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Posts Tagged ‘Judicial Ethics Commissions (state)

Surely! a NY State Supreme Court Justice wouldn’t extort or solicit a bribe. (Oh– and the extortion involved a family law case…)

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This illustrates why I think the many problems in the family law arena are due to judges (etc.) “just not understanding” and that more federal grants money (million$, in fact, nationwide and over the years) should be poured into organizations that “educate” and “train” judges in what’s right (after the original hundred$ of thousand$ to first research, study, and figure out what’s right), rather than into efforts to make sure all of them DO what’s right.  


And when they are caught with their pants down — excuse me, their hands out  (wrong case) — then whether or not this should be taken seriously should be left up to the discretion of ANOTHER judge,  All that’s at stake, after all, is judicial accountability and justice, and public respect for what the courts do, and how business is conducted in them.  Respect for the law, . . . .  


An interesting case, and if you put on the lens of “evidence,” I still see mostly hearsay and a LOT of politics.  That said, whether or not he gets 10 years, or 20, or the “standard” 2 to 3-1/2 (for the mere crime of betraying public office for personal profit), or, nothing, is up to the discretion of another judge.  At least this one is off the bench and disbarred.  Some of the case appears to hinge on a dubious sting, and the testimony of a personal injury attorney with a divorce case before the judge (Hmm…).  In the long run, it hinges on our faith in the Judicial Commission and the US DOJ.


I am not investing more time in formatting today, but thought the topic relevant and of public interest.



Moral:  Never attempt to shake down a successful PI attorney

POINT: Search for “@@@” which shows my point in posting this:


Script is below.  It takes a while to sort out the characters, but there sure is a moral involved, here.

My comments are in quotes, the actual quote (article) is not.

(Font size changes are out of control; just deal with it, OK?)

Former N.Y. Judge Convicted of Attempted Extortion and Soliciting Bribes

Jeff Storey
New York Law Journal
August 28, 2009


Former New York Supreme Court Justice Thomas J. Spargo has been found guilty of attempting to shake down lawyers appearing before him to help pay the substantial legal bills he had incurred in fighting an ongoing investigation into his conduct by the Commission on Judicial Conduct.


The types of complaints that may be investigated by the Commission include improper demeanor, conflicts of interest, intoxication, >>bias, prejudice, favoritism, corruption<<, prohibited business or political activity, serious financial and records mismanagement, >>assertion of the influence of judicial office for the private benefit of the judge or others,<< and other misconduct on or off the bench. Physical or mental disability may also be investigated.

The Commission does not act as an appellate court and does not review the merits of a judge’s rulings or alleged errors of law. The Commission does not have the authority, for example, to raise or reduce the amount of bail or change the sentence imposed upon a defendant. The Commission does not issue advisory opinions, give legal advice or represent litigants.

The Commission’s jurisdiction is limited to judges. Complaints against other court personnel or lawyers are not investigated. When appropriate, the Commission refers complaints to other agencies.  {{SUCH AS?  How is it decided when this is appropriate?}}


{{NOW perhaps we have an idea why certain organizations (pronounce after me:  “A-F-C-C,” for example) are so VITALLY interested in farming out custody decision-making input AWAY from judges and AWAY from the courtroom?}}

At the close of a three-day trial in Albany, and after deliberating for seven hours, a Northern District of New York jury on Thursday convicted Spargo, 66, of both counts in the indictment against him: attempted extortion and soliciting a bribe.

The Albany Times-Union reported that Spargo smiled at times after the verdict, hugging one supporter in the courtroom.


Outside, Spargo told reporters, “The jury system works whether you like it or not.”


(An odd comment for a judge….?)


E. Stewart Jones of Troy, N.Y., Spargo’s attorney, in an interview called the verdict “overkill” and “excessively punitive” to Spargo, who was removed in 2006 from the Albany Supreme Court bench at the recommendation of the conduct commission.


A spokesman for the U.S. Department of Justice said Spargo faced a maximum sentence of 20 years on the extortion charge and 10 years on the bribery charge, plus a fine of up to $250,000 on each count.

However, the sentence he receives from Judge Gary Sharpe in December will likely be much less. Jones said the advisory sentencing range was two to 3 1/2 years. In any case, he pointed out that the judge had the discretion to eschew a prison term entirely.


