As reported July 23rd, 2014, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino called Gov. Cuomo the most corrupt Governor in New York history. My message to Rob Astorino is before criticizing, do your part to clean up the corruption that operates openly in the family and supreme courts in White Plains. If Astorino wants to prove that he can do a better job than Cuomo at attacking corruption of elected officials then now's the time to act. County Executive Astorino has a very unique and powerful role to fight corruption of elected judges yet he's been abdicating his responsibility, and breaking the law, by not doing his part.
Astorino can help fight corruption in the NY Family Court by filing 18b expenditure reports as required by law and making them available to tax payers for review. The biggest fingerprint of corruption that I've found in the Westcehster County Divorce Industry is an extremely top-heavy assignment pattern of court-appointed 18b counsel in family court. In my analysis there were 1028 active 18b cases in Westchester Family Court in Q42013. 850 of these cases were assigned to 38 connected attorneys while 61 attorneys shared 178 cases. The top 38 attorneys are assigned so many cases that they could never do a good job or the families they are supposedly helping with average handling 28 cases and the top handling over 70 cases. Moreover, the top 38 18b attorneys are splitting over 45mil in tax payer funded legal, expert and expense fees handed directly to them by elected judges while the bottom 61 attorneys split $890,000 in tax payer funded fees. 18b costs are buried in the UCS budget and there's virtually no accounting of the money spent in family court if Astorino doesn't do his job.
No other elected official in Westchester County can hand out so much money directly to close friends with no supervision as an elected Family Court judge! The only check and balance for the 18b program is the accounting that CE Rob Astorino is supposed to provide, by law, to the tax payers of New York. However, Mr. Bigmouth Astorino has refused repeated requests for these reports. This is a clear violation of law and contributes heavily to the corruption that grips the contested divorce industry.
The fundamental reason that the divorce industry can rip off families and destroy the lives of children in Westchester as a business model is simple - no one with authority is watching and holding judges, court staff, attorneys and experts accountable to even basic levels of ethical business practices - including Astorino. Rob Astorino could easily shed light on corruption in the Westcehster familly court by publishing 18b expenditure reports and he must act to prove that he's better than Governor Cuomo.
Before Astorino runs around criticizing Cuomo he should fight corruption in his own back yard.
It's a sad day in New York when one of the biggest wastes of taxpayer money, the Family Court System, is expanded without any fundamental changes. In many counties in New York the Family Court System is more a platform to fleece unwitting families than anything else. The Family Courts if New York are too close to the corrupt Divorce Industry and too opaque for regulators to notice.
No other elected official in New York besides a Family Court judge has the unilateral power to directly hand out millions of taxpayer dollars directly to a small group of insiders with no accountability whatsoever. In Q42013 in White Plains alone there were over 1000 active 18b cases equating to about $41million in tax payer funds being directly handed to insider divorce attorneys able to grab this money . My simple research from publicly available records shows that 80% of these 18b cases were handed to 36 attorneys equating to $40mil in billings while 66 attorneys split 200 cases totaling about $1mil in legal fees. 80% of the 1028 18b cases in q4 2013 were handed to just 36 attorneys
To rephrase our Family Court Judges in White Plains handed out over $40mil in fees to 36 court insiders with no questions asked and no accountability. Certainly poor families don't have a say in the counsel they are assigned and since there's no data or performance tracking they couldn't make an informed decision if they were allowed to. What poor mother facing the loss of her children to foster care would choose an attorney with over 200 litigants when the 18b roster has qualified attorneys with only 20 or 10 active cases?
County Executive Rob Astorino is required to account for 18b money by law and has not filed 18b reports. Huge chunks of taxpayer money are being handed out by our family court judge and taxpayers need accountability for how this money is being spent.
It's no surprise that the attorneys who receive the most 18b cases are also the most active in White Plains for retained cases. The problems with scheduling in Family Court arise from insider attorneys representing over 100 litigants simultaneously, many taxpayer funded, not because we don't have enough judges. . It's mathematically impossible to efficiently schedule attorneys who have over 50 active litigants, many before the same few judges. Scheduling conflicts are impossible to avoid in the current top heavy 18b assignment system in Family Court.
New York would have to add over 1000 Family Court judges to make a difference in the system given the current inefficiencies in the 18b assignment systems. 25 FC judges does nothing but increase the velocity of taxpayer handouts via the 18b system. This money would've been much better spent on pro se education programs, since over 30% of all litigants in White Plains FC are Pro Se, 18b assignment reforms or enhanced ethics enforcement for the sitting family court judges today. So many families are destroyed by mean, abrupt and collusive Family Court Judges who collude to fleece families with no recourse for the families who are ripped off.
Adding more FC judges with increasing transparency in the Family Court system is simply irresponsible.
