Albany. Maney was processed and released. Green Island Police are expected to release more information soon, deputies said. The Green Island Bridge was one of many sobriety checkpoints on Thursday around Albany County.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Skell of the Day: Lawyer Arrested in theft of 100k from 9-year-old

Lawyer arrested in theft of $100,000 from 9-year-old boy
The Sun Sentinel by Rebecca Beitsch - June 5, 2009

A lawyer charged with stealing $100,000 from a 9-year-old he represented was arrested Friday by the Brevard County Sheriff's Office. Andrew Meynhart, 41, a Cocoa Beach attorney, failed to deliver the money rewarded to the 9-year-old after the boy's father, John Taylor, died in a car accident while vacationing in the area in 2006, the Sheriff's Office said. According to the Sheriff's Office, Meynhart sent fabricated copies of his law firm's account to the Taylor estate's law firm in Iowa, the family's original home. But The Florida Bar's review of actual bank statements for Meynhart's law firm account showed a balance of only $20 in January. "Where the money is sitting right now, we don't know," said Vic DeSantis, spokesman for the Sheriff's Office. "Lawyers have a bunch of escrow accounts, so he may have moved it to another account. It's a very convoluted situation. "He may be able to produce it from another account." Meynhart's law license was revoked by The Bar in March. He has been charged with one count of grand theft and was booked at the Brevard County Jail with bail set at $15,000. Rebecca Beitsch can be reached at 407-650-3548 or rbeitsch@orlandosentinel.com.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Lawyer for Holocaust Victims Claims Trust-Fund Dipping Was Inadvertent

Lawyer for Holocaust Victims Claims Trust-Fund Dipping Was Inadvertent
The New Jersey Law Journal - June 16, 2009

The state Supreme Court on Tuesday heard Edward Fagan, a Livingston lawyer who helped secure a multibillion-dollar settlement for Holocaust victims and survivors, argue why he should not be disbarred for misappropriating clients' funds. Appearing pro se in response to an order to show cause, Fagan disputed findings made last year by a special master that he improperly disbursed upwards of $400,000 in settlement and estate funds and used them for personal expenses. The lawyer said that the money he withdrew represented valid compensation for legal work, although he admitted his record-keeping was spotty. Special master Arthur Minuskin last year rejected Fagan's claim that the expenditures were the result of negligence and thus should not subject him to the mandatory disbarment rule of In re Wilson , 81 N.J. 451 (1979). Fagan was one of the lawyers who launched federal class action litigation in the 1990s that sought reparations for Holocaust crimes from Germany, German industries, Swiss banks and other entities, resulting in a $1.25 billion settlement in 1998 for more than 30,000 victims. According to the master's report, Fagan failed to hold $82,582 in escrow given to him by client Gizella Weisshaus, a Holocaust survivor, from the estate of Jack Oestreicher; that he improperly disbursed $303,582 of Holocaust settlement funds from client Estelle Sapir; and that he misappropriated $40,000 from clients' funds to pay his New York law office rent. "The evidence does not support the respondent's claim that he had the authority to use the Sapir settlement funds for his personal use or to pay back funds to Oestreicher or Sapir," wrote Minuskin, a former Superior Court judge, in a report that followed 25 days of hearings. Fagan testified that he used trust accounts from various clients to pay out personal injury settlements, but Minuskin found Fagan was evasive under oath and lied in claiming he had authority to disburse the clients' funds. Based on Minuskin's report, the Disciplinary Review Board recommended disbarment, and today's hearing was Fagan's last chance to ward off the ultimate penalty. Disbarments in New Jersey are permanent. Fagan is ineligible to practice in New Jersey because he has not paid his registration fees. He is still licensed to practice in New York.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Holocaust Victims' Lawyer Contests Disbarment

Holocaust victims' lawyer asks N.J. Supreme Court to allow him to practice law
The Star-Ledger by Mary Fuchs - June 16, 2009

Former Morris Plains resident Edward Fagan contests his disbarment in front of the New Jersey Supreme Court in Trenton today.

TRENTON, NJ -- An attorney who was the first to sue Swiss banks on behalf of Holocaust victims and then was accused of misappropriating funds from those clients today pleaded with the state Supreme Court to let him practice law. A special ethics counsel last year recommended Edward Fagan, 56, should be disbarred after a series of hearings revealed he mishandled $400,000 of his clients' money. The Supreme Court will make that determination. "I didn't misappropriate a penny of client funds," Fagan said before the justices today.

