Saturday, September 20, 2014

Did Silver Corrupt the Manhattan Court? 959





The Silver Asbestos Court Still Being Covered Up

Daily News Says Fix is in for Excessive Pay Hikes
Asbestos court gets a boost thanks to Silver conviction (NYP) Ex-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s corruption conviction has helped pull New York City’s “asbestos court,” where he held influence, up from its spot as the nation’s worst “judicial hellhole.” The American Tort Reform Foundation now says California courts hold the title. “With Silver perhaps headed to prison . . . the Big Apple may begin to bob up from the bottom of the barrel,” the report says.* Silver’s son-in-law gets two years in prison for Ponzi scheme (NYP) * A son-in-law of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver was sentenced to two years in prison, well-below federal sentencing guidelines, after admitting he cheated four investors out of nearly $6 million in a Ponzi scheme, the Times reports:  * Sheldon Silver’s son-in-law will spend 2 years in prisonfor $6M Ponzi scheme (NYDN) * Golden gavels for state judges getting excessivepay hikes (NYDN Ed)



Yes Nepotism At Manattan Courthouse . . .  What Happen to Silvers Private Courtroom Investigation? 
Insiders say nepotism has returned to Manhattan courthouse(NYP) In another case of courthouse nepotism at the Appellate Division First Department, the boyfriend of a court secretary was hired in August only to be fired last month after threatening a co-worker, sources said. Julius “T-Kid” Cavero, a well-known graffiti artist from The Bronx, was hired as a $29,000-a-year-custodian at the Manhattan courthouse, city records show. According to the insider, he was dating Rita Alvarez, who had been secretary to Appellate Division Justice Darcel Clark before Clark stepped down in September to successfully run for Bronx district attorney. In 2010, Luis Gonzalez, the presiding justice of the First Department, had hired his ex-wife to work at the court. He also signed off on the hiring of his secretary’s brother, a son and a cousin of his driver and the nephews of two different executive assistants. 



Pols Blessed Vito Lopez's Votes Not His Soul
De Blasio, Cuomo skip funeral for Vito Lopez  (NYP) Gov. Cuomo, Mayor de Blasio, and former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver skipped former Assemblyman Vito Lopez’s funeral Saturday morning. Public officials, including then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton and then-Mayor Michael Bloomberg, cozied up to the onetime Brooklyn Democratic Party boss when they needed his endorsement or political favors, but only a handful of lower-level pols were seen among the 300 mourners at Our Lady of the Rosary Pompeii in Williamsburg. Lopez, who died Monday at age 74, was stained in his final years by an array of scandals,including accusations that he groped and harassed several female staffers.* Neither did David Neiderman since Vito was DOA at funeral home

Have The Courts Covered Up Corruption In Their Own House?

Flashback Silver's Court Feds probe civil court following Silver’s arrest(NYP) The country’s most important civil court is under federal investigation, an insider says. The probe is focusing on the state Supreme Court’s civil division at 60 Centre St. in lower Manhattan, where many tentacles reach to disgraced Assembly Speaker * Record asbestos payout slashed following Silver’s arrest (NYP) A judge who since Sheldon Silver’s arrest has come under scrutiny for large damages awarded to Weitz & Luxenberg clients reduced a record $190 million asbestos-related payout to less than $30 million. A judge who since Sheldon Silver’s arrest has come under scrutiny for the sky-high damages that juries in her court have awarded to Weitz & Luxenberg clients recently slashed a record $190 million asbestos-poisoning payout to less than $30 million. Defense attorneys on Wednesday speculated that the 84 percent reduction may be the result of bad publicity in The Post and other news outlets. In a decision dated Feb. 5, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Joan Madden ordered a new hearing on a 2013 jury verdict in her court that gave five mesothelioma victims represented by Weitz a total of $190 million — the highest award of its kind at the time.* Unlike in the U.S. Senate, the New York State Senate spent very little time and scrutiny in its vetting process before confirming new state Court of Appeals Judges Leslie Stein and Eugene Fahey, the Daily Newswrites: * A legal ethics expert hired by Weitz & Luxenberg found Silver had a legitimate “of counsel” relationship to the firm, allowing it to give him unlimited referral fees without breaching professional conduct rules.* 


How the Court Hides Silver's Corruption Inside the Courthouse


Lawyers ordered to create new rules for asbestos-litigation cases (NYP) A Manhattan judge ordered an overhaul of the rules that govern asbestos-litigation cases — which have been a multimillion-dollar spigot for Assemblyman Sheldon Silver’s old law firm and many others. Judge Peter Moulton told Weitz & Luxenberg and other firms that they and their adversaries had better come up with new rules for the cases, or he would. The ruling in Manhattan Supreme Court comes as Silver prepares to go on trial in November on corruption charges related to an alleged kickback scheme in which he is accused of pulling strings in Albany for a cancer doctor who then funneled more than 100 asbestos victims to the ex-speaker’s old firm. Silver, who received $3.3 million in referrals for the cases, allegedly delivered public funding to the doctor’s cancer-research center. Silver has denied the charges. Weitz & Luxenberg, which is not charged with wrongdoing, has severed ties with the powerful ex-speaker.Despite the blow, Moulton rejected defendants’ motion to stop the current asbestos trials until the changes are made. “In balancing the parties’ interests, the court finds that the current state of NYCAL [New York City Asbestos Litigation] is not so rampantly unfair as to warrant suspending the trials,” Moulton said in his Aug. 28 ruling. * Sheldon Silver no longer travels by plane to Albany(NYDN) Since losing his speakership, Assemblyman Sheldon Silver has stopped flying to Albany because he lost use of a state car he used to get around the capital, the Daily News


Silver Still Trying to Pick the Judges
Sheldon Silver’s bid to keep power over New York’s courts (NYP Ed) Say this much for judicial-delegate wannabe Judy Rapfogel: She’s familiar with New York’s courts — from the wrong side of the law.  Rapfogel has long served as chief of staff to ex-Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver, whom the feds charged with taking $4 million in kickbacks. And her own husband’s doing up to 10 years in prison for pinching $9 million from the charity he headed. Sheldon Silver’s long time Chief of Staff Judy Rapfogel has been instrumental in rallying Democratic support for the embattled Assembly speaker. In fact, Judy Rapfogel’s on today’s ballot in a bid to extend Silver’s control over the courts. Judicial delegates choose their party’s nominees for state Supreme Court judges; since Democrats dominate the district, their nominee usually wins. Silver long served as a delegate — and his political club tried to get him on the ballot again, despite his indictment. When that didn’t fly, it tapped his top aide.



Manhattan Court Corruption That Is Not Connected to Silver
A lazy paralegal forged the names of 76 New York state Supreme Court justices on more than 100 court documents — because, he claims, he was overworked and thought faking signatures would make his job easier. Thomas Rubino, 42, first got the idea to lighten his load by dummying up insurance-settlement forms in 2011 as he toiled at the Manhattan personal-injury law firm of Paris & Chaikin, according to court records. He said he soon discovered that forgery was a real time saver.







Yes Pols Picking Judges Leads to Corruption . . .  Tip of the Iceberg Not Just Silver
Judge who presided over Brian Cashman stalker case had ties to disgraced ex-Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (NYDN) A judge with ties to disgraced former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver presided over the case against a woman accused of stalking Yankees general manager Brian Cashman — and the political connection may play a role in her defense, the Daily News has learned. Louise Meanwell’s defense team established recently that Silver was connected to the 2004 Public Authorities Control Board authorization of 88 Leonard St. as a Lower Manhattan property through the Liberty Bonds program. Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Daniel Conviser was an assembly attorney until 2007 and served as legislative counsel to the speaker from 1998 to 1999, according to his New York Law Journal profile. The case was transferred to Justice Bruce Allen for trial. Conviser did not respond to a request for comment through a courts spokesman.



Court Investigation of Silver's Tin Box Court Court Fixing 
Where is the Media On Silver's Court Corruption?
New York’s special court system for hearing asbestos cases will be on trial tomorrow as defense lawyers make their case for reforms following Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s indictment on allegations he accepted millions of dollars in kickbacks from one of the most prominent asbestos plaintiff firms in the state.* Manhattan’s new chief civil judge said it would be “judicial malpractice” if he didn’t probe a special part of the court accused of giving favorable treatment to a Sheldon Silver-linked law firm, the Post reports: * ‘Judicial malpractice’ not to probe court tied to Silver: Judge (NYDN) * Manhattan’s new administrative judge promised a courtroom packed with asbestos lawyers that he will do a thorough review of how their cases are handled before deciding if any changes are necessary following Assemblyman Sheldon Silver’s corruption scandal. *Indicted Assemblyman Sheldon Silver’s Buffalo-area investments include the tech company Synacor and senior-housing developer Clover Management, according to new court filings.




