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

End Corruption in the Courts!

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Monday, August 31, 2009

District Attorney Covered-Up Bag Man/Public Administrator

From all over New York, reports are coming in detailing how District Attorney Offices are covering up for the local Public Administrators. In Niagara County, an interesting time line shows the common pattern: the District Attorney dismisses a complaint, a judge gets cited by the Commission on Judicial Conduct (usually while other inquiries are under way), and the NYS Attorney General's office subpoenas records. As you read the below article, ask yourself: Did anyone in the Attorney General's office or the Surrogate's Court know about the District Attorney's letter? Have corrupt insiders polluted the AG's office? Is this white-washing from within the AG's office by well-placed, mid-level cogs?

Letter shows DA felt Broderick handled estate properly
The Buffalo News by Thomas J. Prohaska - August 30, 2009

LOCKPORT, NY — As far back as January, Niagara County District Attorney Michael J. Violante decided that County Treasurer David S. Broderick had done nothing wrong in handling the estate case that has triggered a state comptroller’s audit and a subpoena for documents from the state attorney general. In a Jan. 22 letter to Amherst attorney Teresa M. Snyder, Broderick’s chief accuser, Violante wrote that Broderick hadn’t violated the Penal Law or the General Municipal Law. He also concluded that Broderick hadn’t used his county staff to work on estates. In the letter, obtained last week by The Buffalo News, Violante said that he arrived at those conclusions through an interview between one of his prosecutors and Michael C. Veruto, deputy chief clerk of Niagara County Surrogate’s Court. But any violations by Broderick, whose duties include acting as executor of estates of people who die without wills, don’t pertain to the laws Violante cited in his letter. The Office of Court Administration, through its spokesman, David Bookstaver, said in March that Broderick’s activities were subject to the guidelines of the Administrative Board for the Offices of the Public Administrator, which derive from the Surrogate’s Court Procedure Act. Snyder accused Broderick of assigning his wife, Jane, a real estate agent, to sell at least eight homes between 2000 and 2008, resulting in more than $30,000 in commissions for her company, Realty USA. About 25 percent of that is believed to have gone to Jane Broderick, given typical real estate practices.

Also, court files show Broderick assigned his brother William, an attorney, to carry out legal work on three estates since 2003, netting William Broderick more than $17,000 in legal fees. Violante did not respond to requests for comment Thursday or Friday. He told Snyder in the Jan. 22 letter that if she had any complaints about Broderick, she should take them up with the judges of Surrogate’s Court. She did so, and in March the judges, Matthew J. Murphy III and Sara Sheldon Sperrazza, asked the comptroller’s office to audit Broderick, a process that is still going on. In June, the attorney general’s office subpoenaed Broderick for six years’ worth of estate documents for files on which Jane and William Broderick worked. Six years is the statute of limitations for most crimes. Violante’s letter does not mention whether any court files were inspected. The Buffalo News reviewed more than 700 Surrogate’s Court files and nearly every one contained evidence of work by county staffers on estate cases. That evidence included letters to attorneys and court officials involved in estate cases signed by Broderick’s secretary, Karen Castle, and her predecessors, as well as documents notarized by them. Monday, a settlement that prevented a trial resulted in Broderick not having to testify about how he handled Snyder’s mother’s estate. It also reduced by more than 50 percent the commission he was seeking from that estate, from $15,196 to $7,500. tprohaska@buffnews.com

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DA Finds Nothing Improper in Broderick Case
The Lockport Union-Sun & Journal by Mark Scheer - August 27, 2009

Niagara County District Attorney Michael Violante determined several months ago that county Treasurer David Broderick did nothing wrong in his handling of estates as public administrator. His office also concluded that no county employees were assigned to Broderick’s estate-related work at the time of the investigation, a finding that appears to conflict with numerous estate documents on file in county surrogate’s court. In a Jan. 22 letter to Broderick’s chief accuser, Amherst attorney Teresa Snyder, Violante said his office investigated her concerns about Broderick’s estate dealings and found “no violations of the general municipal law or the penal law have occurred.” “There is no evidence that indicates that he has acted improperly in any of the matters that you cite in your letter,” Violante wrote in a copy of the letter obtained by Greater Niagara Newspapers. “One of my attorneys has met with Michael C. Veruto, deputy chief clerk of the Surrogate Court, and reviewed this matter. Nothing was uncovered to indicate any wrongdoing.” Snyder wrote to Violante in December, asking his office to investigate Broderick’s work as public administrator, including his decision to enter into a contract with his wife’s real estate firm for the sale of the Snyder family home in Lewiston. In her letter, she alleges Broderick benefited personally from the arrangement and suggests it that, at minimum, it was a violation of article 18 of general municipal law covering conflicts of interest for municipal employees in New York. “The attorney general’s position on the matter has consistently been that public officials should avoid circumstances which compromise their ability to make impartial judgments solely in the public interest and even the appearance of impropriety should be avoided in order to maintain public confidence in government,” she wrote in a Dec. 9 letter. “Government officials must maintain public confidence in the integrity of government.” Snyder later brought her concerns to county surrogate’s court as part of a legal dispute over her mother’s estate. As part of the case, she filed paperwork suggesting Broderick’s wife has collected commissions on the sale of several properties he oversaw as the county’s public administrator. Broderick and his attorney, George Muscato, have repeatedly denied those claims, insisting Broderick has conducted himself appropriately whenever called upon to preside over estates in which the individuals have died without leaving a will or the heirs are unable to reach agreement on the distribution of assets. In her letter to Violante, Snyder also expressed concern about Broderick’s use of personnel from the county treasurer’s office to complete his estate work. The claim is supported by several estate documents on file in surrogate’s court, including some placed on letterhead from the treasurer’s office and others notarized by county employees. Copies of several e-mails obtained in March by Greater Niagara Newspapers suggest at least one county employee in Broderick’s office has handled estate-related duties. All the e-mails involve exchanges between Thomas Snyder, one of the sons involved in the Snyder case, and Karen Castle, Broderick’s confidential secretary. Several of the e-mails, which date to September 2008, encourage Snyder to contact Castle or Broderick if he has any questions about his mother’s estate.

According to state law, in counties such as Niagara where there is no provision for a separate office of public administrator, estates left behind by individuals who die without wills or who have heirs who cannot agree on the settlement of affairs are handled by the county’s top fiscal officer — in this case, Broderick. In response to calls for the formation of a county board of inquiry to investigate Broderick’s conduct, Niagara County Attorney Claude Joerg previously has issued an opinion suggesting the duties of the public administrator are separate from those of the treasurer’s office and are, therefore, not covered by the rules of county government. Advocates for the formation of a board of inquiry, including Niagara County Legislator and Minority Leader Dennis Virtuoso, D-Niagara Falls, have argued that, if Joerg is correct, Broderick should be barred from using county employees and resources for estate work. In his response to Snyder, Violante said his investigation found no links between Broderick’s estate duties and those who work under him in the treasurer’s office. “Additionally, there is no evidence to suggest that county employees are working on files related to Mr. Broderick’s duties and public administrator,” Violante wrote. Violante did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday. Muscato and Broderick also could not be reached to comment. Snyder and all parties involved in her mother’s case agreed last week to drop their claims as part of a settlement agreement brokered by county Judge Matthew J. Murphy III. The settlement is covered by a court-authorized gag order that bars all participants from discussing any details in the case. Broderick’s dealings as public administrator are under review by the offices of the state comptroller and attorney general. The comptroller’s audit is expected to be completed this fall. The attorney general has presented county officials with subpoenas seeking records related to Broderick’s estate work over the past six years. Contact reporter Mark Scheer at 282-2311, ext. 2250

It's All About Legal Fees

It's All About Legal Fees
The Westchester Guardian - Letter to Editor - August 27, 2009

Reader Reveals Experience In Westchester Surrogates Court

Dear Editor: What has transpired at the Westchester Surrogates Court is an unrelenting testament to corruption that reiterates what your readers have already learned through recent articles that the Westchester Guardian has previously published as to Judge Scarpino's 'Criminal Enterprise' as identified before the New York State Senate Judiciary Committees Hearings as to the Carvel Estate, and other related stories. I am referring to the defrauding and extortion of the FFG Trust assets these past ten years through the machination and manipulations of the staff at the Westchester Supreme Court with Judge Anthony Scarpino at the helm. The criminal travesty that has gone on has been an illumination as to the ignoring in totality of the Laws of New York State, the Constitution of New York State and as to all of the guarantees of Due Process under Law. DUE PROCESS was thrown totally out of the window in service to massive and unrelenting greed by Westchester Supreme Court personnel and favored lawyers. The ongoing scams at the Westchester Supreme Court can all be filtered into one pivotal sentence "It's all about the 'legal fees'."