Fagan did not deny he had taken money from Gizella Weisshaus, a Holocaust survivor he represented, after putting it in his own personal trust fund. He said he was "entitled" to the money -- more than $80,000 -- she owed him for work he had done. But Fagan could not produce all of the records showing he had done that work -- either today or during the ethics probe. Fagan said the New Jersey Office of Attorney Ethics had stolen his documents in the probe and that some boxes of evidence had ended up in New York in an ongoing federal suit against him. Some justices challenged that assertion. "You were the person who was in the best position to then find corroborative proofs of what you did," Justice Roberto Rivera-Soto said. Fagan said he was unable to obtain copies of his files from New Jersey and New York authorities. As Fagan presented his case before the court, audience members at times laughed at the proceedings. Weisshaus, who had traveled from New York to listen to Fagan's testimony, was one of them. "I didn't owe him anything," she said. "I was a fool." Weisshaus said it was a long time before she realized something "was wrong" with he ex-lawyer. In 1996, Weisshaus became the first survivor to file suit in federal court against Swiss banks. The massive class action suit won a $1.25 billion settlement in 1998 for more than 30,000 Holocaust victims from the banks, which are known for protecting their clients' privacy.

Weisshaus and Fagan went after Swiss banks they believed had dormant accounts filled with money and gold looted from Jewish homes and communities during World War II. Weisshaus had told Fagan she knew her father once had money in Swiss banks and, for all she knew, it was still there. The attorney was later accused in the ethics probe of misusing a total of $82,600 of Weisshaus' money and part of a $500,000 settlement another survivor, Estelle Sapir, who is now deceased, received from the banks. He put those funds toward business expenses, including back rent, and wrote several checks to cash, according to the ethics complaint. John McGill, the ethics attorney representing the state, became frustrated at times during the hearing. "I think the disciplinary review board's decision was fair and reasonable and I have every confidence the Supreme Court will see that justice is served in this matter," he said. As is its custom, the Supreme Court will issue its opinion at a later date. Chief Justice Stuart Rabner did not participate in the hearing. Fagan has been disbarred in New York.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Tembeckjian on Senate Video as Focus Turns to Corrupt 'Ethics' Panels

The New York State Courts have become the national focus of administrative court corruption just as the U.S. Courts have become a global joke in the wake of Pennsylvania judges admitting to taking kickbacks for sentencing children for money.   And it all comes down to failed, or corrupted, oversight. See Chief Counsel of the Commission on Judicial Conduct, Robert Tembeckjian, in his testimony before New York's Senate Judiciary Hearing on June 8, 2009. See, also, Chief Counsel of Manhattan's Corrupt attorney 'ethics' oversight committee, Alan Friedberg. CLICK HERE TO SEE Friedberg and Tembeckjian....

Corrupt judges taking kickbacks for long prison sentences

Reuters - U.S. judges admit to jailing children for money - May 19, 2009

Two judges pleaded guilty on Thursday to accepting more than $2.6 million from a private youth detention center in Pennsylvania in return for giving hundreds of youths and teenagers long sentences. Judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan of the Court of Common Pleas in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, entered plea agreements in federal court in Scranton admitting that they took payoffs from PA Childcare and a sister company, Western PA Childcare, between 2003 and 2006. “Your statement that I have disgraced my judgeship is true,” Ciavarella wrote in a letter to the court. “My actions have destroyed everything I worked to accomplish and I have only myself to blame.” Conahan, who along with Ciavarella faces up to seven years in prison, did not make any comment on the case.

When someone is sent to a detention center, the company running the facility receives money from the county government to defray the cost of incarceration. So as more children were sentenced to the detention center, PA Childcare and Western PA Childcare received more money from the government, prosecutors said. Seven years seems too short for judges sent other people to prison in exchange for money, let alone for sending kids to prison. There was a similar case in the UK in March - Jailed for a MySpace parody, the student who exposed America’s cash for kids scandal: Hillary Transue was 14 when she carried out her prank. She built a hoax MySpace page in which she posed as the vice-principal of her school, poking fun at her strictness. At the bottom of the page she added a disclaimer just to make sure everyone knew it was a joke. “When you find this I hope you have a sense of humour,” she wrote.

