Family Law Prof Blog

Editor: Margaret Ryznar
Indiana University
Robert H. McKinney School of Law

Saturday, April 1, 2006

Evidence Sufficient to Force New York Judge Accused of “Fixing” Certain Divorce Cases to Stand Trial

The New York Court of Appeals ruled Friday that there was sufficient evidence to warrant a criminal action against a Brooklyn Judge to proceed.  The judge is accused of accepting a box of cigars worth 272 dollars for privately advising a lawyer on how to handle a divorce case being heard by the judge. He is also accused of accepting cash payments for referring clients to the same lawyer. The judge is apparently among a group of Brooklyn judges being investigated in a scandal that involves alleged bribery and misconduct.

Evidence presented to a grand jury on the first count of the indictment showed that the judge and an attorney who regularly appeared before him developed a relationship wherein the attorney bought the judge meals and gave him gifts in return for preferential treatment in family court. According to Grand Jury testimony, the lawyer bought the judge lunch three to four times a week and purchased drinks in the evening between three and five times a week.

While a divorce case was before the judge, the County District Attorney's Office began to monitor the judge’s  robing room by video and audio surveillance. Among the conversations captured was one in which the judge is heard saying that the lawyer would prevail in the divorce action even though he did not deserve it. The judge also instructed the lawyer to subpoena an expert witness who was unwilling to appear before the court and instructed him what questions to ask of the expert. The lawyer was arrested shortly thereafter and agreed to cooperate with the District Attorney’s office investigating corruption.  The remaining five counts involved payments allegedly received by the judge for referring cases to the attorney.

The court rejected the judge’s argument that while he violated the rules of judicial ethics, the violations did not rise to the level of a crime.  It held that the “People's reliance on the Rules to support the allegation that defendant violated his official duties was not improper. The Rules set forth a constitutionally mandated duty upon the judiciary and, when combined with the additional factor of receiving a reward, a violation of that duty may serve as a basis for prosecution under Penal Law § 200.25.” A copy of the New York Court of Appeals slip opinion in this case in PDF format may be downloaded by clicking here.pdf (reo)

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