f/k/a archives . . . real opinions & real haiku

January 8, 2004

Judge Allegedly Asked Lawyers Appearing Before Him to Help Pay His Disciplinary Defense Fees

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 10:58 pm


The New York Law Journal reports that “Albany Supreme Court Justice Thomas J. Spargo, whose battle over disciplinary charges last year made national news, is now under investigation by the New York Commission on Judicial Conduct for allegedly soliciting donations from attorneys appearing in his court to cover the cost of his legal defense.”  (NYLJ/Law.com, “N.Y. Conduct Commission Probes New Charges Against Judge,” by John Caher, 01-09-2004)


The NYLJ article notes:

“Last year, Spargo pursued a highly publicized battle where he challenged the free speech and political activity restrictions imposed on judges and judicial candidates.”


“It is alleged that Spargo solicited contributions from personal injury and matrimonial lawyers who appear in Supreme Court in the 3rd Judicial District, where he sits, to pay his attorney, David F. Kunz of DeGraff, Foy, Kunz & Devine in Albany. Justice Spargo on Wednesday declined comment. Kunz was not available.”

The disciplinary jury is still out on this matter, of course.  Justice Spargo has recused himself from matters involving lawyers who have already given statments to the discipline committee.


Our trial court judges are elected here in New York State (often cross-endorsed, giving the voters no real choice).  Far too many of them are nominated according to their party standing.  (See Overlawyered.com’s recent coverage of the patronage mess in the Bronx Courts).  Although I have known some fine jurists (and some of my best friends are judges!), the system definitely discourages public confidence in our judiciary.  


Although I have resolved to be more positive this year here at e&h, I find myself constantly wanting to quote from Poetic Justice: The Funniest, Meanest Things Ever Said About Lawyers (edited by Jonathan and Andrew Roth, Nolo Press, 1994), this time from their Judge Not Yet Ye Be Judged Section:

Tell God the truth, but give the judge money.   — Russian Proverb


Judges are the weakest link in our system of justice, and they are also the most protected.  — Alan Dershowitz


[A judge] is a member of the bar who once knew a governor. — Curtis Bok

Those Russians may be right.  I hope Dershowitz is wrong.   The sad thing about the last quote is that in NYS you can add “or a county party chairman.”   In fact, around here, county party chairmen have even nominated themselves for coveted trial court seats.

False Fla. Bar Complaint Brings a Criminal Perjury Charge

Filed under: pre-06-2006 — David Giacalone @ 4:37 pm

As Tim Chinaris of sunEthics reports today, “Filing a false Bar complaint against a Florida lawyer may subject the complainant to a criminal prosecution for perjury.”   An appellate court in Florida concluded that the absolute immunity from retaliatory civil suits brought by attorneys who were the subject of bar complaints against complainants [Tobkin v. Jarboe, 710 So.2d 975, 977 (Fla. 1998)] “does not go so far as to shield a complainant from an action by the State for abusing the process by filing a false complaint under penalties of perjury.”  State v. Rutherford, ___ So.2d ___ (Fla. 4th DCA, No. 4D02-3765).   Rutherford was an ex-employee who allegedly knew her complaints were false when she filed them against her former employer. 


This is the only appropriate result — the disciplinary process needs to be protected from intentionally false complaints (to preserve its integrity and resources), as do members of the bar.  Likewise, complainants who act in good faith deserve protection from civil liability (especially when bar counsel fail to adequately review/investigate a complaint).

Update (01-11-04)  In a Law.Com Daily Legal NewsWire article covering this case (Miami Daily Business Review, by Laurie Cunningham, 01-12-2004) the reporter notes that:

Carter called the Rutherford matter “one of the most embarrassing and humiliating experiences” of his life. He said he was satisfied with the 4th DCA’s decision. “Lawyers have rights, too,” he said. “The state now has the ability to protect the rights of lawyers.”

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