{{So much for taking it seriously, the mis-use of judicial power for personal gain.  This kind of reminds me of not taking violations of RESTRAINING ORDERS or STALKING seriously either.  With this kind of mentality, how hard is it going to really hit Judge Sargo?  What was his salary?  Will he lose his cronies?  Will he lose the support of any family?  }}

Jones said the sentence will play a big part in his client’s decision whether to appeal.

Under state law, Spargo also will be disbarred.


Note:  I bet THAT law has an interesting background…..  Probably judges that were getting disciplined were NOT getting disbarred (and continuing practice) before it was passed??

Jones accused the conduct commission, and its administrator, Robert H. Tembeckjian, of referring the case to federal authorities after the agency “already had exacted its pound of flesh.”

Jones added that he had argued to the jury that Spargo had paid the price for defending the First Amendment rights of judges in the commission proceedings.

Tembeckjian denied in an interview that the commission had initiated the federal case. Rather, he said his agency merely responded to requests for information from the federal prosecutors whose probe was already under way. Spargo’s removal from office “ended the matter for us,” he said.

“This case was not about the First Amendment but about abusing judicial office for personal financial gain,” Tembeckjian added in a statement. “The commission fulfilled its responsibilities honorably. Its decision and the jury verdict speak for themselves.”

Point:  The extent of the Commission on Judicial Conduct’s effort was to get the guy off the bench, not set or make an example that extortion and bribery are, well, criminal and will be punished. They are not the criminal prosecutors.  It was basically then, apparently, “damage control.”


The commission’s probe figured prominently in the Albany trial. Tembeckjian was subpoenaed and although he did not testify, his cross-examination of Spargo before the commission was read into the record. Moreover, several commission witnesses appeared at the trial.




The government alleged that Spargo, while presiding in Kingston in 2003, had tried to extort thousands of dollars from three of Ulster County’s most successful personal injury lawyers.  {{Only one of who is named in this article, so possibly the strongest case??}}


((Their success might be another interesting story.))

In particular, prosecutors said Spargo had called Bruce Blatchly of New Paltz into his chambers and attempted to solicit $10,000. @@@When Blatchly balked, the judge followed up with a second solicitation in a phone call during which he observed that he and Albany County Surrogate Cathryn Doyle, a close friend, had been assigned to handle Blatchly’s Ulster County cases, including Blatchly’s own divorce.@@@


{{The chamber of horrors??}}

{{Acknowledging cronyism….}}


NOTE:  We now enter the realm of FAMILY LAW.  An indication by this disbarred judge that he would rig a case (against) an attorney who refused to pay up

suggests that this practice exists, and may not be uncommon.  


The judge suggested that if the attorney did not play ball, those cases would be in jeopardy, the government sought to prove.



  • Without a phone tap, or written evidence, it’s still hearsay.  Then I would imagine, it would get down to sworn statement, and whether the person making sworn statement is a credible witness.  In this field, it’d be a hard call to tell who is and who is not a credible witness, for sure!
  • This shows right here how bribes and extortion would happen — of course, typically, a person doing this would not want evidence.  They would happen in private, casually, unrecorded, off the record.  this is why CHARACTER is so important in those in public office, and it’s really up to the PUBLIC to ensure this somehow.  Somehow . . . . . 
  • With what I’ve been exposed to so far (which isn’t the whole nine yards, but still sickening in nature, scope and impact on people’s lives!), as far as I, an onlooker, am concerned, and as far as evidence here, how do I know there wasn’t some other interests in prosecuting this particular judge.  Maybe he had crossed the wrong people.  Maybe he was going to go down, and someone didn’t want to be associated with him.  Or maybe this story played out just like it did, and the “Commission on Judicial Conduct” really are good, ethical guys.
  • When punishment for extortion and bribe is weak, that communicates to the rest of us (and I do mean across the country) that it’s not a “big deal” to the courts.  It is discouraging to litigants.

    Jones said Spargo, an expert in election law active in Republican Party circles, was “disappointed and saddened” by the jury verdict, but observed that winning an acquittal, never easy in federal court, had been made even more of an “uphill struggle” by facts and circumstances of the case that were difficult to explain.

    Jones did not present any witnesses because “we had nothing to add.” He told the jury on summation that Spargo was an innocent man who would not have risked extorting money while under investigation by the commission.

    The commission began investigating Spargo in 2000 when he was a part-time town justice. By 2003, his legal bills had reached $140,000 and were continuing to mount, Jones said. Jones also represented Spargo before the commission.