"Legal fees" - fraudulent 'legal fees', unearned 'legal fees', full of churned billable hours for work never done, with zero work product, or 'work' that is so slovenly that it is clear that it is just a sop to 'substantiate' the lawyer's billing fraud. "Legal Fees" presented by 'favored' lawyers and court appointed (anointed) guardians ad litem, sycophants all of the Westchester Supreme Court, for massive amounts of money and then are just rubber stamped by Scarpino. There is no Rule of Law operational at this Court. Facts are totally inconsequential. It is all about which parties have any money, and how can that money be '(il)legally' attached and moved into the pickets of the favored, but thoroughly corrupt lawyers as quickly as possible, by doing whatever has to be done; threats, intimidations, coercions, to frighten all who oppose into submission. The Westchester Supreme Court has become the haven of thugs, con artists, shake-down guys/gals and bagmen/bag women who are not only ripping off our hard earned monies, but are committing an even great crime - as they are ripping off our RIGHT to Justice. - M.L. Donohue.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Judges Failing Duty, Protecting Their Own

Circuit Finds Judges Immune From Suit for 18-B Pay Review
The New York Law Journal by Mark Hamblett - August 31, 2009

A lawyer who claimed judges in Queens Family Court conspired to cut his pay vouchers in cases to which he had been assigned because he submitted too many contested motions has lost his federal court battle for damages. The attorney, David Bliven, said he was forced to resign from the 18-B assigned-counsel panel, thereby losing two-thirds of his regular income, due to pressure from judges who did not like the extensive motions he made in some 15 child protective and foster care cases starting in 2001. Acting pro se, Mr. Bliven, of White Plains, in 2005 sued Queens Family Court Judges John Hunt and Barbara Salinitro; Guy DePhillips, the Family Court supervising judge; and Joseph Lauria, the administrative judge for New York City Family Court as well as their staff attorneys. Mr. Bliven claimed that every voucher he submitted between March and September 2002 to Judges Hunt or Salinitro was reduced by $50 to $100 with no explanation. Two staff attorneys, Douglas Foreman and Julie Stanton, Mr. Bliven said, told him the reduction was due to his filing motions to compel disclosures of complete Administration for Children's Services files. Mr. Bliven also charged that he was told the judges were threatening to file a grievance against him for complaining about the reductions. He asked for $5 million in compensatory damages, principally under 42 U.S.C §1983, alleging various grounds, including denial of substantive and procedural due process, conspiracy to deprive him of equal protection and conspiracy to deprive persons charged with child neglect and/or abuse of effective representation. He also sought $16,637 from New York City for a breach of contract claim. Further, he petitioned the court to enjoin the state and city from requiring judicial approval of vouchers and to order that any fee disputes be arbitrated.

But Eastern District Judge Sandra J. Fuerstein concluded that the defendants were absolutely immune from suit for judicial acts and dismissed his case in Bliven v. Hunt, 418 F. Supp. 2d 135. On Friday, the dismissal was upheld by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Judges Amalya Kearse, Robert Sack and Robert Katzmann decided the appeal in Bliven v. Hunt, 07-1146-cv. Judge Kearse wrote for the panel. The Second Circuit decision will be published tomorrow. Judge Kearse said it is "well settled that judges generally have absolute immunity from suit." But, she said, they are not immune to suit stemming from non-judicial actions, such as administrative decisions. One example of an administrative decision for which judges have been found liable to suit is in firing or demoting a court employee. Part of the analysis in distinguishing judicial from administrative actions, Judge Kearse said, is whether the judge's action is related to a particular case. Here, she said, "the determination by a judge as to whether a given fee request by an 18-B Panel member is reasonable is clearly case-related." Judge Kearse said Mr. Bliven was wrong to rely on Mitchell v. Fishbein, 377 F.3d 157 (2004), where the Second Circuit held that a screening committee that compiled a list of 18-B attorneys performed administrative and legislative functions rather than judicial. Nor was Mr. Bliven helped by citing Levenson v. Lippman, 4 N.Y.3d 280 (2005), where the New York Court of Appeals characterized an "award of compensation fees" as an "administrative rather than judicial act of the trial judge."

In Lippman, the Court said then-Chief Administrative Judge Jonathan Lippman did not violate state law by amending regulations to provide for the review by the appropriate administrative judge of awards by trial court judges that exceeded court guidelines. "Notwithstanding the New York Court of Appeals' characterization of 18-B Panel fee awards as administrative for purposes of ensuring their reviewability, we are not persuaded that a judge's decision as to reasonable attorney's fee is an administrative, rather than a judicial, decision for purposes of determining whether the judge is to have absolute immunity for that decision," Judge Kearse said. "The authority to decide what is a reasonable attorney's fee for representing a client in a particular case is plainly part of the judicial function performed in many cases." Mr. Bliven, who is on the 18-B panel in Westchester, said Friday he was "disappointed in the result but not entirely surprised." "It's certainly not a decision on the merits of the case and I stand by the facts that I put in my complaint," Mr. Bliven said. "I would hope the Legislature would act to amend the law to take the approval of public defenders' pay out of the hands of judges because certainly the judges don't have oversight on what prosecutors or city attorneys should get and they should not have that kind of oversight over only one side of the case." Assistant Solicitor General Diana R.H. Winters represented the state. Susan Choi-Hausman represented New York City. Mark.Hamblett@incisivemedia.com

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Arrested Judge/'officer of court'/former prosecutor's Bag of Tricks

Lavallette police detail arrest of Bridgewater judge
Gannett - New Jersey by Kara L. Richardson - August 27, 2009

A judge for a Municipal Court in Somerset County, charged with drunken driving and accused of being belligerent to officers here, was taken to a hospital following his arrest Saturday, police said. Police on Thursday detailed the episode involving Bridgewater Municipal Court Judge Stanley F. Rizzolo, whom they said they stopped at 11:41 p.m. Saturday on Route 35 South near Brown Avenue because he was swerving. The incident escalated from a motor vehicle stop to multiple charges against the judge, including obstruction of justice, and a trip to the hospital for him, according to Police Chief Colin M. Grant. "If he knows the process, then just let the guys do their job. If he wasn't intoxicated, he would have been on his way," Grant said. Rizzolo is facing charges of driving under the influence, obstruction of justice, failure to maintain lane, reckless driving, refusal to submit a breath sample, and a violation of a municipal loud and unusual noise ordinance. He is scheduled to appear in Lavallette Municipal Court on Sept. 22. The judge declined to comment Thursday on the police report. Rizzolo said he is retaining an attorney and is awaiting an opportunity to prove his innocence in court. Rizzolo has served as a Bridgewater's Municipal Court judge for a year. He will remain on the Municipal Court bench in Bridgewater. However, he will not hear cases that conflict with his current charges, Township Administrator Jim Naples has said. According to Grant, based on information from Officer Andrew Baldino's report, Rizzolo's eyes were watery Saturday during the motor vehicle stop. His speech was slurred, and there was an odor of alcoholic beverages coming from him, according to Grant. Rizzolo told Baldino that he swerved because his cell phone rang, Grant said. Rizzolo said he was coming from the Surf Club in Ortley Beach and had consumed a few drinks earlier in the day, according to Grant. Grant said that struck him as odd because Rizzolo was headed south toward the Surf Club. Baldino asked Rizzolo to perform a few field sobriety tests, and the judge agreed. Rizzolo told the officer he was familiar with the tests because he had served as a municipal prosecutor. He passed both the alphabet test and the counting-backward test, Grant said.

Baldino asked Rizzolo if he had any physical ailments that would prevent him from performing the balance test. Rizzolo said he had a bad back, and that he had hurt his ankle that day. Baldino then asked Rizzolo to perform the Romberg balance test, where he would have had to stand with his feet together and tilt his head back with his eyes closed. Rizzolo said he could not do the test because he gets vertigo, according to Grant. Because Lavallette police officers are required to perform three field sobriety tests, Baldino then called Sgt. John Andrews, who is trained in the horizontal gaze nystagmus test, during which the sergeant would have observed Rizzolo's eye movements as he followed the path of an object. When Andrews arrived, Rizzolo explained that he already had passed the counting-backward test and the alphabet test. That, according to the report, is when Rizzolo became angry. "He was then refusing to listen and says it (the horizontal gaze nystagmus test) is not admissible in court, and under no circumstances is he going to take the test," Grant said. Rizzolo then became belligerent and began to shout profanities, according to Grant. Andrews then arrested Rizzolo on charges of obstruction of justice and suspicion of driving under the influence. According to the police report, while in the patrol car, Rizzolo said, "Get me out of here. My heart hurts!" Rizzolo slumped down in the back of the police car and would not respond to more questions in the vehicle, and two officers — Baldino and Officer Charlie Russell — had to carry him into police headquarters, Grant said. Police said Rizzolo refused to sign the Miranda rights form and demanded to talk with his attorney. According to Grant, he was "screaming that he's not supposed to be here, and all he wanted to do is go home." Rizzolo was asked if he had diabetes, which is a standard question during a driving-while-intoxicated arrest, Grant said. Rizzolo replied, "Yes." Rizzolo continued to say he was ill, and Grant said he started to gag. According to Grant, Baldino asked Rizzolo, "Are you sick?" Rizzolo said, "Yes, I have a reaction to false arrests."

