Monday, December 15, 2008

Court of Appeals Considers Suspending Surrogate-Elect


The New York Court of Appeals has notified Nora S. Anderson, the surrogate-elect in Manhattan who was indicted last week on campaign-finance related charges, that it is considering whether she should be suspended until the criminal charges against her are resolved. In a letter dated Thursday, the Court invited Ms. Anderson to submit a brief opposing suspension no later than Dec. 22. The Court also authorized the Commission on Judicial Conduct to make a submission on the question by Dec. 22. The Court usually suspends judges who have been indicted with pay until the charges are resolved, but experts could not recall an instance of someone who had been elected as a judge being charged with a crime before taking office. Ms. Anderson, who won a three-way race in November, is slated to begin her term on Jan. 1. The Court could take up the question of her suspension before then, but any order would not take effect until Jan. 1, according to David Bookstaver, a court system spokesman. Ms. Anderson's lawyer in the criminal case, Gustave H. Newman, said Ms. Anderson is seeking to retain a lawyer to represent her before the Court. She "does not plan to resign," he added. - Daniel Wise

Monday, December 8, 2008

Brooklyn Special Add: Justice demands payback

Daily News Editorial, December 8, 2008

Justice certainly does take time. In 2002, the Daily News exposedhow then-Brooklyn Surrogate's Court Judge Michael Feinberg improperlyokayed $9 million in fees for his lawyer pal Louis Rosenthal, some $2million over and above what Rosenthal was due for his work on estates.

Feinbergwas charged by a state commission with misconduct and bounced from thebench in 2005. Last week, he was disbarred and Rosenthal's law licensewas suspended for two years. Just deserts.

Yet there remains thematter of the excessive cash Rosenthal pocketed from the estates of thedead with Feinberg's connivance. It is up to Attorney General AndrewCuomo to get that money from Rosenthal and to the estates ofBrooklynites and their rightful heirs.

Cuomo has plenty ofevidence: the 13,500-page record of the Feinberg removal proceeding,the unanimous Court of Appeals opinion ratifying the removal and nowthe disbarment and suspension of the bums. Go for it, Andy.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Not so fast, Nora

Daily News Editorial, December 7, 2008

It was a busy week for Nora Anderson, the Manhattan surrogate judge-elect who ran roughshod over laws and rules to claim a prize perch in the Surrogate's Court, which awards millions in legal fees to a select club of lawyers.

The week began with Anderson filing her final campaign accounting. The report shows that in the weeks since September's Democratic primary, in which Anderson grossly outspent two opponents - thanks largely to an illegal $202,000 contribution - she raised another $29,260.

Not that she needed the cash - she ran unopposed in November. But she put almost every cent ($28,378) in her pocket, leaving $7.01 in the kitty.

In theory, Anderson was repaying some of the $368,185 she loaned her campaign. In reality, she was skirting an ethics rule that bars successful judicial candidates from repaying themselves with campaign funds.

The Board of Elections certified Anderson's uncontested victory Tuesday, and she lost no time taking the oath of office Wednesday, solemnly swearing to support the Constitution and faithfully discharge the duties of the office of judge. Irony indeed.

Although the Jan. 1 start of her term is only 26 days away, Anderson might want to hold off on tailoring those black judicial robes and trying out the gavel.

Also last week, it turns out, a Manhattan grand jury investigating her campaign's slippery practices was hearing witnesses. And still waiting in the wings is the state Commission on Judicial Conduct, whose rules she has so brazenly flouted.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Grand Jury on Nora Anderson

Oliva Speaks to Grand Jury About a Client, Judge Anderson
By Azi Paybarah, Politicker, 12/5/08

Michael Oliva, the consultant who helped get Nora Anderson elected as a Surrogate Court judge in Manhattan, confirmed he spoke with a grand jury yesterday about a $225,000 loan his client received from one of her campaign contributors.

The loan was made by Seth Rubenstein, an attorney in Brooklyn who employed Anderson before her campaign. Oliva did not say what he told the grand jury.

State law requires candidates to repay all loans to the campaign by the time of their election. If not, the loan is considered to be a contribution. Anderson repaid most of the loan just before her election, which raised questions about where she got money to do that.

Not that those questions are stopping her plans. Anderson was sworn in at a quiet ceremony earlier this week, officiated by Manhattan’s other Surrogate Court judge, Kristin Booth Glenn, a spokeswoman for judge Glenn confirmed.

For more on the loan, here’s a letter from attorney Ravi Batra, who worked on a rival surrogate campaign, and who called on Andrew Cuomo and Robert Morgenthau to investigate the loan.

Azi Paybarah can be reached via email at

Friday, December 5, 2008

Feinberg Disbarred, Rosenthal Suspended

N.Y. LAW JOURNAL, By Daniel Wise, December 05, 2008

Former Brooklyn Surrogate Michael H. Feinberg, who was removed from the bench three years ago, was disbarred yesterday by the Appellate Division, Third Department.

In two disciplinary proceedings factually linked to Mr. Feinberg's, the Third Department also suspended Louis R. Rosenthal, the former counsel to the Brooklyn public administrator, for two years, and censured Stephen H. Chepiga, the chief clerk of the Surrogate's Court in Brooklyn since 1998.

Mr. Feinberg was disbarred upon the strength of the Court of Appeals decision in 2005 removing him from the bench for awarding Mr. Rosenthal $8.6 million in fees without requiring affidavits detailing the services he provided as required by law (Matter of Feinberg, D-69-08).

The Third Department found that Mr. Rosenthal had charged and collected "excessive fees" without following proper procedures (Matter of Rosenthal, D-68-08). In recommending Mr. Feinberg's removal, the state Commission on Judicial Conduct had found that Mr. Rosenthal consistently billed 2 percent more for his work than permitted, resulting in more than $2 million in excessive fees (Matter of Chepiga, D-70-08).

The Third Department decision appear on page 7 of the print edition of today's Law Journal.

Fabian G. Palomino, who represented both Mr. Feinberg and Mr. Rosenthal, did not return a request for comment. Mr. Rosenthal also did not return a request for comment, and Mr. Feinberg could not be located.

Mr. Chepiga's lawyer, Peter V. Coffey of Englert, Coffey, McHugh & Fantuzzi in Schenectady, said, "If you talk to anyone in the court system they will tell you that Mr. Chepiga is diligent, hardworking and a man of great integrity and truthfulness.

"He has unhesitatingly been retained in his position" as chief clerk, Mr. Coffey added.

All three decisions were issued per curiam by the same panel: Justices Thomas E. Mercure, Edward O. Spain, Robert S. Rose, Anthony T. Kane and Leslie E. Stein.

"The taint of favoritism is strong" in the relationship between Mr. Feinberg and Mr. Rosenthal, the Court of Appeals found in its removal opinion, Matter of Feinberg, 5 NY3d 206. The Court described Mr. Rosenthal as "a close personal friend and political supporter" of Mr. Feinberg whom the former surrogate appointed as counsel to the public administrator without considering any other candidates.

The counsel to the public administrator is responsible for handling Surrogate Court proceedings relating to people who died without wills and do not have close relatives to handle their affairs.

In disbarring Mr. Feinberg, who was Brooklyn's surrogate for eight years, the panel noted that an attorney may be charged with professional misconduct for the same acts for which he was disciplined as a judge.

Disbarment is necessary, the panel concluded, "to protect the public and preserve the reputation of the bar."

The principal Court of Appeals finding relied on by the Third Department that Mr. Feinberg had failed to familiarize himself with a 1993 amendment to the Surrogate Court's Procedure Act (SCPA), which requires the counsel to the public administrator to support his fee requests with affidavits detailing the services rendered, the time spent, and the method or basis upon which the compensation is computed.

Over five years and 475 proceedings, both the Court of Appeals and the Third Department had found that Mr. Feinberg had remained unaware of the 1993 amendment to SPCA §1108. That amendment had been enacted, the Third Department panel noted, after an investigation by the attorney general and comptroller had found abuses in the award of fees to public administrators' counsel.

The Court of Appeals had described Mr. Feinberg's "consistent disregard for fundamental statutory requirements of office" as demonstrating "an unacceptable incompetence in the law."

Counsel Suspended

With regard to Mr. Rosenthal, the Third Department found that he had collected "excessive fees" for his work by "regularly" requesting fees that reflected the same percentage amount of the total value of the estate he was handling.

In the conduct commissions ruling recommending Mr. Feinberg's removal, it had found that Mr. Rosenthal routinely requested fees pegged at 8 percent of the value of an estate.

The commission noted that surrogates in the city's other boroughs generally pegged compensation for counsel to the public administrator at 6 percent of the value of an estate.

