Pro Bono Barrister: BBA To Probe Enigmas at City Department of Buildings

One of the most powerful agencies in the city of New York — a place where million, and even billion-dollar development schemes must go to succeed — and sometimes die — will be the Jan. 31 topic of an invaluable presentation of the Brooklyn Bar Association, BBA.
Which agency is that? Well, of course, it’s the New York City Department of Buildings, often criticized for its red tape. To some people, it seems a bottomless bureaucracy, often appearing to be the mindless enemy of those who would build or improve their properties.
Is it really that bad?  That’s one of the questions that experts will answer on Jan. 31 for the benefit of the Brooklyn Bar Association when it holds a popular CLE-accredited seminar that night, at 123 Remsen St., starting at 6 p.m.
The program is sponsored by the BBA and the BBA Volunteer Lawyers Project, of which Jeannie Costello is the executive director.  The BBA president this year is Ethan Gerber.
Mark J. Caruso, chair of the BBA Real Property Section, will be in charge, with the main presentation to be given by Vincent J. Gallo. 
Those who want to practice in this area will be glad to learn the “nuts and bolts” with everyday topics such as certificates of occupancy and temporary certificates of occupancy; inspections and search warrants; pools, decks, porches and other structure issues; Environmental Control Board violations; sidewalk violations; landmarks issues; problems encountered in real estate transactions; and discussion of potential solutions”.
For further information, send an email to ifeldman@brooklyn
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Ex-Taxi Commissioner Has a Tip for Bloomberg and Cuomo
Despite the good intentions of putting 2,000 wheelchair-accessible taxicabs on city streets, is the price — probably much more than the $54 million currently earmarked for them — really worth it?
Gov. Cuomo and Mayor Bloomberg announced their plan to fashion a startup fund involving loans and subsidies to ease the burden of those who must use wheelchairs and it’s about time.
But is their scheme realistic?  Someone who should know —  attorney Matt Daus, who headed the NYC Taxi and Limousine Commission from 2001 to 2010 — says the governor and mayor, have a concept that may “be well intentioned but might not achieve the desired results.”
Matt Daus, who is credited with improving the quality and availability of taxis and car service passenger service during his tenure, says, “Rather than improving access for the disabled, it will require taxpayers and the taxi industry to foot the bill for taxis that will in all likelihood rarely be used by the target ridership.
“A more sensible alternative,” he wrote in a recent New York Times op-ed, “would be to set up a small fleet of wheelchair-accessible cabs that disabled passengers could call upon, through a centralized dispatch system, at any time of the day or night, as part of the region’s mass transit system”.
“Simply putting more accessible vehicles on the street is impractical and, for many, unaffordable,” Daus wrote in the article titled ‘Hailing The Wrong Taxi’. “Drivers of accessible cabs would find it difficult to find space in the middle of heavily congested streets to accommodate wheelchair users. ... Many disabled riders would far prefer home pickup to an uncertain wait on a corner in bad weather [though advocates for the disabled are loath to admit it].”
In pushing his alternative solution — the centralized taxi-dispatch system for disabled riders — Daus said he is utilizing his experience with the Taxi and Limousine Commission. “My proposal is this: Convert the existing van program run by the MTA into a system of subsidized door-to-door taxi rides.” The van system is now known as Para-transit or Access-a-Ride.
“The MTA has been testing such a program; it should become permanent. It would allow the use of custom-built vehicles instead of retrofitted ones,” the former commissioner wrote. 
While Daus’ proposal would be far less expensive and possibly more beneficial to those who badly need such a service to conduct their daily lives, the entire discussion has become a political “third rail” in politics. Elected leaders are reluctant to oppose any initiative that would even appear to slow down the Cuomo-Bloomberg plan.
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‘Mensch for The Bench’Rules for Jimmy Kimmel
Even before he was a judge, the Hon. David Schmidt was known when he served as law secretary for then-Civil Court Judge Gerard Rosenberg — for his special ability to sift fact from fiction in the hundreds of lawsuits that came before him those days.
Secretary Schmidt was never cowed by attorneys’ bluff and bluster, so when he sought election to the judiciary, it was natural for his friends to call him the “Mensch for the Bench,” a title he wears proudly these days. He walks out of 360 Adams St. without a coat in the most inclement weather!
So his long-time admirers must have enjoyed reading a tale about him in the Daily News wherein he summarily disposed of a claim by Daniel Sondik, who is Hasidic, against comedian Jimmy Kimmel, who claimed Kimmel had unlawfully used an image of basketball star LeBron James and Rabbi Yishayahu Pinto.
Here’s how the justice was quoted by Oren Yanly: “The [YouTube] clip of plaintiff at issue was used as part of a comedic [or at least an attempted comedic] or satiric parody of LeBron James meeting with Rabbi Pinto, itself undoubtedly an event that was newsworthy or of public interest.” He ruled that the use of the image was protected by the fair use doctrine.
Grimm Accepts Mission: Save Fort Hamilton
Congressman Michael Grimm recently succeeded in passing legislation that would have protected historic Fort Hamilton from the arbitrary axe of the Pentagon’s Base Realignment and Closure Commission (BRAC).
Then, along came the news from the White House that President Obama was pushing for huge cuts in the military budget. Defense Secretary Leon Pannetta specifically said that some $450 billion could be taken away in the next decade.  Pannetta said the size of the Army and Marine Corps would be significantly reduced as the U.S. downsizes its former policy of maintaining a capacity to simultaneously maintain two foreign wars.
Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is said to be closely monitoring the situation because Fort Hamilton, located on the bluff overlooking the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, has social, historic and military significance.
Gen. George Washington and his army made a strategic retreat from the Fort Hamilton area through Sunset Park, Park Slope and then Brooklyn Heights on the way to New Jersey through the island of Manhattan.
Fort Hamilton became a real fort shortly after the Revolutionary War. Today, it remains the only active military installation in New York City. Due to the height of the land where it’s situated, the installation has a commanding view of the Narrows and was regularly equipped with powerful cannons, all the way through World War II.
Its’ fate is the particular concern of the Fort Hamilton Citizens Action Committee, headed by well-known citywide leader Bill Guarinello, president of HeartShare, for several years.
Grimm and former Staten Island Borough President Guy Molinaro (the de facto Richmond County GOP leader) have been squarely in the corner of Republican Mitt Romney in his quest for the White House. Grimm has also stuck with House Leader John Boehner through his travails with the right-leaning Tea Party caucus and has a bright future — especially through the upcoming term (2013 to 2015).
Observers credit Grimm’s positive media image with aiding him in a razor-thin victory over Democratic incumbent Rep. Michael McMahon in 2010.  No matter how difficult the questions put forth by TV interviewers, he’s infinitely better with tough answers than, say, Romney.
Observers on both sides agree that President Barack Obama will not do well in Grimm’s district, which includes all of Staten Island and parts of Bay Ridge and Bensonhurst in Brooklyn. Grimm has very publicly made it his mission to save Fort Hamilton. 
And if word gets out that Secretary Pannetta is even thinking of eliminating Fort Hamilton, there’ll be very big fireworks here. When an ex-marine like Grimm vows that the fort “will have to go out over my dead body,” it’s a threat and a promise they must take seriously.
The only credible Democratic opponent this year would be his 2010 opponent, but Michael McMahon, a one-time city councilman, is biding his time in the “private sector.”
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PRO BONO BARRISTER is a weekly column dedicated to telling about the good that lawyers do. Send your comments or suggestions to this writer care of this newspaper or to
January 17, 2012 - 3:29pm



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