Russell, trained as an emergency medical technician, then gave oxygen to Rizzolo. An ambulance took him to Community Medical Center in Toms River, Grant said. On the way, Rizzolo refused to answer questions about his medical history, Grant said. However, this time when the crew asked Rizzolo if he had diabetes, he said, "No," according to Grant. Russell and hospital staff had to restrain Rizzolo a few times as he attempted to leave the hospital, according to Grant. Rizzolo also refused to give a blood sample, Grant said. He was issued a summons for failure to submit a breath or blood sample and released to the care of the medical center staff, Grant said. "To me it's a case of we had one more test to conduct, and none of this would have been taken to what it was," Grant said. "For whatever reason, Mr. Rizzolo decided not to comply." Rizzolo has served as Bridgewater's Municipal Court judge for a year. He replaced Richard Sasso, who was charged with being inebriated while serving on the bench and other alcohol-related incidents. Sasso has been barred from holding any judicial office in the state.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Former NY Judge Found Guilty of Attempted Extortion and Bribery

Guilt is final act in career
A strong advocate for Republican causes, Thomas J. Spargo faces prison in shakedown bid
The Albany Times Union by ROBERT GAVIN - August 28, 2009

ALBANY, NY – Former Judge Thomas J. Spargo was convicted Thursday of trying to shake down lawyers and solicit a $10,000 bribe to pay his mounting legal bills, completing the downfall of a once pre-eminent election law attorney later ousted from the state Supreme Court bench. Spargo, 66, showed little expression in U.S. District Court as the verdict was handed up on the second day of jury deliberations: Guilty on both counts of attempted extortion and attempted bribery. The prominent East Berne Republican, who went to bat in Florida for George W. Bush following the disputed 2000 presidential election, is now a convicted felon facing the possibility of several years in a federal prison cell. Spargo kept his composure after the verdict, hugging one teary-eyed supporter and smiling in the face of a conviction that will cost him his law license and two fines of $250,000. But the bespectacled lawyer's outlook and distinguished appearance now only contrast allegations the federal government proved in less than a week: That he not-so-subtly tried to shake down personal injury lawyers for tens of thousands of dollars like a common extortionist.

"Judges are supposed to serve the people who elected them, not their own self-interests," said John F. Pikus, the special agent who heads the FBI's Albany branch, which was involved in the case. "What Mr. Spargo did is nothing more than old-fashioned extortion." While Spargo faces a maximum of 20 years in prison for his attempted extortion and a maximum of 10 years for the attempted bribery conviction, federal sentencing guidelines would likely result in lesser penalties. Defense attorney E. Stewart Jones indicated the punishment for his client could range from probation to 3 years behind bars. Spargo will be sentenced Dec. 21 by District Judge Gary Sharpe, who presided over the four-day trial. "The jury system works," Spargo told reporters outside the James T. Foley U.S. Courthouse, "whether you like it or not." Jones, a prominent Troy defense attorney, described Spargo's trial as an "uphill battle," noting the federal government's extremely high conviction rate. "This is a sad outcome for someone who was a superb judge, superb lawyer and superb human being," Jones said. Asked why Spargo was convicted, Jones said, "You'll have to talk to the jury about that." Spargo was cross-endorsed in a deal for election to a 14-year term in state Supreme Court in 2001. Although his chambers were in Albany, Spargo presided over cases in Ulster County, which is part of the state's Third Judicial District.

By January 2002, Spargo faced allegations of ethical violations -- unrelated to his future bench removal and criminal case -- from the state Commission on Judicial Conduct. Court papers showed that by September 2003, Spargo's legal bills had "outstripped his ability to pay them." The bills would eventually exceed $140,000. At the federal trial, the government proved Spargo tried to extort attorneys to offset his legal costs, including Bruce Blatchly, an Ulster County lawyer with more than 32 years of experience, who had eight cases before the judge. Spargo solicited a $10,000 bribe from Blatchly on Nov. 13, 2003. But when the attorney declined to pay up, Spargo pressured him again through a friend, identified as attorney Sanford Rosenblum, in the coat room of a Kingston restaurant, the government said in court papers. Blatchly testified Monday that Spargo then called him on his cellphone on Dec. 19, 2003. He said the judge boasted he would be returning to Ulster County in 2004 and would handle Blatchly's cases. In addition, he testified, the judge revealed that Spargo's close friend, Albany County Surrogate's Court Judge Cathryn Doyle, was expected to preside over Blatchly's divorce from his now ex-wife. According to Blatchly, Spargo said "it looked like a nice Christmas for him."

When a federal prosecutor, Senior Trial Attorney Richard C. Pilger, asked Blatchly how that remark made him feel, the lawyer replied, ''Pretty much the opposite,'' saying, ''Now that my divorce was in his control, or the control his friend ... screwed.'' The Spargo case was also prosecuted by Trial Attorney M. Kendall Day of the public integrity section of the U.S. attorney's office. Blatchly had filed a complaint with the state commission. Spargo was removed from the bench three years ago. Spargo was indicted in Albany last December. Jones said he will file a motion to reverse the verdict, but did not say on what he would base any appeal. Jones told reporters judges should either be appointed or publicly funded rather than rely on donors for campaign funds. "They should take this process and change it." He accused the state commission of targeting his client. Robert Tembeckjian, the commission's administrator, said the state commission's decision and the jury's verdict both ''speak for themselves… there wasn't anything personal. We were just doing our jobs."

Spargo, a onetime seminarian and Army paratrooper, was hearing cases in Albany on March 31, 2006, when word of the commission's ouster was delivered to him in a note from a secretary. "I've just been removed from the bench," he said aloud at the time. "I have to go." The removal was due to the same charges he was convicted of Thursday. Spargo had faced other allegations from the commission that he wrongly participated during the Bush-Gore recount in Florida, but they were dropped. In 1990, Spargo went before the Commission on Government Integrity on allegations he funneled $750,000 into a Poughkeepsie Town Board race to elect candidates who would back a mall the Syracuse-based Pyramid Co. had wanted to build in the 1980s. He denied any wrongdoing and the probe was closed after he resigned as counsel to the state GOP. Spargo had invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination 19 times. Robert Gavin can be reached at 434-2403 or by e-mail at rgavin@timesunion.com

NY Daily News Editorial on NY's Disgraceful Judicial System

POLITICS & JUSTICE DON'T MIX
EDITORIAL - THE NEW YORK DAILY NEWS - September 29, 2003

Thomas Spargo is a prime example of the problem with New York's elected state Supreme Court justices. For many years a GOP election lawyer, he won an upstate town judgeship in 1999 and made it to Supreme a scant two years later. Throughout, he was a politician, cutting deals and angling for votes. Even though our judges are elected, state rules allow them to engage in only limited political activity. The amount of cutting and angling by Spargo violated those rules, and charges were brought against him. He sued in federal court. And he won, which meant the restrictions would be tossed out. Today, a panel of federal judges in Manhattan will hear the state's appeal. The lesson here is obvious: You can't have an election - all elections being political - while ensuring that the candidates do not play politics. It's an unworkable contradiction that can be remedied only by moving to a merit-appointed bench. Spargo's case is not a first. Last year, the U.S. Supreme Court threw out Minnesota's rules against judicial candidates' making pronouncements on political issues. In that decision, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, in a separate opinion, wrote that if a state chooses to elect its judges, it must live with the consequences - i.e., elected judges being involved in politics. O'Connor, a former Arizona state senator, is the only member of the high court who ever ran for office. She also sat as an elected and an appointed state judge. She knows that politics cannot be expunged from judicial elections - and she hasn't even met the scoundrels of New York's elected bench, where qualifications are irrelevant and success is a function of cozying up to party bosses. Under New York's unique-in-the-nation system, there are no primary elections. The bosses do all the nominating for Supreme Court. The elections are phony, and in too many cases, the judges are abysmal. By the way, even if Spargo prevails in the rules-case today, he is not out of hot water. Turns out that, as a town judge, he presided over criminal cases prosecuted by the Albany County district attorney - who happened to owe him $10,000. Spargo didn't disclose this in court and didn't recuse himself. That's a firing offense. Want more entertainment? Tomorrow, in his role as a Supreme Court justice, Spargo will testify before the Commission to Promote Public Confidence in Judicial Elections. He's the perfect witness. There is no public confidence in judicial elections - nor will there ever be.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Jury in Corrupt NY Judge Trial Continues Deliberations

Jury in Spargo trial continues deliberations
Prosecutors claim abuse of power; defense notes absence of witness
The Albany Times Union by BRENDAN J. LYONS - August 27, 2009

ALBANY, NY -- A federal jury on Wednesday ended its first day of deliberating felony bribery and extortion charges against former state Supreme Court Justice Thomas J. Spargo without a verdict. The jury will resume their examination this morning. Prosecutors and Spargo's defense attorney delivered their summations in about 80 minutes Wednesday morning and the jury started their deliberations in the early afternoon. E. Stewart Jones, Spargo's attorney, characterized his client as an innocent man who would not have risked extorting money from attorneys at a time when he was being heavily scrutinized by a state judicial panel. Prosecutors countered that Spargo had cashed in a retirement fund to pay some of his mounting, six-figure legal bills six years ago and in an act of arrogance and abuse of his power he sought to shake down several lawyers to help pay that tab. Jones criticized the government for failing to call a potentially key witness, Albany County Surrogate's Court Judge Cathryn Doyle, who is Spargo's close personal friend. Doyle testified in front of the grand jury that indicted Spargo last December. Doyle, according to prosecutors, attended a December 2003 lunch in Ulster County where six attorneys were solicited to donate $10,000 each to Spargo's defense fund. At the time, Spargo's legal tab topped $140,000 from his ongoing battle with the state Commission on Judicial Conduct, which later threw him off the bench for misconduct. Doyle's absence from the proceedings resonates, Jones said, because prosecutors had alleged Spargo used her to attempt to extort money from an Ulster County lawyer, Bruce Blatchly. On the trial's opening day Blatchly testified that Spargo called him in December 2003, around the time he was allegedly soliciting him for money, and boasted that Doyle was being assigned to Ulster County that coming year and would be presiding over Blatchly's divorce from his now ex-wife. Blatchly testified that Spargo also told him that he would be returning to Ulster County in 2004 and presiding over many of his cases. "Kate Doyle is critical to this case and yet they didn't produce her for you," Jones told the jury. "What didn't they like about her testimony? You know and I know they couldn't live with her testimony."