Silver Big Lawyers Says No Federal Offense . . .  Other Lawyers Going After His Control of the Asbestos Cases In Courts
Silver's Lawyers Try to Make Pay to Play Legal in Albany
Sheldon Silver’s Lawyers Again Ask Judge to Drop Indictment (NYT) Lawyers for Mr. Silver, who was forced to step down as the Assembly speaker after his arrest, argued that the conduct he is accused of “simply does not amount to any federal offense.” * Asbestos firms ready to fight Silver’s ‘slanted legal system’ (NYP) Now that disgraced former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is out of power, asbestos defense lawyers are revolting against what they say is a slanted legal system. Silver, who had ties to the mesothelioma-suit firm Weitz & Luxenberg, was accused of using his clout to stack the odds for plaintiffs. A group of 45 law firms that represent companies defending against asbestos lawsuits asked Administrative Judge Peter Moulton this week to put a 60-day moratorium on any pending and new cases to consider their gripes over Silver’s alleged influence.

Moulton replaced Justice Sherry Heitler as head of a special section of Manhattan Supreme Court called NYCAL, or New York City Asbestos Litigation, last month. Under her tenure, Heitler, at the request of Weitz & Luxenberg, last year lifted a 20-year rule that barred punitive damages in asbestos cases — paving the way for jackpot jury settlements and verdicts.*  The Assembly has retained a Manhattan law firm to provide legal help in the federal corruption charges brought against Silver. An initial contract, listed at $45,000, has been awarded to Zuckerman Spaeder. A spokesman for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie said the retainer came after U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara requested official documents from the Assembly earlier this year.* What Preet finds 'distasteful' isn't illegal, argue SheldonSilver's lawyers in motion to dismiss corruption charges * Attorneys for Assemblyman Sheldon Silver argued that asbestos patient referrals by the former speaker were “just recommendations” and therefore within the rules of the law, the Daily News reports



Hey Where is the Media's Outrage About Court Fixing? 

Silver Civil Court Judge Replaced 
Retired judge tied to Sheldon Silver finally replaced(NYP) The civil administrative judge whose court is being probed for allegedly giving Sheldon Silver’s ex-law firm special treatment is finally being replaced — more than two months after her term expired. Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Peter H. Moulton will succeed Justice Sherry Klein Heitler, court administrators announced Monday, as feds continue to investigate whether asbestos cases received “red-carpet treatment” at 60 Centre Street. Heitler was the chief judge of a special section for asbestos litigation – which Moulton will now oversee. In February, s​o​urces told The Post that the courthouse was under federal investigation over its ties to the disgraced former Assembly speaker. The dozens of asbestos lawsuits were filed by Weitz & Luxenberg, where Silver was “of counsel” and received $5.3 million in ​what federal prosecutors have called ​kickbacks. Critics have said the firm gets a fast track, “better judges” and first dibs on jurors to hear its cases at the courthouse. * Kavanagh Signs On To Bill Blocking Legal Reimbursements(YNN) * Despite Arrest, Addiction Treatment Group To Honor Silver (YNN) * Assemblyman Sheldon Silver wrote a letter to a local newspaper in his Lower East Side district saying: “There is always more work to be done…My staff and I remain ready to assist community organizations and local constituents on issues big and small.”


Silver's Court Under Fed Investigation
Feds probe civil court following Silver’s arrest(NYP) The country’s most important civil court is under federal investigation, an insider says. The probe is focusing on the state Supreme Court’s civil division at 60 Centre St. in lower Manhattan, where many tentacles reach to disgraced Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, the court source said. Silver was arrested last month on corruption charges, and Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara warned the public to “stay tuned” for more developments. The case against Silver centers on his freelance legal “work” and the millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks he hauled in from real-estate and asbestos claims, the feds say. Many of these cases landed in the courtrooms at 60 Centre St., presided over by judges with ties to Silver and his lifelong pal, Jonathan Lippman, the chief judge of the state Court of Appeals. Both men grew up on the Lower East Side, and Silver has been Lippman’s political godfather, pushing him to reach New York’s top judicial post. “The appointment of Sheldon Silver’s childhood friend, Jonathan Lippman, as the state’s chief judge based on his administrative experience made about as much sense as the Yankees making their accountant the manager of the team,” said Charles Compton, former president of the Supreme Court Officers Association. He added that Lippman was appointed “to protect and promote Silver’s interests.”* One of the old three men in a room in Albany is defending his former legislative colleague. Former state Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno said former state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver deserves a fair trial and that he’s being charged by an overzealous federal prosecutor.


Grand Jury Debate NYT: Restoring Public Trust . . .  NYP: Keeping the Right of Secrecy  
A Judge’s Idea for Grand Jury Reform (NYT Ed) Proposals from New York’s chief judge would be a step toward restoring public trust in the justice system. Lawmakers should give Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman’s grand jury reform proposals serious consideration if they want to ensure that the public can trust that police will answer for their acts,Lippman‘s lunatic grand-jury ‘fix’(NYP) Why would anyone need a grand jury? The answer is to protect against a rush to judgment. Or, as Chief Justice Earl Warren once put it, “to determine whether a charge is founded upon reason or was dictated by an intimidating power or by malice and personal ill will.” The uproar over the Garner case was precisely because the grand jury carried out the assignment as understood by Warren and the authors of the New York and United States constitutions. Lord knows what would have happened had a judge intervened. Inserting a judge into the grand-jury room is bizarre enough in and of itself, but Lippman also wants to end grand-jury secrecy. That is, again, he wants to end such protection for certain accused persons, namely police officers and others in police-civilian encounters. All kinds of reasons exist for grand juries to conduct their deliberations in secret. This is so fundamental that it has existed in English law for centuries and is required by New York state law.* * The state’s first African-American county clerk took office, reminiscing about his experiences with racial segregation and vowing to encourage more minorities to serve on Manhattan juries, the Daily News reports: *Erie County DA Knocks Lippman’s Criminal Justice Approach (YNN) Not so fast, said Erie County District Attorney Frank Sedita, who also leads the statewide district attorneys association. In an interview, Sedita took issue with the proposal to have judges reside over such cases, saying such a move is a distinctly European import. “Our Founding Fathers had rejected that system,” Sedita said. * The NYT says legislators should give Chief Judge Lippman’s grand jury reform proposals “serious consideration if they want to ensure that the public — and particularly those in minority communities where residents most often encounter law enforcement — can trust that police will be held to answer for their acts.”


Chief Judge Proposes Grand Jury Reforms 
It Took Garner's Chokehold Death to Push Grand Jury Reform

Bold Plans for New York Courts (NYT) The state’s chief judge has come up with innovative ideas and programs to close the “justice gap.” (NYT Ed)
NY chief judge proposes sweeping grand jury reforms(NYP) New York’s chief judge has proposed major grand jury reforms with records released when nobody is charged and direct judicial oversight when police are investigated for killings or felony assaults. Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman’s legislative proposals follow protests last year after a grand jury declined to indict a police officer seen on video choking an unarmed Staten Island man who died. He says Tuesday the immediate concern is the perception that prosecutors, who work closely with police, can’t objectively bring cases against them in secret grand jury proceedings. His legislation would have a judge preside inside the grand jury room in police cases. Lippman would also open records in cases where there’s no indictment and where it would advance “a significant public interest” and the person investigated is already known or consents.* N.Y.'s top judgecalls state's secretive grand jury process a “relic of another time" (LoHud) * State’s Top Judge Calls For Grand Jury Transparency (Updated) (YNN)

NY chief judge proposes sweeping grand jury reforms (NYP)* Head of New York’s Top Court Says Judges Should Oversee Grand Juries in Deaths Involving Police (NYT) Prosecutors, who handle the proceedings now, are seen as too close with law enforcement, Jonathan Lippman, the chief judge of the Court of Appeals, said his annual address.* State judge proposes letting public see evidence fromcases that do not lead to indictment (NYDN)* Calling for an “end to grand jury secrecy as we know it,” Chief Judge Jonathan Lippmanproposed legislation allowing the public to see evidence presented in high-profile cases that did not lead to an indictment. * Lippman said the grand jury system is”a relic of another time” that needs overhaul in light of deadly police encounters, apparently a reference to the case of Eric Garner, an unarmed man who died after a police chokehold last summer. * Lippman’s ideas would go further than previously proposed grand jury reforms, placing judges squarely in the middle of grand jury activities – something that national groups say would set New York’s judges apart from jurists in other states. * Brooklyn DA Kenneth Thompson backed Lippman’s proposal to allow greater disclosure of grand jury proceedings. * Lippman turns 70 in May and so must retire at year’s end. This was his final State of the Judiciary address.


