A former New York State Supreme Court Justice with ties to the Republican Party was convicted by a federal jury in Albany today of soliciting bribes from an lawyer with cases pending before him.
Justice Thomas Spargo, an election law specialist who worked for President George W. Bush during the infamous Florida recount, was shaking down the lawyer to get money to pay off legal defense fees arising from previous misconduct charges.
According to evidence presented in a three-day trial this week, on Dec. 19, 2003, Spargo directly told an attorney in a telephone conversation that he and another judge close to him had been assigned to handle cases in Ulster County, including the attorney’s personal divorce case. Spargo asked for $10,000, which, according to the The New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct, was going to be used to defend himself against misconduct charges for which he was being investigated. (At one time the judge complained that the fees were costing him $140,000.)
The attorney, Bruce Blatchly, felt that if he did not pay the money, both the cases handled by his law firm and his personal divorce proceeding would be in jeopardy…
In November 2003, Spargo invited Blatchly into his chambers in November 2003 and, after asking his clerk to leave, told the lawyer that he wanted $30,000 from members of the local bar. Blatchly, Spargo was aware, had recently settled a case for two million.
When Blatchy refused to pay the bribe, Spargo contacted him again through an intermediary — Albany attorney Sanford Rosenblum, who is close to Spargo. Rosenblum asked Blatchy to make a $10,000 donation to Mr. Spargo’s defense fund.
The commission voted unanimously in 2006 to remove Spargo from the Third Judicial District bench for engaging in prohibited political activities during his 2001 campaign for New York State Supreme Court. During that campaign, Spargo did things like courting voters by giving out doughnuts and jugs of cider, buying rounds of drinks for all the patrons of a bar, and handing out $5 coupons to a convenience store. He was barred from the bench and from ever again holding judicial office in New York, and was indicted for extortion and bribery two years later.
The maximum statutory penalty for the charge of soliciting a bribe is 10 years in prison and the maximum penalty for the charge of attempted extortion is 20 years. Spargo also faces a maximum fine of $250,000 for each count on which he was convicted.
Spargo has been involved in shady activities for a long time. In his role as advisor to the 2000 presidential campaign of George W. Bush, Spargo was shown on national television partaking in a boisterous demonstration — the “Brooks Brothers Riot” — during the infamous Florida recount. In addition, while sitting in town court, he presided over cases presented by the Albany County District Attorney’s Office without disclosing on the record that the district attorney had been his client in a political matter and still owed him $10,000 in legal fees. Image via Albany Times-Union.