Free: Trio of Democrats Square Off In Race for Manhattan Surrogate
By Daniel Wise New York Law Journal
August 21, 2008
The three candidates for the Democratic nomination for Manhattan surrogate, all insiders to the court's practice or politics, are vying to claim the mantle of reform. Manhattan Justice Milton A. Tingling (See Profile) handles guardianship cases among his Supreme Court duties and has the backing of Assemblyman Herman D. Farrell, the longtime Manhattan Democratic party leader.John J. Reddy Jr. has spent his entire 29-year legal career working for firms that have served as counsel to the Manhattan public administrator and for the last 13 years he has been counsel to the office responsible for handling the estates of those who die without wills or close relatives to wind up their affairs.Nora S. Anderson was chief clerk of the Manhattan Surrogate's Court for three years and has practiced exclusively in the estates field for the past nine years, working with a veteran estates practitioner.The three are seeking to succeed Renee R. Roth (See Profile), who has been serving as one of Manhattan's two surrogates since 1983. Surrogate Roth will leave office at the end of the year because she will reach the mandatory retirement age of 70 next month. Surrogates, who principally handle estates, are elected to 14-year terms and earn $136,700 annually.
Nora S. Anderson, 56Private practitioner, Seth Rubenstein, P.C.Other experience: Chief clerk, Manhattan Surrogate's CourtLaw secretary to Supreme Court Justice Albert WilliamsEducation: Brooklyn Law School, 1982Funds raised: $338,141
John J. Reddy Jr., 54Private practitioner, Bekerman & ReddyOther experience: Counsel to the Manhattan public administratorAdjunct professor, estate administration, New York Law SchoolEducation: New York Law School, 1979Funds raised: $458,075
Milton A. Tingling, 55Elected to Manhattan Supreme Court, 2001Other experience: Judge, Civil Court, 1996-2000 Court attorney, Civil Court, Trial Part, assigned to Judge Wilfred R. O'ConnorLaw secretary, Court of Claims, assigned to Judge Dennis Edwards Jr.Law assistant, Civil Court, assigned to Judge Milton A. RichardsonEducation: North Carolina Central University School of Law, 1982Funds raised: $76,099
NYLJ Photos/Rick KopsteinIn interviews, all three candidates stressed the need to take steps to end the public perception that patronage is involved in the many appointments surrogates are required to make. The most common appointment in Surrogate's Court is that of lawyers as guardians ad litem to represent the interests of minors or missing relatives in processing estates.Ms. Anderson called for legislation authorizing the Corporation Counsel's Office to assign a cadre of lawyers to handle such appointments. Such a move would enhance professionalism by ensuring "training, expertise and supervision without the state having to pay for the work," she said.Mr. Reddy said he would ask the Office of Court Administration to make routine appointments not involving large amounts of work or special expertise by proceeding down the court's list of more than 900 attorneys who have established eligibility for appointment as guardians ad litem in Manhattan. For more complex matters, Mr. Reddy said, he would follow Surrogate Roth's practice of developing a list of specialists he would appoint "in rotation."Justice Tingling, in contrast, underscored those he would disqualify from appointment. He would bar any elected, appointed or party officials for two years after leaving their posts as well as any lawyers working with firms with which those officials are affiliated.Mr. Reddy said he would extend a ban on the appointment of elected and party officials to contributors to his campaign, as well as to lawyers at the officials' and contributors' firms. Ms. Anderson said she would not appoint any political party officials, including district leaders, state committee members or political club presidents. She said her plan mirrors the proposal put forward in 2001 by the Commission on Fiduciary Appointments, which was appointed by Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye. Court rules impose a two-year ban on the appointment of heads of state or county political party organizations. That ban extends to members of political leaders' law firms (Rules of the Chief Judge §36.2). Those who head judges' political fundraising efforts are also barred. Manhattan's other surrogate, Kristen Booth Glen (See Profile), employs a stricter standard than the court rule. She bars appointment of those who have been elected to political party positions, such as district leaders and state committee members. Surrogate Glen said in an interview that in making appointments she proceeds alphabetically down a list of lawyers maintained by OCA. For cases requiring specialized expertise, she may skip some lawyers until she comes to the next one on the list who has the required experience. Lawyers must meet certain education and training requirements to be placed on the lists, which vary depending on the type of appointment involved.Low Turnout ExpectedThe outcome of the Sept. 9 primary is likely to turn on a variety of factors, political experts said. With a low turnout, they said, a New York Times' endorsement, identity politics and primary battles in northern and lower Manhattan, which could boost turnout in those areas, all could have an impact.Jerry Skurnik, a political consultant who is not involved in any races, said Ms. Anderson could receive a boost from being the only woman in the field but that she and Justice Tingling, who are both black, could undercut each other's support. Justice Tingling could benefit from City Councilman Miguel Martinez's challenge to Assemblyman Adriano Espaillat in northern Manhattan, since both candidates have endorsed the judge, Mr. Skurnik said.Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and state Senator Martin Connor are both facing challenges in their districts, which overlap in lower Manhattan. But Mr. Skurnik said those challenges are likely to have little impact because none of the principals has endorsed a surrogate's candidate and support for the three among political clubs in the area is more diffuse.Race for FundsMr. Reddy, 54, so far has raised more money than the other two candidates, according to the latest campaign filing reports, which are current through Aug. 4. Mr. Reddy reported raising a total of $458,075 and had $340,377 in his war chest. By contrast, Ms. Anderson, 56, had taken in $338,141 and had $70,980 remaining in her coffers. Justice Tingling, 55, lagged behind with $76,099 raised and $26,517 remaining.Surrogate Glen spent more than $600,000 to win the Democratic nomination for an open seat in 2005. Mr. Reddy has contributed $65,000 to his campaign and received donations of $10,000 or more from 11 individuals. Most of those donations have come from relatives or friends, according to Mr. Reddy's campaign manager, Jake Dilemani.Among the contributions were donations of $20,000 each from Philip Bekerman and his wife, Roberta Bekerman. Mr. Bekerman, whose name remains on Mr. Reddy's law firm, Bekerman & Reddy, retired in 1992 due to illness, Mr. Dilemani said. Jay H. Ziffer, an associate of the firm, together with his mother, Rose Ziffer, contributed a total of $25,000.Mr. Reddy has received $691,447 for work his firm has received on 28 cases involving the Public Administrator's Office, according to information provided by the OCA. The court system first started tracking those payments in May 2006. Mr. Dilemani said Mr. Reddy's office handles 750 cases a year for the public administrator, 95 percent of which involve estates with less than $20,000 in assets. The compensation in those cases, he said, does not cover the amount of work put into them.Ms. Anderson has received more than 70 percent of the funds available to her campaign from Seth Rubenstein, a well-regarded estates practitioner whose firm she joined in 1999. Mr. Rubenstein has contributed $25,000 to Ms. Anderson's campaign and loaned it $225,000. The state election law requires candidates to repay any loans by Election Day, otherwise the loan is considered a contribution, said Robert Brehm, a spokesman for the state board of elections. The maximum contribution an individual may make to a candidate running in a countywide general election in Manhattan after winning a primary contest would be approximately $79,000 under a formula set by law.Ms. Anderson "fully intends to repay the loan," said her campaign manager, Michael Oliva.A list of appointments furnished by OCA going back to 1975 recorded Mr. Rubenstein as receiving 73 fee awards from cases in which he had been appointed as a fiduciary by judges in either Surrogate's or Supreme Court. Mr. Rubenstein disputed the list's accuracy, however, stating that in 36 of those cases a judge had not appointed him but instead had approved the payment of his fees for work he had done as an attorney for the family or a bank. As a guardian ad litem appointed in the case of tobacco heiress Doris Duke, Mr. Rubenstein said, he was awarded an $88,350 fee.Mr. Rubenstein also said that in 1982 he removed himself from OCA's lists of attorneys eligible to receive fiduciary appointments, but since then judges have appointed him because of his expertise, a step judges may take as long as they state their reasons for appointing off the list. Justice Tingling's fundraising effort is headed by attorney Ravi Batra, whose social relationships with two judges figured in their being censured by the state Commission on Judicial Conduct. Mr. Batra had a social relationship with Civil Court Judge Diane A. Lebedeff (See Profile), which the commission cited in censuring her for the way she presided over a case in which Mr. Batra was a plaintiff and represented himself (NYLJ, April 8, 2005). Similarly, the commission referred to now-deceased Brooklyn Justice Richard D. Huttner's failure to disclose to all parties in a lawsuit in which Mr. Batra was involved his friendship with Mr. Batra as one of the reasons for censuring the judge (NYLJ, July 27, 2005).Mr. Batra said his relationship with the two judges was well known to all parties and there was "no need for any separate disclosure." He added that in the two cases the commission developed a higher standard than it has in the past, which he praised as a welcome development.Since 1982, Mr. Batra has received 43 appointments from judges sitting in the Surrogate's and Supreme courts, according to data supplied by the OCA. His five highest fee awards ranged from $28,693 to $60,000. In 29 of the cases, his approved fees were less than $5,000.Mr. Batra said that in 2003 he had removed his name from the OCA list and that since then he "has not, and will not, accept any appointments." Tingling Campaign on OffenseJustice Tingling's campaign has raised Mr. Rubenstein's funding of Ms. Anderson's campaign as an issue. It has also criticized Mr. Reddy for residing in New Jersey and for receiving funds from lawyers connected to his firm. Chung Seto, Justice Tingling's campaign manager, said the contributions and loan raise the possibility of "pay to play," asserting that even if Mr. Rubenstein in Ms. Anderson's case or Messrs. Bekerman and Ziffer in Mr. Reddy's case do not accept appointments, lawyers they work with, or their friends, might. Mr. Rubenstein said that should Ms. Anderson become surrogate he "will not be appointed" for two years. Mr. Oliva, Ms. Anderson's campaign manager, also said that Mr. Rubenstein does "not intend to take any appointments."Mr. Dilemani, responding for Mr. Reddy's campaign, said Mr. Bekerman has been retired since 1992 and is no longer practicing law. With regard to Mr. Ziffer, he reiterated that Mr. Reddy will not appoint anyone who has contributed to his campaign.With respect to Mr. Reddy's residency, Ms. Seto asserted that Mr. Reddy "grew up in New Jersey, has a house in New Jersey and his kids go to school in New Jersey." Mr. Dilemani rebutted those assertions, saying that since 2004 Mr. Reddy and his wife and two of their children have lived in a condominium he purchased on the Upper East Side. His two daughters have commuted from New York to a parochial school in New Jersey, though starting this fall one daughter will go to college in Philadelphia, Mr. Dilemani added. Since Mr. Reddy moved to New York with his family, Mr. Dilemani added, his mother-in-law has lived in the New Jersey house.Ms. Anderson has been endorsed by several former surrogates, including Eve Preminger, Manhattan; Louis D. Laurino, Queens; C. Raymond Radigan, Nassau; and Edwin Kassoff, who served as an acting surrogate in Queens. Mr. Reddy, who is a Law Journal columnist, has been endorsed by former Manhattan Surrogate Millard Midonick and former Appellate Division Justices Betty Weinberg Ellerin, Alfred Lerner and Israel Rubin, all of whom sat in the First Department. Two former Appellate Division, Second Department, justices have endorsed Justice Tingling: Seymour Boyers and Stephen G. Crane. Daniel.Wise@incisivemedia.com