Justice Department Trial Attorney Richard Pilger, who delivered the prosecution's rebuttal summation, did not tell the jury why Doyle was not called as a witness. But he noted that Jones could have put her on the stand as a defense witness but also chose not to issue her a subpoena. Prosecutor Kendall Day cast Spargo as a power-mongering jurist who tried to extort tens of thousands of dollars from attorneys for three of Ulster County's most successful personal injury law firms. "Judge Spargo crossed lines that are sacred in our system," Day told the jury. "He was trusted with awesome power. He had a responsibility to uphold the law but he turned his back on that responsibility." Day said Spargo's account of what unfolded six years ago was not supported by the accounts of several witnesses, and that his testimony before the judicial panel was laced with lies. "He knew he had to deny those things," Day said. "He knew that to admit them would be to admit to a crime." Brendan J. Lyons can be reached at 454-5547 or by e-mail at blyons@timesunion.com.

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Selective Due Process

Revocation of Lawyer's Pension Violated Due Process, Judge Says
The New York Law Journal by Vesselin Mitev - August 27, 2009

State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli improperly revoked the $106,000 annual pension of a Long Island lawyer, an Albany judge has ruled in ordering the state to restore the benefit. The state violated Albert D'Agostino's due process rights by "depriving him of continuing retirement benefits prior to granting him a hearing and by failing to provide adequate notice" of the case against him, Acting Supreme Court Justice Gerald W. Connolly ruled in D'Agostino v. DiNapoli, 8134-08. The Albany Supreme Court decision appears on page 42 of the print edition of today's Law Journal. The state had sought the repayment of $605,874 in pension payments made to Mr. D'Agostino between August 2002 and March 2008—one of the largest amounts sought in a wide-ranging probe of payments to lawyers who were improperly enrolled in the state pension system as employees of government agencies they represented (NYLJ, Aug. 28, 2008). In a prior ruling, the judge had held that Mr. DiNapoli and Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo have the authority to review pension payments and revoke benefits, but only if the recipients had received proper advance notice and an opportunity to contest the action (NYLJ, April 14). A spokesman for the comptroller said yesterday that the office would modify its procedure but would continue to pursue the case against Mr. D'Agostino.

In a series of letters starting in April 2008, Mr. D'Agostino, 65, was informed by the comptroller's office that his benefits were suspended pending a review of his record to determine whether he was eligible to receive service credit. In a June letter, the office advised Mr. D'Agostino, of Minerva & D'Agostino in Valley Stream, that he had been incorrectly registered as an employee of three school districts and the Nassau County Civil Service Commission for periods ranging from three to 23 years when in fact he was an independent contractor. But Justice Connolly said the investigation of Mr. D'Agostino was conducted by comptroller staff who had "no experience or expertise with respect to the retirement system or the issue of whether an individual is an employee or an independent contractor." He added, "It further appears that much of their investigation involved interviewing people who had no personal knowledge of the specifics of petitioner's employment history." A final letter in August 2008 informed Mr. D'Agostino that after reviewing his case, the comptroller had determined the lawyer was an independent contractor rather than an employee and thus ineligible to receive a pension.

Noting that no "other factual basis or reasoning" was given for the determination, Justice Connolly ruled that a pre-deprivation hearing would not have adversely impacted the state's ability to collect improper payments. Mr. D'Agostino's "significant private interests in continuing to receive his pension benefits outweigh the government's limited interest in effecting the deprivation prior to granting a hearing," the judge wrote, adding that due process "requires" that a pre-deprivation hearing be held. The judge dismissed an argument by the comptroller that Mr. D'Agostino could have paid to see a copy of his entire pension system file as insufficient to satisfy due process, given the lack of information about the probe that led to the revocation of his membership. "Due process requires meaningful notice of the nature of the charges and evidence against petitioner as well as a statement of the legal basis for the charges in order to allow petitioner to adequately respond to and rebut respondents' claim," Justice Connolly wrote. "Respondents failed to provide such notice." The judge also held that any improper payments to Mr. D'Agostino could be recouped by the state, "in the event petitioner's pension benefits and membership are properly terminated in the future."

Lawyer Feels 'Vindicated'

In an interview, Mr. D'Agostino said he felt "vindicated" in a case he described as politically motivated and brought by "first string rookies who worked for a rookie comptroller who is looking to stay in office." Any attempt by the comptroller's office to portray the ruling as a "procedural bump in the road" goes against the oath Mr. DiNapoli took as an elected official to "uphold the Constitution," Mr. D'Agostino said. Emily DeSantis, a spokeswoman for Mr. DiNapoli, said that while the office would not appeal the decision, it would continue to pursue the case against Mr. D'Agostino, "but through the Retirement System hearing process." In an e-mail interview, Ms. DeSantis said the decision "reaffirms our authority to revoke pensions but just requires more due process." She added that the comptroller has yet to determine whether to institute pre-deprivation hearings across the board, but said that "in light of the court's ruling, our office will make sure these individuals are afforded sufficient due process before their benefits are revoked."

To date, 63 individuals, 62 of them attorneys, have had their memberships revoked or service credits rescinded in the probe, netting $1.6 million in repayments to the state. Several other attorneys are claiming their pensions were revoked improperly. In April, Justice Connolly reiterated in Swergold v. Cuomo, 3897-08, his prior finding that the attorney general had the "authority and a proper basis" to subpoena the employment records of attorneys his office was investigating in the pension probe (NYLJ, April 14). The judge also held that Mr. DiNapoli had the power to review records and "correct any errors which would affect the amount of any pension a member might receive." An appeal by named plaintiffs Nathan M. Swergold of Woodbury and William M. Cullen of Lloyd Harbor, who both sought to be reinstated into the system, is pending at the Appellate Division, Third Department. James Roemer, of Roemer Wallins & Mineaux in Albany, represented Mr. D'Agostino. He called the ruling "significant on the merits of due process" and said it may have implications in the Swergold case, with which his firm is also involved. Vesselin.Mitev@incisivemedia.com

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

4 'Officers of the Court' Charged in Mortgage Fraud

8 arrested in alleged mortgage scam
The Journal News by Rebecca Baker - August 26, 2009
rebaker@lohud.com

Eight people, including four lawyers, face charges in an alleged mortgage scheme that defrauded four Westchester County families and two mortgage lenders of $1.4 million. The three-year scheme targeted vulnerable people living in Croton-on-Hudson, Yorktown, Cortlandt and Mount Vernon who were about to lose their homes, authorities said. The victims lost their homes and were evicted or are now fighting eviction proceedings. The arrests followed a nine-month probe by the Westchester County District Attorney's Office and the state Banking Department.

Prosecutors say the scam went like this: The defendants found their victims through notices of public auction or foreclosure. They reached out to the cash-strapped homeowners and gained their trust, saying they could transfer the deed to an investor, who would hold the title for 12 to 24 months so they could save money and reclaim their home. But once the "investor" took title, phony checks were presented to the lenders for much higher amounts than what the straw buyer paid for the home. Those checks allowed the group's members to get inflated mortgages, which they used to pay off the original mortgage and keep the remainder for themselves. "The whole purpose of this scheme was to line their pockets," Westchester Assistant District Attorney Brian Conway said. "These transactions were doomed to fail, and they did fail." With the homes stripped of their equity, the former owners were left with nothing. They have filed civil lawsuits to try to reclaim what they lost, prosecutors said. “These are serious financial crimes,” District Attorney Janet DiFiore said. “These crimes have the potential to destroy entire neighborhoods.” Prosecutors alleged that:

Doreen Swenson, 60, and Hubert "Phil" Hall, 62, a married couple from Tarrytown, helped set up the phony mortgages as principals of the Doran Group. According to the indictment unsealed yesterday, Hall told authorities that he was aware they were in trouble and that he would plead guilty to avoid jail. Hall is a former editor at a precursor to The Journal News.
Amerigo DiPietro, 59, of Brewster, who owned Interstate Monetary Concepts in Briarcliff Manor, acted as a mortgage broker. Wilma Shkreli, 32, of Westwood, N.J., also known as Wilma Gecay, worked for IMC and posed an an investor.
Attorneys David Reback, 67, of Rye Brook and Eileen Potash, 52, of Queens represented the Doran Group.
• Attorneys Mildred Didio of Manhattan and Frank Corigliano of Newtown, Conn., both 44, represented the straw buyers or acted as settlement agents for the lenders.

