Monday, October 26, 2009

Christine Anderson, Whistleblower of the 1st Department Discipline

NY Attorney Gets Her Day in Court Over Firing by Disciplinary Committee
By Daniel Wise,New York Law Journal

In low-key opening statements to a Southern District jury yesterday, the two sides presented starkly different portrayals of the reason an attorney with the Appellate Division, First Department, disciplinary committee was fired in 2007.
John Lovett, the lawyer for the fired lawyer, Christine C. Anderson, told the six-member jury that his client had been fired in retaliation for exercising her First Amendment rights in complaining to court officials that well-connected attorneys received preferential treatment and that the committee had "whitewashed" certain cases.

But Assistant Attorney General Wesley E. Bauman insisted the firing had nothing to do with Ms. Anderson's exercise of her free speech rights but instead was a result of her "unprofessional conduct and refusal to have any contact" with her supervisor.
The one thing both sides agreed on was that Ms. Anderson and Sherry K. Cohen, who became the committee's first deputy counsel in 2003, had an exceptionally tense and difficult relationship.

In his half-hour opening, Mr. Lovett, of Lovett & Bellantoni in Hawthorne, N.Y., described Ms. Anderson, now 64, as having a good relationship with her immediate supervisor from the time she began work at the committee in 2001 until August 2005.
Although Ms. Cohen became deputy counsel in spring 2003, Mr. Lovett said that Ms. Anderson had the same immediate supervisor until Ms. Cohen demanded that Ms. Anderson "sanitize" the factual findings in one of her cases where she had concluded that an attorney had lied to committee personnel.

Mr. Lovett said that a finding that an attorney under investigation had lied to the committee was "a giant no-no."

In August 2005, he said, Ms. Cohen told Ms. Anderson that she wanted her to drop her conclusion that the lawyer, only identified as R.N., had been untruthful.
When Ms. Anderson objected to taking out the finding that the lawyer had made "misrepresentations" as a move that "would dictate the outcome of the investigation," Mr. Lovett said, Ms. Cohen took over the file and rewrote the recommendation herself. Both Ms. Cohen and Ms. Anderson agreed that the attorney should be privately admonished.

After taking control of the R.N. case, Mr. Lovett said, Ms. Cohen took over as Ms. Anderson's immediate supervisor and "began micromanaging and harassing her."
Mr. Lovett said that in subsequent conversations with Thomas J. Cahill, then the committee's chief counsel, and other court officials, Ms. Anderson complained that certain lawyers got "the soft touch, another form of corruption" at the Departmental Disciplinary Committee, where "who you know and what your connections are" influenced investigations.

Mr. Lovett said that Ms. Anderson had complained to Mr. Cahill that prosecutors and lawyers with connections to members of the committee's policy committee or with lawyers who had previously worked for the committee had received preferential treatment.

'Detail-Oriented' Supervision
Mr. Bauman laid out a different timeline, saying that Ms. Cohen took over as Ms. Anderson's direct supervisor shortly after becoming deputy counsel in 2003, and brought a more "detail-oriented" style of supervision. She became directly involved with staff attorneys' cases to provide them "with her 15 years of experience and best judgment," Mr. Bauman said during his 15-minute opening.
Mr. Bauman said Ms. Anderson "resented" the more-detailed approach, but "there were many opportunities to repair the supervisory relationship."

Instead, he said, Ms. Anderson demanded that she have no direct contact with Ms. Cohen. Confronted with Ms. Anderson's refusal "to repair the continuing hostility," Mr. Bauman said, the "court reluctantly fired" Ms. Anderson in June 2007.
Mr. Lovett countered that the reason Ms. Anderson demanded that she have no direct contact with Ms. Cohen was that she was afraid of the deputy clerk, primarily as a result of an incident in August 2005.

He said that was when Ms. Cohen had entered Ms. Anderson's office to speak to her, but Ms. Anderson said she had to leave to meet a complainant in a conference room.
When Ms. Anderson sought to leave the office, Mr. Lovett said, Ms. Cohen leaned against the door to prevent the lawyer from exiting. As Ms. Anderson reached for the door knob, Ms. Cohen grabbed her hand and scratched her, he said.
Mr. Bauman referred to the incident briefly in his own opening, saying, "It was not an assault."

Former Westchester County Court Judge Rory J. Bellantoni is also representing Ms. Anderson.

In addition to the court system, Mr. Bauman and Assistant Attorney General Lee Alderstein are representing three individual defendants: the First Department's deputy clerk, David Spokony, Mr. Cahill and Ms. Cohen. All three were at the defense table yesterday.

John McConnell, the clerk of the First Department, and Roy L. Reardon, the chairman of the 64-member disciplinary committee, attended yesterday's session as spectators.
The trial, which is expected to last about one week, is being presided over by Southern District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin.

Judge Scheindlin denied the defendants' motion for summary judgment in April. She ruled that Ms. Anderson could proceed with her $10 million claim for compensatory and punitive damages on the ground that the committee had retaliated against her for expressing her view that it had whitewashed as many as nine cases.
In her opinion, Judge Scheindlin noted that a "host" of e-mails had made evident Ms. Anderson's "hostility" toward Ms. Cohen and her "refusal to cooperate" with her supervisor.

But Judge Scheindlin also noted that "a reasonable jury could find that the defendants refused to remove [Ms.] Cohen as [Ms.] Anderson's supervisor so they could use [Ms.] Anderson's inevitable resistance to [Ms.] Cohen's continuing supervision as pretext for firing her."

After the opening statements, Ms. Anderson took the stand. Her cross examination is set to continue this morning.

About 10 people dissatisfied with the way the disciplinary committee had handled their complaints against their attorneys also attended yesterday's session.

Thursday, October 15, 2009
New York Law Journal on State Court Corruption Trial
Damages Trial Set to Start in Case of Fired Attorney

The New York Law Journal by Daniel Wise - October 15, 2009

Six jurors and two alternates were selected Tuesday to hear a $10 million damage action against the Office of Court Administration brought by a former attorney for the First Department Disciplinary Committee. Christine C. Anderson claims that after six years as a staff attorney she was fired for complaining that the committee "whitewashed" at least nine cases because the lawyers being investigated were politically connected or represented by lawyers who had previously worked for the committee. The OCA counters that Ms. Anderson was fired because she had been insubordinate. The committee polices the conduct of lawyers practicing in Manhattan and the Bronx. Southern District Judge Shira A. Scheindlin will preside over the trial, which starts Monday and is expected to last one week.

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