Humour is not in abundance, it seems, in Luzerne County, northern Pennsylvania. In January 2007 Transue was charged with harassment. She was called before the juvenile court in Wilkes-Barre, an old coal town about 20 miles from her home. Less than a minute into the hearing the gavel came down. “Adjudicated delinquent!” the judge proclaimed, and sentenced her to three months in a juvenile detention centre. Hillary, who hadn’t even presented her side of the story, was handcuffed and led away. But her mother, Laurene, protested to the local law centre, setting in train a process that would uncover one of the most egregious violations of children’s rights in US legal history. Last month the judge involved, Mark Ciavarella, and the presiding judge of the juvenile court, Michael Conahan, pleaded guilty to having accepted $2.6m (£1.8m) from the co-owner and builder of a private detention centre where children aged from 10 to 17 were locked up.


****** RELATED STORY*******

U.S. judges admit to jailing children for money
Reuters by Jon Hurdle - February 13, 2009

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Two judges pleaded guilty on Thursday to accepting more than $2.6 million from a private youth detention center in Pennsylvania in return for giving hundreds of youths and teenagers long sentences. Judges Mark Ciavarella and Michael Conahan of the Court of Common Pleas in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, entered plea agreements in federal court in Scranton admitting that they took payoffs from PA Childcare and a sister company, Western PA Childcare, between 2003 and 2006.

"Your statement that I have disgraced my judgeship is true," Ciavarella wrote in a letter to the court. "My actions have destroyed everything I worked to accomplish and I have only myself to blame." Conahan, who along with Ciavarella faces up to seven years in prison, did not make any comment on the case. When someone is sent to a detention center, the company running the facility receives money from the county government to defray the cost of incarceration. So as more children were sentenced to the detention center, PA Childcare and Western PA Childcare received more money from the government, prosecutors said. Teenagers who came before Ciavarella in juvenile court often were sentenced to detention centers for minor offenses that would typically have been classified as misdemeanors, according to the Juvenile Law Center, a Philadelphia nonprofit group. One 17-year-old boy was sentenced to three months' detention for being in the company of another minor caught shoplifting. Others were given similar sentences for "simple assault" resulting from a schoolyard scuffle that would normally draw a warning, a spokeswoman for the Juvenile Law Center said.

The Constitution guarantees the right to legal representation in U.S. courts. But many of the juveniles appeared before Ciavarella without an attorney because they were told by the probation service that their minor offenses didn't require one. Marsha Levick, chief counsel for the Juvenile Law Center, estimated that of approximately 5,000 juveniles who came before Ciavarella from 2003 and 2006, between 1,000 and 2,000 received excessively harsh detention sentences. She said the center will sue the judges, PA Childcare and Western PA Childcare for financial compensation for their victims. "That judges would allow their greed to trump the rights of defendants is just obscene," Levick said. The judges attempted to hide their income from the scheme by creating false records and routing payments through intermediaries, prosecutors said. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court removed Ciavarella and Conahan from their duties after federal prosecutors filed charges on January 26. The court has also appointed a judge to review all the cases involved.

Judicial Corruption Probe Said to Be Eyeing Criminal Cases

Also, see these 2 related stories:

Pa. Judicial Corruption Probe Said to Be Eyeing Criminal Cases

The Legal Intelligencer by Hank Grezlak and Leo Strupczewski - June 1, 2009

Federal investigators in the Luzerne County, Pa., judicial corruption probe are said to be looking at whether two indicted former judges may have helped fix criminal cases, sources have told The Legal Intelligencer. An investigation by The Legal Intelligencer has turned up at least three criminal cases in which individuals with ties to the corruption probe or with either political or personal ties to former Judges Michael T. Conahan and Mark A. Ciavarella appeared in front of them and received relatively light sentences. In several instances, the bulk of the charges were either dismissed or nolle prossed.