In addition, the commission relied on agreement between the attorney general and Mr. Feinberg's predecessor, Surrogate Bernard Bloom, to limit compensation to 6 percent. The agreement was initially worked out in 1988 and renewed in 1994 (NYLJ, Feb. 15, 2005).

The Third Department also found that rather than submitting the required affidavits of service, Mr. Rosenthal had submitted his fee requests on Post-It notes affixed to formal decrees.

The practice did not change, the panel noted, until the Daily News in May 2002 published an exposé of Mr. Rosenthal's fees and the way they had been approved by the surrogate.

Even then, the panel wrote, Mr. Feinberg re-approved all of Mr. Rosenthal's fees after he retroactively submitted the required affidavits of service.

Clerk Censured

In censuring Mr. Chepiga, the Third Department found that, though he was aware of the agreement limiting fee awards in Brooklyn to 6 percent, he was "actively involved" in the process of approving awards set at 8 percent of estate value.

The panel described Mr. Chepiga's statement that he was unaware of the 1993 amendments requiring the filing of affidavits to support fee requests as being "somewhat disconcertin[g]."

But in deciding that a censure was the appropriate sanction, the panel cited his "unblemished disciplinary record" and letters attesting to his integrity submitted to the court by Kings County surrogates. Mr. Chepiga's lawyer, Mr. Coffey, identified the authors of the two letters as Surrogate Margarita López Torres and Justice Albert Tomei, a former interim surrogate who was appointed to fill in after Mr. Feinberg was removed.

Though jurisdiction over disciplinary matters normally lies in the department where an attorney has his principal business office, the Second Department issued an order transferring the three cases to the Third Department, said the court's clerk, Michael Novak.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Shame of city's littering pols

Friday, November 7th 2008

Milton Tingling
This probably wasn't the race Milton Tingling was hoping to win.

The Manhattan judicial candidate - who lost a September primary battle - can call himself New York's Litterer in Chief after he led the list of politicians caught putting up illegal posters.

Tingling's campaign for Surrogate's Court judge was hit with 1,757 summonses for hanging the forbidden signs, according to the Department of Sanitation.

And at $75 a pop, those tickets will cost the campaign a whopping $131,775.

He lost a bitter primary fight to Nora Anderson - but she followed him on the list of litterers.

Anderson came up No.2 with 1,538 summonses - which earns her campaign a $115,350 bill.

Kevin Wardally, Tingling's campaign consultant, wrote off the fines as the cost of doing business in the city.

"The campaign tried to do the best job it could to get Milton's name and face out there," said Wardally.

"I wouldn't say Nora Anderson had fewer signs," he said, adding that enforcement is a "very selective thing."

"Sometimes you get very few fines, and other times you get a lot," Wardally said.

Anderson could not be reached for comment.

Other top campaign sign offenders were Councilman Miguel Martinez (D-Manhattan) with 1,121 summonses, Councilman Simcha Felder (D-Brooklyn), who ran for state Senate, with 500 summonses and Rep. Charles Rangel (D-Harlem), with 284 summonses.

City law prohibits signs from being posted on virtually every public surface, ranging from trees and lampposts to bus shelters and traffic medians.

Sanitation spokesman Vito Turso said enforcement agents respond to 311 complaints about signs. They also remove signs they spot along their regular routes.

"We have a poster squad," he said. "If we see them, we pull them."

Monday, October 27, 2008

No Competition for Seat, but Facing Investigation

By JOHN ELIGON, Published: October 26, 2008, NY Times

When Nora S. Anderson rode a well-financed campaign to victory in the Democratic primary for Manhattan Surrogate’s Court judge last month, it should have cleared a smooth path to the office. She will face no challenger in the Nov. 4 election.

Nora S. Anderson won the Democratic primary for Manhattan Surrogate’s Court.

Instead, her fund-raising efforts have drawn the attention of the Manhattan district attorney’s office.

Prosecutors have issued several subpoenas, including two to well-connected political players, in an investigation of Ms. Anderson’s finances and whether she improperly put money into her campaign fund, according to several people briefed on the case.

In April, Ms. Anderson, a Brooklyn lawyer, received a $225,000 campaign loan from Seth Rubenstein, her friend and campaign chairman and the head of the law firm where she works, according to financial disclosure reports. The loan was not repaid by the Sept. 9 primary and could be treated as a contribution under election law, which limits the contribution an individual may give a candidate to $32,000.

According to the most recent disclosure report, filed on Friday, all but $5,900 of the loan was shown as having been paid back. One matter under investigation is how Ms. Anderson acquired the money for the repayment, the people briefed on the case said.

“I guess the question was the loan, and how the loan was paid off,” said Michael Oliva, Ms. Anderson’s former campaign manager, who said he had received a subpoena for records and was interviewed by a prosecutor.

The district attorney’s office would not comment on the case. Ms. Anderson did not return telephone calls seeking comment, and Mr. Rubenstein declined to be interviewed.

Ms. Anderson, 56, has come under investigation before she even has won the position or taken the bench. As the handlers of wills, estates and guardianships, surrogate judges have the power to appoint lawyers to lucrative cases and their work can be highly scrutinized.

Ms. Anderson, a former chief clerk in the Manhattan Surrogate’s Court, defeated John Reddy and Milton Tingling in the primary, clearing the way to become one of two surrogate judges, at a salary of $136,700 a year.

A disclosure report filed 10 days after the primary showed that $197,000 of Mr. Rubenstein’s loan to her campaign was outstanding. If considered a contribution, it would far exceed the legal maximum.

Exceeding contribution limits is a misdemeanor under election law. But the district attorney’s investigation goes deeper, into how Ms. Anderson repaid the loan, people briefed on the case said.

In the weeks before the primary, large deposits made to Ms. Anderson’s personal bank account triggered suspicious-activity reports within the bank, according to a person briefed on the investigation, who requested anonymity because he was unauthorized to speak on the matter. The bank reported the deposits to the district attorney’s office, he said.

In August, Ms. Anderson made two large deposits to her campaign account under her own name, according to disclosure reports. One was listed as a contribution of $100,000, on Aug. 20; the other was listed as a $170,000 loan she made to her campaign, deposited on Aug. 26, the reports said.

A disclosure report filed on Oct. 2 noted that Ms. Anderson lent her campaign $153,589.33 on Sept. 22 and $44,596 on Sept. 26, the same days her campaign wrote checks to repay part of Mr. Rubenstein’s loan.

Intentionally exceeding contribution limits or concealing the source of campaign money could result in various charges, including filing false records, a felony. Such charges could be hard to prove; even if prosecutors find that Ms. Anderson received large sums of money in her personal account, they must show that those sums were intended as campaign donations, not personal gifts.

Mr. Oliva said he believed that she paid off the loans with her own money and that she had until the day of the general election to repay Mr. Rubenstein’s loan before it could be considered a contribution.

Mr. Oliva said his company, M & M Consulting, was subpoenaed for records pertaining to Ms. Anderson’s campaign finances. He said he was not able to produce any because he did not deal with campaign money.

James R. McManus, the head of the McManus Democratic Association, one of the party’s most influential local organizations, said he also received a subpoena for correspondence with Ms. Anderson. Although he endorsed her, Mr. McManus said, he had no written correspondence with her and did not contribute money to her campaign.

“I had nothing to do with her campaign,” Mr. McManus said.

While the campaign fund-raising rules for any office are voluminous, they are particularly strict for judicial candidates in New York State. According to the Judicial Campaign Ethics Handbook, candidates for the bench may not solicit their own campaign contributions or even know who is donating money. Their fund-raising must be handled by campaign committees.

If Ms. Anderson does take the bench, she will join a court that has had its share of scandals over the years. In 2005, Michael H. Feinberg, a surrogate judge in Brooklyn, was removed after the State Commission on Judicial Conduct found that he had awarded $8.6 million in fees to a friend without verifying that the lawyer had done the work.

In July, The Daily News reported that the city was investigating Lee Holzman, the Bronx surrogate judge, for fees he awarded to politically connected lawyers.

David Bookstaver, a spokesman for the State Office of Court Administration, said the rules governing the appointment of lawyers to handle estates or trusts were rewritten in 2003 and 2006 to make the process more transparent.

“Many of the alleged weaknesses in Surrogate Courts were addressed,” Mr. Bookstaver said. And statistics show that the Surrogates’ Courts have not been inordinately corrupt. Surrogate judges make up 6.8 percent of the state’s judges. Of the full-time judges disciplined by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct during the past 30 years, roughly 7 percent of them were with the Surrogate’s Court, said Robert Tembeckjian, the commission’s administrator.

“There’s no special disciplinary problem with surrogate judges as opposed to any other kind of judge,” Mr. Tembeckjian said.

