The Sales of Justice

In the dark corridors of Brooklyn politics, a State Supreme Court judgeship sells for $50,000 stuffed in an envelope, and $6,000 in postage stamps

He was the brains behind his high-sounding professional outfits, which also included Ascension Therapeutic and Tower Biofeedback and Hypnotherapy. But his own specialty was as a sex therapist; the best evidence of his expertise was the beautiful woman on his rather hefty arm. He called himself a doctor, and said he had a Ph.D. from Greenwich University—which was in Australia, not Connecticut. Closed since 2003, Greenwich was once a correspondence school, but wasn't accredited by Australian authorities. Chesler has been certified by the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT) for years, but no government entities certify sexologists except in Florida, and an official at AASECT says its certification of Chesler is based primarily on his Greenwich degree.

Everyone who got to know the gregarious Chesler in Brooklyn politics in the late '90s, when he became a contributor and gadfly, assumed that his doctorate had something to do with the psychological services his company provided. As mistaken as they were about that, the elected party and public officials who met him at fundraisers and other events were right about the two other things they remembered about him. He "wasn't kosher," as they put it, and he was "the main man" behind Ruditzky's 2001 campaign—first, for Civil Court re-election, and then for party designation to the State Supreme Court.

Chesler, who calls the judge "Rudy," is Ruditzky's cousin, and his mother was once very close to Ruditzky's mother. He made re-electing Ruditzky to his civil court post a centerpiece of his life that year, donating to the judge's committee, pigeonholing party leaders involved in judicial politics, and working actively in his campaign. Since there were two countywide civil court positions up for election in 2001, Ruditzky was running with Mark Partnow, a candidate out of the borough's high-powered Jefferson Club.

illustration: Viktor Koen

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    So Chesler began visiting the club, buying pizza for the volunteers stuffing envelopes, and supplying stamps for the joint mailings. He sometimes went there with Ruditzky, and he even wound up spending primary day with the judge, on opposite corners of the same busy intersection, handing out literature. Chesler later blamed Ruditzky's loss on his cousin being a "nebbish who wasn't a real player," and thought no one with real power did much to help the campaign.

    Ruditzky wasn't planning on serving if he'd been re-elected anyway. Norman had promised to include Ruditzky on the slate he would submit to the nominating convention for Supreme Court a week after the Civil Court election. If Ruditzky moved up, that would leave the Civil Court position vacant, creating an opportunity for Norman to handpick a replacement for that slot without the candidate having to run in a primary. Norman planned to fill Ruditzky's vacancy with Richard Goldberg, the law partner of Steve Cohn, the secretary of the county party. But Ruditzky's last-place finish in a field of four obliterated the vacancy he was supposed to deliver to Norman, leaving Norman with nothing to offer Goldberg other than the Supreme Court seat promised Ruditzky. It looked like the end of the road for Ruditzky.

    But Chesler had already been assiduously pushing Norman on Ruditzky's behalf. He'd donated $4,900 to two Norman committees and thousands more to Norman-tied candidates. More important, Chesler had arranged a few face-to-face meetings with Norman, including two at Gage & Tollner, the since-closed downtown restaurant that was then just a couple of blocks from Norman's party offices. One had been with Norman and Ravi Batra, a Manhattan lawyer who employed Norman on a consulting basis and picked up the tab for Norman's Mercedes. The other was with Norman and Jeff Feldman, who was Norman's top party aide.

    According to Chesler, the meetings served two purposes. First, he wanted Norman to use his influence with personal-injury lawyers to get business for Boro Medical. Second, he asked at both meetings about his cousin's prospects for the court position. Norman made a meaningless referral for him to one attorney, who produced a single case, and Batra sent him no business. Chesler was so serious about securing liability referrals through Norman that he sublet office space from a Norman-connected firm on Court Street across from the courthouse. While Norman did little to boost Chesler's business, he did tell Chesler that "if Ruditzky wins re-election, we'll elevate him" to Supreme. Norman also indicated that Chesler "still had to give more help" to the party if Norman was "to help your cousin." He said "we could use money for activities in my community," and suggested that Chesler attend dinners, make contributions, and buy ads in journals.


    Norman went well beyond the standard quid pro quo for campaign contributions. He began talking to Chesler about $3,000 wheels of stamps on sprockets that could be purchased at a General Post Office. Norman wanted two. Chesler's driver took him to a Bronx post office and he picked up the rolls, which reminded him of the movie wheels in old theaters. He didn't understand why Norman dealt in this mysterious new form of political currency, but he knew the stamps could be redeemed as easily as they could be bought. The party had its own Pitney Bowes machine and could buy postage easily. When Chesler called Norman from his Court Street office and said he had the wheels, "Clarence, boom, came right over," entering Boro Medical's office on the side and leaving with the rolls in a large bag.

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