Sunday, February 5, 2012
Elderly Woman Loses Brownstone to Brooklyn Courts' Inside Baseball
"Why should I have any less rights than anyone else to buy the house just 'cause I work in the courts?" said Randall, who acknowledged the sale might "look funny," but said it was "on the up and up."
Kilfoyle, however, said he couldn't remember if Randall came to him seeking permission. He said he did recall Crowley's complaints, which he said he reported to Judge Michael Pesce, the chief administrative judge in Brooklyn at the time. "My initial reaction was to report it to my superior," Kilfoyle said.
What I did was not wrong," Randall said. "In terms of appearance, on face value, I could understand where you'd have some concern. But it was done on the up and up to help the woman. She wanted to stay in her home. She didn't want to go to a nursing home. This way she was able to stay and she was happy. I felt good about it. She was able to live out her last days the way she wanted to."
Randall denied that he got any special deal, although he said one reason he was attracted to the house was because of the price."
I was single [at the time]. I needed something to help me with taxes. I'm looking for a house and the price wasn't unreasonable and it was a chance to help someone out.
"The place was no bargain. It needed a lot of work," he said.
After the purchase, Randall said he invested between $20,000 and $30,000 in new windows and other repairs.
David Bookstaver, a spokesman for the Office of Court Administration, which oversees the courts, defended the deal, an unusual stance given recent moves by Chief Judge Judith Kayeand her number two, Chief Administrative Judge Jonathan Lippman, to at least give the appearance of breaking up the insider politics pervading business in Brooklyn civil court. It was Kaye and Lippman who, in the wake of Judge Barron's arrest, eased Pesce out of his post as administrative judge in favor of Judge Ann Pfau, an aide to Lippman who is seen by many Court Street lawyers as nothing less than an invading force whose mission is to tighten OCA's grip on the Brooklyn courthouse.
Bookstaver said the unadvertised sale of Perry's home to Scholnick's clerk did not trouble the powers that be within OCA.
"It was brought to the attention of counsel's office, and an opinion was given that there was nothing untoward or unethical about the transaction. It was not done in a vacuum. The final outcome did this woman a tremendous favor," Bookstaver said.
Terrelonge, the guardian who pushed for the sale, went on to serve as president of the Brooklyn Bar Association before dying this year after an illness. The bar association helps screen those seeking election to the bench, and the sometimes cozy relationships between lawyers active in the bar and judges they appear before has been sharply criticized.
Experts question why Terrelonge and Scholnick didn't push for a competitive sale of the home or devise another arrangement, short of a sale, that would have allowed Perry to draw on the equity in her home without having to give up ownership. Laws governing the disposal of property owned by incompetents require that the property be advertised for four successive weeks by a notice of sale "posted conspicuously on the premises" and by the publication of a notice of sale advertisement.
But in court papers signed by Judge Scholnick, Terrelonge argued successfully that those requirements be waived. Perry's brownstone was not advertised out of a fear "that posting and publication would be an open invitation for vandalism to the property and could bring about a danger to the occupants of the premises," Terrelonge stated.
Legal experts who advocate for the elderly said judges have a responsibility to look out for the needs of incompetents and avoid even the appearance of impropriety. "The bottom line is the interests of the incapacitated person have to be protected," said Toby Golick, director of Cardozo Law School's Bet Tzedek Legal Services.
Golick said it would be difficult to justify not advertising Perry's property on the open market. "It might be appropriate not to put up a for sale sign, but that doesn't mean there shouldn't be an effort to get the best price for a property by, for example, using a real estate agent or otherwise advertising."
One Brooklyn lawyer who specializes in elder law said the deal "smells. At the very least he [the judge] should have recused himself. Let another judge sign the order."
The lawyer also questioned why the house had to be sold at all. "Why sell her house? You could get a reverse mortgage."
In an appearance before a different Brooklyn Supreme Court judge, Sebastian Leone, who approved the final terms of the sale, Perry eventually agreed to the sale of her home. But she pleaded with the lawyers to not take advantage of her.
"I consent to it, but just give me someone to treat me good and don't take all the money from me. Let me live happy till I die."
Additional reporting: Ed Barrera