He added that he could not say whether the commission would investigate Ms. Anderson.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Nora the ignorer

Daily News Editorial, October 25,2008

It will be a wonder if Manhattan Surrogate-elect Nora Anderson lasts a month before she's bounced as a serial ethics violator.

Two new Anderson transgressions came to light on reading materials related to the campaign that helped her win the Democratic primary and run unopposed in November.

As previously revealed here, Anderson bankrolled her election with a loan that amounted to an illegal $202,000 contribution on the day she won the primary.

Then, she tried to clean up the mess with transactions that ran afoul of a rule barring successful judicial candidates from soliciting contributions if they plan to use them to repay campaign debts to themselves.

Through it all, Anderson failed to file required personal financial disclosure information.

And now, it turns out, she exaggerated her credentials. She says on her Web site that the "Independent Judicial Screening Panel," an official state body, deemed her "most highly qualified." There's no such official rating, although Democratic Party screeners used that term to describe all the primary candidates.

Finally, judicial candidates must file a questionnaire with the official screening panel and update it. They must disclose whether they have become the subject of investigation.

The Manhattan district attorney is on Anderson's case. If she hasn't told the panel, it's one more violation.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008


By Jason Boog,, Posted 10-21-2008 Judicial Reports

Presumptive Surrogate Nora Anderson is under investigation for her campaign finance practices. But even if she followed the rules, her donor list is disturbing.

Nora Anderson swept the Manhattan Surrogate primary by a virtual landslide, but the price of victory — both literal and figurative — is proving steep.

Reportedly, the Manhattan DA’s office is investigating whether Anderson actually paid $270,000 to her campaign from her own pocket or if the money came from another source. If it came from another source, it would likely constitute an illegal donation; if it came from Anderson, then she is prohibited from repaying herself with proceeds from any of the feverish rounds of fundraising that she has undertaken since her primary victory.

In an added twist, Judicial Reports has learned that the McManus Democratic Association was served with a subpoena yesterday as part of an investigation into the campaign.

“They asked for all records between Nora Anderson and ourselves,” said District Leader James R. McManus. “But there were no records. She used the club for her campaign. It was a handshake.”

McManus declined to provide more detail.


Whatever the nature of Anderson’s problems with campaign law compliance, the lineup of her donors — both before and after primary day — is rife with attorneys who have every reason to believe they might be in a position to receive lucrative appointments from Anderson once she takes the bench.

According to the New York State Board of Elections, Anderson raised $238,344 in private donations leading up to the primary. She also received a loan of $225,000 from her employer, estate lawyer Seth Rubenstein.

Political consultant Jerry Skurnick from Prime New York said that outstanding loan would raise red flags in a typical campaign.

“In past campaigns, I’ve been told that if a loan is not repaid by the date of the primary it becomes a contribution,” he explained. Skurnick’s belief is confirmed by the 2008 Election Law:

“A loan made to a candidate or political committee, other than a constituted committee, by any person, firm, association or corporation other than in the regular course of the lender’s business shall be deemed, to the extent not repaid by the date of the primary, general or special election, as the case may be, a contribution by such person, firm, association or corporation.”

If that $225,000 contribution was categorized as a donation after the primary, it is one that exceeded the $32,000 limit under law. As of a September 19 post-primary filing, the campaign still listed $197,000 of the Rubenstein loan as outstanding.

On October 2, her campaign filings reported that Anderson made a loan of $368,000 to her campaign from her own finances. According to that October report, Anderson now owes herself $368,000 and had repaid the remaining $197,000 of Rubenstein's loan.


According to one published excerpt from Anderson’s invitation to a post-election fundraiser, she was asking for contributors to give between $1,000 and $29,000: “Celebrate with her and help us retire the debt,” read the invitation.

When asked how Anderson was coping with campaign donations from attorneys who work in Surrogate Court, campaign manager Michael Oliva said he couldn’t speak to how the judge would deal with financial matters, urging a call to Anderson herself.

Neither Anderson nor Rubenstein returned calls for comment.

According to the 2008 Judicial Campaign Ethics Handbook, Anderson’s post-primary politicking is legal — and will remain so for a half-year after she takes the bench, as long as she is repaying debts to donors other than herself or family members:

“A judicial candidate’s campaign committee may, within the applicable window period, hold a post-election fund-raising event, the proceeds of which will be used to satisfy outstanding election debts to third parties. The campaign committee may not, however, sponsor an event for the purpose of repaying loans made to the committee by the candidate or the candidate’s relatives, or where it is intended that any funds remaining after payment of campaign debts would belong to the political party organization.”

The handbook also states that this behavior is only permissible within a special “window period.” By law, that window opens nine months before the primary, judicial convention or official nominating meeting for the judgeship; and, by the same law, closes six months after the general election for the Surrogate Court.


These fundraisers are all permissible, but exploring Anderson’s campaign war chest ($238,000 in total contributions) illustrates the contradictions inherent in the Surrogate Court election system.

Even if she has followed the rules, Anderson’s committee accepted contributions from 13 different lawyers who had received many coveted guardianship assignments in the New York Surrogate Court during the last year. Leading that list was New York attorney Charles Gibbs, who received three guardianship appointments in Manhattan Surrogate Court last year — earning more than $198,000 in fees.

Collectively, the donors in question received 26 guardianships and earned $368,700 in guardianship fees in the Manhattan Surrogate Court — in the last year. (For a complete list, click here)

In addition to those individual contributions, 17 other gifts came from law firms that included estate law, elder law, guardianship, and other Surrogate Court practice areas. In all, Anderson received nearly $30,000 in contributions from these types of firms. Greenfield Stein & Senior contributed $6,800 and Finkelstein & Virga contributed $5,000, and both firms included Surrogate Court practice. (For that list, click here)

In an arcane election law twist, all New York judges are permitted to hold fundraisers and interact with contributors — but they are not supposed to know who contributed to them. The law reads:

“A judicial candidate may attend his/her own fund-raising event and may actually see and acknowledge individuals in attendance, but the identities of those who contribute to a judicial candidate’s campaign should otherwise be kept from the candidate except to the extent legally permissible.”

During the heated primary season, the losing Surrogate candidate John J. Reddy, Jr., offered to restrict his contributors in a dramatic way — removing all campaign contributors from his list of eligible attorneys for guardianship assignments.

In an interview this week, Reddy guardedly spoke of political donations. “I think more likely a large number of [Surrogate law attorneys] are contributing only because it is their aspiration that the court will better be served by a [particular candidate]. I don’t think you can look at the contributions and say that these people anticipate appointments,” he said.

“At the same time, I thought it was better to be up front about [my contribution policy]. And that didn’t dissuade many attorneys from contributing,” he concluded, alluding to the more than $600,000 collected during his failed Surrogate bid.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Judge Nora Anderson's Money Pit is Full of Ethical Violations

Tuesday, October 14th 2008, Daily New Editorial

By the time she is sworn in as a Manhattan surrogate judge Jan. 1, there may be no canon of judicial campaign finance ethics that Nora Anderson leaves unbroken.

First, Anderson, a trusts and estates lawyer, bankrolled her election in substantial part with a loan from her boss that amounted to an illegal $202,000 contribution on the day she won the Democratic primary last month.

Then, called on it by these quarters, Anderson made a $198,185 personal loan to her campaign treasury so it could refund the improper donation.

Earlier, she had loaned the campaign $170,000, putting her $368,185 in the hole.

(How Anderson can afford this is unclear, as she neglected to list her income on financial disclosure forms.)

Now, Anderson is soliciting contributions that would enable her campaign to give some or all of the $368,185 back to her. Bad move. That puts her in violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of an ethics rule forbidding successful judicial candidates from raising money if they intend to use the proceeds to repay campaign debts to themselves.

The ban is intended to prevent soon-to-be judges from putting the arm on lawyers for money that will wind up in judicial pockets. The prohibition applies once an individual has been elected.

Anderson has no opposition on the Nov. 4 ballot. Her primary win was tantamount to election.

Her campaign stated as much unequivocally on the invitation sent out for a fund-raiser last Monday at Lattanzi, a restaurant on W. 46th St.

"She will be sworn in as our next Surrogate in January," said the appeal for donations ranging from $1,000 to $29,700. And the invitation was explicit as to why Anderson wanted the money: "Celebrate with her and help us retire the debt."

We dropped by, hoping for a word with Anderson, who has declined to return phone calls. We found an open bar, appetizers, chocolate-covered strawberries and a small gathering of lawyers who gave checks to Anderson's campaign treasurer. Someone called her "Judge." Someone jokingly told her, "See you in court."

The boss at Anderson's law firm, Seth Rubenstein, said, "I have nothing to say to the Daily News," before he left the party to get into his Jaguar convertible.