    JUST FOR A POINT OF REFERENCE, THIS IS 2009.  Removal from the bench happened after 3 years.  What does that say about who gets to the Supreme Court level, that he did?




    Jones acknowledged in the interview Thursday that lawyers had been asked to contribute money on Spargo’s behalf but said the approach had been made by another lawyer without Spargo’s knowledge.


    Jones praised Judge Sharpe’s handling of the case but stopped short of saying whether his client had received a fair trial. He said Thursday that he first wanted to investigate the impact of a “hearsay” report in the Times-Union.


    Jones had argued before the jury that the government was obligated to produce Surrogate Doyle as a witness since prosecutors alleged Spargo had used her in his effort to extort Blatchly. Surrogate Doyle did not testify at trial.


    Jones told the jury the government was hiding the surrogate because she would hurt its case. He said Thursday that his argument to the jury may have been undermined by what he said was a false report in the Times-Union that the surrogate was present in the courtroom.


    The case was prosecuted by Senior Trial Attorney Richard C. Pilger and Kendall Day, a trial attorney from the Justice Department’s Criminal Division in Washington.


    “It is a sad day indeed when a judge breaks the laws that he is sworn to enforce,” Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer said in a statement.



    IS IT SAD ENOUGH FOR ACTUAL PRISON TIME?  if not, then other such judges will also presume, well, not THAT sad…..


    “Judges are supposed to serve the people who elected them, not their own self-interests. What Spargo did is nothing more than old-fashioned extortion,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge John F. Pikus.



    That’s true, and we appreciate the good work in this case.  Now about the others . . . . . ??







    If that’s the characteristic of divorce court (and this wouldn’t be the first NY judge to be caught with taking bribes over divorce cases), then it would behoove EVERY divorcing couple in which neither is indeed a criminal, to work out their own divorces.

    Of course, if they had that capacity to start with, perhaps they might’ve worked out their own marriages as well. . . . . 



    Just FYI, when it comes to cases with a history of domestic violence, the “extortion” isn’t just throwing a case, it’s hurting someone — whether ex-spouse, relative, or child.  Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

    (2) Tembeckjian



    NYT, section, “Opinion” OP-ED.

    How Judges Hide From Justice

    Published: May 22, 2005


    N the last three months, the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct has publicly disciplined four metropolitan-area judges: two from Brooklyn, one from Manhattan and one from Westchester. Apart from some intense public commentary over the merits of these decisions – three public censures and one removal from office – these cases had at least one thing in common. They were all conducted in secret. That should be changed


    Judges are among the most powerful of public servants. They decide who goes to jail, who wins or loses millions of dollars and who gets custody of children. Public confidence in their integrity and impartiality is essential to the rule of law. While a vast majority of judges are honorable, there will always be some who engage in unethical behavior. Disciplining such judges is important business that should be transacted in public, just as any civil or criminal trial would be.

    In 38 states, judicial misconduct hearings are indeed open to the public. Not so in New York, where proceedings that stretch over months are held behind closed doors. Only when the results are announced does the public even learn such cases existed. By then, it is usually too late to convey in a meaningful way the strength of the case, the credibility of the witnesses and the merits of the defense. The four recent decisions in New York offer cases in point.

    The commission voted to remove a Surrogate’s Court judge in Brooklyn for awarding a long-time friend millions of dollars in fees from estates where there was no executor, without confirming that he had done enough work to earn such fees. The judge is appealing the decision.

    The commission censured a Westchester Family Court judge who attempted to influence other judges and court workers on behalf of friends in two divorce and custody cases, and who testified in a manner she conceded was inaccurate. It also censured a Brooklyn Criminal Court judge for coming off the bench in unprovoked anger and grabbing and screaming at a defense lawyer. Finally, it censured a Manhattan Civil Court judge for presiding over a personal injury case involving a litigant who was also a lawyer with whom she continued to socialize, and to whom she awarded a fiduciary appointment worth about $80,000 in fees, while the case was pending.

    Reasonable people may differ with these decisions. As the prosecutor of judicial misconduct cases in New York, I myself am sometimes at odds with the commission. Yet while some criticized the removal as severe, and others derided the censures as lenient, most tended to miss the context and nuance of the deliberations. The subtleties of an individual disciplinary decision tend to get short shrift in the news. Were the press and public able to follow along as these cases unfolded, the disciplinary process would not seem so sudden and mysterious, and citizens would be better informed along the way. For example, the case against the Brooklyn Surrogate’s Court judge lasted 22 months, and the record was over 13,000 pages long. It would be difficult, if not impossible, to capture the complexities of such a proceeding in a single article that reported the final result.