Silver's Court Under Fed Investigation
Feds probe civil court following Silver’s arrest(NYP) The country’s most important civil court is under federal investigation, an insider says. The probe is focusing on the state Supreme Court’s civil division at 60 Centre St. in lower Manhattan, where many tentacles reach to disgraced Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, the court source said. Silver was arrested last month on corruption charges, and Manhattan US Attorney Preet Bharara warned the public to “stay tuned” for more developments. The case against Silver centers on his freelance legal “work” and the millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks he hauled in from real-estate and asbestos claims, the feds say. Many of these cases landed in the courtrooms at 60 Centre St., presided over by judges with ties to Silver and his lifelong pal, Jonathan Lippman, the chief judge of the state Court of Appeals. Both men grew up on the Lower East Side, and Silver has been Lippman’s political godfather, pushing him to reach New York’s top judicial post. “The appointment of Sheldon Silver’s childhood friend, Jonathan Lippman, as the state’s chief judge based on his administrative experience made about as much sense as the Yankees making their accountant the manager of the team,” said Charles Compton, former president of the Supreme Court Officers Association. He added that Lippman was appointed “to protect and promote Silver’s interests.”





astie would be the next speaker of the state Assembly.”
The American Tort Reform Association last year called the asbestos court the nation’s top “judicial hellhole” where plaintiffs’ lawyers are “brazenly favored by the judges.” Silver has been blocking tort-reform bills for decades in Albany.* Time to cut New York’s sky-high litigation costs(NYP Ed) Silver’s indictment alleges that the former speaker worked to funnel $500,000 in state money to a prominent New York doctor who specializes in asbestos-related lung ailments. The doctor, in turn, funneled patients to Silver’s law firm, Weitz & Luxenberg. Those patients turned into clients with lawsuits worth ­millions. Asbestos litigation is the nation’s longest-running mass tort, going on 50 years, and law firms heavily advertise to find new “victims.” In 2008, 20 of the 30 most-expensive paid Google search terms involved asbestos. The Weitz firm is one of the nation’s most prominent asbestos-litigation firms. Silver was a paid “counsel” to the firm, earning more than $5 million over the years, according to the indictment. * Flashback 2006 State Bars a Bronx Lawyer From Receiving Court Appointments (NYT) Stanley K. Schlein, the politically influential Bronx lawyer who is the chairman of the city's Civil Service Commission, has been barred indefinitely by state court officials from accepting guardianships and other potentially lucrative judicial appointments.* The MorelandCommission was looking at Heastie for $60,000 in unitemized campaignexpenditures (Capital) More Carl Heastie questions, via @mahoneyw: He steered $383,400 in member items to campaign donors or their group Heastie Ethics Reform Heastie Outlines Ethics Rules Proposals(YNN) * Potential speaker CarlHeastie promises per diem, income reforms (LoHud) * Influential Businessand Civic Group Backs Carl Heastie for Speaker (NYO)* Morelle: There’s Been A ‘Public Airing’ On Speakers Race (NYO)* Despite calls for transparency, it looks like the next speaker of the state Assembly could be picked in the same “sleazy and secretive style that has long characterized Albany politics,” theTimes’ Eleanor Randolph writes:
How active has Carl Heastie been in Albany affairs? "I've actually barely talked to the man." Veteran WNYC legislature reporter @kdewitt7
  


Queens Boss Crowley is Doing to the Surrogate Court What Silver is Accused to Doing to the  NY Civil Court
In 1998 Newfield reported that Frank Bolz III, chairman of the Queens Democratic Party's law committee, is the single biggest recipient of assignments from Nahman - collecting $178,050 for 47 paid guardianship appointments since 1992.  Bolz is the law partner of Queens Assemblyman Joseph Crowley's father and brother. Gerard Sweeney, Manton's former law partner and campaign treasurer, is the current counsel to the public administrator - appointed by Nahman. Sweeney's law partner, Michael Reich, is executive secretary of the Queens Democ-ratic organization and has received 27 real-estate receiverships from nine differ-ent Queens judges. In 2000 Newfield wrote "The law firm of Queens Democratic Party leader Tom Manton has received more than $400,000 in court patronage since 1997. One partner -- Frank Bolz -- heads the party's law committee. Another, Gerard Sweeney, is counsel to the public adminis-trator. A third, Mike Reich, is executive secretary of the Queens party organiza-tion. They should apply antitrust laws to Manton's Monopoly." The rule is that a lawyer can get only one assignment of more than $5,000 during any 12-month period. Records show that lawyers like Batra, Bolz and Harvey Green-berg get a lot of assignments for $4,800 each. Queens Surrogate Court  A Court, Not Votes, Sustains a Political Machine in Queens (Powell, NYT, 11/28/11) *Were Have All the Journalist Gone After Newfield (True News, 7/14/11) Bronx Surrogate Court  Bronx Surrogate Judge, Facing Discipline (NYT)  Judge Holzman, the Bronx surrogate since 1988, is in the midst of a disciplinary hearing in which he is charged with allowing his staff to run amok and to take fees that were excessive and unearned from estates that it was handling. Judge Holzman could lose his job as a result of the hearing.


Like Silver County Bosses Make Judges
Judicial Convention Sausage Factory Continues, Almost Nobody Noticed “For a glimpse into the odious nature of how the political bosses make judges in New York, we direct your attention to a letter in Friday's Voice of the People by veteran court watcher Alan Flacks. On Tuesday, Flacks dropped in on the Brooklyn Democratic Party's ceremony for elevating faithful lawyers to the bench. The party calls it a convention. It's not. It's a charade, currently directed by boss Vito Lopez.” – September 19, 2008.Manhattan: I attended the Kings County Democratic judicial nominating convention Tuesday. It was orchestrated "Soviet-style." Short, sweet, lady- and gentleman-like, the script called for the eight candidates to be designated or redesignated without opposition, even for supposed "open" seats. Before adjournment, each judge candidate got up and gave a short thank-you speech. Every one of them expressed gratitude to the party district leaders for their support, and they also expressed effusive thanks to and praise of County Leader Vito Lopez (photo). One "re-up," John Leventhal of the Appellate Division, Second Department (after inquiring if the press was present) thanked now-imprisoned county leader Clarence Norman as well, and another called Lopez "the greatest county leader ever." After adjournment, I spoke with a number of delegates who voted "automatically" and didn't seem to know for whom they were voting. They didn't know, and were just told for whom to vote.  - Alan Flacks *Lombardi On ElectingManhattanJudges The Old-Fashioned Way:Before Election Day (NYDN 2011) * How a Brooklyn Democratic functionary becomes a judge ...(NY World) * Brooklyn Dem'sJudicial Convention is a Much More Serious Sham * A better way to pick New York judges - NY Daily News * New York State Board of Elections v. Lopez Torres - Wikipedia * CITY POLITICS. - Tammany Judicial Convention ...(NYT 1860)


“Imagine you’re a judge and you know the person in front of you litigating in asbestos court is also responsible in some way for your career”
Joining up to seven plaintiffs has resulted in huge increases in NYCAL jury verdicts — from an average of $7 million to $24 million per plaintiff between 2010 and 2014, data collected by Bates White Economic Consulting show. Of 15 mesothelioma verdicts in the last four years, Silver’s firm won $273.5 million of $313.5 million awarded by NYCAL juries. Law firms usually take a third. Last month, the American Tort Reform Association branded NYCAL the nation’s top “judicial hellhole,” saying it’s rife with plaintiff attorneys “brazenly favored by the judges.” The group largely blames Silver, who not only has killed any tort reform, such as efforts to limit claims and cap damages, in Albany, but wields enormous power over the judiciary. “Imagine you’re a judge and you know the person in front of you litigating in asbestos court is also responsible in some way for your career,” said Tom Stebbins, a spokesman for the New York Lawsuit Reform Alliance, which also faults Silver.

As Assembly speaker since 1994, Silver names one of 13 members to a state judicial screening committee. The panel recommends candidates for the governor’s appointment to the Court of Claims and Appellate Division and other judge vacancies. In 2008, Silver named his law partner and another Weitz & Luxenberg founder, Arthur Luxenberg, to the committee, ignoring the blatant conflict of interest. Silver also plays a key role, along with Gov. Cuomo and the state Senate majority leader, in negotiating the judiciary’s budget. In 2011, Silver’s appointee to a seven-member state commission cast the deciding vote to give all state judges a 27 percent pay hike. As one of the state’s most powerful Democrats, Silver also strongly influences his party’s nomination of candidates for judgeships in Manhattan and elsewhere. Heitler and Madden are both Democrats, and both first ran for the bench during Silver’s tenure as speaker.* Silver’s betrayal — explointing the fears of his constituents(NYP) Problem: You’re a powerful public official, and you want to make “real private-sector money,” as the politicians call it, without (horrors!) doing any actual work. You consider it below your pay grade to take a fistful of cash from a lobbyist. Solution: The worst terror attack on US soil has just killed 2,753 people at the World Trade Center — and now hundreds of thousands of survivors fear for their health. And it all happened right in your district! What terrific luck. Federal officials accuse Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver of exactly that line of thinking: scheming to profit from 9/11 and its victims.* Nicole Gelinas:"The 9/11 attacks, though, presented a new opportunity" for SpeakerSilver to profit illicitly...  * MEET THE DOC: Oncologist who allegedly helped Silver with 9/11 scam is lauded by cancer patients, peers(NYDN) * Sheldon Silver Is So Crooked That He Even Corrupted The Courts (Albany Project )


Corrupt county leaders are organizing to replace corrupt Silver Angels and ministers of grace defend us!


