By Keegan Hamilton
By Albert Samaha
By Village Voice staff
By Tessa Stuart
By Albert Samaha
By Steve Weinstein
By Devon Maloney
By Tessa Stuart
"Mr. Schlein just didn't seem to have the time for the guardianship," Goldstein said at a hearing last year on the matter. "Any number of times, I called him, paged him, tried him at his office." She had even asked the judge's clerk to track him down for her.
"I was always available, your honor," Schlein responded.
But Goldstein pointed out that there had been real consequences from the communications gap. Her aunt, already advancing into senility, had failed to file taxes for the two years prior to the guardianship. Interest and penalties were piling up. Goldstein said that she appealed to Schlein for help in getting the taxes up-to-date, but that he was unconcerned. Goldstein wrote to the appellate court disciplinary panel that Schlein had told her that "he felt no compulsion" to file new tax returns since her aunt was already behind in prior years and the interest could be waived. She said that Schlein insisted a special accountant, his friend Gerald Sheiowitz, the Democratic Party treasurer, would be recruited to handle the task. But when Schlein made no move to prepare the filings, Goldstein hired her own accountant.
Goldstein said that she had also entrusted Schlein with some $500,000 in expired stock and bond certificates that her aunt had held in a safety deposit box. The certificates were out of date, either no longer earning dividends or in need of exchange for new forms. Goldstein said that Schlein insisted he would handle the task. But as Schlein acknowledged in the court hearing, his only effort was to call an acquaintance at the state comptroller's office to ask how the expired bonds should be handled. In the meantime, a half-dozen corporations sent her aunt's stock holdings to state offices as abandoned property.
An exasperated Goldstein finally got Schlein to return the certificates so that she could handle the matter. She said Schlein, whose law practice is conducted from his cell phone and his home on City Island, had her pick up the documents from an office manager at the Civil Service Commission's offices in the Municipal Building. There, she said, she sat patiently with the clerk while they went over a list of serial numbers to make sure she had them all.
Schlein scoffed at that account, in- sisting that he had never used the city offices for his private work. But others dispute that. The commission's former general counsel, a Bronx woman named Willena Nanton, said that she and others were often asked to assist Schlein with his own legal chores. "I remember that there was a niece of a woman for whom Stanley was the guardian and that she had complained about him," Nanton told the Voice. "He had the office manager xerox all the stocks for her and then meet with her there."
Nanton, who worked at the commission for seven years, shouldn't be believed, Schlein said, since she is currently suing him and the commission in federal court for racial discrimination in her termination from her post. But two other people who used to work at the commission and are not involved in the lawsuit also said that Schlein used the office and its assistants for private tasks, ranging from filing motions in election law cases to meeting with lobbying clients.
"It's absolutely not true," Schlein responded. "I do civil service work there, not business. If I ever met a client there it was to go out to lunch."
He said that in Goldstein's case, her animus against him had been sparked because she coveted her aunt's fortune. "Ms. Goldstein's only concern," he wrote in an oddly worded letter to the court disciplinary panel, "was preserving estate assets to the detriment of her aunt. My dwarfing her efforts exposed me to her ire." He added that he had intended to seek Goldstein's removal as a co- guardian but that, "sadly, Sylvia Friedland died shortly thereafter, rendering any motion I may have had to remove her moot."
A few days after Schlein leveled those charges in his letter, Goldstein fired back a response, saying that she had never considered herself her aunt's potential beneficiary, since her father was still living. Schlein's accusations, she wrote, were "a fruitless attempt to deflect attention from his own inaction as a guardian."
Goldstein also decided to find out if other people had run into similar problems with the attorney. She went to the Bronx Supreme Court clerk's offices and read through all the files where Schlein had been appointed as guardian. She found four cases where family members had complained to the appointing judge about Schlein, including the Robinsons'. Goldstein then sent letters to several authorities asking for an investigation. Among those she wrote to, she said, were Judge John Buckley, the presiding appellate justice in Manhattan and the Bronx; state chief judge Judith Kaye; the Commission on Judicial Conduct; and the attorneys' disciplinary committee.
Eventually she wrote directly to the inspector general for the state's court system. It was an investigation by that office that resulted in Schlein's removal last February.
Up on Gun Hill Road, on the other side of the Bronx from where the Yankees will soon start building their new temple, resides another of Stanley Schlein's wards. Mary E. Johnson, 87, resides in Kings Harbor Multicare Center, and according to her closest friend from childhood she is happy and well cared for, even though she has been largely unaware of her surroundings since 1997, when she fainted at her residence in Manhattan and was found to be suffering from dementia.