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Someone's always having a worse day than you are :/ - Blather. Rants. Repeat.
A Møøse once bit my sister ...
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Someone's always having a worse day than you are :/

I had two court hearings back to back today in downtown Buffalo.  The first involved a pro se (unrepresented) litigant with a documented history of suing anyone and everyone (including lawyers, judges, DA's and so forth) unfortunate enough to get in his way.  It took over an hour, featured much positioning and occasional yelling that at one point prompted a court deputy to come in and shush everybody, and ultimately led to yet another day in court next week.

The other involved a new to me client who I was righteously indignant about what the opposition did and how it did it.  Every fellow lawyer I recited the facts to agreed with me- I was righteous in my indignation! Unfortunately, the judge did not join in that reaction, and we are now facing some unpleasant realities about where things stand and, what else?, another day in court in two weeks.

Neither was pleasant, neither was productive, but they had one other fact in common: both had prior proceedings (two of the cases before the first judge today, and an earlier incarnation of the second case before the second judge) which had been previously assigned to one particular Justice of Supreme Court in this county.

"Supreme Court" is a misnomer; it's the lowest court of general jurisdiction, the judges of which are elected by the voters of the state. Appeals from its decisions go to something called the Appellate Division of such court; it's a hybrid of elected and appointed, as the Guv elevates sitting Supreme Court Justices to this branch to sit in judgment over both their former peers and, on the disciplinary end, over the lawyers in their quarters of the state. Appeals from those decisions are rarer and not automatic, and go to the Court of Appeals in Albany, which is filled solely with Guv-appointed nominees.

In the larger upstate counties, somewhere between 10 and 20 different Supreme Court justices share the caseload.  Many of my cases here and in Rochester go to designated "Commercial Division" judges; others do just matrimonials or entirely criminal dockets and I rarely have anything before them.  But smaller, or non-commercial disputes including mortgage foreclosure cases, get randomly assigned to the rest of them. The subject of today's piece, formerly the Commercial Division judge for this county, has been one of them for the past 4-5 years, and his number's come up on probably half a dozen of my cases in that time.  It has not been the best of experiences; I've lost decisions I expected to win, even when taking note of his thinking in one case in preparing my position in a later one.  His courtroom always had a weird blend of flippancy and fear; most decisions from the bench ended with a pronouncement, "Okay, guys, that's it."

About a month ago, we started hearing Things. A downstate US Attorney, working with the state Attorney General, has been probing state corruption since mid 2014.  Last year, it led to indictments against the leaders of both houses of our state's Lej- one Democrat, one Republican. Here, also last year, a lawyer and very politically connected former Democratic official had his townhouse raided by the FBI.  Little word got out until late May of this year, when word started leaking that this connected lawyer guy- whose last name, which I am not making up, is Pigeon- was being investigated specifically for potentially criminal dealings with this very judge. There were allegations of quid pro quo transactions where Pigeon would "put in a good word" for a relative of the judge seeking employment in political circles; there was talk of this judge suddenly getting assigned a case Pigeon was involved in as an attorney and then ruling in his favor.  The judge lawyered up; the court system began reassigning his pending cases, including the pending ones that were the subject of my first hearing today.

And then, by this afternoon, the bomb dropped:

Bombshells fell on Buffalo’s legal and political circles Wednesday when it was announced that Supreme Court Justice Michalek would plead guilty to charges relating to bribery and filing a false instrument.... On May 28, 2015, state and federal law enforcement executed search warrants at the homes of Pigeon, former Buffalo Deputy Mayor Steve Casey, and Chris Grant, former chief of staff to Congressman Chris Collins. The raids stemmed from allegations of campaign finance illegalities arising out of a failed political committee run by Assembly candidate Kristy Mazurek in 2013 called the “WNY Progressive Caucus” ....

A huge cache of emails from Pigeon’s computers revealed a scheme to engage in bribery:

    State prosecutors will contend that an “understanding” existed between Michalek and Pigeon that the judge would engage in “official misconduct which advanced Pigeon’s interests,” according to the source who is familiar with the felony charges. The charges will accuse Michalek of “accepting and agreeing to accept benefits from Pigeon,” the source said.

In exchange for Pigeon’s help in finding jobs for two of Michalek’s relatives, and Pigeon’s help recommending Michalek for a seat on the Appellate Division of the 4th Department in Rochester, Michalek would make rulings on cases that were favorable to Pigeon’s interests, and went so far as to have Pigeon appointed referee on an Amherst foreclosure, which would have netted Pigeon a few hundred dollars.

Here, it should be noted that it was Pigeon’s once supposedly tight relationship with Governor Cuomo that likely would have prompted Judge Michalek to reach out for help getting an App Div appointment in 2012, and Pigeon responded, “I will start talking u up.”

Remember how appointment to this hybrid court works: the state posts job openings for the vacancies that result from death, retirement and the rare failure of an incumbent to be re-elected, but they're bizarre to read on the Civil Service bulletin board:

Qualifications: Must be an elected sitting State Supreme Court Justice.

Increasingly in recent years, judges who graduated in my law school class and even later ones have been getting these appellate appointments.  (One from my year is now on the state's highest court. Good guy.) Most of the other appointees from recent years have also been stellar jurists, but there are at least a few who I wondered about. Of those few, I knew some as practicing attorneys or appeared before them in trial courts and was less than impressed.  I would not have been impressed with having my ultimate disbarment hearing ended on the record by an Associate Justice of Appellate Division saying, "OK, guys, that's it."  But this is how close he came to getting there.

Pigeon is a known Friend of Cuomo. In his earlier times as a party boss, he was (and maybe still is) a Friend of Billary.  I'm not going to hold that against the Missus as she remains our only hope against the clueless numpty, but I do hope she has the good sense to disavow him now.

Meanwhile, assuming the plea goes as reported, this will open up a vacancy on State Supreme. I have no interest in such a job, but the time seems better than ever to get involved in the nominating process.  I'd need to come up with 1500 unchallengable signatures by mid-July, and I'd need to do it without offering any bribes.

How novel.




 

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