The defense lawyers for the real estate attorneys said their clients were paid a standard rate of $750 to $1,500 for each closing and didn’t make any extra money on the alleged scheme. "This is like the gang that couldn't shoot straight," said Reback's lawyer, former Rockland County District Attorney Kenneth Gribetz. The group received $437,750 in loan money from a Mount Vernon home scam in December 2004; $240,000 from a Cortlandt home in June 2005; $348,000 from a Yorktown home in March 2006; and $373,600 from a Croton home in January 2007. Argent Mortgage Co. and Fremont Investment and Loan were the lenders. Westchester County Judge Barbara Zambelli set bail amounts at $25,000 to $200,000 for the defendants. Six of them were making arrangements with bail bondsmen after their arraignments. The Tarrytown couple were unable to make bail, however, and were led out of court in handcuffs. The lawyers were ordered to return to court Sept. 8. Their clients face up to five to 15 years in state prison on the top count. Meanwhile, DiFiore urged Westchester residents who think they or their relatives were victims of mortgage fraud to call 914-995-3460.

NY Lawyer Denied Attempt to Withdraw His Guilty Plea

Lawyer Loses His Bid to Withdraw His Guilty Plea to Wage Scam
The New York Law Journal by Mark Fass - August 26, 2009

A Brooklyn attorney has failed in his bid to withdraw his guilty plea to several felony charges related to a massive fraud scheme. The case stemmed from defendant Steven Coren's representation of contractors on public housing and infrastructure projects. Such contractors are required under the federal Davis-Bacon Act, as well as a similar state law, to pay laborers a "prevailing wage" of base pay and fringe benefits set by the U.S. Department of Labor. In March, Mr. Coren, of Coren & Associates in Manhattan, pleaded guilty to defrauding the government of millions of dollars earmarked for such employee-benefit contributions. In July, he moved to withdraw his plea, asserting several grounds for his motion, including that federal prosecutors had failed to state any cognizable offense. Specifically, Mr. Coren argued that because the agencies charged with enforcing the relevant laws had no property right in the money he allegedly misappropriated, the only harm they suffered was a diminishment of their "ability to monitor and regulate compliance with prevailing wage laws." Therefore, Mr. Coren contended, federal prosecutors could not establish the second element of mail or wire fraud—that the scheme involves "money or property." In a strongly worded, densely cited, 17-page decision, Eastern District Judge Eric N. Vitaliano rejected Mr. Coren's arguments. "This Court strongly disagrees," he wrote in United States v. Coren, 07-CR-265. "Having work on government owned projects actually done by prevailing wage workers is a fundamental part of the contract that the victim agencies bargained for and expected to receive." Mr. Coren was indicted in April 2007, following a five-year investigation. In March 2009, three days into his trial, he pleaded guilty to the entire 16-count indictment.

Mr. Coren admitted to setting up a trust to which he instructed clients to deposit funds earmarked for legally required benefits, thereby making it appear as if they complied with the Davis-Bacon Act and state labor laws. He then advised his clients that they could use the funds for other purposes, and skimmed a portion for himself. About one month before his August sentencing date, Mr. Coren sought to overturn his plea. "[A]t the heart of this claim is the contention that the federal government is improperly using the mail and wire fraud statutes to enforce state and federal labor laws," Mr. Coren's attorney, Vivian Shevitz, wrote in a letter to Judge Vitaliano last month. "What may be, at worst, misdemeanors under state law are being turned into federal crimes carrying twenty-year sentences without anyone having asked the Court to stop and consider whether the conduct being punished—that is, advice regarding prevailing wage laws—actually falls within the reach of the federal mail and wire fraud statutes." The judge ruled that the crimes do in fact fall within the statutes and threw out the motion. "Although Coren asserts that contract rights do not constitute property rights, his contention is at odds with case law," the judge wrote. "Indeed, Coren cites no case categorically holding that contract rights can never be 'property' within the meaning of the fraud statutes. In any event…Coren misses the simplicity of other agency property at issue here—namely, the actual funds that are owned and controlled by the victim agencies that were used in paying Coren's co-conspirators to improve and build on premises owned by the agencies." Sarah Mary Coyne served as lead attorney for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District. On appeal, Mr. Coren was represented by Ms. Shevitz of South Salem. She did not return a call for comment. Mr. Coren faces a potential sentence of some 14 to 18 years. His sentencing, originally scheduled for this month, has not yet been rescheduled. Mark.Fass@incisivemedia.com

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

NY Lawyer Testifies in Federal Court Against Corrupt NY Judge

Witness says Spargo boasted
Thomas Spargo on trial for alleged shakedown of attorneys in his court
The Albany Times Union by BRENDAN J. LYONS - August 25, 2009

ALBANY, NY -- An Ulster County attorney testified Monday that he felt a chill six years ago when former state Supreme Court Justice Thomas J. Spargo allegedly tried to extort $10,000 from him to offset the judge's growing legal fees in a judicial disciplinary case. Bruce Blatchly, who has been practicing law in New Paltz for 32 years, was the second witness to take the stand on the opening day of Spargo's criminal trial in U.S. District Court in Albany. He described for a jury how he felt cornered when Spargo, who was presiding over eight of his cases, called him on his cellphone in December 2003 and allegedly boasted that he would be returning to Ulster County the following year, therefore presiding over many of Blatchly's important cases. In addition, Spargo's close friend, Surrogate Court Judge Catheryn Doyle, was expected to preside over Blatchly's own divorce from his now ex-wife. ''He said that it looked like a nice Christmas for him,'' Blatchly told the jury. ''He was very, uh, bouncy, happy.'' ''How did you feel?'' asked assistant U.S. Attorney Richard C. Pilger. ''Pretty much the opposite,'' Blatchly answered. ''Now that my divorce was in his control, or the control his friend ... screwed.'' Spargo was an Albany-area state Supreme Court justice who was thrown off the bench three years ago by a state judicial panel in connection with the same alleged shakedown of lawyers, including Blatchly, who had filed a complaint with the state Commission on Judicial Conduct. The investigation, which involved court appeals and lengthy hearings, cost Spargo his judge's robes but not his law license. The judicial scrutiny resulted in Spargo accumulating a legal bill that topped $140,000.

Federal prosecutors allege that Spargo, with the help of close friends, turned to attorneys to try and raise money to offset the legal costs, including lawyers who had cases pending before him. On Dec. 10 a federal grand jury in Albany indicted Spargo on two felony counts of attempted extortion and attempted bribery. The case was brought by prosecutors with the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section in Washington, D.C., with the help of Albany's FBI office. The indictment was filed days before the expiration of a five-year statute of limitations. Blatchly, a part-time town judge who works in a two-attorney law firm, has been cast as the government's key witness because of two private conversations he had with Spargo in November and December 2003. At the time, Spargo's chambers were in Albany but he was covering cases in Ulster County as part of a standard rotation by judges in the 7-county Third Judicial District.

Prosecutors contend Blatchly was one of several successful Ulster County attorneys who were solicited for $10,000 donations by Spargo. Months before it happened, they said, Spargo had signed an order awarding $1 million in legal fees to Blatchly's law firm in connection with an insurance settlement in a motorcycle crash case. E. Stewart Jones, Spargo's attorney, characterized Blatchly's recounting of his conversations with Spargo as a ''claim'' and through his questions on cross-examination he implied that Spargo had simply been raising money for his judicial campaign. In his opening statement Jones characterized the conversations between Spargo, Blatchly and the other attorneys as ''lawyers' talk'' that he said was ''taken out of context.'' Pilger countered that Spargo had been elected -- uncontested -- to a 14-year term in 2001 and was not in campaign mode in 2003. ''He was a corrupt judge,'' Pilger told jurors in his opening statement. ''Judge Spargo definitely knew that Blatchly's law firm would have the money.'' Blatchly testified that he had eight cases before Spargo in 2003 and felt uneasy when Spargo invited he and several other Ulster County attorneys to lunch that December. ''My concern was that if we did not pay the money we would now have an enemy hearing all these cases that we had,'' Blatchly said on the stand.

