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.