While several people with knowledge of the Luzerne County Court system said aspects of the cases and their results raised questions, no one was willing to go on the record for this story, even as an anonymous source. The cases reviewed by The Legal Intelligencer involve Brian Dunn, a Wilkes-Barre Area School District board member who was indicted April 21 by federal prosecutors for allegedly taking kickbacks from contractors and teacher candidates; Louis Pagnotti III, who pleaded guilty to lying to a federal grand jury and was previously indicted for laundering drug money and was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in reputed mob boss William D'Elia's 2006 indictment; and Mary Butera, the wife of attorney Michael Butera, who sources have identified as a friend of Conahan's and who was a big contributor to Conahan's 2003 retention campaign. Sources familiar with the investigation say federal authorities have made multiple inquiries regarding Dunn's case. Multiple sources have also told The Legal Intelligencer that courthouse rumors have often held that Pagnotti's case was fixed. Conahan's attorney, Philip Gelso of Briechle & Gelso in Kingston, Pa., said he had no comment on the matter. Ciavarella's attorney, Al Flora, did not return a call seeking comment. The district attorney at the time the three cases were initially prosecuted was David Lupas, who is now a sitting Luzerne County Common Pleas Court judge. There is no indication that Lupas or his office did anything improper in their handling of the cases. Asked if he ever had any suspicions that criminal cases might have been fixed while he was district attorney, Lupas said that if federal investigators are looking at that angle, he would "fully welcome an investigation." When asked if it were possible that criminal cases could have been fixed while Conahan was on the bench, Lupas' colleague, Judge Peter Paul Olszewski Jr., responded: "I would certainly hope that federal investigators are looking at all aspects of the Luzerne County court system -- both civil and criminal."

Olszewski, the judge who oversees the criminal court, said the court administrator's office is responsible for assigning plea agreement hearings and trials to judges' calendars. The former court administrator was William Sharkey, Conahan's cousin. Sharkey pleaded guilty in February to embezzling $70,000 in illegal gambling proceeds seized by the Pennsylvania State Police that had been entrusted to the court. Luzerne County Common Pleas Court President Judge Chester B. Muroski said he has asked Olszewski to oversee the development of a random case assignment system for criminal cases. He previously asked Judge Joseph J. Musto to do the same for civil cases. "We all know the allegations that have been made about how cases have been assigned in the past," Muroski said. "[The new systems are being designed] to address that concern." When asked about the possibility of a random case assignment system, District Attorney Jackie Musto Carroll said she thought it would be "fine as far as our office [is concerned]." Though she said she doesn't recall any "red flags" with case assignments, Musto Carroll acknowledged that the current assignment process is guided by "human decisions." "It's one thing if a computer is spitting out names at random," she said. "It's another thing if a person is making a decision."

BRIAN DUNN

When Brian Dunn was arrested in February 2003 on drunken driving charges, he told the arresting officer he lost control of his car on a snow-covered road, jumped a curb and hit an abandoned building, according to an affidavit of probable cause. According to the affidavit, he also hit a pedestrian. That person was lying face down on the ground with a head injury "and other unknown injuries" when a police officer arrived on the scene, according to the affidavit. Dunn said he saw the pedestrian after getting out of his car to look for damage, according to the affidavit. He covered the pedestrian with a coat. According to the affidavit, Dunn's blood alcohol level was .186 -- more than twice the legal limit. When he appeared in court, Dunn did so by himself. He did not hire an attorney to handle his case. On his own, he applied for the court's Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition program. According to a docket sheet for the case, Conahan accepted the application and sentenced Dunn to six months in ARD. The school board member was required to pay costs and restitution, attend an alcohol highway safety program and complete 25 hours of community service within 10 months. Dunn's license was also suspended for a month.

Several sources have told The Legal Intelligencer that defendants generally do not receive ARD in cases where a person is hit or injured. Although the sources have said investigators are looking at the case, there is no indication that Dunn did anything improper regarding the disposition or that there was anything improper about the outcome. Musto Carroll said her office does not have a set policy on such incidents and that the district attorney's office would object to a defendant receiving ARD, if the injured person objected. "We don't do it," she said. "We don't go above the victim's wish." Musto Carroll said that an attorney for the man who was hit by Dunn wrote in a letter to her office that the pedestrian did not object to Dunn receiving ARD. Dunn, who was indicted April 21 for allegedly taking kickbacks, is a good friend of Luzerne County Common Pleas Court Judge Michael Toole's, sources previously confirmed to The Legal Intelligencer. Toole worked as a solicitor for the school district from 1989 until he was elected to the bench in 2003. Sources also previously told The Legal Intelligencer that the government was looking at Toole for allegedly taking a payment from attorney Robert Powell. Those sources either would not, or could not, identify the reason for the alleged payment or the amount. The payment is believed to be substantially less than the $2.6 million Powell allegedly paid Conahan and Ciavarella.

