By Charles F. Otey, Esq.
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Good News for Newly Elected Kings Judges
There’s good news for seven Brooklyn jurists who were elected or re-elected last Tuesday. First, the winning Supremes: Justice Bernard J. Graham, Justice Desmond Green, Justice Dawn M. Jimenez-Salta, Justice Kenneth Sherman and Justice Betty Williams.
Three of these -- Hons. Graham, Sherman and Williams -- are currently “acting,” while Hons. Green and Jimenez-Salta are in Civil Court,
Also elected were ShawnDya L. Simpson, who was easily re-elected to a borough-wide Civil Court seat, and popular newcomer Theresa J. Ciccotto, who will continue serving as a court attorney until she’s sworn in to fill a vacancy in the Kings County Second Civil Court District. Judge-elect Ciccotto is a former president of the Brooklyn Women’s Bar Association.
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Not-so-good News for Judiciary & Law Profession
At the same time, however, voters statewide were turning down a proposal that would have reversed an anachronistic age limitation on hundreds of jurists. Many, especially those in the lower courts, thought Proposition 6 should have raised the limit for all of those on the bench and had mixed emotions on this issue. But all seemed to acknowledge that, once again, the electorate was unfairly “dissing” all who serve on the bench.
It’ll be a long time before the 19th century rule requiring judges to retire at 70 is amended to reflect the soaring longevity rate.
With 89 percent of the state’s vote recorded, The New York Times reported last Wednesday that 1,288,874 citizens voted against Prop. 6 and only 826,753 voted in favor. Reportedly, this is the third time NYS voters have voted against changing the state constitution to raise the judicial retirement age from 70 to 80.
Chief Judge Jon Lippman will now “lose” 20 to 28 experienced judges whose terms would have been extended by the constitutional amendment. And the legal profession as a whole is devalued in the minds of many.
Leading judges such as Lippman and Kings Administrative Justice for Civil Matters Lawrence Knipel have been effective in demonstrating that this age limit is economically and socially unsound. But they have also had to battle Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who likes the age restrictions that let him name more judges to that top bench.
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How The Far Right Got Its Mojo Back
Lawyers have been derided and condemned for at least the past 800 years.
But the assault on the judiciary seems to have intensified since overall war on progressive government was declared by a number of wealthy and influential persons who started to found and fund right-wing think tanks way back in the Barry Goldwater era. Most Americans are unaware that for over 40 years, there has indeed been a well-financed propaganda campaign to eliminate the “liberal establishment,” which, according to its ‘originalist’ thinkers, includes the legal system.
A Z Magazine article by left-wing writer Chip Berlet notes that "After Barry Goldwater lost the 1964 election, articles in ultraconservative publications bemoaned the rise of a `liberal establishment.’” In 1965, conservative ideologue M. Stanton Evans wrote The Liberal Establishment: Who Runs America and How. In response to this call-to-arms, right-wing activists decided they needed to set up a ‘counter-establishment.’
“The effort went slowly for a few years,” writes Berlet. "But in 1971 a corporate attorney, Lewis F. Powell, Jr., wrote a memo that would unlock the flow of hundreds of millions of dollars from conservatives to roll back the New Deal and create a New Right. Powell... eventually proposed a coordinated campaign to reshape the ideological debate in the media, on college campuses, and in the political and legal arenas. A few months later, President Nixon appointed Powell to the U.S. Supreme Court."
Of particular interest to most in the legal profession is a portion of Powell’s famous memo that suggested that our court system was out of control. This charismatic Virginian wrote the following:
“The courts, the judicial system, and legal policy: Labor unions, civil rights groups and now the public interest law firms are extremely active in the judicial arena. Their success, often at business' expense, has not been inconsequential … American business and the enterprise system have been affected as much by the courts as by the executive and legislative branches of government. Under our constitutional system, especially with an activist-minded Supreme Court, the judiciary may be the most important instrument for social, economic and political change."
The rest of the story, as they say, is history and ongoing proof that resentment of lawyers and judges has been stoked fiercely by hundreds of “think pieces,” which often appear as op-eds pieces in unthinking newspapers, or as regular talking points for the likes of Rush Limbaugh.
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Law Schools Face Crisis With Two-Year Programs
A predictable result of the relentless onslaught to devalue the entire legal profession is the financial crisis facing law schools. Some schools, like Brooklyn Law, are establishing intensive two-year programs.
Whittling down law school years will most certainly slash the amount of training and knowledge available to law students. We found puzzling, at best, the remarks of BLS Vice Dean Dana Brakeman Reiser, who is repackaging the shortened school idea as an “elite program.”
Vice Dean Reiser told the Eagle’s Charisma Miller that "This program is for the student who wants to get a rigorous, top-notch legal education."
With all due respect, we would point out that by enthusiastically embracing this elite endeavor, is Vice Dean Reiser implying that three-year law schools [for day students, four at night] were a mistake?
No matter how innovatively it’s described, the true allure of the two-year school is that it provides a steady income stream, at current levels, to the schools as compared with what tuition and other fees would bring them with the fading three-year system. Receiving very little attention in this regard is that two-year enrollees will still pay the same tuition and fees as three-year budding advocates.
On the bright side: If the two-year school wins wide success, it will ensure that many law schools will survive.
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Upcoming CLE Events
Hardly any criminal was as nasty as Brooklyn native Al Capone, who was brought back for another 15 minutes of fame in the excellent HBO series “Boardwalk Empire.”
Capone was too clever for Chicago prosecutors, so it was up to the IRS accountants to bring him down for tax evasion. In those days it was harder to hide illicit gains because tax havens hadn’t yet been invented. Among major mobsters, only Capone’s fellow crook Meyer Lansky, who had the skill to “launder” his ill-gotten gains, was able to escape the clutches of the IRS.
These days, a lawyer or other professional advising a businesswoman on tax advantages can stay within the law, assuming he or she attendees CLE events such as the upcoming "Money Laundering: How To Advise Commercial Clients About `Dirty Money,’” set for Nov. 12 at Brooklyn Bar Headquarters, 123 Remsen St.
Just a few days later, on Nov. 14, a noted panel including Pery Krinsky, Meredith Heller and Judge Robin Garson will provide much needed advice with a program titled: "Is Stress Stressing You Out? How to Balance Your Life and Career and Avoid Misconduct.” Ready to answer all questions about these two offerings is BBA CLE director Meredith Symonds, who can be reached at Meredithsymonds@brooklynbar.org
Heading into the busy holiday season, the Kings County American Inn of Court will hold its next CLE session on Nov. 26. Heading the Kings Inn this year is President Justice Ellen Spodek.
Meanwhile, the Columbian Lawyers Association of Brooklyn’s big Yule Judges Night will take place on Dec. 5. Administrator Lucy DiSalvo is getting out all of the details, and we appreciate her “heads-up.” President Robert Musso heads the Columbians.