One of the most disgusting taxpayer frauds going in New York
is the 18b legal representation program in White Plains Family Court. The 18b program provides free legal assistance at a judge or magistrates discretion to parents and children - sounds like a great idea for sure. The problem is that what actually transpires is a money grab by court insiders. Attorneys with over 100 active cases in family court are being handed the vast majority of 18b cases, 80%, while many qualified attorneys have only a single 18b case.
No other elected official in New York besides a Family Court Judge or Magistrate has the power to literally hand out millions of taxpayer dollars directly to a small group of people with no accountability. Imagine if each New York Senator could hand out $4,000 to anyone they see fit with no questions asked. Well that's what Judges and Magistrates do in Family Court in New York under the 18b program.
I've analyzed the 18b expenditures of White Plains Family Court for Q4 2013 and here's some incredible facts I dug up:
1. The top 36 18b attorneys in White Plains Family Court represented 825 18b litigants with an average of 23 cases while the bottom 65 attorneys in the 18b program had 203 18b cases combined, with each attorney averaging around 4 18b cases . Red flag?? Are insiders getting favoritism or are these top 36 attorneys the best in the 18b program?
2. The top 36 18b attorneys are entitled to about $3.3million in direct taxpayer paid legal fees (plus expenses) while the bottom 65 18b attorneys split about $810,000 in taxpayer paid legal fees. Seem a little top heavy?
3. Westchester County Attorney Robert Francis Meehan had about 980 active cases in WP Family Court alone in Q4 2013. Are poor families completely screwed in WPFC with this type of representation? While unrelated to the 18b program it's a staggering number for his office.
4. There's not a single publicly available measurement of the effectiveness of 18b representation. One powerful White Plains Attorney had over 70 18b cases in my sample period equating to $288,000 in taxpayer paid legal fees, plus expenses. Is this attorney such a better advocate for poor families than the 50 18b attorneys with 5 or fewer 18b litigants? Never met the guy and he may be the best lawyer ever but in my sample period he had over 150 active cases , including 72 18b clients. Is this the best choice for poor families?
5. There's not a single public accounting of the 18b handouts in WPFC. Money is handed out to whoever a judge or magistrate likes, regardless of their MEASURED effectiveness. An attorney who shows up unprepared and is able get last minute adjournments time and time again can easily consume $4000 in legal fees, the 18b maximum, plus expenses, without doing a single thing for the families they represent.
6. County Executive Rob Astorino is in violation of New York Law and hasn't filed 18b expenditure reports for WPFC as required by the 18b program. Since no one is counting how much money our elected judges and magistrates are handing out and there's no accountability for the performance of the attorneys who receive this money the 18b is nothing but a slush fund for court favorites.
7. Poor families are getting screwed in the current 18b system in White Plains Family Court and a few connected attorneys are getting rich off us taxpayers with no questions asked.
8. The top 20 18b attorneys in WPFC represented over 1500 litigants including over 680 18b litigants in my sample period. Do you think the top 20 18b attorneys spend a few minutes in court each day? Perhaps they are in court every day all day? Is it possible that the most familiar faces are getting the most money from our elected judges and magistrates and not the best attorneys?
9. Of approximately 7000 litigants in the court, 1028 were pro se. There are many datapoints to show that pro se are screwed worse than anyone in our family courts. How can a State allow a court to be predatory to 20% of litigants in the court? If 20% of litigants can't afford lawyers shouldn't New York at least start to track what's happening to pro se in our family courts?
The Family Court system of New York has all kinds of legal nonsense to try to legitimize the horrible things they do in the name of money. Reading the application to be an 18b attorney in Family Court is certainly interesting but to see how this program is implemented it's clear that this program has no accountability. To have such a self-important application when judges and magistrates are simply handing millions of our tax money to the same over-worked attorneys time and time again is morally reprehensible.
Ripping of taxpayers is the run-of-the-mill in New York politics and I can't see why anyone in the DoJ would even care about it, but I can't imagine that there's no one that cares about what's happening to poor families in the middle of the system. Clearly poor families aren't getting effective representation in this system because it's physically impossible for a small firm to represent over a hundred litigants at one time, especially when some are paying $450 an hour and some are taxpayer funded at a far lower hourly rate.
I have data to substantiate my numbers and anyone with Excel and a few hours on their hands could replicate my data. Taxpayers are being ripped off in the White Plains Family Court 18b program and it's time for some accountability to the taxpayers for the vast sums we are paying for the 18b program. We need transparency, accountability and perhaps graft investigations to end this system. Let's hope it comes soon.
Subscribing to blogs of New York Divorce Lawyers is an interesting view into the absurdity of the New York Divorce Industry. The craziness that's accepted as normal course of business is shocking and proves why only outsiders can reform this industry.
For years I've been writing that many of the proceedings in New York matrimony courts are bogus from the start and simply designed to sucker unwitting clients. I've claimed many times on this blog that the Statement of Networth is one of the biggest ripoff areas in the Divorce Industry because New York has no standards for veracity in the Statement of Networth. I've claimed that people who lie on their Statement of Networth and undercount assets are at advantage, with the right insider attorney, because New York Supreme Court and Family Court judges are quite happy to accept false documents, so long as you've paid the right attorney.