Anderson moved around the room, exclaiming: "I can't believe you crashed my party!" She stood in a corner before someone hailed a cab and she ran for it. We couldn't keep up. But the state Commission on Judicial Conduct and the Manhattan district attorney can.

Monday, October 13, 2008


By LAURA ITALIANO and LARRY CELONA, October 13, 2008

The winner of September's primary race for surrogate judge in Manhattan is under investigation for allegedly disguising $270,000 in 11th-hour contributions as a transfer from her own assets, The Post has learned.

Manhattan DA Robert Morgenthau's office is scrutinizing one $100,000 payment Nora Anderson made to her campaign on Aug. 20 and two more, for $20,000 and $150,000, on Aug. 26, according to a source familiar with the probe.

"It's a violation of election law, at the least," said the source. "She devised a way to get hundreds of thousands of dollars."

Candidates may make unlimited donations to their campaigns from their own assets, but contributions from others are capped at $32,000. Investigators hope to finish their probe before Anderson, 56, takes office in January, the source said.

Anderson, a former Surrogate's Court chief clerk, declined to comment on her campaign finances. "I am looking forward to serving all who made it possible to win decisively," she said.

Her campaign manager, Michael Oliva, flatly denied that the money was from an improper source.

"It's absolutely her own money," he said.

Anderson won handily in the Sept. 9 Democratic primary, collecting 48 percent of the vote boroughwide. She defeated John Reddy, the counsel to the public administrator - the office that disposes of the estates of those who die with no heirs - and Milton Tingling, a sitting Supreme Court justice.

She does not face a Republican challenger in the Nov. 4 general election.

The position pays $136,700 annually.

Anderson's finances first attracted negative attention in July, when she declared in a filing that she borrowed $225,000 loan from a colleague.

There is no limit on loans, but funds must be repaid before the election, or they're treated as contributions.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Daily News Editiorial

Surrogate shell game October 4, 2008

Oh, what a costly web you can weave when you try to evade campaign finance laws and get caught at it.

Exhibit A: Nora Anderson, who is all but guaranteed election as a Manhattan surrogate court judge come November.

Regular readers will recall that we recently pointed out that Anderson circumvented the law by financing her campaign with a $225,000 loan that converted to a donation on Primary Day, violating the legal contribution limit by a mere $200,000.

Anderson took the loan from her boss, trusts and estates lawyer Seth Rubenstein. Friday, she filed paperwork reporting that she had repaid the debt by "loaning" her campaign a total of $198,185 of her own money and sending Rubenstein the same amount.

The transactions boosted Anderson's personal investment in the race to $470,000. Where she came up with the money is anyone's guess because, in yet another violation of the rules, she failed to list her income in personal financial disclosure filings.

(Inexplicably, Anderson just amended her statement to report that her husband received a salary as a Family Court lawyer without also declaring her own pay.)

There's an obvious odor to the math here in that Anderson has put up almost half a million dollars chasing a job that pays $136,700.

Then again, surrogates preside over the estates of the dead and are empowered to dispense millions of dollars in court assignments to lawyers and accountants.

So we repeat our support for probes by the state Commission on Judicial Conduct and Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau. And we stand confident in knowing they're on the case.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Judge's Funny Money

Daily News Editorial, September 23, 2008

The evidence has grown stronger that incoming Manhattan Surrogate Judge Nora Anderson trampled on campaign finance laws as she bested two opponents in this month's big-money Democratic primary.

Anderson's latest financial disclosure filing became public Monday - and the report must now become required reading for investigators at the state Commission on Judicial Conduct. The document lays out in black and white Anderson's wholesale disregard for the law.
She and all other candidates were limited to accepting donations totaling no more than $35,000 from any individual for the primary. But Anderson, a trusts and estates lawyer, went way over the cap through a series of transactions with her boss, Seth Rubenstein.
Those include a $25,000 contribution and a $225,000 loan, whose balance, under the law, became a donation as of Primary Day. According to Anderson's filing, by that date she managed to repay $13,000.

The bottom line on the accounting: Anderson accepted a mere $202,000 more from Rubenstein than the law allowed - and spent it all in knocking off her rivals to wind up as the sole name on the ballot in November.

The day after the primary, according to her report, Anderson repaid an additional $9,100 to Rubenstein. A day late, that doesn't cure the violation. But even if you give her an unauthorized 24-hour grace period, she's still $192,900 over the limit.

The figures appear to contradict a Sept. 15 statement made to this Editorial Board by Anderson campaign manager Michael Oliva. "Nora paid off loan in full," he said in a text message. If so, there's a huge pile of money of unknown source that's unaccounted for in Anderson's campaign.
The amounts involved here - plus an additional $170,000 that Anderson "loaned" her own campaign - are understandable only when you consider the responsibilities of a surrogate judge. Those entail presiding over the estates of the dead - including the awarding of millions of dollars in assignments to lawyers and accountants.

As things stand, she'll be sworn in on Jan. 1.

As things stand, the state commission had better start investigating - pronto.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Nora Anderson gives grounds for investigation on Election Law violation

Daily News Editorial, September 14th 2008

Judge Nora Anderson
Barring an extraordinarily unlikely turn of events, lawyer Nora Anderson will be sworn in as a Manhattan surrogate judge on New Year's Day. The next morning, she must be the subject of investigation by the state Commission on Judicial Conduct.

Talk about getting off to a bad start - one that could result in Anderson's removal from office.

Anderson ran a big-money campaign to get the Democratic nod for surrogate in last week's primary. A surrogate presides over the estates of the dead - and gets to award millions of dollars in assignments to lawyers and accountants.

So badly did Anderson want to win the $137,600-a-year post that she put $270,000 of her own money into the race. She also took a $25,000 donation and a $225,000 campaign fund loan from her boss, who happens to be Seth Rubinstein, who happens to be an active trusts and estates lawyer.

All that was okay under New York's lax campaign finance laws until Anderson reached primary day without repaying Rubinstein's loan. That day, Rubinstein's unpaid loan converted to a gift under the Election Law - Article 14, section 114, paragraph 6a, if you are interested.

Big problem. A contribution of that size is barred by law - Article 14, section 126, paragraph 3 - and under willful circumstances can amount to a misdemeanor.

Depending on how the accounting is done, Anderson may have exceeded the contribution limit by $165,000.

And that's not the end of Anderson's, er, sloppiness.

Under court rules, judicial candidates must file a financial disclosure statement with the court system's Ethics Commission within 20 days of becoming a candidate. Anderson got her document in almost two months late and then failed to include the most important information requested on the form: her income.

Anderson campaign manager Michael Oliva says Anderson believed she had until Nov. 4, Election Day, to repay the loan before it became a gift. "We tried to find the answers," Oliva said, pleading that the law was confusing.

To a would-be judge? To a would-be judge who was warned that ignorance of the law would be no excuse when, in April, she attended a mandatory training course on judicial campaigning.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Manhattan Surrogate Court The Shame of NY

Senator Robert Kennedy testifying in 1966 before an Albany state legislative committee called the New York Surrogate Court "A political toll booth exacting tribute from widows and orphans."

Once informally known as "the widows and orphans court," the Surrogate's Court is supposed to protect estates and the heirs of people who die without a proper will. Instead according to press reports it functions as an ATM machine that distributes millions of dollars a year to connected predatory lawyers in fees.

“A rogues' gallery of chiselers and crooks has flocked to the courts over the years, running up bills and draining money that rightfully belongs to the heirs and descendants of the dead.” -NY Daily News, August 14, 2008

What is most shocking about the reported corruption of the modern Manhattan Surrogate Court is not that it has eluded reform for over 100 years or that despite the amount of corruption uncovered nobody has even been sent to jail for any of the wrong doing, it is that everyone has turned their backs and allowed this orgy of stealing from the dead to occur from generation to generation, with elected officials, good government groups and the media watching in silence.
"The Surrogate Court has a checkered reputation. In Manhattan, three candidates are pledging to fix it. Their plans are quite different. But there's a common theme: change.
A New York Times editorial deftly described the Surrogate race in Manhattan: “[The] Democratic primary for Manhattan Surrogate underscores the case for reform … capable candidates — all promising reform of the court's patronage appointments — vied for the job, which involves dispensing millions of dollars in fees to lawyers acting as executors, guardians and estate trustees.”Unfortunately, that editorial was published 18 years ago (click here to read it), and this year’s Surrogate race is a rerun: an expensive slugfest in which every candidate promises to radically change the court. But real reforms are few. Indeed, former Surrogate Eve Preminger admitted in a recent interview that many lawyers who worked closely with that court never expected her to follow through with her 1990 campaign promises. “Nobody believed I was serious, everybody thought it was a publicity trip,” she said, maintaining a gloomy outlook on quick Surrogate Court fixes." - Judicial Reports, August, August 27, 2008

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Investigations, Reports on Mismanagement, Newspapers Editorials and the Court is the Energizer Rabbit… Keeps Going, and Going and Going

There is very little follow-up, institutional memory beyond the fact that the court has problems.

