PRO BONO BARRISTER: Justice Joseph Levine celebrates with his friends of court

Former Justice Joseph S. Levine, whose very prominent career on the bench ended a few years ago after 34 years of service, was honored recently by family and friends. “It was a birthday celebration but it was also a reunion,” said a well-placed source. Indeed, many of the clerks and law secretaries who worked for the Hon. Levine were there to pay tribute to the jurist who had also been their friend and mentor over the years. Front row, left to right, attorney Steve Cohn, who served as the judge’s first law secretary and later became president of the Brooklyn Bar Association and is now known for his key role bringing all of Brooklyn together for his Pumpkin Cheesecake Parties at Juniors and leading the Democratic Party; Mary Zuckerbraun, the justice’s fiancee; the Hon. Levine, and Michael Ryan, long-time court attorney who helped him write some of that court’s most notable decisions.  Ryan is now with the Cullen & Dyckman law firm. Standing, left to right: Hana Cohn, Maryann Steiger; Kevin Steiger, the Surrogate Court’s IT Specialist; Linda Ryan, Verena Otey and PBB Columnist  Chuck Otey. The Hon. Levine, whose photo-portraits of a score or more jurists adorn the halls of the 11th floor at 360 Adams St., is known as the “Photo Laureate of the Kings County Court System.” Hundreds of his images have enhanced the pages of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle for many years and will continue to do so.

* * *


Pres. Dittenhoefer adjourns First Inn of Court Session to Oct. 2

Due to the Jewish holy days – Yom Kippur starts at sundown on September 24 -- the first fall session of the Kings County American Nathan R. Sobel Inn of Court will be held at a different date, according to President Marc Dittenhoefer.

Ordinarily meeting on the fourth Tuesday of each month, the Inn, created almost 13 years ago to reflect the collegial spirit of the ancient English Inns of Court, will start out at 6 p.m. on Oct. 2 at Brooklyn Bar Headquarters at 123 Remsen St.

Over the years Inn members gathered for their CLE-accredited functions at 360 Adams St. or 320 Jay St.  Due to court system cutbacks in personnel, those buildings are no longer available for such gathering.

Forging ahead, Dittenhoefer will continue the time-honored tradition of illustrative skits portraying actual courtroom and law office situations calculated to bring younger members into direct contact with the realities of day-to-day practice.

In accordance with another honored tradition, immediately after the session at BBA headquarters, they will repair to the popular Queen Restaurant on Court Street to discuss legal, social and other matters. Arrangements for the evening – never easy when you’re dealing with several score jurists and attorneys -- are Inn Administrator Marie Lattanzi and Executive Director Jeff Feldman.

Other Inn officers are President-elect Justice Ellen Spodek, Counselor David Chidikel, Treasurer Justice Arthur M. Schack and Judge Miriam Cyrulnik, secretary. Immediate past president is retired Justice Gerard Rosenberg.

Also in keeping with English practice, the Inn’s overall governance is in the hands of Inn Masters, who are Hon. Gloria Cohen Aronin, Appellate Division Justice Cheryl Chambers, Chief Administrative Judge for Civil Matters Sylvia Hinds-Radix, Chief Administrative Judge for Criminal Matters Barry Kamins, Justice Carl Landicino, U.S. District Judge William Kuntz II, Judge Joanne Quinones; and barristers Paul Weitz, Mark Longo, Victoria Lombardi, Steve Goolnick, Steven Finkelstein, Lawrence DiGiovanna and Jon Besunder.

The Kings Inn chapter was founded by four justices: Justice Marsha Steinhardt, Hon. Gerard Rosenberg (ret.), Hon. Abraham Gerges (ret.) and former Justice Edward Rappaport, now known as president emeritus.

* * *


Fraud action vs. Brooklyn Law doesn’t impress Justice Schmidt

Traditionally, not all of those who graduate law school and even pass the bar decide actually go into active practice after they’ve been approved by the Character Committee.

Some decide to go into a related profession – many new lawyers opted in the early 2000s to go into investment banking instead of hanging out a shingle. Some decide to get married, or just have babies.

But there are a handful of greedy graduates being regarded by some as opportunists for suing Brooklyn Law School and a number of other schools because they, the plaintiffs, haven’t been able to find suitable employment.

One such suit came before Justice David Schmidt last month, and he seemed to find the plaintiffs’ arguments against the pending motion to dismiss a little lacking in substance and relevance.

After three hours of argument by plaintiffs’ attorney Frank Raimond and BLS counsel Russell Jackson (Skadden, Arps), the Kings justice – known for his unique ability to sift fact from fiction in the most complex matters – asked Raimond, “Where is the basis for a fraud argument? You have generalized industry statistics. Where do you see that they have deceived the public?”

Justice Schmidt cited a Manhattan case against NYU Law School, which New York County Justice Melvin Schwitzer dismissed on the defendant’s motion.

He also took note of the fact that plaintiff attorneys Frank Raimond, Jesse Strauss and David Anziska had brought “14 nearly identical class actions against law schools,” according to National Law Journal writers Karen Sloan and Joel Stashenko.

Puzzling to many was the time and energy devoted by plaintiffs in urging the relevance of a U.S. Court of Appeals case, Gotlin v. Lederman, which actually involved a group of NY cancer doctors who advertised a “success rate” of “greater than 90 per cent in treating pancreatic cancer.”

Plaintiffs’ main point seemed to revolve around Brooklyn Law’s claim that “91.3 per cent of the class of 2009 was employed nine months after graduation.”

Raimond argued that the claim was misleading because many of these graduates found employment in non-legal jobs.

Jackson’s counter argument was that BLS was accurately and faithfully following American Bar Association standards with its employment statistics.