“He has a hand in judicial appointments, and judges know not to bite the hand that feeds them,” said Mark Behrens, a DC attorney who advocates for asbestos-litigation reform for defendants. To top all that, Silver and New York’s Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman are boyhood chums from the Lower East Side. Lippman, who has been the chief administrative judge for all New York state courts since 2009, can assign judges to top administrative positions and plum posts. Heitler was promoted to Manhattan’s chief administrative judge in 2009, a post she holds in addition to running asbestos court. ources say Weitz & Luxenberg gets the “red-carpet treatment” in Manhattan, including “more experienced and better judges” in the asbestos court. 

State courts spokesman David Bookstaver said Friday that he could not reach anyone to explain the alleged jury hogging. Weitz & Luxenberg filed 53 percent of the NYCAL mesothelioma cases and 74 percent of the lung-cancer cases from 2011 to 2013, Bates White found. Besides the landmark $190 million award, the firm last June won $25 million for two workers exposed to asbestos insulation, and $20 million for the family of a former ship fitter who died. The indictment says Silver pocketed $5.3 million from Weitz & Luxenberg without ever doing legal work — as he was paid a yearly salary of $120,000 (for a total $1.4 million since 2002) and $3.9 million in “referral fees.” Silver allegedly drummed up plaintiffs — and referral fees — by having Columbia University Medical Center cancer researcher Dr. Robert Taub funnel mesothelioma patients to the firm. In return, Silver allegedly steered $500,000 in taxpayer-funded grants to Taub and $25,000 in state funds to a nonprofit employing Taub’s wife and a helped find a job for Taub’s son at a different nonprofit.

A Court, Not Votes, Sustains a Political Machine in Queens
A Court, Not Votes, Sustains a Political Machine in Queens((NYT) Queens machine lives off the Queens Surrogate Court * True News Corruption and the Surrogate Court *Stealing From the Dead Court  DA Vance announced the trial conviction of Richard Paul, the former bookkeeper for the Kings County Public Administrator’s Office, for stealing more than $2.6 million from the estates of individuals who died without a will by manipulating the agency’s check writing system. Paul was found guilty by a jury in New York State Supreme Court of Grand Larceny in the First Degree and Defrauding the Government. Taryn Miller was convicted by the same jury of Grand Larceny in the First Degree for helping facilitate the scheme, and receiving stolen funds. Both defendants are expected to be sentenced on December 5, 2013. *Corruption and the Surrogate Court (True News) * Surrogate's Court And Why It Should Go (True News)


After Silver's Arrest Judge Madden Changes Her Justice 

Record asbestos payout slashed following Silver’s arrest (NYP) A judge who since Sheldon Silver’s arrest has come under scrutiny for large damages awarded to Weitz & Luxenberg clients reduced a record $190 million asbestos-related payout to less than $30 million. A judge who since Sheldon Silver’s arrest has come under scrutiny for the sky-high damages that juries in her court have awarded to Weitz & Luxenberg clients recently slashed a record $190 million asbestos-poisoning payout to less than $30 million. Defense attorneys on Wednesday speculated that the 84 percent reduction may be the result of bad publicity in The Post and other news outlets. In a decision dated Feb. 5, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Joan Madden ordered a new hearing on a 2013 jury verdict in her court that gave five mesothelioma victims represented by Weitz a total of $190 million — the highest award of its kind at the time.* Unlike in the U.S. Senate, the New York State Senate spent very little time and scrutiny in its vetting process before confirming new state Court of Appeals Judges Leslie Stein and Eugene Fahey, the Daily Newswrites: A legal ethics expert hired by Weitz & Luxenberg found Silver had a legitimate “of counsel” relationship to the firm, allowing it to give him unlimited referral fees without breaching professional conduct rules.* @ShellySilver's law firm gave $50K to the PAC backing judicial retirement increase (Capital) 
More on Sheldon Silver Arrest

The Court Remove the Silver Corruption in Secret
The All Too Familiar NYC Corruption Dance: Once Corruption is Exposed There is Never Call for An Investigation or Outrage by the Media and Elected Officials and Nobody Responsible Gets in Trouble or Goes to Jail
Silver’s law firm loses special status in courts (NYP) Manhattan Supreme court officials will no longer lay out the red carpet for ousted Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s former law firm after The Post exposed that Weitz & Luxenberg attorneys received preferential access to jurors. “No more,” said a jury clerk about the priority treatment that was once afforded to the firm’s asbestos-related cancer cases. The Post’s Susan Edelman reported on Jan. 25 that when Weitz & Luxenberg lawyers showed up to start a trial the entire pool of 150 prospective jurors was ushered into their courtroom.* Manhattan Supreme court officials will no longer lay out the red carpet for ousted Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver’s former law firm after The Post exposed that Weitz & Luxenberg attorneys received preferential access to jurors.

“A jury clerk told us, ‘The asbestos cases are taking priority,’ ” an attorney who watched the incident recalled, adding that his trial was delayed until more jurors could be called in. “All the other lawyers — and their clients — are getting screwed,” he said. Weitz & Luxenberg, which boasts $8 billion in client payouts, hired Silver, who has no background in asbestos law, to “increase the firm’s prestige and perceived power,” according to last month’s federal indictment of the longtime assemblyman. In return Silver, who also influences the careers of top judges, was paid $5.3 million for a no-show job.


Wayne Barrett: How Shelly Silver Made His Pal Chief Judge  
Justice is Blindsided Shelly Silver games Governor Paterson to get hischildhood pal the state's top courts job By Wayne Barrett (Village Voice) Jonathan Lippman and Sheldon Silver grew up together on the Lower East Side in the 1950s, living next door in the insular Grand Street projects and sitting near each other's family in the neighborhood's Orthodox shul. After both graduated from law school in 1968 and drifted into low-level courthouse gigs in Manhattan in their early careers, one went on to become the longest-serving Democratic legislative leader in modern New York history, master of an unprecedented 107 to 43 majority in the State Assembly. The other remained largely unknown, except inside the state's vast court system. Below the political radar, the black-hatted, still religious, and gravel-toned Silver, who is celebrating his 65th birthday and 15th year as speaker this month, has been quietly boosting the more secular Lippman for years. Now, he's finally pushed Lippman from the series of back-office management posts where he's labored for years to the job of top gavel in the State Judiciary. * Lawyers say this is the worst judge in New York City(NYP) Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Richard Braun’s courtroom is the worst-case scenario, with civil lawsuits dragging on for years because of endless adjournments, attorneys charge. If a lawyer is one minute late, Braun will adjourn the case for three months, lawyers claim. When lawyers fail to include room numbers on addresses, submit motions more than 25 pages long or don’t use proper margins in papers, their cases are adjourned.
Blog That Exposes NY Court Corruption
The Crimes of Lippman

Pay to Play Court Lawyers

Four Charged in a Bribery Scheme to Gain Clients in Arraignment Court(NYT)  A worker who interviewed defendants was paid as much as $1,000 per client that he steered to three lawyers and a paralegal, prosecutors said.


New NYC County Clerk


State Supreme Court Justice Milton Tingling, the judge who put the brakes on former Mayor Michael Bloomberg's 'soda ban,' will be the next New York County Clerk, GothamGazette reports:



NY Post Hits Cuomo on Judge Pick
If Gov. Cuomo wanted to demonstrate that he was above making judicial picks based on politic labels he would have given Judge Graffeo another term instead of nominating Justice Stein, the Post writes: 

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Today's Media Blacks Out Judicial Conventions 

In 2008 True News Wrote 
Judicial Convention Sausage Factory Continues, Almost Nobody Noticed “For a glimpse into the odious nature of how the political bosses make judges in New York, we direct your attention to a letter in Friday's Voice of the People by veteran court watcher Alan Flacks. On Tuesday, Flacks dropped in on the Brooklyn Democratic Party's ceremony for elevating faithful lawyers to the bench. The party calls it a convention. It's not. It's a charade, currently directed by boss Vito Lopez.” – September 19, 2008.Manhattan: I attended the Kings County Democratic judicial nominating convention Tuesday. It was orchestrated "Soviet-style." Short, sweet, lady- and gentleman-like, the script called for the eight candidates to be designated or redesignated without opposition, even for supposed "open" seats. Before adjournment, each judge candidate got up and gave a short thank-you speech. Every one of them expressed gratitude to the party district leaders for their support, and they also expressed effusive thanks to and praise of County Leader Vito Lopez (photo). One "re-up," John Leventhal of the Appellate Division, Second Department (after inquiring if the press was present) thanked now-imprisoned county leader Clarence Norman as well, and another called Lopez "the greatest county leader ever." After adjournment, I spoke with a number of delegates who voted "automatically" and didn't seem to know for whom they were voting. They didn't know, and were just told for whom to vote.  - Alan Flacks