“Federal investigators are pressing a separate investigation into operations of the Surrogate’s Court, including the public administrators’ office. . . United States Attorney in Manhattan, Otto Obermaier, called a continuing investigation that identified the Surrogate’s Court as a “racketeering enterprise” used by the defendant.” –NY Times, July 24, 1992

“In 1972, Mr. Vincent Catalfo was suspended from practicing law for three years after appropriating a client’s money without permission. Last year, the State Appellate Division overturned a $150,000 fee awarded to him by Surrogate Marie Lambert after he applied for $212,800 in legal services as the court-appointed representative of a 17 year old heir, Ryk Schoonheim. The court found that Mr. Catalfo had never drafted a single legal document, except the request for his own fee.” – NY Times, August 14, 1991

The central fact in that the Surrogate Court supervises the disposition of nearly $1 billion in property each year. The judges command a rich flow of patronage because of their power to appoint guardians and administrators. Fees in this court have sometimes been shockingly high, and appointments have tended to go to cliques of lawyers who stood well with the surrogate. In short, this court is in need of a thoroughgoing reform. In fact, we favor its abolition.” –NY Times, June 24, 1966

Friday, August 15, 2008

Senator Kennedy Serious Try to Reform Surrogate Court

In the 1960s’ Senator Robert Kennedy came closest to stopping the looting of New York’s dead. Kennedy went to Albany to gain public support to reform the court. He was attacked by the legislatures and by Manhattan Surrogate Judge Samuel Di Falco.

“The testimony of Senator Kennedy and Justice Silverman had been based “solely on hearsay, not on facts. . . The committee heard from Kennedy in silence and asked no questions, but after the Senator left, members of the committee, and some Surrogates called as witnesses, denounced him for repeating “hearsay” statements impugning the system.” –NY Times Nov. 30, 1966

Senator Kennedy ran and elected Judge Samuel Silverman on a reform platform to the Manhattan Surrogate Court, as the junior judge.

The victory of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Silverman in the primary contest for the Democratic nomination is a triumph for better government . . . The most important result of the primary has been to direct public attention to the desirability of putting an end to the political patronage for which the Surrogate’s Courts have been notorious for many years. – NY Times, June 29, 1966

“Justice Samuel Silverman has performed a public service in taking on this disagreeable task. He is the better man and would administer the Surrogate Court – so long as it exists – in the severely impersonal, politically neutral and professionally distinguished manner that it requires.” –NY Times, June 24, 1966

But Kennedy effort to clean up the court was blocked by the Manhattan Surrogate Court’s Chief Judge Samuel Di Falco who stopped all of Surrogate Silverman’s reform attempts and ended shortly after Kennedy’s death in 1968.

The Liberal Party’s Alex Rose in 1972 attempted to continue Kennedy’s efforts against the Surrogate Court’s corruption, but was block by reformers when his candidate against Surrogate De Falico, Criminal Court Judge Amos Basel did not get enough support to get on the ballot to run on the democratic line. Basel running only on the Liberal Party line was endorsed by the New York Times was defeated in the general election.

“In office, Surrogate Di Falco has proved more impartial and responsible than many critics had feared. In his bid for a second fourteen-year term, he carries not only the endorsement of the Democratic, Republican and Conservative parties but also of the Citizen Union. However, we believe that the public interest would be better served by the election of his Liberal opponent, Amos Basel. Judge Basel has given distinguished service on the Criminal Court and has always demonstrated political independence and judicial disinterestedness. –NY Times, October 29, 1970

Ex Surrogate Samuel Di Falco Indicted in Criminal Contempt
“Samuel Di Falco, the former Manhattan Surrogate has been indicted for criminal contempt for allegedly telling a grand jury he could not remember having spoken to a law assistant about arranging favorable rulings for clients of his son’s law firm.” –NY Times, February 6, 1978

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Court Insiders Impenetrable

A group of insider has resisted reforms for generations despite attempts from some elected officials, editorials newspaper boards and good government groups to reform the Surrogate Court. The last attempt to clean up the court came from Senator Kennedy over 40 years ago. Elected officials for the last generation have avoided court reform to avoid clashing with the powerful legal firms connected to the court. Their constituents who suffer from court’s high fees drawn from their estates are not as important.

“It means taking on a whole culture, which is entirely resistant to change. That is the fundamental difference between me and Renee Roth – real reformers cannot go along,” said Karen Burstein who was challenging Judge Renne Roth re-election to the Surrogate Court. “But the surrogate said she tried internally to overhaul procedures a decade ago, only to have a senior judge block her efforts. I didn’t do anything wrong here,” said Roth. “I was the good guy. I inherited a mess, and when I could do something about it, I cleaned it up.” –NY Times, September 7, 1996

A quarter a century ago Mayor La Guardia complained that the Surrogate Court kept Tammany alive during his City Hall regime. Ten years ago the distinguished Tweed Commission recommended their abolition and transfer of their functions to the State Supreme Court. –NY Times, June 29, 1966

“Manhattan – Surrogate’s Court - This sensitive office has been a center of patronage that favors politically connected lawyers and is a burden on the estates of decedents and their families. The Surrogate’s Court urgently requires reform through state legislation.” –NY Times Editorial, September 11, 1976

“The Citizens Union last week endorsed Senator Robert Kennedy’s proposal to abolish special-guardian appointments in surrogate courts and create salaried public guardians.” – NY Times, December 4, 1966

“Mayor Lindsay endorsed yesterday the proposal to merge the Surrogate Court into the State Supreme Court.” – New York Times, May 6, 1967

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Media Lacks Passion on Court Change

We know through the relentless drum beat of publication of hundreds of stories, that former governor Eliot Spitzer wore knee high black socks when he had sex with admitted whores. But when it comes to informing the public about a court where the powerful and greedy steal and deeply hurt thousands of New Yorkers and their families in their most troubling times, the press covers only the breaking court scandals without doing any investigation into the causes or to connect the dots and build public support for change. The public is left with nothing but the hope that if they vote for this or that endorsed candidate for Surrogate promising change, the stealing from the dead will stop in Surrogate Court. An analysis of the past clearly shows that hope is not enough.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Manhattan Surrogate Court Controlled By A "Group" of Three Insiders for nearly 50 Years

Despite over a generation of Surrogate candidates and newspaper editorials calling for and promising reform three men have run the Manhattan Surrogate Court’s counsel office for almost 50 years and they all belong to the same "core" law firm. The last two counsels are law partners. One of the three, John Reddy, is trying to become the Surrogate Judge this year to continue their fifty year run well into the future.

The Family Business
1. Joseph T. Arenson
2. Phillip Beckerman
3. John Reddy

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Family Cuts Out the Middle Man or Woman

“John Reddy, who has worked in the Surrogate's Court for 29 years, was the protégé of a lawyer who got mixed up in a court scandal.” -Daily News, August 14, 2008
Public Administrator counsels John Reddy, Phillip Beckerman both belonged to Counsel Joseph Arenson's law firm. In addition Reddy and Beckerman are partners in their own law firm.

Karen S. Burstein, a former State Senator and Family Court judge challenged Renee Roth for Surrogate in 1996. Burstein contends that a circle of friends and political allies have benefited disproportionately.

“Ms. Burstein says that when the Manhattan Public Administrator, Bruno Cappellini, resigned under pressure in 1988, Surrogate Roth let his successor, Ethel Griffin, hire to the lucrative position of counsel to the public administrator a law partner of the previous counsel, who had also resigned under pressure.” – NY Times, September 7, 1996

Bruno Cappellini the Public Administrator and his counsel Joseph Arenson left the Manhattan Surrogate Court after a report about his management style were published by AG Robert Abrams and Controller Ned Regan in 1987. Beckman, a member of Arenson law firm, was Arenson replacement as counsel. Beckman was replaced by his law partner John Reddy shortly after a story came out accusing Beckman with having an illegal bank account that the office opened up for the dead, the PA used to distribute funds to other lawyers. Beckman said his name was forged on papers and check of the said account. Arenson also had the same kind of bank account that the office opened for the deceased to distribute fees to lawyers for their work on the estates.
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. - NY Law Journal, August 21, 2008

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Report # 1: Delays, lax Record-Keeping and Inflated Legal Fees

“In 1987, Comptroller Edward V. Regan and Attorney General Robert Abrams -- determined that record-keeping was in disarray, property was warehoused chaotically and outside lawyers were awarded windfall fees for minimal legal work. The report also said that there were serious delays in completing cases and that money from estates was deposited improperly into accounts used to pay for some of the public administrator's office expenses.” –NY Times September, 7 1996