So along comes a blog post from a Long Island Divorce Attorney that confirms my beliefs, and even takes the idea farther than I could've ever imagined. In this blog post he writes about a case where a fraudulent tax return and statement of networth are used for determining support and equitable distribution. Not only are false documents the basis of a sham trial but in the twisted world of NY Divorce, the false documents are the basis for some type of bizarre legal precedent that legitimize the use of intentionally false documents in divorce trials. Common sense, at least to me, would lead me to the conclusion that a litigant who files false, sworn documents should be punished in some way. At least an entire trial shouldn't be based on known fraudulent tax returns, perhaps a mistrial should be declared, perhaps there should be some penalty. But in New York Divorce, lying is a judicially condoned strategy. According to this attorney, not only is the judge aware that the documents filed as the basis are false but the Judge then goes on to interpret the false documents. Unbelievable.
As I've states countless times in this blog the Statement of Networth process in New York is a suckers game for contested divorce. Hundreds of millions of dollars in frivolous fees are stolen a year on discovery, depositions, motions, etc. when simple electronic records checks, which NY already does quite well and cheaply for child support and tax collection, would kill this profane business practice. The sham proceedings where lawyers grill parents over credit card charges and other errata rakes in massive fees but is nothing but theatre in a court that has no integrity.
The NY Divorce Industry is in desperate need of outiside reform and the state of mind typified NY Divorce Lawyer blogs shows how sick this industry is. The first step in reform is to question reality and it's time for a wake up call for thie ripoff scheme that is NY Contested Divorce.
Assuming there would ever be an investigation into the business practices at White Plains Family Court, what would an investigator look for to show signs of collusion? Here are a few collusive activities that I experienced, other readers have reported and friends have experienced in White Plains Family Court.
1. Undue access to Legal Secretaries. The legal secretary holds the keys to the kingdom for a crafty attorney. Legal secretaries have no supervision whatsoever and control a judges calendar. Need a last minute adjournment because you aren't ready or you simply want to spend your adversary into the ground? No problem, a friendly legal secretary can help with that. My ex's attorney ghost wrote the judges decision based on duplicate phrases, fonts, words and exact details that were never presented in court. If an insider wants to write a judges opinion, no worries, the legal secretary can do that. Insider, collusive attorneys have unlimited access to legal secretaries in White Plains and these relationships deserve scrutiny.
2. Too many adjournments - As I've said many times on my blog, the adjournment is one of the most overused tools to rip off families. Whether you have 18b counsel or privately retained counsel a last minute adjournment is a pay day for an attorney. A connected attorney will arrange for last minute adjournments as a matter of course. Great pay day because all the work to prepare has to be redone and if the client of the insider is, perhaps, a parent who wants to avoid paying child support, the right attorney can delay a hearing for well over a year. By that time a mother will have spent over $20,000 in private counsel fees with each court date cancelling while you're sitting on the bench.
3. Uneven application of the law - When I was in New Rochelle Family Court Mag. Jordan was no-nonsense. She read the laws, heard the facts and made snap decisions. Looking at what readers complain about with Mag. Esther Furman is another story altogether. Father's who don't pay support simply need to hire an attorney with many 18b cases in front of Mag. Furman and they've found their insider! If you owe money I'd highly suggest looking at Mag. Furman's calendar for a month, find the attorneys with the most 18b assignments that month and hire that attorney. You will never get into court and if you have money you can wear down your ex and spend all their resources with Mag. Furman as your Judge. She yells, screams, threatens and intimidates innocent parents trying to resolve issues who come in with the wrong attorney. Simply follow my instructions and you will find your insider attorney who can delay your case forever. What a bargain! Regardless of the laws being violated, if you have the right insider in Furman's court you'll get your way and could stay out of court for years while spending your ex into the ground.
4. Bipolar Behavior - Judges who yell, scream, intimidate and bully, but then turn to their favorite insider and have polite conversation - all in the span of one minute - are certainly showing signs of collusion.
5. 18b Assignments - As I've said in my previous post, the attorneys with the most 18b assignments in White Plains tend to be the attorneys with the right relationships to get what they want. Simply look at the court calendar of your judge for 30 days and you'll find the insiders who get the most 18b cases - hire those attorneys if you want to work with corrupt system to your advantage. White Plains Family Court is a pay to play system but you have to pay the right guys. 18b assignments will quickly and easily point to the attorneys who can grease the skids the best in White Plains.
The biggest mistake anyone can make in White Plains Family Court is to expect a fair hearing and reasonable justice. Go into WPFC knowing that it's a corrupt and filthy place and use this to your advantage. Hire an insider, which can easily be found by counting 18b assignments, pay their ridiculous rates (usually $450 an hour) and have a good laugh while the insider ruins your ex's life with endless obstacles. Play smart in WPFC and get your way. It's pretty easy to do though it may cost your a bundle to get what you want.