In 2008 the Daily News Only the Daily News Noticed That Jeff Feldman Help Run the Brooklyn Judicial Convention in 2014 None of the Media Noticed 

Feldman and his Friends Play the System
“Similarly unseemly was the role played at the convention by Jeff Feldman, a one-time party honcho who was indicted with Norman but won dismissal of charges. No longer exiled from the convention, Feldman helped run Tuesday's show.” -– NY Daily News Editorial, September 19, 2008.
More On Corrupt Judicial Conventions



Room Eight Protests Judicial Corruption in Brooklyn New York, and How No One is Doing Anything About It 

Federal Judge John Gleeson of the Eastern District of New York ruled in 2006 that the judicial conventions through which party bosses have chosen State Supreme Court Justices for a century are unconstitutional. In a thoroughly documented decision, Judge Gleeson ruled that the convention system, in which judges are hand-picked by delegates chosen for that purpose, usually officers of local political clubs, deprives the public of its legal right to participate in the selection of judges. Under current rules, all judges in New York State EXCEPT Supreme Court Justices are either appointed by elected officials or chosen in open primary elections. The US Supreme Court said "not so fast", and ruled that the courts did not have the constitutional right to change the way New York chooses Supreme Court Judges . 


Judge Gleeson
Judicial Sausage Factory Continues, Almost Nobody Noticed
posted by Oneshirt
Fri, 09/19/2008 - 11:10am
LINK

After the former county leader goes to jail for corruption connected with judicial elections, a U.S. Federal Judge Gleeson calling them unconstitutional - fixed - and extensive condemnation by the city’s newspaper editorial pages, the charade called the Brooklyn Judicial Convention continued like nothing ever happened. In fact like a wounded animal or king the situation has grown grave and depraved.

Nothing has been learned by the experiences of the past 5 years a delegate whispered into my ear when boss Vito was not looking. Something very bad is happening to our way of life and culture. Our system of democracy, separation of powers, built in political party conflict has failed and nobody cares. The business as usually continuation of the convention is proof that our culture has changed so much that exposure and shame which used to be enough to cause reform has been replaced by a get over society, where morality or doing what is right does not matter. What is even more frightening, if it was up to the press there would be no record. Only the Manhattan gadfly a modern day Thomas Paine made sure there was a public record.

Today's Daily News Editorial

“For a glimpse into the odious nature of how the political bosses make judges in New York, we direct your attention to a letter in Friday's Voice of the People by veteran court watcher Alan Flacks. On Tuesday, Flacks dropped in on the Brooklyn Democratic Party's ceremony for elevating faithful lawyers to the bench. The party calls it a convention. It's not. It's a charade, currently directed by boss Vito Lopez.” – September 19, 2008.

U.S. Judge John Gleeson Rules Judicial Conventions Unconstitutional 
"The highly unusual processes (judicial convention - the lone state in the nation to elect judges this way) by which that extremely important office (Supreme Court Judge) is filled perpetuate local political party leaders control and deprive the voters of any meaningful role," the judge wrote in the decision. "The result is an opaque, and undemocratic selection procedure that violates the rights of the voters and the rights of candidates who lack the backing of local party leaders."

The Flacks letter to the Daily News Which Resulted in Today’s Editorial:

Sausage Factory Floor

Manhattan: I attended the Kings County Democratic judicial nominating convention Tuesday. It was orchestrated "Soviet-style." Short, sweet, lady- and gentleman-like, the script called for the eight candidates to be designated or redesignated without opposition, even for supposed "open" seats. Before adjournment, each judge candidate got up and gave a short thank-you speech. Every one of them expressed gratitude to the party district leaders for their support, and they also expressed effusive thanks to and praise of County Leader Vito Lopez (photo). One "re-up," John Leventhal of the Appellate Division, Second Department (after inquiring if the press was present) thanked now-imprisoned county leader Clarence Norman as well, and another called Lopez "the greatest county leader ever." After adjournment, I spoke with a number of delegates who voted "automatically" and didn't seem to know for whom they were voting. They didn't know, and were just told for whom to vote.

Alan Flacks

Brooklyn District Attorney says the Supreme Court election system corrupts
Charles Hynes: Amicus Curiae Brief in Judge Lopez Torres vs. NYS Board of Elections:

“New York’s uniquely constructed and statutorily- mandated nominating process for the state Supreme Court, which in effect places ultimate control over who becomes a state Supreme Court justice in the hands of powerful county political party leaders, creates and sustains a breeding ground for corruption and malfeasance and undermines the public’s confidence in the judiciary."

Feldman and his Friends Play the System
“Similarly unseemly was the role played at the convention by Jeff Feldman, a one-time party honcho who was indicted with Norman but won dismissal of charges. No longer exiled from the convention, Feldman helped run Tuesday's show.” -– NY Daily News Editorial, September 19, 2008.

Judge Gleeson, U.S. District Court Cited Jeff Feldman’s action in the decision 
“Beginning in March of 2003, then candidate for Supreme Court Lopez Torres wrote repeatedly to the Kings County Democratic Committee to learn three basic things; (1) the date, time and place of the convention; (2) the names of the delegates, so she could lobby them; and (3) whether she could address the delegates at the convention. She did not hear from its Executive Director, Jeffrey C. Feldman until September 4, 2003, after she once again requested the information. Feldman response is difficult to reconcile with the defendants' gauzy characterizations of a democratic process open to all party members who seek the office of Supreme Court Justice. He began by mocking the request for a list delegates to lobby: "AI erroneously believed that a learned jurist, such as yourself, would be well aware that Delegates and Alternate Delegates to the Democratic Judicial Convention stand for independent elections in the Primary Election, yet to be held. Thus no such list existed "anywhere in the world," Feldman helpfully added. As for Lopez Torres's inquiry about addressing the convention, Feldman wrote as follows: "I suffer from the innocent belief that the floor of the Convention is open, only, to elected Delegates and their successors.” - Judge Gleeson, U.S. District Court

Besides the press also missing, from this year Judicial Convention, were most of the reformers who in the past protested actions at the convention. Only Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats president Chris Owens and past president Josh Skaller stood alone in opposing this year’s convention, handing out a newspaper to every delegate outlining needed changes to the way New York “elects” Supreme Court Judges.

U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens said Judicial Conventions are bad, declaring that :

“The Constitution Does Not Prohibit Legislatures From Enacting Stupid Laws.”

Since the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the courts did not have the constitutional right to change the way New York chooses it Supreme Court Judges not one elected official has spoken out about changing the STUPID LAW. In fact the good groups which conspired with the elected officials before the U.S. Supreme Court ruling to allow Judicial Conventions to continue at the same time allowing candidates to petition there way onto the ballot are like the press missing action on this issue. In fact like the elected officials the good government groups have not commented on the STUPID LAWS.

Editorial - The New York Times - January 17, 2008

"A Defeat for Judicial Reform"

By upholding New York's machine-dominated system for selecting judges, the Supreme Court has dealt another setback to voters. The court has once again allowed political bosses to rig elections in ways that deny voters a meaningful role. New York's political power brokers are no doubt cheering, but they should not be allowed to triumph. Even if New York's method of selecting judges is constitutional, it remains unfair and undemocratic. It needs to be replaced.

New York State Supreme Court justices -- who despite their titles are trial-level judges -- are selected through a byzantine process. Primary voters select judicial delegates, who then meet in party conventions to choose their nominees. The conventions are generally controlled by political bosses, who often steer the nominations to candidates who deliver patronage back to the party machine. It's a disgraceful way to choose judges. They are supposed to be above politics.

It's also a system that makes the voters almost irrelevant. At the polls, they have to choose among judicial delegate slates -- when there are competing slates at all -- filled with unfamiliar names. It is a far cry from an actual party primary in which voters are allowed to choose among competing judicial candidates. The New York-based United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in ruling against the system, declared that it unacceptably burdened the constitutional rights of both candidates and voters.

The Supreme Court, unfortunately, disagreed. Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, dismissed the idea that the right of association requires a process by which voters have a meaningful opportunity to affect an election's outcome. The ruling is consistent with the court's recent decisions upholding the right of political bosses to gerrymander political districts. These days, the only election complaints that seem to move the court are ones by corporations and wealthy individuals who object to limits on their ability to spend on elections.

Four justices, in concurring opinions, cast doubt on the wisdom of New York's method of choosing judges. Justices Anthony Kennedy and Stephen Breyer noted that if the rules do not produce both the perception and the reality of a system committed to the highest ideals of the law, they ought to be changed and to be changed now. Justices John Paul Stevens and David Souter quoted Thurgood Marshall: "The Constitution does not prohibit legislatures from enacting stupid laws."

