How He Got That Story

Over two years and with the help of his late friend and colleague Jack Newfield, Wayne Barrett never stopped digging for the dirt.

And the way they saw it, no part of Brooklyn politics needed more cleaning up than its courtrooms. Barrett had seen the muck-making machine firsthand in the mid '70s while helping out the campaign of State Senator Major Owens, an unbranded leader who backed candidates who routinely got knocked off the ballot by the party's puppet judges. The strings were nearly visible when the Dems' law chairman would show up to election hearings for five minutes, just long enough to convey his message by standing next to the candidate that his boss wanted to win.

Such Punch-and-Judy shows had led Newfield to write expositions like his 1972 "The 10 Worst Judges in New York," in which he lamented: "It is common belief on the streets of this city that judgeships are bought and sold by politicians for cash, and that once on the bench, some judges continue to be up for sale—or at least for rent. But nothing seems to change because the criticisms are usually general and few individuals ever get named."

To name the names, Newfield would park himself in the city's courthouses for a month at a time, buttonholing every judge, lawyer, criminal, and cop he could in off-the-record gut-spillings that taught him better than anyone how the game was really played. He became such a constant presence that Barrett let it pass with just a smile when, twice during recent interviews for the story that lies in these pages, a source accidentally called him Jack.

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