John Reddy got his first job from resigned counsel Joseph T. Arenson. Reddy and Bekerman are law partners, and were members of Arenson law firm, Reddy started working for Arenson in the Surrogate Court PA counsel office from 29 years ago. Today Reddy has Arenson’s old job as counsel to the PA.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

John Reddy Protégé Arenson

"John Reddy is a partner in the law firm of Bekerman and Reddy, LLP. Mr. Reddy has been associated with the Counsel to the Public Administrator of New York County since 1979, and has served as counsel since 1996. Mr. Reddy has found Memories of Professor Joseph Arenson who helped him begin his career in trusts and estates. Joe Anerson gave me a job while I was still in Law School," Mr. Reddy recalled. "Eventually I became a partner in his firm and now I have his old job as Counsel to the Public Administrator." – NY Law School Report Alumni Connection 2007

Mr. Arenson, whose ten-lawyer firm has served the Public Administrator’s office for 35 years. . . Mr. Arenson firm received a total of 1.7 Million in 1985 (Controller's Report said) – NY Times, November 28, 1987

Joseph Arenson was involved in an additional scandal five years later with his replacement counsel Phillip Beckerman a member of his law firm and partners with Surrogate candidate John Reddy

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Fake Bank Accounts of the Dead Similar to the City Council Fake Non Profits Exposed by A Former Employees Lawsuit

Joseph Arenson and Phillip Beckerman, both law partner of surrogate candidate John Reddy and his predecessors as the Public Administrators counsel had illegal bank accounts in their name that distributed estate funds to other lawyers. That information came out as a result of a lawsuit by former counsel employee Connolly. No one was charged, however PA counsel Beckerman resigned and was replaced by his partner John Reddy.

“The official in charge of administering court-supervised estates in Manhattan has opened bank accounts normally reserved for the assets of dead people in the names of three lawyers working in her office, a practice that bank officials and law enforcement authorities describe as highly unusual, if not improper. Two of the lawyers say the accounts were opened without their knowledge and one has charged that his name was repeatedly forged on transactions. The official said the accounts were intended to hold money claimed by the lawyers, who are paid on a commission basis, for their work on estate cases. But records show that she disbursed money from the accounts to other lawyers doing estate work.” –NY Times, July 25, 1992
Among the contributions (to Reddy campaign for Surrogate Judge) 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 - NY Law Journal, August 21, 2008.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Planned Delays and Mismanagement to Increase Legal Fees

During former State Senator and family court judge Karen S. Burstein's 1996 challenge to Surrogate Renee Roth reelection, Burstein said delays in the cases was a strategy used in the Surrogate office to allow a circle of friends and political allies to have benefited disproportionately.
"Ms. Burstein says, for example, that the surrogate defended the administrator's office and the Surrogate's Court before a State Assembly committee in 1988." - NY Times, September 7, 1996

“In candidates' forums and in interviews, Ms. Burstein has sought to tie Surrogate Roth to the mismanagement documented in the state reports. She has suggested that Surrogate Roth often resisted change. Ms. Burstein says, for example, that the surrogate defended the administrator's office and the Surrogate's Court before a State Assembly committee in 1988. Ms. Burstein also says that when the Manhattan Public Administrator, Bruno Cappellini, resigned under pressure in 1988, Surrogate Roth let his successor, Ethel J. Griffin, hire to the lucrative position of counsel to the public administrator a law partner of the previous counsel, who had also resigned under pressure.” – NY Times, September 7, 1996
Hopeful 1
"Reddy said his 13 years as counsel to the public administrator of New York County has prepared him for the bench. Fewer than three years after being hired, Reddy had closed over 2,000 cases full of vague language or instructions that had been open for at least four years, he said. He is hopeful that he will be able to close Surrogate cases, some of which have been open even longer." – City Hall News, August 11, 2008
Hopeful 2
"With some wariness we endorse Justice Feinberg on the basis of his good record, and trust he will stay true to his reform pledges.” – NY Times Editorial, September 6, 1996
"In a harshly worded opinion, the Court of Appeals yesterday ended Brooklyn Surrogate Michael H. Feinberg's judicial career. It held that his awarding of millions of dollars in attorney's fees to a friend without demanding the affidavits required by law constituted removable misconduct." - New York Law Journal, June 30, 2005

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

2nd Follow-Up Report Found Surrogate Court Problems Worsened

The 2nd repot from the Attorney General and State Comptroller found the problems outline done four years after the first one have largely remained unabated and in some cases have worsened.

“The draft version of the latest report by the State Attorney General and State Comptroller concluded that few changes suggested by the last investigation had been adopted. It also said that, as before, the deficiencies in Manhattan were the bulk of the big estates were concentrated, were particularly alarming.” – NY Times, July 24, 1992

Monday, August 4, 2008

U.S. Attorney Calls Surrogate Court “Racketeering Enterprise”

“The latest critical report comes as Federal investigators are pressing a separate investigation into operations of the Surrogate’s Court, including the public administrators’ office. Yesterday, a politically connected Manhattan lawyer, Melvyn Altman, was indicted on Federal racketeering, mail fraud and money-laundering charges in what the United States Attorney in Manhattan, Otto Obermaier, called a continuing investigation that identified the Surrogate’s Court as a “racketeering enterprise” used by the defendant.” – NY Times, July 24, 1992

Sunday, August 3, 2008

No Press Follow Up on Outstanding Issues

We are continuing our investigation to find a follow-up to the Attorney Generals and State Comptroller 2nd report in 1992 and what were the results of the U.S. Attorneys call for an investigation. Where have you gone institutional memory? Or at least Google.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Reddy Delays Payment, Chess Master’s Heir Loses His Inheritance

“Citibank Cheats Grandmaster Benko out of $70,000, Ruth V. Cardoso, the South American Woman's Chess Champion, was the constant companion of Grandmaster Pal Benko

Benko accordingly applied to the New York Surrogates Court for letters of administration. However, the court has an unusual rule that when a person dies without relatives, any person claiming under a will must prove to the satisfaction of the court that there are no living relatives. However, since it is impossible to prove a negative, the applicant must detail the steps that have been taken to locate any possible relatives of the deceased person. Although Ruth Cardoso had been born in Brazil and was a citizen of Brazil, she had been trapped in Nazi Germany during World War II and grew up there. All of her relatives had died in the war except for her mother who had died two years before Ruth died.
Following confirmation from the German government that she had no living relatives and the publication of the legal notices, the New York Public Administrators Office demanded that the witnesses to the will be produced to testify that Ruth Cardoso was of sound mind and body when she made out her will. However, the attorney assigned the task by the New York Public Administrator was John Reddy, who then delayed seven months and only issued his report after the Benko Family complained to the court that he was not doing his job. As a result of these delays by John Reddy, it took seven months until July 2004, before he issued his report. Benko then went to Citibank at 120 Broadway to collect the $70,000 that Ruth Cardoso had left to him, only to be told that Citibank did not have the money any more. They refused to reveal what had happened to the money.
-SURROGATES COURT: STATE OF NEW YORK COUNTY OF NEW YORK In the Matter of the Estate of Ruth V. Cardoso, Deceased FILE NO. 2546/2002 MOTION FOR REHEARING,

Friday, August 1, 2008

Surrogate Judge Lambert: There is gambling in Rick’s Place

Although she does not want to prejudge Mr. Cappellini and Mr. Arenson, Surrogate Lambert said, she has long been concerned about the “Tremendous delay in distribution of money to heirs or depositing it and in the closing of estates.” When she became Manhattan’s supervising surrogate two years ago, Judge Lamberrt said, she “pressured them very hard to get their cases up to date.” – NY Times Nov 28 1987

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Empty, False Campaign Promises of Reform

Family Court Judge Millard Midonick took office yesterday as surrogate of New York County with a promise to replace “patronage” with “merit” in handling Manhattan’s vast estate business and to urge changes in state laws for the protection of orphans and widows. –New York Times Jan 4, 1972

The Democratic nomination race for Manhattan Surrogate where we have previously expressed a preference for Family Court Judge Millard Midonick a candidate firmly committed to reform of this patronage laden court –NY Times, Sept 9, 1971

Surrogate Midonick now has a mandate to elevate the stature of the court
By ending the system of politically chosen guardians for estates, costs of administration can be reduced –New York Times Nov. 5, 1971

Friday, July 18, 2008

Why not the Best for Surrogate Court?

“Of all the New York courts that suffer from politics and public misunderstanding, the most tormented is surely the Manhattan Surrogate’s Court. It handles more money than any other – More than a billion dollars in estates a year. That makes it a traditional source of lawyers’ patronage – and rumors of favoritism. Reformers rail at costly probate delays and their election-year vows to clean up the place do nothing for its image. . .