A stupid -- and undemocratic -- law is precisely what New York has. Now that the cudgel of a court order has been removed, we hope the Legislature will summon the wisdom and integrity to fix the system voluntarily. The odds of that happening are long, since the powers that be in the Legislature are the same ones that profit from the current corrupt system. It is, however, a cause that everyone who cares about a qualified and independent judiciary needs to keep fighting.

Federal Court Determines Party Bosses Control N.Y. Judicial Nominations
Tom Perrotta, Law.com, 01-30-2005

The system of electing Supreme Court justices in New York violates the rights of voters and judicial candidates and must be scrapped, a federal judge said Friday in a scathing ruling that could change forever the way judicial offices in the state are filled.

Eastern District of New York Judge John Gleeson enjoined the New York State Board of Elections from using the unique -- and likely unconstitutional -- system of conventions and delegates that now determines which candidates for Supreme Court judgeships appear on election ballots.

Gleeson said Supreme Court justices should be nominated by primary elections until the state Legislature enacts a new statutory scheme to replace New York Election Law §6-106.

"The plaintiffs have demonstrated convincingly that local major party leaders -- not the voters or the delegates to the judicial nominating conventions -- control who becomes a Supreme Court Justice and when," he wrote in Lopez Torres v. New York State Board of Elections, 04 CV 1129. "The highly unusual processes by which that extremely important office is filled perpetuate that control, and deprive the voters of any meaningful role. The result is an opaque, undemocratic selection procedure that violates the rights of the voters and the rights of candidates who lack the backing of the local party leaders."

For the citizens' group and eight potential judicial candidates who challenged the election process as unfair and virtually impossible without the backing of key party leaders, Gleeson's ruling was equivalent to a grand slam in the bottom of the ninth inning.

"The ruling is a victory for the voters of New York state and the judiciary," said attorney Jeremy Creelan of the Brennan Center for Justice, which represented Common Cause and the potential judicial candidates, including Margarita Lopez Torres, who is now one of two surrogate judges in Brooklyn. "After more than 100 years of domination by party leaders, voters will finally have a meaningful say in the nomination process for Supreme Court candidates."

Arthur W. Greig, who represents the state Democratic Party, said the defendants would appeal and seek a stay of the injunction from the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

New York's century-old convention system is unique in the United States and only applies to Supreme Court justices. At conventions, candidates for the court are chosen by delegates.

The problem, according to the plaintiffs, is that those delegates, who represent various Assembly districts, are chosen by leaders of the state's Democratic and Republican political parties and simply do what those leaders ask. The plaintiffs argued that it is impossible to either unseat these delegates or lobby them for support.

Gleeson agreed. Without the backing of political leaders, he said, it is "virtually impossible" for a challenger candidate to field a slate of supportive delegates from various districts sufficient to win a place on an election ballot.

The judge found that an insurgent candidate for Supreme Court in Brooklyn or Staten Island would need to gather 24,000 to 36,000 signatures drawn equally from 24 Assembly districts to have a chance at the nomination.

The judge also dismissed the idea that a candidate could lobby delegates and win their support. He cited the example of Judge Lopez Torres, a potential Supreme Court candidate in 2003 who repeatedly wrote to the Kings County Democratic Committee to learn the date of the convention, the name of delegates so she could lobby them and whether she could speak at the convention.

Seven months later, the county executive, Jeffrey C. Feldman, wrote back to her, "mocking the request for a list of delegates to lobby," Gleeson wrote. Feldman said that no such list existed "anywhere in the world" and added that Lopez Torres could not speak at the convention.

"Margarita Lopez Torres demonstrated in 2003 that indisputable qualifications for the job and immense popularity among the candidate's fellow party members are neither necessary nor sufficient to get the party's nomination," Judge Gleeson wrote. "Something different is required: the imprimatur of the party leadership."

The ruling comes nearly two years after the lawsuit was filed, partially in response to judicial scandals in Brooklyn that have resulted in one judge, Victor I. Barron, admitting to bribery, and another, Gerald Garson, being indicted (he has yet to go to trial). The Brooklyn district attorney's office has since won two convictions against Clarence Norman, the former Democratic Party leader and Brooklyn assemblyman, for election law violations, and continues to say that Norman could aid the office in further investigations of judicial corruption (Norman has denied this).

PARTY LEADERS CONTROL

While defendants in the suit have denied that party leaders, specifically Norman, controlled the selection of Supreme Court candidates, Gleeson dismissed those contentions in no uncertain terms.

"The record of financial contributions by candidates for Supreme Court Justice to political groups controlled by Norman has fostered not only the (accurate) perception that he, rather than the voters or delegates, controlled the selection of the justices, but the further perception that he used the wrong criteria in making his decisions."

He added: "Based on the substantial body of evidence before me, I conclude that the plaintiffs have made a compelling showing that the New York system is designed to freeze the political status quo, in which party leaders, rather than the voters, select the Justices of the Supreme Court. By preventing competition among candidates and deterring voter participation, the system is successful in fact at achieving that goal."

Lawyers Discuss How State Should Select Judges
By JOSEPH GOLDSTEIN, Staff Reporter of the Sun, May 3, 2006
LINK

Three months after a federal judge struck down the way New York State selects its trial court judges, the city's legal community is far from a consensus about what system should be put in its place.

Several of the city's top attorneys, including the city's corporation counsel, Michael Cardozo, gathered last evening in Midtown at the city bar association building to discuss how New York should select its trial judges.

The ideas floated ranged from changing little of the existing party-controlled system, to opening the nominating process up to the general public through primary elections. Concerns expressed ranged from ensuring a diverse judiciary and protecting judges from running costly campaigns.

The topic of the quality of the judiciary received far less comment.

For many lawyers, the question of judicial selection will define the 2006 political season. The century-old debate of how to select state judges has never been settled, and has intensified in recent years following a slew of indictments against several judges in Brooklyn. A ruling in January by a federal judge that declared New York's system unconstitutional has given a new urgency to solving the issue.

In that ruling, U.S. District Judge John Gleeson found that party leaders controlled the nominating conventions that put candidates for the state's basic trial court, the state supreme court, on the November ballot, denying party outsiders a chance at the judiciary. He also found that the party-controlled system denied voters a meaningful say in the selection process.

Judge Gleeson initially ruled that the 25 vacancies on the supreme court this year should be filled by party primaries, followed by a general election. He has since stayed that order.

"In our view, this is the first real opportunity we've had in decades to revisit the issue of how judges get selected," a lawyer at the Brennan Center for Justice, Deborah Goldberg, said. "If this decision is not upheld on appeal it will probably the last opportunity for decades." She said a system of party primaries would not necessarily lead to expensive races, forcing judges to raise large sums of money.

Mr. Cardozo, the top lawyer for the city, called "practical" a system of independent qualification commissions that would endorse the three most qualified candidates to party nominating conventions. Mayor Bloomberg has endorsed such a proposal, which would require legislation from Albany. Other ideas, such as the creation of socalled "merit selection committees" that would actually pick judges, would need a constitutional amendment.

Although critics of the mayor's plan have said it would not lessen the control party leaders currently wield in selecting judges, Mr. Cardozo said that adjusting the rules governing the convention would allow more qualified candidates to stand a chance of being nominated.

"One issue is what I would call the Clarence Norman problem," Mr. Cardozo said, referring to the former Kings County Democratic leader, whom Judge Gleeson characterized as controlling judicial selection in Brooklyn. Under the current system, Mr. Cardozo said, "the fact of the matter is that the county leader has virtual dictatorial power over the quality of people coming out of the conventions."

But even in the wake of Judge Gleeson's decision, some lawyers have advocated that the present judicial nominating conventions be maintained with few changes. The current nominating conventions are responsible for much of the racial diversity currently on the bench, one supporter, Paul Wooten of the firm Paul Wooten & Associates, said.

"A convention by nature is what is called a consensus," he said. "By giving and taking, they end up getting African Americans and Latinos on the bench."

The Color of Judge Money
By Jason Boog, jasonboog@judicialstudies.com
Posted 02-13-08
LINK

Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has sent New York Supreme Court incumbents and aspirants back to our local carnival of judicial selection, the time has come to start following the money again. And there's a lot of following to do.

In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s unanimous rejection of the challenge to New York’s system for selecting judges, judicial candidates are poised to hop back on the fundraising merry-go-round.

But different jurisdictions offer different rides, at different speeds.

Last year Supreme Court candidates in the five boroughs collectively raised nearly $144,000. Yet their counterparts in the major suburban districts stockpiled almost $754,000.

These fundraising numbers might give the mistaken impression that more judges are running in the suburban races. In reality, during the 2007 election season, 12 Supreme Court spots were open in the five boroughs, while only six seats were available in the suburban districts.

Despite having double the amount of available seats, most judicial candidates in New York City barely worry about fundraising. Conversely, the suburban contests are driven by an often manic pursuit of dollars.
DEMOGRAPHY IS DESTINY

The wildly disparate sums reveal a pronounced demographic shift affecting some judicial campaigns.