Justice Schmidt pointed out to Raimond that the plaintiffs “had failed to identify any actual specific instance of fraud,” according to reporters Sloan and Stashenko. Seemingly grasping for straws, Raimond argued that “discovery would uncover more specific evidence” of fraud.

Plaintiffs also tried to force Justice Schmidt to recuse himself because he was a Brooklyn Law School graduate. The application was denied by the Kings jurist, who graduated 30 years ago and “no longer maintained ties to the law school.”

The detailed reporting of Sloan & Stashenko was objective but the facts did not seem to support plaintiffs contentions. Some observers stated they believed Justice Schmidt did not appear to ‘buy’ their arguments. The motion to dismiss is pending.

* * *


Henrik’s vital correction is much appreciated

In an article I enjoyed writing and some veterans told me brought back to them the glory days of Kings County Democratic Leader Meade Esposito, I wrote in PBB last week that the restaurant where the iconic political boss held visible public sessions in its big Montague St. bay window was Armando’s.

Having had a meeting or two there with “The Chief” and others such as Fred Richmond, Norman Levy and Bill Garry to name a few, I was sure it was Armando’s because I pass it several days a week.

My good fortune is that the person who called to correct the name of the restaurant was one of my journalistic heroes, Henrik Krogius, the legendary NBC producer who now lends his class and talent to the Brooklyn Heights Press and other affiliates of this newspaper.

“It wasn’t Armando’s,” said Henrik. But, together we couldn’t recall the name of the restaurant at that time.

* * *


Justice Levine stirs the pot of memory!

A day later, during a phone conversation with the Hon. Joseph Levine, it came to us that it was Foffe’s Restaurant!

How could I forget Foffe’s? Well, more than three decades have elapsed.

It was way back in the ’70s when Meade Esposito was admired by most, feared by many and regularly reviled by media types who had never met him and always looked down their noses at Brooklyn.  (I do recall that Pete Hamill wrote a piece for one daily which placed the Esposito myth in proper, yet respectable perspective. Maybe Jimmy Breslin did, too.)

In those days, Justice Levine was a Civil Court judge but had served as assemblyman, district leader and law secretary to a Kings Supreme Court Justice before ascending the bench.

When he was in the Civil Court, his first law secretary was Steve Cohn, just about the most popular Democratic leader – without assembly district portfolio – in Brooklyn. We saw them both recently at an event where the retired jurist celebrated a memorable birthday with family, friends and “court friends.”

He assured us that –pursuant to the wish of publisher Dozier Hasty and myself -- he would continue to supply this newspaper with his striking and professional photos (we still don’t call them “images”) on a regular basis.

We finish with a trivia question: What was the address of Foffe’s restaurant? I honestly don’t know. Do you?

(I expect phone calls immediately from the well-informed, dapper Alan Ferber or Eagle Executive Marc Hibsher – they both know their eateries!)

* * *


Save lives, gain respect: license, insure all bikers!

A trip down Smith Street – now rivaling Court Street as downtown’s Restaurant Row – reveals almost as many bicycles as cars, at least on a late Saturday afternoon.

In Williamsburg and DUMBO, bikers rule the roadways, especially the much-traveled roads to and from Peter Luger’s Steakhouse. These perilous streets are so crisscrossed with bike lane lines that it’s difficult for motorists to know when they are – or aren’t – violating one the myriad new rules and regulations inspired by Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik Khan.

Walkers who cross the Brooklyn Bridge – according to a recent Daily News editorial – risk life and limb should they dare even to lean their heads into the designated bike lane where two-wheelers operated by notables such as Lance Armstrong fly by at speeds upward of 20 m.p.h.

We know that well-meaning City Council members such as Lew Fidler have dared, at times, to apply pressure on the city to make the streets safer for pedestrians and bikers alike. But the bicycle lobby – led by the highly motivated Transportation Alternatives – is every bit as powerful as the National Rifle Association is in Albany, Washington and across this land.

That’s why “TA” was able to scare the bejeebers out of another councilman who once had the temerity to suggest that bikers – who do use the public ways and now enjoy, sort of, hundreds of miles of bike lanes -- be licensed and insured.

There’s always a hue and cry from the black-sneakered crowd when anyone even hints at requiring them to pay for a license and insurance for the privilege of owning and operating their two-wheelers in the city. (Next, they’ll claim, some of us even want to license those monstrous $2,000 “Cadillac” strollers that will soon be equipped with IPads and GPS!)

But, we’ve learned, the city is already profiting nicely from this progressive crowd’s pedaling proclivities, according to a recent story in the Daily News headlined “W -Burg hit with tix blitz.” Translated, this means that in the 90th NYPD Precinct, which includes Williamsburg and environs, some 1,745 summonses were issued to bikers who deigned to propel their vehicles illegally on the sidewalks.

Illegal public drinking was much more prevalent than sidewalk violations there – we hasten to add -- with 6,000 alcohol-related summonses handed out in 2011.

* * *


Cash-strapped city can profit from bike licensure

If all of the errant cyclists paid their tickets, say $20, each (20 times 1,745) that would bring in almost $25,000. But the expenses of prosecution would cost more than that. So it makes financial sense to issue licenses to the probably 30,000 (maybe more) bikers in the city – about $50 apiece bringing in a possible $600,000 annually.

Drivers now treat bicyclists with disdain and often downright hostility, regarding them as freeloading ciphers. Once they start paying for their privilege of using public ways at partially their own expense NYC motorists at least won’t criticize them for doing nothing to compensate for the time, trouble and money the city extends on their behalf.

This will require a law, of course, and we know that state assembly has already dodged the issue of bicycle licensure (to be continued)

* * * * * * * * * *
 

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 [email protected].
Notice: Readers seeking legal representation on a Pro Bono Publico basis should not contact this columnist. Rather, they should seek out the Brooklyn Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project at 718 -624-3894.