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

By not filing the Mike Garson indictment for months, Hynes was apparently able to get much more from his taped exchanges with Ruditzky than he got from Gerry Garson's undercover efforts. In sharp contrast with Hynes's continuing pursuit of Gerry Garson, Mike Garson was allowed to draw his full salary for more than two years after the grand jury voted to indict him, with Hynes agreeing to postpone his trial again and again. Hynes's willingness to delay the case allowed OCA to continue paying Garson, though state officials did suspend him from sitting on the bench. His term expired in 2006 and he did not seek re-election.

The terms of Hynes's final deal with Garson are still unclear, but his office's overall handling of the judge indicates that they still regard him as an "ace," suggesting that Garson's 2004 taped seduction of Ruditzky worked and led, in part, to Ruditzky's current cooperating posture. Chesler believes that Garson also first tipped Hynes about the pivotal role Chesler played for Ruditzky, prompting them to reach out to him. He says he ran into Garson at a diner when Garson was wearing the wire and that Garson "pointed at his chest," convincing Chesler to stick to small talk and move on.

In addition to his deal with Hynes, Garson has also managed to narrow his financial exposure in the civil case involving the fund. A 2006 report of the court guardian indicates that Garson only had to repay the fund $90,000 "out of estimated debt of twice that sum." With Garson cooperating, Hynes did not oppose the dramatic reduction of the 2004 judgment. Indeed, the report indicates that Garson's criminal case may have actually helped him slice the restitution payment, noting that he "lacks the resources" to pay more, in part because "he is under indictment and his counsel fees are undoubtedly large."

illustration: Viktor Koen

Details

See also:
  • How He Got That Story
    Inside a two-year reporting odyssey
    by Keach Hagey and Luke Jerod Kummer
  • Justice for Sale in Brooklyn
    Open thread in Power Plays
  • Garson's aunt Sarah Gershenoff, who was 93 when she died nearly destitute in 2005, gave her two nephews power of attorney a decade ago to oversee her nearly million-dollar trust. But as the Daily News reported, she was writing them $50 birthday checks at the same time that, unbeknownst to her, they were making as much as $50,000 withdrawals from her account.

    Not only did Norman put the Garsons on the bench, he also helped install Gerry Garson's wife, Robin, on the Civil Court, a mark of the clannish excess of the Norman reign. Gerry Garson was the treasurer of the Brooklyn party and Mike Garson was a district leader before Norman made them judges. Mike Garson's wife, Laurie, is still a leader. Robin Garson was granted immunity from prosecution to testify before the grand jury investigating Mike Garson, and remains a sitting judge. Ironically, she was an attorney who helped Ruditzky in a petition battle in 2001, as was Alan Rocoff, who was Mike Garson's law partner and close associate. Norman's party was just that kind of closed circle of insiders and relatives, with cash fueling some decisions, and no pretense of merit.

    In addition to Mike Garson, another apparent "ace" in Hynes's deck is Feldman, the nuts-and-bolts operative who seems to literally live inside the party's small offices at 16 Court, having held the same top staff position under Norman's predecessor Howard Golden as he did under Norman. Predictably, his wife is a Supreme Court judge. Feldman long occupied a position on the New York State Senate payroll and has already been a cooperating witness in one grand jury probe—the one that led to the indictment of his then boss, Democratic Senate leader Manfred Ohrenstein.

    Feldman was indicted on 22 counts in the case against Norman, set for trial later this month. Hynes agreed a couple of months ago to drop all of the charges against Feldman, without getting him to plead even to a misdemeanor. This extraordinary break is a measure of the value Hynes initially assigned to Feldman's cooperation.

    Not only can Feldman confirm portions of the Chesler conversations with Norman, he can also add testimony about his own call to Norman the night Ruditzky lost the primary. Feldman has told prosecutors about the rules of what he calls the "backfill." He says he told Norman that since Ruditzky "no longer had a vacancy to give back to the system," he should not be promoted to Supreme. Feldman was already "imagining alternatives," including the selection of Goldberg. But he was "shocked," he has told Hynes's office, when Norman immediately announced that he "had a deal in place with Ruditzky and was going to keep the deal," a position he maintained when Feldman raised the issue again in subsequent conversations.

    Feldman has insisted in his meetings with Hynes's office that he knows nothing about payoffs, just the Ruditzky-tinged solicitation of Chesler contributions. It's not clear if Hynes is fully satisfied with Feldman's cooperation, and if not, Feldman could face new charges.

    Chesler, whose gastric bypass surgery and convictions have left him a shadow of his former self, has clearly become the third "ace" in Hynes's deck. While Chesler's criminal past is an invitation to cross- examination, much of his story, including the stamp wheel purchases, is supported by records. And he insists he is a changed man. But he also maintains that he never told Ruditzky about the payments he made to Norman, so it's unclear what the ultimate ace, Ruditzky himself, has said about Chesler's payments or any other payments that could bring the total to as much as $70,000. The judge could confirm what he told Chesler about Norman's separate shakedown of him for $50,000 in advertising, legal, and other costs.

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