Best of luck playing the crooked system to your advantage!
I'm going to focus on abuse of the the 18b legal assistance program in White Plains Family Court for a few months because this is a clear sign of the of the violation of public trust that's pervasive in the NY Divorce Industry. As far as I know, I'm one of the few citizens who've actually analyzed the 18B assignments in Family Court and the data I've compiled is unique.
I've analyzed data for active cases in White Plains Family Court in Q4 2013 in which an 18b counsel had been assigned. I found that of 1028 18b litigants with active cases in WP Family Court, 79% (807) of these cases are assigned to merely 33 attorneys, each with an average of 24 litigants. Each assignment is worth at most $4,000 in legal fees, plus uncapped expenses, plus $1,000 for an expert witness. Therefore the top 33 attorneys are dividing about $4mil in tax payer funded legal fees for their 807 cases, while the bottom 66% of eligible 18b attorneys are representing only 221 litigants, equating to about $1.1 million in tax payer funded fees. The 18b assignment system is even more top-heavy than it seems because the top 11 attorneys receive 51% of 18b cases, each with an average of 44 cases and a max of 72. The bottom two-thirds 18b attorneys have an average of 3 18b litigants.
Are the top 33 attorneys in White Plains so much better than their peers that they deserve 79% of 18b assignments? Could there be other factors that influence why these top 33 attorneys are awarded such a high percentage of cases while 66% of attorneys on the 18b roster have virtually no cases? The Westchester County Bar claims they have so many 18b attorneys that they no longer accept new applicants yet the majority of cases go to about 15 attorneys.
The 18B system is supposed to provide legal assistance to poor families but how can poor families in Westchester get proper assistance when their court appointed attorneys will most likely have more than 29 concurrent tax-payer funded clients, plus a roster of full-rate clients? New York wants to add more Family Court Judges to ease the caseload of Family Court, but the current 18b assignment system is creating scheduling nightmares. Imagine trying to schedule hearings between two attorneys with over 50 active cases. Not only are the few powerful divorce attorneys in Westchester consuming the majority of the 18b tax dollars, but poor families in need of this assistance are being shunned to attorneys who couldn't possibly provide adequate representation.
By simply evening out the distribution of 18b assignments it would be 10x easier to schedule a court date that won't ultimately be adjourned. Adjournments waste million of legal fees a year and are a major source of billing abuse in the divorce industry. Besides billing abuses adjournments put off Important decisions in a child's life for years. This small change would speed cases up tremendously and could even reduce the need to add more tax payer funded judges to Family Court.
Another troubling aspect of the 18B system is that the most active tax-payer funded attorneys, with only one exception, have active full-rate matrimony practices with cases in both Supreme and Family Court. If an attorney has an active schedule where their clients typically pay over $450 an hour, why would Judges favor these active attorneys for taxpayer funded cases? There are many attorneys with strong values, willing to help poor families and also need the money, yet White Plains Judges continually give our taxpayer money to a few privileged attorneys who are willing to play by the bully pulpit rules of Family Court.
There are numerous complaints of bully judges favoring the interests of the Divorce Industry over the families in White Plains Family Court and here's a proof point to show that a small group of attorneys are getting favors from Judges. It's easy to make allegations of collusion but here's a proof point that should at least arouse scrutiny.
There's no way that tax payers can find this information on their own because Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino isn't tracking 18b money, as required by NY law, Rob Astorino is supposed to file a yearly report of 18b allocations but his office has failed to provide me the 18b reports and can't point to where they are published. How can we have a loophole in our democracy that allows locally elected judges to hand out millions of tax payer dollars to a small group of local attorneys with no accountability? Our democracy is founded on checks and balances but in Family Court millions of our tax dollars are being handed out by elected judges with no questions asked.
I've sent my data to the New York Joint Commission on Ethics, heads of the Judicial Committee in the NY Senate and Assembly as well as to the DoJ. It's my belief that I've uncovered data that merits further investigation. Besides possible collusion, NY Law is not being followed in the accounting of 18b money and poor families are getting inadequate representation by being forced to a privileged few attorneys who handle the majority of cases.
Hopefully my reporting will foster investigation into the federal and state tax dollars being wasted in the White Plains Family Court.
One of the key enablers of the predatory Divorce Industry in New York is lax ethics enforcement. Divorce lawyers in New York have a license to steal because NY funds ethics enforcement so pitifully that the Grievance Committee is staffed largely by volunteer, unpaid attorneys.
Imagine if New York left drug enforcement to volunteer, unpaid police. Imagine if New York regulated the oil and gas industry with unpaid interns. Clearly this isn't the case, these industries are highly regulated. Even hair dressers and home contractors have state funded regulators. But divorce attorney ethics are overseen by volunteer lawyers. Same conditions exists for judges.
