Fighting "Corrupt" Judges

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Citizens Committee For Impeachment has launched a crusade to expose and uproot "corruption" in the judicial system by calling on governor George Pataki to impeach a number of judges it contends are "corrupt." The group is decrying the "culture of corruption" it says exists within the city's courts system. They want at least four judges, and many others, impeached and ousted. They invite other citizens to join the campaign.

A Brooklyn-based group has launched a crusade to expose and uproot "corruption" in the judicial system by calling on governor George Pataki to impeach a number of judges it contends are “corrupt.� The group has “drawn� impeachment papers and submitted them to Gov. Pataki.

The group, Citizens Committee For Impeachment, is seeking the appointment of a special prosecutor by Gov. Pataki. The group is decrying the “culture of corruption� it says exists within the city's courts system. And members affirm that they have the documents that will peel the scab off of the "perversions" in the courts. They want at least four judges, and many others, impeached and ousted. They hope many more New Yorkers will join their campaign to rid the system of the “cancer of corruption.�

The committee initially seeks the impeachment of surrogate judge Renee R. Roth and justices Alfred D. Lerner, Richard D. Huttner and Diane A. Lebedeff. Among the allegations it levied against the judges are: obstruction of justice, illegal property conversions, quid pro quo violations, ex-parte violations, suppressionmanipulation of official court documents, as well as charges of conspiring to injure and oppress.

When contacted by The Black Star News, spokespersons for all of the judges cited by the committee either said that they are unaware of the committee's charges or declined comment. Judge Huttner could not be reached by press time for comment. "We have an old boy's network and a star chamber that is essentially operating within the courts," says committee member Dean Loren.

The Star Chamber is a reference to an ancient English court known for its onerous judicial abuses. The committee feels that there is a state of entrenched cronyism within New York City's judicial system that only a special prosecutor can address. They contend that there is a tradition of quid pro quo appointments, backdoor case fixing, price fixing, insider trading, kickbacks and the glutting of pension funds, that is rampant between judges, lawyers and accountants.

The group asserts that the corruption is "systemic" within New York City. "What we are looking for is a solution similar to Thomas Dewey the famous prosecutor in the thirties who came in to get the mob," adds Loren.

All measures short of a special prosecutor would be subverted and corrupted, the group members believe. "A special prosecutor allows an open door that is not under the control of the benches or the disciplinary department," says committee chairman, Keith Lonesome. The group charges that the disciplinary bodies whose function is the oversight of judicial wrongdoing, in essence insulates corrupt judges from disciplinary action. "At any expense they will try to cover-up for certain actions of people that they can get favorable cases from," such as "divisions, guardianships, surrogate's court, housing court so the whole mix involves people with money trying to cover-up other people's actions," adds Dance-Lonesome.

Judges involved in judicial corruption are merely moved from one county to another county, complains the committee. Several of the committee's 125 members have individual cases that they are fighting.

Lately, judicial scandals in New York City's courtrooms have been making its way into the coverage of many media reports. In fact, the last few years just about every major paper in New York City has uncovered some form of courtroom scandal. And some of the coverage has been fairly recent. For example, there was a feature story in the Nov. 24th /30 edition of the New York Press.

The story written by Christopher Ketchum explored the events that have befallen 80-year-old retired judge John Phillips. The piece highlights how the retired jurist was "placed under a guardianship program overseen by a county judge, which wrested from Phillips's legal control an estimated $10 million in real
estate holdings, including at least 10 buildings and two movie theaters."

Phillips was quoted as saying "these sonsabitches are stealing my buildings." But the stated reason that this was done is even more troubling.
It seems that the judge's crime was having the gall to run for the office of district attorney in Brooklyn held by Charles "Joe" Hynes. Having the necessary resources the judge represented a formidable opponent for the incumbent D.A. But the article pointed out that prosecutors who are apparently loyal to Joe Hynes acted to have Phillips declared "mentally incompetent."

However, reporter Christopher Ketchum who wrote the New York Press story and interviewed the judge found him to be "normal and fit, if a little slow in step." Curiously, the judge's $10 million estate ended up in the hands of one Ray Jones who replaced Harvey Greenberg who had been appointed as his "temporary guardian." Greenberg, a friend of Hynes for some 30 years, was once his campaign manager. At present the judge is living in the Bronx VA Hospital and is now destitute. And apparently this case is not isolated.

"The constitution says that no one may be denied life, liberty or property without due process," says Evelyn Goldberg, a member of the anti-corruption committee. But that is just what she contends was done to her after the death of her husband, Simon Goldberg--Which brought her to surrogate's court, where her problems started.