And Renee Roth, a law assistant to the Brooklyn Surrogate for more than a decade, has vast experience and an outstanding reputation for knowledge and integrity. . .We judge Renee Roth best equipped to give the Surrogate’s office much-needed lift in public esteem. Her dignity, serious purpose, knowledge of the law practice and instinctive probity would be a credit to the court.” –NY Times, Sept 17,
Surrogate Court Primaries, published: September 6, 1996
Next Tuesday's Democratic primary elections for the obscure but powerful post of Surrogate's Court judge in Manhattan and Brooklyn have sparked intense competition and bitter debates over personality and patronage. Voters need to decide which of the candidates have the best mix of integrity, expertise, judicial temperament and administrative skills for a job that entails overseeing wills, estates and adoptions and dispensing millions of dollars in fees to lawyers acting as executors, guardians and estate trustees.
In a fierce battle in Manhattan, the incumbent Surrogate Renee Roth faces a tough re-election challenge from Karen Burstein, a former State Senator and Family Court judge who ran unsuccessfully for State Attorney General two years ago.
We supported Ms. Burstein for Attorney General and respect her ability to spotlight issues and advocate constructive reform within the political arena. But Ms. Burstein, who quit the Family Court because she found being a judge too ''passive,'' is miscast for the surrogate's job, which calls for tempered judicial and administrative skills to wrestle behind the scenes with arcane issues of trust and estates and tax law.
Judge Roth, during 14 years in the Surrogate's job, has proved fair and able. She has brought a refreshing measure of expertise and integrity to bear on a court that was mired in patronage and accusations of political favoritism when she ran promising reforms in 1982. Her most notable failing has been insufficient aggressiveness in overhauling the office, which oversees the estates of people who die without wills or known heirs. But over all she has done an admirable job and boosted the court's credibility. She takes justifiable pride in setting a high standard of competence for fiduciary appointments and spreading the patronage to include women and minorities.
Now Judge Roth will have to set even higher goals for her second term if she is to avoid the taint of suspicion. A relatively small coterie of qualified lawyers still receives a disproportionate share of the cases and fees distributed by the court, and many of them have shown up as big contributors to her campaign. By contrast, Ms. Burstein, to her credit, is not accepting contributions from lawyers who practice in Surrogate's Court, and has limited individual donations to $500.
On the basis of her solid overall performance, Judge Roth earns our endorsement. But it comes with a challenge to rethink the system of fiduciary appointments to minimize any appearance that big contributors to her campaign are being rewarded. - NY Times, 6, 1996

Thursday, July 17, 2008

WHY NOT Reason 1

AG and State Controllers Report on the Surrogate Court
Delays, lax record-keeping and inflated legal fees

In 1987, Comptroller Edward V. Regan and Attorney General Robert Abrams -- determined that record-keeping was in disarray, property was warehoused chaotically and outside lawyers were awarded windfall fees for minimal legal work. The report also said that there were serious delays in completing cases and that money from estates was deposited improperly into accounts used to pay for some of the public administrator's office expenses. – NY Times September, 7 1996.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

WHY NOT Reason 2

Fake bank accounts of the dead similar to the city council fake non profits exposed by a former employees lawsuit

“In the interview Ms. Griffin said that contrary to Mr. Connolly's allegations of fraudulent endorsements, "I didn't sign any checks." But Mr. Beckerman -- who voiced surprise during his court examination when he was shown a copy of a $60,000 check payable to his "estate" -- said that the endorsement "looks like" his name in Ms. Griffin's handwriting. Documents cited by Mr. Connolly showed that some of the more than $200,000 withheld from him in accounts in his name was actually paid to others, including a freelance lawyer he said had already been paid by his firm. In all, he testified, 10 checks totaling more than $35,000 were drawn on his account, without his knowledge, and paid to others. "Each of these checks contains a handwritten forgery of my signature," he said in a sworn statement.” –NY Times, July 25, 1992

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

WHY NOT Reason 3

New York Inquiry is Said to Tape Court Aides Stealing Valuables From the Dead
The investigation was conducted by State Attorney General Robert Abrams, and the New York City Department of Investigation.

“New York State and city investigators have videotaped court representative in the act of taking valuables from apartments of people they thought were dead, according to people familiar with the unusual “sting.” The investigation was part of a city-wide inquiry into the offices of Public Administrators, who handle the estates of people who die without wills or without a clear executor. . . Surrogate Roth did not return several calls to her office yesterday. -NY Times, January 30, 1988

“The problems of patronage aren’t nearly as severe in Manhattan’s Surrogate Court as it is in its Brooklyn counterpart, or, for that matter, in Queens. But even in Manhattan, more can be done to avoid the impression that well-connected lawyers have an unfair edge in the competition for fees for acting as executors, guardians and estate administrators. . . Times endorse Kristin Booth Glen.” –NY Times, Sept 4, 2005

Monday, July 14, 2008

Brooklyn Surrogate No Trust

And then there's Brooklyn, where ex-Surrogate Michael Feinberg was removed from office in 2005 by the Committee on Judicial Conduct for improperly allowing one of his pals to take excessively high fees from estates of the dead.

“Justice Feinberg has promised reforms ranging from a panel to screen appointment and recommend changes in how the place is run; down to keeping the place open at lunchtime as a convenience to the public. With some wariness we endorse Justice Feinberg on the basis of his good record, and trust he will stay true to his reform pledges.” – NY Times, September 6, 1996
The most recent spate of Surrogate scandals rocked the Brooklyn Surrogate Court. In 1995, then-Surrogate Bernard M. Bloom was censured for giving incorrect testimony during a court-appointed investigation of his former chief law assistant. Surrogate Michael H. Feinberg replaced him, and 10 years later, Feinberg was removed when it was discovered that he passed $8.5 million in fees to an attorney without filing the necessary paperwork. The Surrogate election game has remained unchanged as well. . . A partner at Jaspan Schlesinger Hoffman, he recalled an incident from former Brooklyn Surrogate Bernard Bloom’s tenure. Bloom had served as a Brooklyn District Leader for the Democratic Party before taking his office. “When he was asked by a reporter why he appointed his friends, his response was, ‘Who do you want me to appoint, my enemies?’ ” - Judicial Reports, August 27, 2008
Jimmy Breslin on the Brooklyn Surrogate Court
It was not Eduardo Daniel Gutierrez to die in a lake of concrete. The Brooklyn Surrogate's lawyer had to take his cut before his family recieved any of his wrongfull death settlement
NYC Comptroller Audit

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Bronx Surrogate

“Last month, Daily News investigative reporter Nancy Katz uncovered a mess in the Bronx, where Surrogate Lee Holzman allowed politically connected lawyers to run up more than $2 million in fees while 37 heirs waited - some for more than a decade - and collected nothing. To make matters worse, some of the Bronx estate money was improperly placed in risky investments that tanked. Taxpayers may end up covering the $20 million loss.” –August 14, 2008

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Candidate Nora Anderson campaign borrows $225,000 from an estate lawyer who makes his living practicing in the Surrogate Court, who contributed an add

Nora Anderson's credentials have taken a serious and perhaps fatal hit in the form of a $225,000 campaign loan from Seth Rubenstein, a Brooklyn trust and estate lawyer with deep family ties to the business (his father served as Brooklyn surrogate in the 1950s, and his grandfather worked in the same court). –Daily News, August 14, 2008

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Seth Rubinstein Anderson $250,000 Man

Last October a messenger from Mrs. Lambert's office -- who doubles as another disinherited Brody heir -- delivered some papers to opposing counsel in the case, Seth Rubenstein of Brooklyn. While there, the young messenger spotted something disconcerting: on the wall of Mr. Rubenstein's waiting room, measuring some six square feet was a "Renee Roth for Surrogate" poster, dating from her 1982 campaign for the post.

"The poster is obviously intended to and does create the impression that there is a relationship between Judge Roth and Mr. Rubenstein," he asserted in court papers. "The appearance of impropriety is so great that the Judge should disqualify herself in this hotly contested matter."

Mr. Rubenstein countered that the poster was "hardly huge," and that it represented merely one item in a collection of Surrogate's Courtabilia reflecting his own multi-generational ties to the place. -NY Times, July 17, 1992

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Surrogate Roth Appoints Rubinstein into Conflict of Interest

“A Manhattan judge who is the subject of a federal conflict-of-interest probe recently presided over a case where the plaintiff was the judge's own lawyer in a multimillion-dollar court fight, The Post has learned. Seth Rubenstein successfully represented the judge, Manhattan State Supreme Court Justice Marylin Diamond, in her Surrogate Court battle over the $300 million-plus estate of art heiress Natasha Gelman.