I was shocked though to find out that highly touted Joint Commission on Public Ethics is also staffed by volunteer, unpaid attorneys as the New York Law Journal reports. In their report on Chairmen Horowitz leaving the JCOPE and joining a law firm they provide this detail:
"Gov. Andrew Cuomo appointed Horwitz as a member of the 14-member Joint Commission on Public Ethics (JCOPE), a government ethics watchdog, in December 2011. In April 2013, Horwitz was named chairman, a part-time voluntary position."
A part time voluntary position? This agency is supposed to enforce ethics of elected officials, and yes, Judges are elected officials, yet only unpaid political appointees are in charge of enforcing ethics. Of course this committee has done no useful work besides ruining the careers of junior politicians who are most likely enemies of Gov Cuomo. Or course this commission is unwilling to tackle tough problems of corruption because they rely on unpaid interns and volunteers.
Underfunding of ethics enforcement is one of the top reasons that the US Department of justice must reform the Divorce Industry. New York spends enough to put window dressing on ethics enforcement but Gov Cuomo sticks his head in the sand, ignoring the predatory divorce industry.
Come on Gov Cuomo, New York families deserve more the unpaid interns enforcing ethics of the lawyers, attorneys and experts who comprise the divorce industry of New York.
Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman
Office of the Attorney General
Albany, NY 12224-0341
January 23, 2014
Dear Attorney General Schneiderman,
I'm writing with suggestions of how to help New York families with the $613 million JPMC settlement recently publicized in many news outlets. You stated in the New York Times that you want to use this money to help New York families therefore I have some unique ideas for you to consider.
First of all, I suggest that you devote $50 million to proactively police the ethics of the corrupt New York Divorce Industry. No other group does more harm to children and families than the Divorce Industry and these predators are allowed to flourish solely because of poorly funded, lax ethics enforcement by New York State.
Our 'elected' judges are the employment agents for this predatory industry. As a lawyer you surely understand that the rights of the US Constitution don't apply for litigants in our matrimony courts, family or supreme. With no juries, supervision by administrative judges or monitors of the courtroom behavior of our elected judges and magistrates, our matrimony court system has become a cesspool of ethics violations. Surely you're aware that the New York Constitution has established a system of self-policed ethics controls for attorneys and judges that is drastically underfunded in a subsection of the UCS budget. The system for policing attorney ethics is so underfunded that it largely relies on local volunteers. With no funding for proactive ethics enforcement, victims of the predatory divorce industry are the only reporters of ethics violations, and more often than not, according to statistics by the ABA, complaints are tossed in the trash bin leaving serious ethics violations unscrutinized. We’ve given the NY Divorce Industry a license to steal in my view.
The opaque Attorney Grievance system is underfunded with about $15mil out of the UCS budget while the even more opaque Judicial Conduct Commission, the sole authority to monitor the behavior of elected judges who hand out billions a year in court awarded fees, is funded with far less taxpayer money. Both taxpayer funded systems are staffed solely by peers in the Industry and there’s no appeal process for their findings. While every state in the nation funds attorney ethics enforcement via court fees and bar association fees, New York is the sole state remaining in the US to fund ethics enforcement exclusively from tax payer money - with ZERO accountability for the efficacy of the enforcement systems.
Each elected judge in our family law system is using the powers of their office to order millions of fees each year to a very small group of attorneys, guardians and court appointed experts. With no limits set on billings, unlike the reasonable fee mandates of the 18-B system, judges regularly bankrupt families with their fee awards. Our elected judges routinely ignore the 'statement of net worth' that is mandated in each divorce and support action, actively allowing attorneys and court-appointed experts to bill families into the poor house. Ethics violations by attorneys and judges in our family law system are so pervasive that unethical behavior such as bill churning, lying in court and filing motions with blatantly false information has become the norm rather than the exception.
There are obvious conflicts of interest in the court-appointed expert system that allow court-appointed neutrals, who bill at over $250 an hour as court-appointed experts, to double their rates as soon as their 'neutral' reports are complete. Our laws in New York allow a court-appointed ‘neural’ expert to double their rates to become expert witness for one parent or another as soon as their initial neutral reports are complete. This means that a court-appointment for many financial and custody experts can easily generate over $30,000 in fees. These expert fees can be compounded with court-ordered fees for legal guardians and custody supervisors, who also bill minimally at $250 hour. New York takes the easy way out of ethical scrutiny of fee awards by not even bothering to keep track of the fees that judges award to experts and attorneys, or the fees that experts bill families when they abandon neutrality and become expert witness. Therefore, without proactive ethics enforcement, middle class families who stumble into divorce or family court become unwitting victims of a predatory industry that operates above the law. Since custody and financial experts in New York aren’t even required to register with New York State, and neither have formal ethics enforcement bodies, the court-appointed-neutral industry has no supervision whatsoever. Remember that these experts are determining the fate of children lives and division of assets – not small potatoes. Their work severely impacts families, yet New York has no ethical standards for the behavior of these experts who rely exclusively on appointments by elected judges to make a living.