A surrogate's court is where judicial matters of probate, interstate successions and in some instances adoptions are administered. "Money was supposed to be coming to me but there are different ways to approach things legally so that the people who are supposed to get their money don't get their money," she adds.

However, unaware of any impropriety at the time, she ended up saddled with legal representation that is evidently part of a circle of fraud between judges, lawyers and accountants that set up the unwitting and vulnerable to appropriate their assets and property. One tactic she says was used to swindle her was through closed door "conferences" between the judge and lawyer, where she was not allowed in to hear the consultations except for "five minutes where you are brought in" and asked "do you have something to say?" Another strategy was excessive over-billing for the filing of court papers that also subjected her estate to "a multitude of duplicative attorney fees," she complains. Some 20 years after the death of her husband, the estate he left her still remains in the hands of the courts.

Mrs. Gizella Weisshaus is also a committee member. She is the Holocaust survivor who fought Swiss banks for compensation related to Nazi atrocities. She asserts that her private commercial real property was taken away from her "without them paying me any money" while "they are collecting a million dollars in rental" fees annually.
 
Her case involves one of the accused judges, Richard Huttner. A portion of the property that she is battling for is in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. This property is extremely lucrative now because of its proximity in relation to the upcoming Olympics. In her case, she insists that she was subjected to "phony appraisals" the disappearance, tampering, and non-docketing of documents, as well as the conversion of property at 808 Driggs Avenue in Brooklyn.
Committee Chair Lonesome is no newcomer to fighting corruption. "I was part of a team in the 70's that went after judges who were corrupt and taking payments and payoffs. I can go back for years on the patronage rip-off by the judges," he says. One of the judges that the committee has targeted is Manhattan Civil Court Judge Diane Lebedeff. And she has engaged in actions, for which she has been disciplined before, as reported in The New York Sun's Nov. 25, 2003 edition.

The story discloses that the judge was censured by the Commission on Judicial Conduct for accepting free tax preparation services from an accountant who she approved to oversee several "guardianship" cases. The judge signed off on $21,000 in fees paid to the accountant for these guardianship cases. In essence, the free tax services were seen as a possible kickback for the appointing of those guardianships. But there is more.
In a story done in the New York Times by Kevin Flynn and Andy Newman in the Nov. 11, 2003 edition Judge Lebedeff was linked to another case of questionable ethics. In this instance, the judge issued several appointments to a lawyer whose name is Ravi Batra, (coincidentally this very lawyer is named as an offender in the charges being brought against this judge by the committee) with whom she had been very friendly.

One in particular involved the assigning of Mr. Batra in 1999 to be the financial guardian of a 94-year-old woman suffering from Alzheimer's. State investigators found that Mr. Batra was paid $84,753 in fees by the woman's estate. Investigators in the case assessed that for some 80 short calls he made, for which he furnished no subject matter, he charged $100 dollars a call. Another concern in this case was that a requisite amount of lawyers were not informed before hand of these appointments that the judge gave to Mr. Batra. The idea being that they may have submitted their services to be considered for these appointments.

Regarding a specific action being pursued by the committee, in the case of Dean Loren, a spokesperson in Judge Lerner's office stated that "admissions to the bar are governed by a confidentiality provision in the judiciary law" and that "I can't comment and Judge Lerner can't comment on any aspect of Mr. Loren's admissions" to the bar. She also said that the judge is now retired.

The committee asserts that the charges against these four judges are by no means isolated. The say that although the media has covered some stories about corruption in the court system that it is often only in bits and pieces. They maintain that the problem is more widespread than the public is aware of. Because of this they feel that even the Attorney General's Office is compromised. Therefore, they insist that only a "special independent prosecutor" appointed by Governor Pataki can get to the bottom of it. Although the committee maintains they forwarded a copy of the complaint and charges to the governor's office, a spokeswoman told Black Star News that she was unaware of the committee, or its charges, and would look into the matter. As of press time the governor's office has yet to respond to the committee's serious allegations.

However, the committee remains focused and undeterred. "Special prosecutors were appointed by President Roosevelt who appointed Dewey, and Nelson Rockefeller who appointed Maurice Nadjari and that is the only time that change came about," states Lonesome. "So calling for a special prosecutor is not alien and now is the time for another special prosecutor."

People who want to join Citizens Committee For Impeachment Can call (718) 596-7431. Contact Gov. Pataki via gov.pataki@chamber.state.ny.us and ask for a Special Prosecutor. For more investigative news stories subscribe to The Black Star News' newsstand edition by clicking on "subscribe" on the homepage or calling (212) 481-7745.

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