Last year’s biggest judicial fundraiser in the greater metropolitan region was not found in Manhattan or Brooklyn. The top money magnet was Justice Francis A. Nicolai, a former Westchester County Court Judge who is now Administrative Judge for the Ninth District.

Nicolai raised a whopping $161,000 for a seemingly doomed candidacy. During the course of his tumultuous campaign, the judge ran with only the Democratic endorsement — unsuccessfully taking his fight for minor party endorsements to court. Click here for the Judicial Reports coverage.

Historically, candidates have depended on small party endorsements to bring crucial extra votes in close races.

And unlike many jurisdictions dominated by one of the major parties, greater competition in both the Ninth and Tenth Judicial Districts means that every last vote counts.

In the Ninth, candidates seek votes across a vast swath that includes Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, and Westchester Counties. Judges in the Tenth must cover both Suffolk and Nassau counties.

While the Democratic Party has maintained a powerful hold over New York City, suburban voter registrations have begun tilting more Democratic in recent years.

In the Ninth, the Democrats went from some 445,000 registered voters in 2002 to more than 490,000 in 2007, while the Republicans went from slightly under 366,000 to slightly more than 367,000. The Independence Party gained 12,900 voters in that same period.

The Tenth shifted more dramatically since 2002. The Democratic Party went from just over 559,000 voters to just over 600,000 voters in 2007, and the Republicans lost roughly 31,000 voters from its total of approximately 705,000. The Independence Party gained 16,000 voters.

Click here to see a LexMetrics analysis of the shift.

Nicolai’s massive fundraising effort paid off in the Ninth. In the general election, he and two other Democrats beat the nearest Republican-endorsed contender, County Court Judge and Acting Supreme Court Justice Rory J. Bellantoni, by more than 5,000 votes. (In the contest, eight candidates vied for three seats.)

Bellantoni’s fundraising efforts weren’t quite as successful — he raised about $51,000 for his losing bid, ranking him seventh in the 2007 top fundraiser list. Justice Bellantoni has continued serving as an acting justice, and his County Court seat expires in 2013.


DEMOGRAPHICS IS ECONOMICS


Arnold Linhardt, a consultant from White Plains-based Strategic Services, has helped a few Democratic judges in recent years. He said that demographic shifts have changed the fundraising numbers.

“Has it got more expensive? I would say yes, at least on the Democratic side,” said Linhardt. “It was needed to get the message out, let people know who these candidates are. . . . On the flip side, I think Republicans are finding it harder to raise money.”

The consultant attributed the shift to a flight to the suburbs by New York City Democrats escaping high rents.

He also speculated that the shift signals the waning influence of the smaller parties. “Based on Frank Nicolai’s win, you might see candidates saying, ‘I don’t want to be held up by minor parties’, ” he concluded.


If so, it was an unintended consequence. Nicolai fought hard to overturn the small party endorsement processes after he failed to gain their support, but his ultimate victory might indicate that he needn’t have bothered.

The Board of Elections general election figures didn't illustrate that conclusion just yet.

In 2003 (a comparable ‘off-year’ without major Presidential or Legislative races to bring voters to the polls), the Independence Party delivered more than 11,000 votes countywide to cross-endorsed candidates who won the judicial race. In the 2007 race, by contrast, that party delivered 13,000 votes to Judge Bellantoni — their cross-endorsed candidate.

Frank MacKay, the national chairman of the Independence Party of America, strongly disagreed that the minor party vote was fading. “[The 2007 election] was the exception, not the rule by any means,” he explained in an interview, drawing on his previous experience as chairman of the Suffolk County Independence Party.

“Certainly in every close race in Suffolk and Nassau a so-called minor party can claim the margin of victory,” he added. “There’s nothing minor about the effect they have on judicial elections. For the most part, no one is winning these elections without the help from the Independence, Conservative, or Working Family Parties.”

TOUGH TIMES IN THE TENTH


The second biggest fundraiser of the year came from the Tenth, but his efforts didn’t pay the same dividend as Judge Nicolai’s.

Robert W. Schmidt, a Republican Associate Justice in the Appellate Division, Second Department, raised more than $110,000 for his hotly contested Supreme Court race. But he ended up losing in a Democratic sweep — with his closest opponent beating him by more than 26,000 votes.

Anthony Manetta has been a political consultant in Suffolk and Nassau Counties since 2001. He founded Roosevelt Strategy group, and has worked on a number of judicial races on Long Island.

He said candidates face an entirely new financial reality.

“If you’re going to run for Supreme Court countywide [in the Tenth], you need to come in with at the minimum $75,000,” he said. “I would recommend $125,000. The price tag has evolved. Over time things get more expensive — the costs of television ads have increased dramatically.”

He also noted that judges like Schmidt might have to dip into their own pockets next time.

“More and more what you’re seeing, especially with judicial candidates, is that many have to turn to investing in their own campaigns. You didn’t used to see that at all,” he concluded.

NEW YORK CITY IS DIFFERENT


Eight of the top 10 fundraisers of 2007 came from the Ninth and Tenth, a dynamic that has been reflected since the State Board of Elections began archiving campaign finance reports in 1999. Democratic Party dominance typically makes such dollar-dialing unnecessary in the five boroughs, and the U.S. Supreme Court’s rejection of electoral reformers’ case in Lopez Torres vs. NYS Board of Elections means that won’t change anytime soon.

The top fundraiser from the five boroughs was Robert J. Miller. The judge raised $35,000 in his bid to secure the Democratic nomination and general election for Supreme Court.

Miller secured the coveted Democratic nomination, and a cross-endorsement from the Republican and Conservative Parties. This made him the only candidate cross-endorsed by all three parties in that race where five candidates vied for three spots.

Along with the two other candidates with the Democratic endorsement, Miller’s win was virtually assured. He beat his nearest Conservative Party opponent (who lacked the Democratic and Republican endorsements) by more than 60,000 votes.

Most dramatically, only nine Supreme Court candidates from New York City even made the list of the state’s top fundraisers. The remaining spots were all secured by suburban judges forced to raise bigger pots for their elections.

Indeed, the first candidate from the five boroughs to crack the post-1999 list comes in at number 35 — Acting Supreme Court Justice Judith Gische, who raised $70,000 in multiple bids for the Supreme Court. (Most recently, she lost a judicial convention bid in 2007.)

HIGHEST JUDICIAL FUNDRAISER EVER


The prize of biggest judicial candidate fundraiser since 1999 goes to Republican Janet DiFiore, who raised more than $300,000 for her 2002 Supreme Court bid in the Ninth. She came in first place out of four winners in that race with a cross-endorsement from the Independence and Conservative Parties.

That 2002 election victory was the pinnacle of Republican power in the Ninth. Among all five counties, she collected 216,600 Republican votes that year. In contrast, no Republican won last year in that same district.

DiFiore resigned her judicial post in 2005, choosing to run for Westchester District Attorney on the Republican ticket. She narrowly won that race against the Democratic candidate, earning a nail-biting 51 percent of the vote.

Perhaps in a nod to the tectonic shift of voter demographics, DiFiore announced last year that she was changing parties to become a Democrat.

Consultant Linhardt thought that these fundraising aftershocks would lessen in a few years, particularly in the wake of Lopez Torres.

“If the U.S. Supreme Court had upheld the lower court, then you would have seen a spike in expenditures,” he said. “Since the system remains the way it is, I think we will see a leveling out in two or three years.”

The second-highest fundraiser was not so lucky. Justice Thomas A. Adams, an incumbent Associate Justice of the Appellate Division, Second Department, raised more than $278,600 for his 2006 reelection bid.

The Republican judge had received coveted cross-endorsements from the Independence and Conservative Parties, but he still lost the four-way race — losing to his closest Democratic opponent by more than 20,000 votes.

As a consultant, Manetta is frank with his clients about this hostile environment for incumbents. “The universe is so large, it’s a very expensive campaign to run. They are more competitive than ever before,” he said. “Ten years ago, all a candidate needed was the Republican line. Now the Democratic line is very competitive.”

Henry Stern wrote:
FEDERAL JUDGE GLEESON UPSETS SYSTEM OF JUDICIAL CONVENTIONS THROUGH WHICH PARTY BOSSES MADE SUPREME COURT NOMINATIONS WITHOUT PRIMARY ELECTIONS.

CAREFULLY CONTROLLED CONVENTIONS ARE ALLEGED TO HAVE RESULTED IN THE SALE OF JUDGESHIPS TO SOME WHO MAY HAVE TAKEN BRIBES TO RECOUP THE COST OF BUYING ROBES.


The most important political event in New York in 2006 was a decision handed down last Friday by Federal Judge John Gleeson of the Eastern District of New York, which ruled unconstitutional the judicial conventions through which party bosses have chosen State Supreme Court Justices for a century.