Several other attorneys also were pressed to donate money to Spargo's legal defense fund, according to prosecutors, and much of the pressure was put on by Spargo's close friend, attorney Sanford Rosenblum. It's unclear whether Rosenblum will take the stand this week. Jones said Rosenblum could provide ''exculpatory'' evidence for Spargo but the government has declined to grant him immunity in exchange for his testimony. Rosenblum earlier invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and declined to cooperate with prosecutors. Doyle may be called to testify. She was censured by the state judicial panel two years ago for ''evasive and deceptive'' testimony during its investigation into the matter. As a result Doyle lost her appointment as an acting state Supreme Court justice and returned to Albany County Surrogate's Court, where she was elected to a judgeship in 2000. Doyle obtained an attorney after being confronted by FBI agents during the investigation of Spargo and later testified in front of the grand jury that indicted him. She did not invoke a Fifth Amendment right. Federal prosecutors said Doyle was not a target of their investigation but that they considered her a ''co-conspirator.'' Her role as an attendee at the December 2003 luncheon where several attorneys were allegedly solicited for Spargo's legal defense fund is a key part of the government's case, according to court papers. The trial continues today in front of U.S. District Judge Gary L. Sharpe. Lyons can be reached at 454-5547 or by e-mail at blyons@timesunion.com.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Cops: City Lawyer Stole $400k

Cops: Spa City lawyer stole $400K
The Albany Times Union by DENNIS YUSKO -August 24, 2009

BALLSTON SPA, NY - A Saratoga County real estate attorney was charged today with stealing more than $400,000 from two people, and Saratoga Springs police say there could be additional victims. Police this morning arrested Patrick M. Reidy, who owns and operates Excelsior Title on Broadway in Saratoga Springs, and charged him with two counts of grand larceny for allegedly taking $272,021 from someone on Jan. 21 and $136,500 from a separate person on July 30, Assistant Saratoga County District Attorney Karen Heggen said. Reidy, 46, allegedly took the proceeds of real estate deals and the use of a home equity loan, according to Saratoga Springs police. He was arraigned today before Saratoga County Court Judge Jerry Scarano, who was acting as City Court judge. Reidy, of 7 Erinn Court, Gansevoort, was taken to the county jail with bail set at $75,000 cash, Heggen said. Reidy is being represented by Albany attorney Michael Koenig, who could not immediately be reached for comment. The investigation is ongoing. If you believe that you may have been a victim of Reidy or Excelsior Title, police ask that you call Investigator John Barney at 584-1800, extension 3524. Dennis Yusko can be reached at 454-5353 or by e-mail at dyusko@timesunion.com.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

More Spotlight on New York's Manipulated Justice

RABBIS RILED AS NY COURT NIXES RULING
The New York Post by REUVEN BLAU - August 23, 2009
Rabbis may soon have to answer to a higher authority -- state court judges.

A New York State Supreme Court judge recently overturned a rabbinical-arbitration ruling, angering rabbis who are worried that Jewish justice could be headed for extinction. "If the judgment is affirmed, it would be useless to go to a rabbinic court," said Marc Stern, acting co-executive director and general counsel of the American Jewish Congress. Rabbinical judges who sit on what are called "beth din" courts often handle cases that New York City Jews don't want in the regular judicial system, such as matters involving tax evasion or other illegalities. "That's definitely true in some cases," said Rabbi Shlomo Weissmann, director of the Beth-Din of America. "But by and large, I don't think that's what compels people to come here."

Rabbinical justice is "a lot cheaper, faster and decided by people in your own community," Weissmann said. Also, under Jewish law, religious litigants are actually obligated to initially bring disputes to a beth din rather than secular courts. State and federal courts have long recognized the rulings, which are mainly handled through voluntary binding arbitration. Decisions have been changed or overturned only due to major problems, such as blatant fraud or bias. But in a strongly worded decision, Brooklyn Judge Bruce Balter tossed out a ruling by the Beth-Din of America involving a disagreement between a Jewish elementary school and a veteran teacher.

In a brief filed with the state Court of Appeals, the Orthodox Union argued that Balter's decision violated the First Amendment because it "unconstitutionally interfered with a fundamentally religious dispute." The Talmudic tussle started after the Hebrew Academy of the Five Towns & Rockaway fired one of its teachers, Rabbi Nachum Brisman, arguing that his religious philosophy was in conflict with that of the school. Brisman, who had been at the school for more than a decade, countered that he had obtained tenure and was therefore entitled to added job protections. The beth din agreed, ordering the school to reinstate him. But when Brisman brought the case to state court to be confirmed -- a routine step to enforce arbitration awards -- the school persuaded Balter to overturn the beth din ruling. rblau@nypost.com

See Related Stories:

1. A Journal News Editorial, "Only the lawyers are happy" (April 26, 2008)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Ex-Lawyer Pleads Guilty to Stealing

Ex-White Plains lawyer pleads guilty to stealing from firm
The Journal News by Rebecca Baker - August 21, 2009
rebaker@lohud.com

WHITE PLAINS, NY - A Westchester County lawyer pleaded guilty today to charges that he swindled more than $40,000 from his law firm and cheated on his taxes. As part of the plea deal, Neil Silberblatt of Chappaqua will serve no jail time and receive a conditional discharge if he repays all of the money he stole by Nov. 13, the day he is to be sentenced. He must also get a favorable report from the county Department of Probation. If he fails to meet both conditions, acting state Supreme Court Justice William Wetzel said, Silberblatt would receive five years' probation. Silberblatt, who was a lawyer for Steinberg & Cavaliere in White lains, pleaded guilty to the entire indictment against him, which included felony charges of third-degree grand larceny and filing a false tax return. The grand larceny charge is punishable by up to seven years in state prison. Assistant District Attorney Brian Conway said Silberblatt stole $40,126 worth of clients' checks from Aug. 10, 2007, to June 19, 2008. He also failed to report $2,577 to the state Department of Taxation and Finance. Silberblatt, 51, was arrested Oct. 29 and remains free on bail. He no longer works for Steinberg & Cavaliere, according to a receptionist at the firm. Silberblatt made news when he defended a gym teacher accused of assaulting a Tuckahoe High School senior two weeks before the boy committed suicide in 2003 by jumping in front of a train. The boy's parents had sued the district, faulting the teacher and the superintendent for how they treated their son in the weeks before his death. They dropped the lawsuit in 2004.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Disgraced Former 'Kids for Cash' Judges Ask for Reconsideration

Disgraced Former Judges Ask for Reconsideration on Rejected Plea Deals
The Legal Intelligencer by Leo Strupczewski - August 21, 2009

Two disgraced former Luzerne County judges have asked that a federal judge reconsider his decision to reject their plea agreements and assign a sentence he feels is more appropriate. Michael T. Conahan and Mark A. Ciavarella Jr. made a joint filing Thursday, petitioning U.S. District Judge Edwin M. Kosik to reinstate their agreed-upon sentence of 87 months in prison because neither could be found at fault for their post-plea hearing actions. Neither attempted to "obstruct and impede justice" or contradict the government’s evidence in public comments, as Kosik had written, the judges argued. In fact, the filing continued, Conahan and Ciavarella only did what the law entitled them to do. The 12-page memorandum asserts that Conahan’s objections to the federal probation office’s presentence report were within the guidelines established by the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure and that Ciavarella was right to make public comments denying a "quid pro quo" in the scandal that has been called “kids for cash” in some media outlets. Both men have conditionally pleaded guilty to accepting more than $2.6 million from the owner and builder of two juvenile detention centers.

Another Judge Steals From the Elderly

Former Town Justice Charged With Stealing $1M From Elderly Woman
By The Associated Press - August 21, 2009

RIVERHEAD, NY - Authorities say a former Long Island town justice and her husband took advantage of a woman's ailing memory to steal more than $1 million from her. Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota says Katherine and Wayne Pope allegedly stole the money between 2005 and April 2009. Katherine Pope was the Shelter Island Town Justice from 1998 to 2002. The couple pleaded not guilty to grand larceny charges at their arraignment Thursday in Suffolk County Court. Their lawyers were out of the office Friday and not immediately available for comment. The DA says the couple purchased a house in Vermont after liquidating the victim's stocks. He says Wayne Pope occasionally worked for the victim as a handyman. The Watermill, N.Y., woman died in July. She was 89.

******
Larceny charges for ex-Shelter I. justice, husband

Newsday by MITCHELL FREEDMAN - August 20, 2009 - mitchell.freedman@newsday.com

A former Shelter Island town justice and her husband have been charged with stealing more than $1 million from an elderly Water Mill woman. Katherine Z. Pope, 56, and her husband, Wayne, 57, were arraigned yesterday morning on charges that they sold 12,000 shares of Exxon stock between February 2005 and April that belonged to Mary Abbott Estabrook. Katherine Pope was also charged with identity theft for allegedly pretending to be Estabrook and making the telephone calls that authorized the stock sales. Estabrook, 89, died in July after a lengthy illness. Wayne Pope had been working as a handyman and caretaker on her estate. Katherine Pope drove down for her arraignment yesterday from a home in Vermont she is alleged to have bought with the stolen funds, the district attorney's office said. She and her husband have separate attorneys. Suffolk County Court Justice Barbara Kahn set bail for her at $100,000 cash or $250,000 bond. Bail for Wayne Pope was $100,000 cash or $300,000 bond. Each faces 25 years in jail on the grand larceny charge, Assistant District Attorney Donna Planty said. Both entered not-guilty pleas and will return to court Sept. 1. After their arraignments, each was taken away in handcuffs. They later posted bail. Katherine Pope was elected town justice on Shelter Island in 1998 and served until 2002. "It's shocking. But we have to reserve judgment until we know all the facts," Shelter Island Town Supervisor James Dougherty said yesterday. Estabrook first met Wayne Pope when she hired him to be a handyman and caretaker for her estate on Cobb Road, the Suffolk district attorney's office said. Planty said $750,000 from the stock sale ended up in Katherine Pope's escrow account. She said Wayne Pope admitted to some charges in a taped conversation with police. The Popes used the money from the stock sales to buy a new car and the house in Tunbridge, Vt., and pay taxes on their Shelter Island home, the district attorney's office said. Defense attorneys Barry Feldman and James O'Rourke argued the case was a civil matter. They said Estabrook had asked Pope to sell the stock for her, and that they put her name on the deed to their own house to show their good faith. The house was valued at $1.5 million, although it has a mortgage. "If anything, this belongs in surrogate's court," O'Rourke said outside the courtroom. "Unfortunately, for whatever reason, the district attorney chose to deal with it as a criminal matter." Katherine Pope, an attorney who lists Tunbridge as her address, can practice in New York and Vermont. She has worked for the Vermont Legal Aid Society.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

NY Lawyer GUILTY in Witness Kill Plot, Faces Life

Simels convicted – faces life in prison
By the Stabroek staff  - August 20, 2009 

Roger Khan’s ex-attorney Robert Simels was today convicted of plotting to kill witnesses in the case against Khan and could face up to life in prison. According to the New York Daily News, Simels sat back in his chair and looked furious as the Brooklyn Federal Court jury rendered a verdict that could send him to jail for life. His associate, Arienne Irving, who was also convicted of conspiring to tamper with witnesses, laid her head on the defense table and sobbed. “They got it wrong,” her lawyer, Javier Solano, said outside the courtroom. “They got it wrong.” The Daily News said that prosecutors immediately asked that Simels’ bail be revoked, saying he was a flight risk. A hearing on that matter will be held this afternoon.

