Mother Dearest & the Courthouse Cabal

A Public Advocate Candidate Has a Patronage Problem

Scott Stringer, the 41-year-old Manhattan assemblyman who's running for Public Advocate, featured his 67-year-old mother, Arlene Stringer-Cuevas, in his recent radio ad. The former city councilwoman and Democratic district leader was heard lecturing her son on how to run his campaign. While one commercially viable mother helped in recent years to elect and reelect her son,

Al D'Amato, there's a lot more to Arlene Stringer than pasta recipes.

Arlene has received 95 appointments since 1993 as a court-appointed evaluator and conservator from Manhattan judges, just as her former husband and Scott's father, Ronald Stringer, collected 148 appointments as a guardian or receiver, mostly in the '80s. Scott, who's been a district leader and player in Manhattan judicial politics since 1983, is a leader of Community Free Democrats, which is arguably the most powerful club at the annual Manhattan judicial conventions, where Supreme Court judges are selected. Some of the judges who are picking his mother for court appointments are also seeking his support for judicial nominations.

While Ronald Stringer is a lawyer who was blasted by court overseers for his patronage abuses and stopped getting appointments in 1993, Arlene Stringer held city intergovernmental and teaching posts until she retired in the early '90s and has no particular background for the court work she gets. Former assemblyman Oliver Koppell, who authored the bill that created the evaluator position, says its purpose was "to involve nurses, social workers and people with a background in counseling." Arlene has no such experience.

As an evaluator, she does the sensitive work of making a recommendation to a judge about the mental competence of people she visits, often very briefly. Evaluators can make up to $5000 a case. Her recommendations can lead to a judge appointing attorneys—often also from the insider ranks of the Manhattan Democratic leadership—to take over the management of an elderly person's assets, raking in exorbitant fees.

Even though the only qualification to get on the list of evaluators maintained by the Office of Court Administration is a two-day course, David Bookstaver, a spokesman for the courts, says that "our records do not indicate any evaluator training for Arlene Stringer." The City Bar Association, which runs most of the evaluator courses, also said she did not appear on their certified list. Scott Stringer maintained his mother "is on the list," but sent a copy of a 1993 certificate from the County Lawyers Association stating that she'd taken their six-hour course for guardians, not evaluators. The statute does permit judges to select evaluators who are not on the list, and there is no list for guardians or conservators who aren't lawyers.

Scott also acknowledged that his mother was "one of the first people" to receive evaluator/conservator appointments in Manhattan after the positions were created by the legislature in 1992, just months before Stringer became an assemblyman. Party organizations around the city began quietly offering the posts to loyal workers in late 1992 and early 1993, when the public was largely unaware of these new jobs.

"It's very good work. She visits people in need," Scott told the Voice,explaining that his mother was too ill to answer questions herself. "She evaluates people who are sick, talks to people. She retired and wanted to do something. There were never any complaints about her work; in fact the judges who appointed her praised her. She makes about $11,000 a year at it."

Judge Louis York, for example, has appointed Stringer in nine cases. York comes out of CFD and frequently attends the club's political dinners. His wife Judith has been both an officer and judicial delegate for the club. A civil court judge elected with Scott Stringer's active support in 1986 and 1996, York has been an acting Supreme Court judge for years. He's repeatedly sought nomination for a full, 14-year term on the Supreme Court in recent years, but has not been able to win the approval of the merit panel that reviews candidates. Scott told the Voicethat he has "made no commitment to support Lou" and that he cannot help York win the nomination at the judicial convention "until he comes out of the panel."

York practically went into a seizure when contacted by the Voice. Conceding that he'd "spoken to CFD" about elevation to the Supreme Court and contending that Arlene "is a good evaluator," he suddenly caught himself: "I see where this is going. Look, this is not a good time for me to get involved in political matters. You're trying to smear Stringer and I will not get involved in this. You're trying to show that CFD asks for favors for appointments and I . . . " Do they? asked the Voice. "No. I don't know. Goodbye, this is just a bad time for me," he sputtered, and hung up.

Another acting Supreme Court judge, Robert Lippmann, an eastsider with no particular ties to CFD, made six Stringer appointments but said he did not even know of her connection to CFD and Scott Stringer "until you mentioned it right now." Lippmann, who was blasted in a recent Daily Newsseries called "Milking the Elderly" for awarding eyebrow-raising fees to politically connected guardians, has been doing the club circuit, including CFD, for years seeking support but, like York, he has yet to make it out of the panel. Scott insisted that many of the Lippmann appointments were for cases involving the indigent, which pay a maximum $600 fee.

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