The pitiful underfunding of ethics enforcement has allowed this predatory business to flourish without the slightest bit of scrutiny. Children are used for ransom by judges to extort insane fees for the Divorce Industry, yet we accept this behavior as acceptable practice in New York. The Attorney Grievance system of NY prosecutes less than .07% of attorneys a year, and most all are punished for clear violations of law that shouldn't require ethics enforcement in the first place such as stealing escrow money, felonies and other crimes. There isn't a single case of a lawyer being disciplined for absconding all the liquid assets of a family in a routine divorce proceeding. There isn't a single case of ethics enforcement where a judge was admonished for banning a child from their parent because the parent couldn't afford an attorney and lost everything as pro se. There isn’t a single case of ethics enforcement against a custody expert who abandons neutrality by aligning with the monied spouse as expert witness. Without proactive ethics enforcement the Divorce Industry of New York will continue to ruin the lives of children and families for the foreseeable future.
This leads to the next suggestion that I have to help families with the JPMC settlement money, which is to fund the pro se assistance system of New York. Did you know that over 20% of litigants in family and supreme court in New York are pro se? Of course you don't because to the best of my knowledge I'm the only person who's actually analyzed the caseloads of our matrimony courts, at least in White Plains, to count how many families can't afford attorneys and are forced pro se. In our current system, judges have incredible bias against pro se, assuming that anyone who can't afford $450 an hour for a divorce attorney is some kind of a whacko, know-it-all simply because they can't afford an attorney and are forced to defend themselves. This mistaken belief, that is quite common in the family law system, is why pro se are bankrupted and lose their children nearly 100% of the time in our family or supreme courts in New York. New York absolves itself of its responsibility to the families and tax payers that fund this system because we simply don't keep track of pro se litigants nor do we track how pro se fare in these biased courts. It would be quite easy to lower crime statistics by simply not counting murders, robberies, rape and other crimes, yet New York is forced to keep statistics on crime by federal law. Why not take the same approach to pro se in family court and start to count pro se litigants and track the verdicts and fee awards in pro se cases? My data is the only data I have seen that documents the prevalence of Pro Se as the Office of Court Administration doesn’t track pro se. If you examine the case loads of family and supreme courts you will easily see that each clerk in family and supreme court record pro se representation differently making it quite difficult to determine how many pro se litigants there are. Why not fund a study of pro se in matrimony cases in New York to see for yourself the magnitude of the problem?
The Office of Pro Se is drastically underfunded considering that 20% of families in the court system are pro se and could use assistance. The Office of Pro Se in White Plains is limited to a small section of the library, staffed by uneducated administrators who are banned from giving actual advice beyond pointing to forms on a wall. Clearly, this money could be put to good use by expanding pro se assistance. Children’s lives are being ruined, families are being bankrupted and pro se desperately need assistance defending parental rights – perhaps the most sacred rights of all. Pro Se assistance must be expanded with the JPMC money if you truly want to assist families with this money.
While judges are happy to help their friends in the divorce industry make out like thieves, they are also happy to turn their heads to the costs to New York taxpayers by their actions. Every child who's banned from a parent who can’t afford an attorney will suffer considerable mental, educational and financial harm. Parents who lose all their assets to the Divorce Industry will lose their financial independence and face extreme repercussions for many years. They will be locked out of the housing markets, have no savings or retirement accounts, have their credit destroyed, have no funds to donate to charities or other causes, will have inadequate resources to properly raise children, will have less money to invest in their businesses, will have less money or no money for vacations, will need financial assistance for college and will create far fewer tax revenues for New York state because of their diminished financial state. Parents who are ‘virtually’ incarcerated by the Support Collection Unit will be locked out of credit markets for the rest of their lives and when 65% wage garnishments kick in, many leave the country, retreat to the underground economy or simply quit working. A 65% wage garnishment can lead to a combined tax rate of about 85-90%, often as a result of unethical behavior by the attorneys, judges and experts that comprise the Divorce Industry. Even worse, it's becoming more common for parents stuck in a collusive, predatory divorce proceeding to commit violent crimes, sometimes killing their children, spouses and selves as a result of the Kafkaesque experience of a corrupt court. It is all too common for families to be driven over the edge to total financial ruin and violent crime by this corrupt business, yet New York refuses to ask basic questions about the integrity of the system.
Families are being destroyed because of the partnership our elected judges have with the predatory divorce industry yet there’s inadequate money for ethics enforcement of judges, attorneys and experts that comprise the system. If you really want to help families then use some of the JPMC money to proactively investigate the ethics of the divorce and increase funding for pro se. Divorce is truly the shame of New York and I implore you to devote a sizable portion of the JPMC settlement money to change this situation
The NY Law Journal reports that New York needs more Family Court judges. On the surface that sounds like a great idea but reading the quotes in the article it's clear that what the NY Bar really wants is to continue exploiting lax ethics enforcement in Family Court to speed up the kleptocracy of NY Divorce. Adding more Judges without attacking the culture of fraud that is rife in the Family Courts s simply leaving the door open for MORE crimes against our children by this predatory industry. More Judges will equal more fraud without structural changes to the family court kleptocracy.