Simels’ trial had riveted the Guyanese audience as he and his lawyers had alleged that the Guyana Government had approved the purchase of spy equipment which Khan had used to locate alleged criminals that his phantom gang went after. An executive from the UK-based company Smith Myers also testified the Guyana Government had approved the purchase. The Guyana Government has vehemently denied this. Khan has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to import drugs into the US and is to be sentenced shortly. Jurors in the Simels case declined to discuss the verdict. They took seven days to reach a verdict and they sent the judge 45 notes with questions during deliberations. A former state prosecutor who investigated corrupt cops and judges, Simels was convicted of tampering with eight witnesses against his then-client Shaheed (Roger) Khan, a major cocaine trafficker from Guyana. Irving was convicted on two counts of witness tampering. Simels and Khan were also convicted of possessing illegal eavesdropping equipment, which was seized in a raid on Simels’ East Side offices. 

Making Room: Corrupt NY Ex-Justice Gets Parole

Garson Is Granted Early Parole
The New York Law Journal by Daniel Wise - August 20, 2009

Ex-Justice Gerald P. Garson of Brooklyn was granted parole on Tuesday, 25 months after he began serving a three-to-10 year term for bribery and two related counts. The state Parole Board set Dec. 23, 2009, as Mr. Garson's release date and stipulated that after his release he is barred from being affiliated with a law firm. He is also required as a condition of parole to participate in an alcohol abuse treatment program and to submit to substance-abuse testing. Mr. Garson's attorney, Jeremy Gutman, said in an interview that Mr. Garson's family and friends are "thrilled that he will be home with them next winter." Mr. Gutman added that Mr. Garson would like to work after his release and has received several offers of employment in "various fields." Mr. Gutman declined to elaborate. Mr. Garson, 77, has been disbarred.

The Brooklyn District Attorney's Office in a letter to the Parole Board had "strongly opposed" granting Mr. Garson parole. "This was an overwhelming case of greed, of [Mr. Garson's] selling his office for drinks, lunches, dinners and gifts and a violation of the trust voters and citizens of Brooklyn placed in him," wrote Michael F. Vecchione, the chief of the Rackets Division who was the lead prosecutor in Mr. Garson's trial. Mr. Gutman said Mr. Garson had "widespread support" for his release in letters submitted to the Parole Board from "neighbors, former colleagues, including retired judges, friends and family." Mr. Garson is married, has four children and a number of grandchildren. According to statistics provided by the New York State Division of Parole, it is unusual for inmates to be released after their first appearance before the Parole Board. In 2008, only 22 percent of inmates in the category of felonies, which includes bribery, were released after their first appearance.

Another former Brooklyn justice, Victor I. Barron, who was sentenced to a minimum term of three years for bribery in 2002, was also released after his first appearance before the board. Mr. Barron pleaded guilty to a charge of soliciting a $115,000 bribe before signing off on a $4.9 million settlement for a girl who had suffered brain injuries in a car accident (NYLJ, Oct. 29, 2002). After a month-long trial in 2007, Mr. Garson, was convicted of bribery for accepting free meals and drinks from lawyer Paul Siminovsky, who testified as a prosecution witness. In exchange, the jury found Mr. Garson had provided Mr. Siminovsky with court appointments, ex parte advice on a matter before the judge and unfettered access to his courtroom (NYLJ, April 20, 2007). Mr. Garson also was convicted on two counts of receiving rewards for official misconduct: a box of cigars for providing ex parte advice and $1,000 for referring a client to Mr. Siminovsky.  Orange County Justice Jeffrey G. Berry, who presided over the trial, stacked his sentences for each of those counts to create a term of three to 10 years: one to four years for bribery and one to three years on each of the official misconduct counts (NYLJ, June 6, 2007). Mr. Garson entered prison on July 7, 2007. Until May 2009, he was isolated in protective custody at the Mid-State Correctional Facility in Marcy. Since May 12, he has been in the general population at the Mid-Orange Correctional Facility in Warwick, about 60 miles north of New York City.

Appeal Pending

Briefing of Mr. Garson's appeal to the Appellate Division, Second Department, has yet to be completed. Last week, the prosecution filed its response to his appeal, and Mr. Garson's reply papers are due Sept. 30 (NYLJ, Aug. 19). With that briefing schedule, experts said, the earliest the appeal would be argued would be at the end of November. Mr. Garson's parole date was advanced slightly more than six months—to Dec. 23 from June 26, 2010—upon the recommendation of the Department of Correctional Services, which found that he had successfully completed a substance and alcohol abuse program and behaved satisfactorily while in prison. Mr. Barron likewise had his release date advanced six months.

Mr. Garson is required to comply with the condition of his parole until June 2017. Should the Second Department reverse his conviction, he would be released from further parole supervision. Additional conditions of his parole are that he must refrain from drinking alcoholic beverage and comply with curfews set by his parole officer. The requirements that he submit to drug testing and participate in alcohol treatment programs are also at the discretion of his parole officer. The three board members who granted Mr. Garson parole are Joseph P. Crangle, a former probation officer and court analyst in domestic violence cases in Buffalo City Court; James B. Ferguson Jr., an former administrative law judge with the Division of Parole; and Debra Loomis, a former supervisor in the child protective division of the Washington County Division of Social Services. There are 19 members of the Parole Board. They are appointed by the governor to six-year terms and earn an annual salary of $101,600.  Daniel.Wise@incisivemedia.com

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Feds Focus on Escrow, Title and Insurance Shenanigans

Department of Justice Press Release
For Immediate Release
August 19, 2009 United States Attorney's Office
Southern District of New York - Contact: (212) 637-2600

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Charges President of Title Insurance Agency with Misappropriating Millions of Dollars Worth of Funds

PREET BHARARA, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that BRIAN H. MADDEN was indicted today on charges that he misappropriated and embezzled over $4.7 million of escrow, client, and other operating funds from three title insurance agencies that he controlled and operated in New York. The three-count Indictment returned today by the Grand Jury adds a money laundering charge to the wire fraud and insurance fraud charges for which MADDEN was previously charged in a Complaint and arrested on May 19, 2009. According to the Indictment filed today in Manhattan federal court and the previously-unsealed Complaint against MADDEN:

MADDEN was the president and co-founder of Liberty Title Agency, LLC ("Liberty Title"), one of the largest independently-owned title insurance agencies in New York State. Title insurance is sold to purchasers of property or lenders financing the purchase of property, and is meant to protect the owner's or lender's financial interest in real property against loss due to title defects or liens. Liberty Title issued title insurance policies on behalf of several title insurance underwriters in connection with commercial and residential real estate transactions, primarily in the northeastern United States. MADDEN also controlled and operated two other title insurance agencies: Skyline Title, LLC, and GNY Liberty Abstract, LLC. Liberty Title closed operations in April 2009. Beginning around early 2008, MADDEN misappropriated millions of dollars of escrow and other client funds by transferring and commingling between and among various bank accounts held by Skyline Title, GNY Liberty, and Liberty Title, and into other accounts used by Liberty Title. MADDEN then used the misappropriated funds to sustain Liberty Title's operations and permit significant withdrawals for his personal use. In particular, between January 2008 and April 2009, MADDEN took more than $2 million in cash draws from Liberty Title. Those cash draws, which at times amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars in a single month, far exceeded MADDEN's draws in prior years, and were taken despite the deteriorating real estate market and Liberty Title's increasingly precarious financial position. To sustain Liberty Title's operations in the face of such withdrawals and to pay current client debts, MADDEN misappropriated escrow and client funds of other clients, essentially using new funds from clients to pay off debts on behalf of other clients. In addition, because MADDEN misappropriated the funds of title insurance agencies, he failed to timely and properly record and pay taxes on dozens of mortgages and other real estate transactions, further exposing his clients to loss. As a result of MADDEN's illegal activities, Skyline Title, GNY Liberty, several of their clients, various title insurance underwriters, and various clients of Liberty Title have sustained losses of at least approximately $4.7 million.