LOUIS PAGNOTTI III

Louis Pagnotti III was arrested in August 2002 after carjacking a minivan and driving off with two frightened children to the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton International Airport. According to news reports in the Citizens' Voice at the time, Pagnotti had crashed his SUV along I-81. Diane Cebrick witnessed the crash and stopped her Dodge minivan to see if she could help. When she got out of the van, the newspaper reported, Pagnotti jumped in and sped off. Her two children, daughter Cassandra, age 12 at the time, and son Craig, age 11 at the time, were still in the van. They were found 70 minutes later at the airport, unharmed. According to the Citizens' Voice, it was the first time the Amber Alert system had been used by police in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Pagnotti was arrested Aug. 6, 2002, and charged with four felonies, including robbery of a motor vehicle and interference with the custody of children and unlawful restraint, and three misdemeanors. According to court dockets, once bail was set for Pagnotti, there were no new docket entries until April 2003, nearly eight months after his arrest. While the docket does not show any continuances prior to April 2003, newspaper accounts report that Pagnotti's preliminary hearing was postponed at least twice.

Court dockets show that Conahan and Ciavarella's involvement in the case began in April 2003, when Conahan handled a petition for writ of habeas corpus. The next two docket entries show that Ciavarella took over the case and continued it May 5, 2003, and that he took the habeas corpus petition under advisement on May 16, 2003. Ciavarella later dismissed three of the felony charges on June 23, 2003, court dockets show. The remaining felony, theft by unlawful taking, was dismissed "at write up by DA" in front of Conahan Dec. 18, 2003, according to court dockets. Pagnotti then pleaded guilty to three misdemeanors. Conahan fined him and sentenced him to probation. Pagnotti's connection to Conahan and Ciavarella comes via D'Elia. In January, sources told The Legal Intelligencer that D'Elia, a reputed mob boss, was cooperating with federal authorities in the investigation into judicial corruption in Luzerne County. D'Elia's friend, admitted felon Robert Kulick, who is also cooperating with federal authorities in the probe, told lawyers for the company that owns the Citizens' Voice in a declaration that he and D'Elia met with Conahan roughly twice a month to discuss cases from 1999 to 2007. Kulick and Conahan are friends, sources have previously confirmed. Through his lawyer, D'Elia has denied he ever met with Conahan to fix cases. According to court documents filed in federal court, Pagnotti was indicted, along with co-defendant Frank Pavlico III, in February 2005 and charged with laundering drug money. The charges, according to the grand jury indictment, stemmed from activity beginning in the summer of 1999. The same grand jury later came back in May 2006 and charged Pagnotti with perjury as well. Pagnotti and Pavlico were later both named as unindicted co-conspirators in a federal grand jury indictment filed against D'Elia in October 2006. According to that indictment, Pagnotti and Pavlico allegedly conspired to hide drug proceeds by "characterizing them as 'commissions' and 'loans,'" and that Pavlico later had D'Elia invest the money. The indictment also accuses the three men and others of conspiring to obstruct justice and to commit and suborn perjury before a federal grand jury. Pavlico pled guilty in 2007 to federal money-laundering charges.

D'Elia, described in publications as the reputed head of a Northeastern Pennsylvania crime family, pleaded guilty in March 2008 to money-laundering and witness-tampering charges, The Associated Press reported. Court records show that Pagnotti pleaded guilty in November 2007 to perjury. When asked if Pagnotti was cooperating with federal authorities, and, if so, if he had been asked about the Luzerne County judges, his lawyer, Patrick A. Casey of Myers Brier & Kelly in Scranton, Pa., replied: "No comment." Pagnotti's attorney in the carjacking case, John P. Moses, could not be reached for comment. Several members of the legal community familiar with the facts surrounding the carjacking case expressed disbelief that the felony charges would have been dismissed and that Pagnotti would not have done some jail time. Several sources said the rumor was always that the case had been fixed. "That was the talk around the courthouse, no doubt about it," one source said. "But nobody's talked about it in years." Lupas said that he didn't agree with Ciavarella's decision to dismiss most of the felony charges against Pagnotti and was contemplating refiling the charges. But he said he met with the victims and their family and that the family wanted to resolve the matter and did not want the kids to testify. "I felt my responsibility was to the victims and to see that they were satisfied," Lupas said. "They wanted the matter resolved and not have the kids traumatized any more than they already had been, and they were satisfied with the outcome."

MARY BUTERA

Butera, the wife of Conahan's friend attorney Michael Butera, was arrested three times within six months in 2007 for a variety of offenses, including writing bad checks, forgery, theft by unlawful taking, receiving stolen property, drunk driving and drug possession. According to the court dockets, Mary Butera was not represented in her first two arrests. She did have an attorney regarding her third arrest, court dockets show. After appearing before Conahan regarding the second two arrests, all the charges were nolle prossed and Butera pleaded guilty in April 2008 to two counts of DUI, the docket and court papers show. Conahan sentenced her to 72 hours to six months in-home confinement on the two charges, suspended her driver's license and fined her. Press reports in the Times-Leader said Michael Butera contributed $10,000 to Conahan's retention campaign in 2003 and that the two men went to law school together.