In a thoroughly documented decision, which you can link to here, Judge Gleeson ruled that the convention system, in which judges are hand-picked by delegates chosen for that purpose, usually officers of local political clubs, deprives the public of its legal right to participate in the selection of judges. Under current rules, all judges in New York State EXCEPT Supreme Court Justices are either appointed by elected officials or chosen in open primary elections.

The convention system for Supremes has resulted in the evils of judges buying their judicial offices from county bosses. The grateful beneficiaries of these nominations are sometimes expected to assume obligations to the men who put them there, which may influence their decisions in cases directly involving the leader or his clients, or in cases where litigants have appealed to the county leader to intervene, in the style of The Godfather, who assisted his people in the settlement of disputes. Judges have also tried to recover the money they paid for their robes by extorting sums from litigants that appear before them, in the manner of 19th-century police captains in the Tenderloin and similar districts. This was the case of Judge Victor Barron.

The reality of the current judicial nominating process is that the delegates 'elected' by the voters, sometimes a dozen or so for each assembly district (plus another dozen alternates), are in fact persons unknown to the great majority of voters, who ritually approve the nominees of the county political organization. If the election is not publicly contested, the names of the nominees do not even appear on the ballot. The judicial candidates of the Democratic Party, in boroughs where that nomination is tantamount to election, are in fact chosen by party bosses, sometimes in exchange for substantial sums of money, theoretically intended for campaign expenses, but often finding their way into the political leader's pockets, or to favored business firms for minimal and totally unnecessary goods and services. The businesses (pollsters, printers and publicists) launder the boodle before paying off those in power who had sent the judicial candidates to them to be fleeced.
FOR STUDENTS OF GOVERNMENT, THE HISTORY OF INDIRECT ELECTIONS IN THE UNITED STATES

Historically, the practice of indirect election was not confined to Supreme Court Justices. BTW, in New York State the "Supreme Court" is in fact a trial court. There are two levels of the judiciary above it, the Appellate Division, where the judges are selected by the governor from among supreme court judges, and the Court of Appeals, which is the pinnacle of the state judiciary. The Court of Appeals was for many years, directly elected by the people, but abuses in campaign funding and a high degree of partisanship caused the method to be changed about twenty years ago. Now the judges are appointed by the governor from a list presented to him by judicial screening panels, which solicit nominations and then screen candidates. This process has to some extent minimized the role of politics and money in judicial selection.

The President of the United States himself is elected indirectly, with the Electoral College making the final decision. Over time, the electors have lost their discretion, and now simply mirror the votes of their states (except for the rare 'faithless elector'). Nonetheless, a President can be elected who has received fewer popular votes than his rival: Hayes v. Tilden in 1876, said to be the stolen election, Benjamin Harrison over Cleveland in 1888, and Bush over Gore in 2000.

United States Senators were elected by State Legislators until April 8, 1913, when the Seventeenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified by the 36th state, Connecticut, Louisiana took until June 11, 1914 to become the superfluous 37th state (out of 48). Left-leaning Massachusetts was the first to ratify (on May 22, 1912, just nine days after it was proposed by Congress). New York State was fourth, acting on January 15, 1913. Senators have now been popularly elected for 92 years, still less than half the time since the founding of the Republic.
THE BACKGROUND: HOW THIS CASE CAME TO BE BROUGHT

Ironically, it was the actions of ex-Assemblyman and Brooklyn Democratic leader Clarence Norman, until his felony conviction in fall 2005, and Assemblyman Vito Lopez, his successor, that began the chain of circumstances that led to this decision. When Margarita Lopez-Torres was elected to a county-wide Civil Court in Brooklyn in 1993 on the recommendation of Vito Lopez, she rejected every job applicant sent to her by the county organization, including Mr. Lopez' daughter who sought employment as a law secretary. The payback for this defiance was the county's refusal to designate her for re-election when her term expired in 2003. She ran anyway, winning re-nomination in a sharply contested Democratic primary. The next year, she sought the county designation for Supreme Court Justice, which was decided by a judicial convention, not a primary. Predictably, the county organization turned her down although she was among the longest serving judges on the civil court.

In the spring of 2005 the position of Surrogate suddenly became vacant when Justice Michael Feinberg was removed for corruption by the Court of Appeals, upholding the recommendation of the Commission on Judicial Conduct. You can find details of l'affaire Feinberg on our website; just google his name. The vacancy thus created came in time to be filled by a primary. Three candidates competed, and Judge Torres won by an extremely narrow margin, some 200 votes.

At this time, the powers that be in Brooklyn, fearing the loss of the lucrative judgeship, which has the power to appoint receivers and grant other judicial patronage, communed with Governor Pataki and they agreed to create a second position of Surrogate Judge in Kings County, plus a Supreme Court seat in Queens for its strong leader, Tom Manton. In exchange for this courtesy, a number of upstate judgeships were created for Republicans and some Court of Claims positions for Governor Pataki to appoint. The timing of the legislation was exquisite, the new judgeship came into existence too late to file for the primary, but in time for the general election, so the new Kings County surrogate would be chosen by Democratic party bosses, without the need for a primary election.

Assemblyman Frank Seddio was chosen as the new surrogate, after Assemblyman Joseph Lentol declined the county leader's offer of the nomination. Note that both candidates were members of the State Assembly, where the support of Speaker Sheldon Silver had been essential to creating the new positions. There was something for everyone, except the voters.

This matter is by no means settled. An appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit is inevitable, and beyond that the losing party may seek review in the Supreme Court of the United States, a far cry from the Supreme Court of the State of New York, the trial court which is the subject of the controversy.
THE DECISION GIVES HOPE FOR FURTHER JUDICIAL REFORM, MONEY-DOMINATED PRIMARIES AREN'T THAT GOOD EITHER, PARTICULARLY WHEN SITTING JUSTICES SEEK RE-ELECTION.

Judge Gleeson's decision is in the finest tradition of responsible judicial activism. He found an undemocratic situation in which the people were left powerless to elect judges. The concentration of power in one man or a tiny group spawned other evils. Just as it is dictatorships that start wars rather than democracies, it is political dictators who plunder and twist the mechanisms of justice to serve their own ends. And for every crime in the courts that is exposed and punished, think of how many wrongs are done of which we are unaware. Bribery is a crime of consent and collusion, and it is rare for a victim of extortion to make a complaint.

The underlying principle here is that if a system is too unfair and unbalanced, giving power to one at the expense of everyone else, the courts will intervene. There is wide latitude allowed in methods of election and districting. Even the DeLay design for Texas, adding seven Republican seats and breaking up Democratic districts, passed judicial muster. But Judge Anthony Kennedy did warn, on that occasion, that it was possible for some district lines to be so odious and unfair that they would not meet the test of constitutionality. Where the line will be drawn depends on who draws it.

The State Legislature now has the opportunity to reform the system to comply with Constitutional requirements of access and fairness. Our prediction is that they will be unable to do so, they can't even agree on buying voting machines. The matter will inevitably return to the courts. There is a particular problem here with judges seeking re-election. If we want them out of politics, we cannot require them to raise substantial sums for advertising in order to remain on the bench.

If there is an appeal to the Supreme Court, we hope that the two new Justices, John G. Roberts and Samuel A. Alito, will have genuinely open minds when they consider these matters. This is not an economic issue, nor an abortion or gay rights case. The issue here is what level of unfairness must be reached to raise a Constitutional issue. We believe that deprivation of the right to vote is eminently unfair. The public has a fundamental right to elect judges, or to delegate that right to an elected official whom they have elected.

Beset by murdered children and transit strikes, it is comforting to reflect that something has happened which, if followed up, will lead to a more honest judiciary, which is required if justice is to be done for all people, rich or poor, wired to the political machines, or independent of them.

One cannot write about this case without thanking the Brennan Center for Justice, which brought the lawsuit. While we do not necessarily agree with every case they bring (even fighters for justice may have issues of judgment), this case was in the best tradition of the quest for honesty, decency and fairness. We know Justice Brennan would be proud.

Henry Stern
Chairman,
Liberal Party of New York

The Undemocratic Vote-For-Our-Candidate-or-Else Machine in New York Just Keeps Rolling Along

For more information about the Judicial Convention, efforts to change it and a record of judicial corruption over the past 5 years, go to Jeff Feldman is Back Helping Pick Brooklyn Supreme Court Judges



NYP Left Out that Assembly Wright As NY County Leaders Gets Judges Their Jobs 
 Assemblyman Keith Wright pushed a court to reinstate his top aide’s driver’s license after she was busted for a 4 a.m. DWI in Harlem last month, where she dropped his name and threatened cops, the Post reports: 


1 comment:

  1. Check out this new expose - https://youtu.be/n-9JYkt66vc - on Suffolk County Support Magistrate Aletha Fields! Her bias against men is finally exposed. She ruined this man's life and made him homeless.

    ReplyDelete