MADDEN, 55, of Greenlawn, New York, is charged with one count each of wire fraud, money laundering, and insurance fraud. If convicted, MADDEN faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison on each of the wire fraud and money laundering counts, and 10 years in prison on the insurance fraud count. MADDEN also faces a maximum fine of the greater of $500,000 or twice the gross pecuniary gain or loss from the offense in connection with the money laundering count, as well as $250,000 or twice the gross pecuniary gain or loss from the offense on each of the wire fraud and insurance fraud counts. He also faces forfeiture of the proceeds of his crimes, including his interest in a variety of properties and bank accounts, and approximately $108,000 in cash and $400,000 in cashier's checks seized during a court authorized search. The case has been assigned to United States District Judge ROBERT W. SWEET. Mr. BHARARA praised the investigative work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the New York State Department of Insurance in this case. Assistant United States Attorneys AVI WEITZMAN and JEFFREY ALBERTS are in charge of the prosecution. The charges contained in the Indictment are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
The Anderson Ethics Corruption Trial has been moved by U.S. District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin to Monday, August 31, 2009, with the specific addition by the Court that the trial may be additionally postponed.....

CLICK HERE TO SEE RELATED STORY, "Anderson's $10 Million Lawsuit Proceeds Against Corrupt Discipline Committee"

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Boyd M. Johnson, III Appointed NY #2 Fed

U.S. attorney in NY names Spitzer prosecutor top deputy
Reuters by Jonathan Stempel - August 17, 2009

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Preet Bharara, the new U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, on Monday elevated several prosecutors to senior positions, after he earlier this month took over one of the nation's top law enforcement jobs. Boyd Johnson, who handled a probe of a prostitution ring used by former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer, was named deputy U.S. attorney, the office's No. 2 official. Johnson was previously chief of the office's public corruption and international narcotics and trafficking units, and joined the office in 1999. Four people pleaded guilty in connection with the prostitution ring, known as Emperors Club VIP. Spitzer was not charged, but resigned as governor last year after his name surfaced in the scandal. Raymond Lohier was named chief of the criminal division's securities and commodities fraud task force. He was previously deputy chief of that unit, and oversaw the narcotics unit. Lohier was among those involved in the prosecution of Marc Dreier, a lawyer sentenced last month to 20 years in prison for a $400 million investment fund fraud. Miriam Rocah was named chief of the criminal division's organized crime unit. Previously, she was deputy chief of that unit and the narcotics unit. She joined the office in 2001. Daniel Stein, who joined the office in 2003, was named chief of the criminal division's public corruption unit. He previously worked in that unit as well as in the international narcotics trafficking unit.

In a statement, Bharara said: "These exceptional attorneys have distinguished themselves as fair, tenacious and respected prosecutors." Bharara is a former chief counsel to Sen. Charles Schumer, a New York Democrat, and helped oversee a congressional investigation into the Bush administration's firing of eight U.S. attorneys in 2006. Lev Dassin had been acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York since late last year. Dassin left the office this month, a spokeswoman for the office said, and it was not immediately clear what his future plans were. The office handles federal cases in Manhattan, Bronx and six other counties in southeast New York state. Its case load has in recent months included convicted swindler Bernard Madoff and his $65 billion Ponzi scheme. Among Bharara's predecessors as U.S. attorney are Robert Morgenthau, now the Manhattan district attorney, and Rudolph Giuliani, who later became mayor of New York City and a Republican candidate for U.S. president. (Reporting by Jonathan Stempel, Editing by Tim Dobbyn)

**********

The Man Behind the Spitzer Prosecution: Boyd M. Johnson III
The Wall Street Journal Blog - March 14, 2008

First thing’s first this morning: A big LB shout-out to the SDNY prosecutors. We’ve been so wrapped up with Spitzer’s fancy defense team, Don Buchwald’s assignment of the century, and, courtesy of the NY Post, this morning’s revelation that “Kristen” sports a belly tattoo that reads “tutela valui” (”fair value” in Latin), that we forgot all about the government lawyers working the other side of what might be the most high-profile prostitution bust of all time. Thanks to LB colleague Amir Efrati, we can shine a light on Boyd M. Johnson III, the head of the public-corruption unit at the Manhattan U.S. attorney’s office, which last week brought the case against four defendants on prostitution and money-laundering charges. Johnson, 40, prosecuted a number of high-profile international drug figures — such as Afghan heroin kingpin Baz Mohammad — before being appointed to jump-start the public-corruption unit in 2006, the report says. Incidentally, the same unit was once run by Michele Hirshman, the Paul Weiss partner who’s now representing Spitzer.

As a former chief of the international narcotics-trafficking unit of the U.S. attorney’s office and in his current role, Johnson developed close ties to FBI agents, including those in the agency’s public-corruption squad in New York, known as C14, which investigated the prostitution ring. Those relationships are important because agents can bring cases to prosecutors in multiple districts. Johnson, a married father of two, is a Connecticut native who graduated from Hamilton College and Cornell Law School. He joined Gibson Dunn in the mid-1990’s after a federal-judicial clerkship in California. Randy Mastro, a Gibson Dunn partner and the former deputy mayor under Rudy Giuliani, supervised Johnson as an associate, and says that, when the “young star” was considering a move to the U.S. attorney’s office, he tried to convince him to stay by telling him he had a good chance of making partner. He says Johnson responded that being a prosecutor “is just something I really want to do.” Mastro added: “He’s a very affable guy, but don’t let that affability fool you — he’s a very tenacious, determined litigator.”

Judge Goes to Trial

Texas Judge Goes to Trial Over Execution
The New York Times by MICHAEL BRICK - August 18, 2009

SAN ANTONIO, TX — The highest-ranking criminal judge in Texas, the woman who presides over the most active execution chamber in the country, sat at a defense table on Monday to face charges of intentionally denying a condemned man access to the legal system. The judge, Sharon Keller of the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, took her seat before a gallery crowded with bloggers, lawyers and death penalty protesters. Outside the courthouse, demonstrators called for her ouster. Inside, lawyers on both sides emphasized that capital punishment was not on trial. But to some, Judge Keller has come to embody the practice. An intensely private former member of the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office, she won election to the court in 1994 and to the post of presiding judge in 2000. She has cultivated a reputation for rulings favorable to the prosecution in death penalty cases. On Sept. 25, 2007, Judge Keller put in a 10-hour workday and went home around 4 p.m. to meet a repairman. That morning the United States Supreme Court had effectively suspended lethal injection as a manner of execution by accepting a challenge to its constitutionality in a Kentucky case. Largely on the basis of the justices’ action, lawyers for a Texas death row inmate were putting together an appeal to stave off execution. An assigned duty judge was waiting at the courthouse for any last-minute appeal on the inmate’s behalf. Around 4:45 p.m., the general counsel of Judge Keller’s court called her to relate a request to file paperwork after 5 p.m., the usual closing time for the court clerk’s office. Judge Keller replied that the clerk’s office closed at 5 p.m. A few hours later, the inmate was executed. As the story behind the execution spread, defense lawyers, editorial boards and legislators called for Judge Keller’s removal. In February, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct filed formal charges. The case was assigned to a special master, Judge David Berchelmann Jr. of the district court here in Bexar County, for the civil fact-finding proceeding that opened Monday.

In written arguments, the commission contends that Judge Keller circumvented normal procedures, which provide for after-hours appeals in capital cases. Judge Keller responds that the lawyers for the inmate, Michael Richard, a convicted murderer who made no claim of innocence, should have filed their paperwork with the assigned duty judge rather than trying to go through the clerk’s office. The trial, expected to last most of the week, promises to unfold as a finely wrought dance around the details of an afternoon’s timeline. At issue are such intricacies as whether the words “court” and “clerk” were used interchangeably and the extent to which the inmate’s lawyers conveyed the computer problems that delayed their paperwork. At the end of the proceeding, Judge Berchelmann will make recommendations to the commission, which in turn will consider further action. The commission has the power to censure a judge or to recommend removal by a tribunal. As the lawyers presented their opening arguments Monday, Judge Keller slumped a bit in her chair. “This is not a referendum or a debate or a poll concerning the death penalty,” said John J. McKetta, the examiner presenting the commission’s case, who argued that Judge Keller had proved incompetent to administer capital punishment with the necessary gravity, discretion and care. “If all she did was field a call where somebody said, ‘I’ve forgotten what the closing time is,’ and she said, ‘Five o’clock, don’t you remember?,’ we shouldn’t be here today,” Mr. McKetta said.

A lawyer for Judge Keller, Charles L. Babcock, argued that the entire case amounted to a few innocent, misunderstood words spoken on the telephone. “Judge Keller is an honorable, competent, popularly elected judge who believes in and follows the rule of law,” Mr. Babcock said. After opening arguments, the commission called witnesses including Judge Cheryl Johnson of the Court of Criminal Appeals, the assigned duty judge on the night of the execution. Judge Johnson testified that she had waited after closing time but never received a call. “If I had known that they had asked for time, I would have granted it,” she said of Mr. Richard’s lawyers. “It’s an execution.” When the hearing broke, Judge Keller, 56, walked to the elevator in silence, accompanied by lawyers, escorted by deputies and trailed by protesters.

Blog Archive

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

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


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