According to court records, Mary Butera was arrested first on Jan. 22, 2007, and charged with writing bad checks. Roughly two weeks later, on Feb. 5, 2007, Michael Butera contributed $1,000 to Lupas' judicial campaign, according to campaign finance reports. The charges were dismissed April 20, 2007. Lupas said he was not aware of the bad check charge and that it was not the type of case that would have come across his desk. He said a lot of people donated to his judicial campaign and that Michael Butera's contribution would have had no influence on him. He said a review of the case showed that it was dismissed before it got to his office because Mary Butera made full restitution, and the victim did not want to press charges. Just four days before the bad check charges were dismissed, Mary Butera was arrested again on April 16, 2007, court records show. She was charged with multiple counts of forgery, theft by unlawful taking, receiving stolen property and securing execution of documents by deception. According to the complaint filed by police, Mary Butera forged her husband's signature on several checks for accounts tied to his law practice, including a client trust account, and stole $3,600.

According to the affidavit of probable cause, Michael Butera alerted police to the missing checks. When confronted by police, Mary Butera "openly and voluntarily admitted" to taking the checks and also said she was aware she was not permitted to possess her husband's business checks or endorse his signature, the affidavit said. Mary Butera applied for ARD and was accepted. Court papers show that she appeared before Conahan Sept. 20, 2007, and that he sentenced her to ARD for 12 months. However, nearly two months before her sentencing hearing, Mary Butera was arrested a third time on July 26, 2007, and charged with three counts of DUI, one count of drug possession and one count of possession of drug paraphernalia. According to the affidavit of probable cause, the police pulled Mary Butera over for speeding. The police officer noticed "a strong odor of alcohol" coming from her breath, as well as a "baggy containing a white substance which appeared to be cocaine" and a pipe "commonly used to smoke drugs." According to criminal complaint, Mary Butera's blood alcohol concentration was 0.16 or greater. People sentenced to ARD in Luzerne County normally have it revoked if they are arrested within six months of being put on the program, sources have said. According to papers filed by the Luzerne County district attorney's office, Butera never disclosed the new arrest when she applied for ARD and she never told Conahan during her sentencing hearing that she had been arrested again. And if Conahan knew about the arrest, there is no indication that he said so during the sentencing. "The new arrest also failed to appear in the criminal background report that was completed subsequent to her April 12, 2007 arrest," Lupas wrote in his petition for revocation of ARD. "The defendant's deception on her ARD application and failure to disclose the new arrest, combined with the fact that she has been re-arrested, warrant her removal" from the ARD program, he wrote. While the official docket does not note it, court papers in her criminal file show Mary Butera's case was continued five times from Oct. 22, 2007, to April 10, 2008, when both the outstanding cases against her, the stolen checks and the DUI and drug possession, were dealt with in front of Conahan. While court papers filled out by hand say "revocation of ARD," all of the stolen check charges related to Mary Butera's ARD sentence were nolle prossed. The drug possession charge and possession of drug paraphernalia was also nolle prossed, and Mary Butera pleaded guilty to two counts of DUI.

Luzerne County Assistant District Attorney Jeff Tokach said he wasn't aware of the friendship between Conahan and Mary Butera's husband, and that to his knowledge Conahan never acknowledged it in court. Tokach said there were reasonable explanations for how each of Mary Butera's arrests were handled. The bad checks case was dismissed because Mary Butera made full restitution to the business, he said, and the stolen checks case was nolle prossed because her husband no longer wanted to press charges. When asked if it was unusual for the district attorney's office to petition to revoke ARD, but then ultimately allow all the charges to be nolle prossed, Tokach said it wasn't. A case like that would be difficult to prosecute without the cooperation of the victim, he said. Tokach said that a review of Mary Butera's file did not turn up any explanation for the continuances. "Maybe the continuances were a little unusual," Tokach said. Lupas pointed out that he petitioned to revoke her ARD and sought to prosecute her but was out of the office and on the bench when the bulk of the charges were nolle prossed. The attorney who represented Mary Butera for her DUI arrest could not be reach for comment. Michael Butera also could not be reached for comment.

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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