    New York’s chief judge, Judith Kaye, proposed legislation in 2003, which the commission endorsed, to open up the disciplinary process at the point when a judge is formally charged with misconduct. Unfortunately, the Legislature did not act. Perhaps the commission’s recent decisions might spur the Senate and Assembly to revisit the issue. The more citizens know about what goes on at the commission, the more likely they will appreciate that no case is as cut and dried as a critic may suggest. The press and public could follow the arguments as they develop, rather than try to digest them all at once when the decisions are rendered.

    Moreover, an open proceeding would shed important light on the rare instance in which a formal charge against a judge is dismissed without any disciplinary action. It would provide the public with the means to assess that a dismissal was deserved and the system was honest.

    In short, a public process would transform judicial discipline from a secretive game to one in which the commission’s judgments were open to scrutiny and improvement as we went along, while there was time enough to make a difference. Public confidence in the judiciary, and in the disciplinary system that holds them accountable, requires nothing less.

    Robert H. Tembeckjian is administrator of and counsel to the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct.


    JUDICIAL COMMISSION MEMBERS, as of 2008 (on page 4 of this:)

    (Shows who appoints them — some by a Governor, some from Legislature, some by a Chief Judge, one by a former governor).


    (3) BLATCHLY


    How’d you like to go up against this person in your divorce?

    (If I remarry, remind me NOT to remarry an attorney….)


    Blatchly & Simonson
    3 Academy Street
    New Paltz, New York 12561
    Phone: (845) 255-4600
    Fax: (845) 255-2627
    E-Mail: bdbxx@hvc.rr.com


    Family Law

    In our family law practice, we will work closely with you to seek favorable resolution of disputes related to your divorce. For many families, making the decision to divorce means agreements must be reached on a variety of related matters, such as:

    • Child Custody & Visitation
    • Child Support
    • Spousal Maintenance (Alimony)
    • Division of Marital Assets & Debts

    Now is a time when you need knowledgeable and experienced advocates working on your behalf. Whether your issues can be resolved through negotiation or we proceed to litigation, we will be here to protect your interests and advocate for you every step of the way. Just because your marriage is ending, it does not mean you should be taken advantage of or lose all that you have worked hard for.

    Every divorce essentially involves resolution of the same four issues; grounds (your entitlement to a divorce), custody (joint, sole or shared), support (spousal and child) and equitable distribution of your assets. A solid understanding of these issues and how they impact on your life is essential to understanding what your options in a divorce are and planning for your future during and after the divorce proceedings.

    Unlike most civil litigation, divorce results in legal issues that survive dissolution of the marriage and continue to occasionally require legal work as custody arrangements and support are periodically adjusted.  We continue to work with you as your circumstances change and you require modification of custody and/or support


    (4) SPARGO


    This is very interesting reading if you have the time, and talks about a controversial “sting” attempt by the AG, the process of selecting judges, and so forth (several articles).



    Ex-NY Judge Loses Bid to Squelch His Indictment

    By Joel Stashenko 
    New York Law Journal
    New York Lawyer
    July 28, 2009


    The commission found that Mr. Spargo invited Ulster County attorney Bruce 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. Mr. Blatchly, who said he did not contribute, was the only person who presented evidence to the commission that Mr. Spargo was directly involved in soliciting funds.

    The commission also contended that Mr. Blatchly was asked by Sanford Rosenblum, an Albany attorney who is close to Mr. Spargo, for a $10,000 donation to Mr. Spargo’s defense fund.

    Mr. Spargo, 65, vehemently denied before the commission that he asked any attorneys for money.

    Yesterday’s indictment does not identify the lawyer who allegedly gave Mr. Spargo $10,000, other than as “an Ulster County attorney practicing before him.”

    {{Was this part of a sting, or business as usual?  Did they plea-bargain said attorney in exchange for testimony?}}

    As grounds for its removal recommendation against Mr. Spargo, the commission cited the alleged shakedown of Mr. Blatchly as well as Mr. Spargo’s handing out drinks, food and convenience store coupons while campaigning for the Supreme Court in 2001. 

    It also found he committed misconduct by not disclosing when hearing cases involving the Albany County District Attorney’s Office that he once represented the district attorney and was still owed $10,000 by him.




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