Two Named Cuomo, and 22-years apart, Focus on Meaningful Ethics Reform
In 1990, New York Governor Mario Cuomo re-appointed an Appellate Division Presiding Justice, Francis T. Murphy, who was once so dismayed with his own ‘ethics’ committee that he ordered the so-called “ethics” offices cleared and the door locks changed. Judge Murphy presided over the Appellate Division, First Department- the court over all legal business in Manhattan and The Bronx.
On October 1, 2012, Governor Andrew Cuomo appointed Randall T. Eng to preside over the Appellate Division, Second Department in Brooklyn. The 2nd Department oversees all court affairs in 10 counties: Dutchess, Kings, Nassau, Orange, Putnam, Queens, Richmond, Rockland, Suffolk and Westchester.
Judge Eng is the first Asian-American to serve as a Presiding Justice in New York State, and is reported to be planning a comprehensive, and public, overhaul of legal ethics under his control.
A Quick Yawn
The structure of New York’s state courts provides, in the most simple terms, 4 geographical areas called Departments. Most citizens outside of the legal community have little time or interest in who their Judicial Department Presiding Justice- or “PJ” - is, but that one person is arguably the most important person in what happens in the average citizen’s day-to-day life.
While New York’s highest state court is the Court of Appeals in Albany, it is what happens in the state court’s 4 Judicial Departments that has the most direct impact on the affairs of New Yorkers. As the top administrator of their Department, the PJ can most expeditiously impact justice and social reform. Presiding Judges are also the boss over attorney ethics.
Governor Mario Cuomo and "The Murphy Report”
Despite political pressure in 1990, then-Governor Mario Cuomo stood firm in backing a top judge who had gone public in his stand to restore the public’s trust in legal ethics oversight. Previously, in January of 1989, the 1st Department issued The Murphy Report, a public explanation of action taken by the Presiding Judge to address corrupt practices, including altered statistics, surrounding the attorney “ethics” committee under the court’s charge. Yes, the "ethics" committee had itself been acting unethically.
Presiding Judge Murphy was so moved by revelations concerning his attorney “ethics” committee, called the Departmental Disciplinary Committee (or the “DDC”) that attention to the widespread dysfunction led to the “ethics” offices being cleared and the locks changed- and under the watch of armed officers.
It was revealed in The Murphy Report that PJ Murphy had requested the resignations of the “ethics” DDC then-Chief Counsel, Michael Gentile, and the then-Deputy Chief Counsel, Sarah McShea. “Ethics” Chief Counsel Gentile had been found to have filed false work sheets for six (6) years- sometimes failing to show up for work one or two days a week. Those false filings also put the Chief Court Clerk at risk for signing off on false attendance records.
Judge Murphy then voiced a thought that is just as profound if spoken today, “I doubt that there is any member of the public who believes that the State should pay, upon false work sheets, an annual salary of $80,000 for work of about12 hours weekly...”
Unethical Ethics and Cover-Ups
Manhattan’s then-top attorney “ethics” counsel also, according to the top judge, “took great pains to insure that a true picture of conditions existing in the DDC [the ethics committee] were concealed from the Court....[t]he emphasis was on closing [attorney] complaint files at any cost to reduce the number of backlogged cases....” Mr. Gentile reportedly stated that staff was “to use ‘prosecutorial discretion’ to close cases.”
In another instance, Mr. Gentile was found to have acted without authorization and contrary to the purpose of a rule of the court, and he, “entered into an agreement with the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York to refrain from examining any witness in a highly publicized criminal prosecution until it had been terminated.”
Demanding Ethical Accountability
In addition, The Murphy Report addressed the issue of responsibility, “It was apparent to me that a chief counsel whom we could rarely locate, who seemingly tried no cases, whose backlog seemed permanent, whose staff lawyers fell from the masthead with awe-inspiring frequency, whose unethical conduct in certain cases had caused alarm, and who was lacking in professional courage, was not a chief counsel of anything.”
The Future of the 1st Department Under Presiding Justice Luis A. Gonzalez
A new PJ was appointed in March of 2009 to lead the First Department in Manhattan. Significant changes have been made at the “ethics” committee under its current Chief Counsel Jorge Dopico. Presiding Justice Gonzalez continues to weigh specific action involving:
--the existence of dozens of complaints that were “white-washed”;
--acts of retaliation by “ethics” committee superiors to chill certain individuals, including respected attorneys;
--an 80-year-old Holocaust Survivor who had to wait over ten years to see any action on her New York ethics complaint, and only after New Jersey had revoked his license to practice law- CLICK HERE to see Madoff and Dreier connection to DDC Cover-ups;
--a woman who had been ignored and procedurally defrauded by the ethics committee after her lawyer- who was recorded on tape wanting sex in return for a favorable outcome in court- was found to be one of the “protected” Manhattan attorneys, and who even boasted of his juice with sitting Associate Justices of the 1st Department; CLICK HERE to see related story.
--the violation of Judiciary Law where non-court personnel- policy committee members- are provided with confidential case material; and
--the mathematical impossibility that attorneys from large law firms are never held accountable by the “ethics” committee.
Governor Andrew Cuomo and Presiding Judge Eng
Justice Eng served on the Appellate Division as an Associate Justice since 2008. He previously served on the Criminal Court of the City of New York from 1983-1990, was a Justice of the Supreme Court in Queens County from 1991-2007, and was Administrative Judge in the Criminal Term of the Supreme Court in Queens County from 2007-2008. Prior to serving on the bench, Justice Eng was an Assistant District Attorney in the Queens County District Attorney's Office from 1973 to 1980. He was the Deputy Inspector General of the New York City Correction Department from 1980 to 1981, and then became the Department's Inspector General from 1981 to 1983. Justice Eng was a member of the New York Army National Guard from 1970 through 2004, when he retired as State Judge Advocate holding the rank of Colonel. Justice Eng received his B.A. degree from SUNY at Buffalo in 1969 and his J.D. from St. John's University School of Law in 1972, where he served as an Adjunct Professor of Law from 1997 to 2001.
Encouraged by the actions of two Governors named Cuomo, though years apart, a new and hopeful era begins at the 2nd Department under Presiding Justice Randall T. Eng.
Acknowledging his duty, Judge Eng once said, “I have dedicated my entire legal career to public service.” As Presiding Judge of the 2nd Department, he now leads the charge there to restore the faith of the people in their government.