Saturday, February 13, 2010


NYLJ 4/23/07


[This preface may sound like an episode of "The Wire" that got away, but it isn't fiction--at all. (The reason it is more comprehensive than the excerpt is that this is written in retrospect. As much as I prefer letting the abstracts speak for themselves, however brief or long they may get, this one deserves a tiny recap on its own. And that it is longer than the abstract just proves the essential message of this blog -- there are a million stories in the New York legal system, and twice that many in the appeals process.)

It involves the Brooklyn Democratic Party, the largest machine east of Chicago, and possibly its only equal remaining in America, and how its patronage system still resembles something out of Louis XIV. And considering it is the courts at issue, it seems uncannily appropriate that what is for sale are judicial appointments in the County of Kings. And what august personage could dictate these imperial fiats? A State Assembly leader for 23 years, at best, but merely, mostly, nothing more than the Brooklyn Democratic Party boss Clarence Norman. That he would later go down on charges of extortion, solicitation of illegal contributions and theft of $5,000 from his re-election committee may be less than he deserved, but they were lucky to get that.

The reason? The other actor in this drama was one of those judges. He presided over matrimonial: apportioning alimony, child custody, and support payments. Some might have wondered at his decisions, but the only ones who knew for sure were the lawyers who bought them. It got to the point where bribes were offered to the calendar clerk to get their cases before him. Those in the know would pimp his services to other sleazeball attorneys who knew which butter was on the side of the bread.

After five years of following these rumors, to sweated confessions, leveraged revelations leading to full investigations with wiretaps and video plants, watching ex-parte discussions and cash and cigars, the final straw was enough to break the back of Judge Gerald P. Garson and earn him a 10-year bid, doing a minimum of three. Not to mention all those sad and tortured parents who got a bad call from a bad man rapping on the door of his attorney with Civil suits.

But all this is getting ahead of ourselves, by at least two months. The scene today is but a whisp of the whole. And so, we adjourn for a bit of whimsy which might have occurred previous to the Oyer Terminus...]

2. “The sword of justice cuts both ways” was what the Jimmy Stewart character said to the parole board in “Calling Northside 777”. “It protects Wanda Skutnik’s lies but keeps cutting the ground from under Frank Wieczek,” who was imprisoned by false testimony whose only virtue is that it is on the record as accepted by a court and jury.

In this case, the way it is held over an ex-judge—in the form of a maximum sentence or an unconditional discharge in the event of concurrent sentences—it gets invoked by defense counsel as being used as “a sword to extract information,” isn’t really accurate. More like a knife at your throat. The DA liked that one, but it wasn't quite...there, if you know what i mean. So he went with the default setting; lay it on the line. “Tell me what you know about Borough corruption, bribery and the sale of Judgeships and maybe you’ll see some sunshine before you kick the bucket. Hold back and…need I say more?

“No? Then you should.

"See, this is how it works. That’s the reason we had you wearing the wire for a month. And no, we don’t know who tipped the dailies you were doing it. The deal was you’d get Winesburg talking and we’d crack his operation. You may say he blew it, or maybe one of his boys, but the fact is it was your chance and you blew it. You didn’t want to spill on your own past—hey—that’s your problem. Do you really think we’ll let you go in the appeals process? C’mon.

"So why don’t we put the screws to the party’s county chairman? Because he was better at covering his tracks than you!

"You know, the way your counsel put it—about the sword—it just hit me, he prefaced that with the premise that “a sentence is supposed to be individualized, it’s supposed to fit the crime.” Whaddaya know—it’s “The Mikado”! That’s the song of the Lord High Executioner! Pretty funny, huh?"


And the hits just keep on comin'!


Today is a sum-up of the proceeding proceedings, including ancillary fallout. This includes thre other defendants who pled out or were convicted: the court officer who steered case to Garson, an Israeli businessman who acted as his tout/pimp, natch, but also the client of the atty who snitched (ahem--"turned state's evidence" or "cooperated") for making the bribe which led to the revelation. The atty himself? He cops a plea to a single misdemeanor count of giving unlawful gratuities and gets a recommendation of no jail time.

On the bright side, the Brooklyn boss who turned the judiciary into a pay-for-play system, Norman, got a stay pending appeal for 18 months until the 2nd Dept. affirmed his first two convictions. Meanwhile, Garson himself could have made his own deal to cap his prison time at 16 months, but thought he'd get a better decision than the full count and three consecutive sentences. (In what world?) At 74, with bladder cancer, his atty is "concerned about his medical condition." Not to be cruel about it, but was that from all the free meals and drinks he got, on top of the $250 box of Dominican cigars? Oh yes, and also "severe alcoholism." Unfortunately, the Joint is a great place to dry out.

This is NOT in the four-paragraph order from the AppDiv 2nd Dept., but it might as well be. Curious point is differences in their appeals: the former raised numerous trial issues (like immunity handed out like party favors) while the latter goes back to pretrial issues that were already litigated.

The other thing is the understandable (well-nigh justifiable) and righteous anger from his fellow justices. Enough have refused to write letters requesting leniency to put to rest any idea that there is a "long blue line" among black robes. Figure, as well, that tapes of him in his robing room saying, "One of the great things about this job is that I don't know what the fuck I have tomorrow until I get here and I don't give a shit either."

MAkes you proud to be a Marine.

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