Barrett: Court's Slow Work Helped Lippman

Barrett: Court's Slow Work Helped Lippman

Following up on our report of Shelly Silver gaming Governor Paterson to put his old LES friend, Jonathan Lippman, in the highest courts job in the state:

The New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct released a final determination today removing a Westchester judge who was elected in a 2005 cross-endorsement deal with  Lippman, the new chief judge of the Court of Appeals.

The rare removal of Supreme Court Judge Joseph Alessandro comes just 10 days after the state senate confirmation of Lippman -- whose path to chief judge was inextricably tied to the electoral swap he made with Alessandro over the howls of many Democratic leaders just three years ago.

The timing could not have been worse. The 10-member commission issued its ruling on Alessandro on February 11, two days before Lippman was confirmed for a six-year term as the new chief judge. It took the commission two months after it heard final argument on December 11 to write its determination, and another 12 days to make it public.

A Court of Appeals spokesman said that the court can't release a decision until it receives a return receipt on a certified letter sent to the defendant judge informing him of the findings. Robert Tembeckjian, the administrator of the Commission on Judicial Conduct, told the Voice that the two-and-a-half-month delay was "pretty much standard," and that the record of the case was so extensive, it took a while to issue the final report.

Lippman, a Democrat, was elected to the Supreme Court after all five parties with ballot lines in New York agreed to designate him at their judicial nominating convention. [See our recent feature about Lippman's unlikely rise to the highest levels of state politics.] The only candidate in the state to get all five lines in 2005, Lippman rode that election to the top judicial position in the state in record time. Lippman is a boyhood friend of Assembly Speaker Shelly Silver, who has used his political clout to help Lippman climb the judicial ladder so quickly.

The Republican, Conservative and Independence parties in the Westchester-based judicial district would only agree to the cross-endorsement deal if the Democrats backed Alessandro, who had already been rejected by the Bar Association as unqualified. Alessandro was also tarnished by news stories about a lawsuit against him filed by his own campaign treasurer, whose accusations of defrauding her of $250,000 have now become the basis for his removal. Despite the public record of Alessandro's tawdriness and the opposition to him among Democratic leaders in the district, Lippman went along with the deal that was a critical steppingstone for him (the day after he took office as a Supreme Court judge, he was elevated to the appellate term, launching his campaign to become chief judge in 2009, when the sitting top judge, Judith Kaye, would be 70 years old and forced to retire).

The commission found that Alessandro and his brother Francis, a Civil Court judge in the Bronx, had engaged in such "deceptive, deceitful and dishonest" behavior that they were unfit to serve on the bench. The report found that Joseph Alessandro signed an initial note when the treasurer loaned him a quarter of a million dollars to help finance his 2003 campaign for a county court vacancy, and then "altered" records to try to avoid repaying the debt.

Ironically, the report reveals that Joseph Alessandro engaged in "misleading and evasive testimony" before the commission on September 14, 2005, 12 days before he and Lippman swapped endorsements. While that testimony was confidential at that time, Alessandro moved the same day to file an amended financial disclosure form with the Ethics Commission of the Unified Court System, apparently prompted by questions raised by commission investigators.
Lippman was then the chief administrator of the state courts and worked with the Ethics Commission, which was housed at his headquarters in Manhattan. The revisions in Alessandro's filings were dramatic since he'd failed to disclose a host of real estate transactions.

Senator John Sampson, the chair of the judiciary committee that hurriedly confirmed Lippman on February 13 (without asking him any questions about his rapid ascent or his position on an array of judicial issues), had indicated that he was going to hold the confirmation hearings around February 24. But Lippman went to his office in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn on February 9 and Sampson decided to push the confirmation forward to comply with a statutory deadline he'd earlier indicated he might ignore. Asked if the timing of the release of the report was "unfortunate," Tembeckjian said: "I don't make those kind of judgments. Things get done
when they get done."

Research Credit: Dene-Hern Chen

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