There are several glaring problems with the article by Joel Stachenko which are exacerbated by inaccurate quotes by lobbying experts that paint a false picture of the Family Court system. The chairwoman of the state bar task force, retired Legal Aid Society general counsel Susan Lindenauer kicks off the article with a glaring misstatement - that the majority of family court victims are poor. The numbers simply don't back up her claim. In White Plains in Q4 2013 there were about 7000 litigants, of which about 1,000 litigants had 18-B representation while over 1,300 were pro se. The other approximately 4,500 litigants had retained attorneys, most of which charge over $400 an hour. Clearly the majority of litigants in White Plains Family Court have attorneys so while this court has many poor people, the poor don't make up the bulk of cases.
Linendauer conjectures that simply adding more judges to an incredibly broken system will help children. She accurately points out that the Family Court system of New York is toxic to children, however, the prescription of simply adding more judges to fix the problems is deeply flawed.
If Linendauer or any of the other leaders mentioned in the article including Hon. Jonathan Lippman, Hon. Gail Prudenti, NY State Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman John Bonaci, Assembly Judiciary Chairwoman Helene Weinstein and others truly want to address the abomination of our Family Court system here are a few ideas.
1. Each Family Court judge in New York awards more than $5,000,000 a year in court ordered fees and taxpayer funded representation. First course of business is to end glaring conflicts of interests for the employment agents of the predatory Divorce Industry - our elected judges. Elected Judges should be banned from directly appointing custody experts as court-appointed neutral witnesses and fees should be standardized at the 18-B rate of $1,000 for all appointments. Judges routinely bankrupt families when they appoint experts demanding over $250 an hour, who often double their rates and abandon neutrality to become expert witness once their court-appointed 'neutral' work is done. Other conflicts of interest for our elected judges include 18-B appointments to attorneys who have thriving private practices, 100% billing for last minute adjournments and legal guardian appointments. Our elected judges are the employment agents for a multi-billion dollar business in New York - this is a problem because it creates conflicts of interests for elected judges.
2. The 18-B system is heavily abused by Family Court judges. Each case appointment costs the taxpayers about $4,000-$7,000 in fees paid directly to attorneys, however, there's very little scrutiny of 18-B money. In White Plains for instance the top five 18-B attorneys represent over 32% of 18-B litigants (330) - Darren DeRuso, Daniel Pagnano and Greg Salant, Even Bunting-Smith, Lisa Goldman and Paul Gold. Contrast this with the fact that the 71 attorneys represent 10 18-B cases or fewer, servicing 271 litigants in total. So six attorneys are splitting $1.65 million in taxpayer money to represent 330 poor litigants while hundreds of willing 18-B attorneys have fewer than 10 cases. The Westchester Bar is so inundated with requests to be 18-B counsel that they no longer accept new applications according to their web site. So with so many attorneys willing to take 18-B fees, why are only a few seeing so much money? How can a judge possibly schedule cases when taxpayer funded attorneys are trying to juggle 330 cases between just six attorneys? We can have 100 family court judges in White Plains and there will never be efficiency in scheduling, nor will the interests of children be protected, with such a top heavy 18B assignment system. The 18-B rules states that the County Executives must provide a full accounting of the 18B system yet Rob Astorino hasn't filed an 18-B usage report in many years. The 18-B system is a far bigger issue than adding more judges. Taxpayers needs an accurate accounting of 18-B money and judges must no longer be the employment agents of an 18-B industry, we need random assignments of qualified attorneys, not the cherry picking system we have now.
3. New York must institute emergency legislation to have all custody revocations reviewed by a team of mental health experts. All too often poorly trained attorneys, guardians, and experts, biased to the monied spouse, are making capricious custody decisions that ruin lives and are beyond scrutiny. As M A Karn points out in her law suit against NY State, a flash decision in a preliminary hearing can mean a child is banned from their parents for years without a proper hearing. Judges decisions are beyond scrutiny in New York while the election process for judges includes no training in mental health, just lots of unchecked power. Adding more judges to take away more children from loving parents isn't going to solve a thing in the New York Family Law system. Each time it's recommended that a child is removed from a parent, or $250 an hour supervision is ordered, especially when there's no criminality, a review board of three mental health experts, WITH NO FINANCIAL INTEREST IN THE CASE, must review the decision and the decision MUST be reviewed every three months by the custody review board. Children shouldn't go for years without seeing their parents simply because some elected judge, who's heavily conflicted and often has no training in the mental health issues of custody, make a snap decision. As many readers point out on this blog, cases can drag for years, causing great emotional damage and massive fees. A bully judge having a bad day can make a snap decision to ruin a child's life and NY has no checks and balances to proactively ensure that ethical conflicts aren't driving these decisions.