Rubenstein was still in Diamond's employ when he was substituted in as the plaintiff in a real-estate brokerage-fee case that was already before her, Helen Miller versus Jane Ardsley Frocks. The elderly Miller died on Sept. 13, 2001, and Manhattan Surrogate Court Judge Renee Roth named Rubenstein the administrator of Miller's $300,000 estate. Diamond signed an order naming him the new plaintiff in Miller's suit two months later. His case remained before her until this past February, when the judge issued a one-sentence order recusing herself. – NY Post, July 2, 2003
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. - NY Law Journal, August 21, 2009

Saturday, July 5, 2008

The Surrogate Court is Rubinstein’s Family Business

"Near the poster is a placard for his father, E. Ivan Rubenstein, the Surrogate of Brooklyn from 1950 to 1955. Not far away is a poster of Seth's grandfather, Moe Rubenstein, who was once tax appraiser in Brooklyn Surrogate's Court. Though Seth Rubenstein has never run for Surrogate, he has practiced probate law for nearly 33 years. His son, Joshua, does likewise for Rosenman & Colin in Manhattan.

The Rubenstein collection also includes advertisements for Bernard Bloom, the incumbent Brooklyn Surrogate; a painting of Nathan Sobel, one of Judge Bloom's predecessors; and a collage fashioned from Lambert campaign literature, supplied by Mrs. Lambert herself. The collage is precisely the same size as the poster and actually is better positioned, because it is not obscured whenever someone opens his hallway door." -NY Times, July 17,1992
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. -NY Law Journal, August 21, 2008
The reclusive tobacco heiress Doris Duke, who died in 1993, wanted her estate of $1.2 billion to go toward the improvement of humanity. But a dispute over the estate in Manhattan Surrogate's Court became what one lawyer called the "world series of litigation," with big name law firms vying for a piece of the pie.
"The dispute that played out in Surrogate's Court was, in the words of one lawyer, ``the World Series of litigation,'' with big-name law firms playing for big stakes. Now the contest over Duke's estate has gone into extra innings. The prizes this time are legal and estate administration fees that already amount to $10 million and probably will more than double when all of the requests are filed with the court. Lawyers flew across country charging their hourly rate as they went, sometimes as high as $450 an hour. They stayed in New York City's finest hotels. And in court appearances and meetings, clients often were represented by multiple lawyers, causing a gridlock of expensive suits and large briefcases." - NYTimes, January 24, 1997

Friday, July 4, 2008

The Brooklyn Ethics Report

Seth Rubinstein recently hired the former chief court attorney from the Brooklyn Surrogate’s Court. A recently elected full-time judge asks whether he/she may preside when the former chief court attorney or his/her associates appear before him/her as attorneys.
NY State Courts
Judicial Ethics Opinions
Opinion 08-91
June 6, 2008

Digest: (1) A recently elected full-time judge is not necessarily disqualified from presiding when the former chief court attorney who left the court immediately before the judge assumed the bench appears in the judge’s court. The judge may ask relevant questions to determine if the former chief court attorney’s current role representing clients in the judge’s court creates an appearance of impropriety and must be guided by the Code of Professional Responsibility and any applicable case law and statutes. The judge also may question the former chief court attorney’s partners and/or associates for the same purpose. (2) For two years after the chief court attorney’s employment with the court ended, a court attorney referee who was subject to the former chief court attorney’s supervision should disqualify him/herself when the former chief court attorney appears before him/her. Such disqualification is subject to remittal. (3) A court attorney referee also may question the former chief court attorney’s partners and/or associates to determine if their involvement in a case that was pending in the court during the chief court attorney’s tenure creates an appearance of impropriety.

Rules: 22 NYCRR 100.2(A); 100.2(B); 100.3(E); 100.3(F); 100.6(A); 101.1; Opinions 08-12; 05-96; 04-121.


A recently elected full-time judge asks whether he/she may preside when the former chief court attorney or his/her associates appear before him/her as attorneys. The attorney left the position of chief court attorney immediately prior to the date the judge assumed the bench.

A judge must act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[A]). He/she shall not allow family, social, political or other relationships to influence his/her judicial conduct or judgment (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[B]) and must disqualify him/herself in any proceeding in which his/her impartiality might reasonably be questioned (see 22 NYCRR 100.3[E]). In Opinion 04-121, the Committee advised that a judge is not necessarily disqualified when a former judge of the court appears before him/her as an attorney. Rather, “[i]t is for each judge of the court to determine for him or herself whether the relationship with a former full-time judge or a part-time judge is of such a nature that an appearance of partiality might be created” (id.). Here, the attorney appearing before the inquiring judge served not as a judge, but as the chief court attorney, and left the court before the judge assumed the bench. It is the Committee’s view, therefore, that the inquiring judge is not necessarily disqualified when the former chief court attorney appears before him/her. The judge must determine whether there is any other factor that warrants his/her disqualification.

Where the former chief court attorney appears on cases that were pending in the court while he/she served in that capacity, “ . . . the judge may ask such questions as are relevant in each case to determine if there is a conflict between the attorney’s current role representing clients before the court and the attorney’s former role as court attorney for the same court. The answers to any such questions will serve to inform the parties of the extent of the attorney’s actual involvement in a particular case as a court attorney and will allow the judge to evaluate whether the attorney’s continued involvement would create an appearance of impropriety” (Opinion 05-96). The judge in the present inquiry, therefore, may question the former chief court attorney when he/she appears to determine if his/her continued involvement in a particular case will create an appearance of impropriety. As the Code of Professional Responsibility and any applicable statutes or case law govern the propriety of an attorney’s appearance in such cases, the Committee declines to comment on any issues to be considered in that regard as they are beyond the Committee’s jurisdiction (see 22 NYCRR 101.1 [There shall be an Advisory Committee on Judicial Ethics to issue advisory opinions to judges and justices of the Unified Court System concerning issues related to ethical conduct, proper execution of judicial duties, and possible conflicts between private interests and official duties]).

The judge also may question the former chief court attorney’s partners and/or associates, who appear on cases that were pending in the court while the chief court attorney was employed by the court, to determine both the extent of the former chief court attorney’s involvement in the case while he/she was employed there, and the extent to which the former chief court attorney has discussed the case with his/her partner and/or associate appearing on the case since his/her employment by the court ended (see NYCRR 100.2[A]; Opinion 05-96). The judge should refer to the Code of Professional Responsibility and any applicable statutes or case law to determine the propriety of a partner’s or associate’s appearance in such cases.

The judge also asks whether it is appropriate for the former court attorney or his/her associates to appear before court attorney referees in the judge’s court. The judge advises that the chief court attorney was expected to review all files sent to the court, to assign the files to a court attorney referee, to provide direction to the assigned court attorney referee as to how a case should proceed, and to review all substantive decisions.

Court attorney referees are subject to the Rules Governing Judicial Conduct in the performance of their judicial functions (see 22 NYCRR 100.6[A]; Opinion 08-12), and therefore also must act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[A]). Like a judge, a court attorney referee cannot allow family, social, political or other relationships to influence his/her conduct or judgment (see 22 NYCRR 100.2[B]) and must disqualify him/herself in any proceeding in which his/her impartiality might reasonably be questioned (see 22 NYCRR 100.3[E]).

In the Committee’s view, a court attorney referee’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned when his/her former supervisor appears before him/her and, therefore, should disqualify him/herself from all proceedings in which the former supervisor appears for two years after the former supervisor’s employment with the court ended (see 22 NYCRR 100.3[E]). If a court attorney referee discloses the basis for his/her disqualification, however, and the parties who have appeared and not defaulted and their lawyers, without the court attorney referee’s participation, all agree on the record that the court attorney referee should nevertheless preside, and the court attorney referee believes he/she will be impartial and is willing to participate, the court attorney referee may participate in the proceeding (see 22 NYCRR 100.3[F]). Absent an agreement to remit the disqualification, the court attorney referee must recuse him/herself from the proceeding.

As is the case with the judge, a court attorney referee also may question the former chief court attorney’s partners and/or associates, who appear on cases that were pending in the court while the chief court attorney was employed there, to determine both the extent of the former chief court attorney’s involvement in the case while he/she was employed by the court and the extent to which the former chief court attorney has discussed the case with his/her partner and/or associate appearing on the case since his/her employment by the court ended (see NYCRR 100.2[A]; Opinion 05-96). A court attorney referee also should refer to the Code of Professional Responsibility and any applicable statutes or case law to determine the propriety of a partner’s or associate’s appearance in such cases.

Friday, May 23, 2008

John Reddy Voted in NJ When his Campaign Says He Lived in NY

"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." - NY Law Journal, August 21, 2008

The registration card that John Reddy signed with the New York Board of Elections on September 5, 2007 he put down that he voted in 2006 in Passaic, NJ