4. Pro Se are losing their kids and huge financial sums in corrupt family courts. Even though Pro Se make up more than 20% of litigants in family court, more than 18B, the rights of pro se are trampled in family court system. A mother going to court for back child support can be delayed for years if she can't afford an attorney when a monied spouse hires a top attorney. Parents fighting for custody or visitation will lose nearly 100% of the time as pro se when arguing against an attorney. New York doesn't even bother keeping track of the number of Pro Se litigants, my count is the only statistic based on facts that I know of to count pro se representation. New York must begin to track pro se litigants and the verdicts they receive. There are ZERO constitutional protections in Family Court and without a jury, due process or any monitor of judicial behavior, pro se lose everything most of the time in Family Court. Our Family Court judges treat pro se with vitriol and negative bias, assuming that someone who can't afford $450 an hour is some type of whacko or know-it-all, rather than a parent who doesn't want to, or can't, blow $25,000 or more on a simple family issue that is exacerbated, delayed and complicated by greedy, unethical judges and attorneys who make fortunes on obfuscation. Pro Se must counted in NY, outside monitors must be put in place to monitor the treatment of pro se litigants and New York MUST provide more resources to help pro se succeed. Us taxpayers are paying for courts that see 'us taxpayers' as a nuisance when we can't afford the insane fees of a kleptocracy.
5. Rather than spending the $5mil that NYLJ reports it will cost to elect new judges, why not spend that money on proactive ethics enforcement for attorneys. An attorney who balloons their fees to wipe out the savings of a family will never face 1 second of ethical scrutiny in New York because Judge Lippman spends about $15mil a year out of the UCS court budget, and relies largely on peer volunteers, to police the ethics of over 200,000 attorneys in New York. Of course not all attorneys are in the position to do the damage of a divorce attorney, where there's no jury or constitutional protections, but clearly unethical divorce attorneys can do considerable damage and are therefore in need of PROACTIVE ethics enforcement. New York tosses out over 60% of ethical complaint before they are even read. Volunteer, peer attorneys simply can't be relied on to proactively enforce ethics in family court system. Let's redirectthat $5mil to proactive ethics enforcement by hiring at least five new full-time ethics enforcers with a mandate to clean up ethics in White Plains and other family courts.
6. NYLJ reports that the NY Bar has 'considerable lobbying muscle'. This is clear looking at how the kleptocracy of NY Divorce is protected by strange laws. Judges and attorney ethics are policed in under-funded, volunteer, top secret committees while experts have no ethics enforcement whatsoever. Why doesn't the NY Bar put their 'lobbying muscle' into action for good, not just for more billings?
7. The 'election' system of Family Court judges an magistrates must end. There's no way for a voter t become educated on the qualifications of a judge or magistrate for starters. Voters choose the judge from their party or religious affiliation or other arbitrary qualities. The only Judges who wind up on Family Court ballots have deep political connections, they aren't the most qualified by any stretch to be the arbiters of children's lives. Most states have ended this politically conflicted process and NY must find a new way to appoint Family Court judges, there are many working models to choose from across the USA.
In short, spending a dime expanding the family court system, rather than attacking the kleptocracy is a waste of tax payer money.
Again I'm astounded by the politics of the US Attorney's Office. Months after complaints of the GW Bridge fiasco for Christie the fools come rushing in after the NY Times beats them to the punch. Four days of traffic for political retribution and the USAG jumps into action. I wonder if someone sent in a standard complaint form, as I did when I was ripped off by judicial corruption, or the NJ Attorney General just stepped in on his own accord? I instruct any parents who've seen their lives turned upside down by a corrupt elected thug [judge] to contact the Justice Department. Of course they do nothing because the civil rights of families and corruption of locally elected judges is of no interest to the Department of Justice.
As I've been pointing out to Preet Bharara and the Department of Justice, the Divorce Industry of New York is full of obvious conflicts of interest that have the telltale signs of political corruption. Politically elected judges are the employments agents for a predatory industry comprised of judges, attorneys and experts that are above the law and ethical scrutiny. The result is that families are bankrupted, children's lives suffer permanent damage and sometimes victims snap under the pressure committing heinous crimes like throwing their kids off of high rise buildings or killing their families.
Sound serious? Well not to Preet Bharara or Paul Fishman of NJ. Curiously Fishman replaced Christie, the consummate politician, which further proves the US Attorneys are nothing more than political hacks looking for headlines with no regards for the needs of ordinary families.
We say America is such a great place and it might be, economically, for some. But when our children can be used as extortion by our elected officials for the benefit of a small predatory industry; and this disgusting behavior flies under the radar and with the blessing and protection of our government, you really have to question American values.
Shame on Preet Bharara and Paul Fishman for endless headline grabbing while cowering to the powerful Divorce Industry.