Friday, October 2, 2009
Stanley K. Schlein, the "Fixer", According to Tom Robbins, Helps in Picking Judges
Schlein the Lawyer Making Bronx Judges -- Again
By Tom Robbins, The Village Voice, Sept. 29, 2009
Bronx lawyer and Democratic Party fixer Stanley Schlein is really back in the saddle. On Thursday, reports the Daily News' Bob Kappstatter, Schlein ran the Bronx judicial convention at which new judges were selected by Democratic leaders. That's an interesting job for Schlein who was barred in 2006 from receiving court appointments after court administrators slapped him for careless mismanagement of his aging and ailing clients. That same year, Schlein was booted as head of a city civil service panel for using the city office for his private law practice.
But there was Schlein last week, helping to nominate the same judges who make the lucrative appointments he and his party pals have dined out on for years. Schlein is also back in the game as an election lawyer, working for a slew of campaigns. Even Bill de Blasio, who's promoting himself as the "independent" candidate in today's runoff race for Public Advocate, hired Schlein in August, paying him $4,000 for unspecified services; the lawyer pulled in another $17,500 from his friend Melinda Katz's comptroller campaign, and $8,000 from the much-investigated Bronx councilmember Maria Arroyo. He also took in $5,500 from the campaign of Fernando Cabrera, who squeaked past incumbent Maria Baez. In Queens, Paul Vallone paid him $7,500 in his losing bid for a Bayside council seat. Earlier this year, Schlein worked for new Bronx boro president Rubin Diaz Jr., receiving $15,000 for work on the special April election.
At the judicial convention last week, among the judges Schlein helped promote for new 14-year terms on Supreme Court was Lucindo Suarez, who gave Schlein six separate and lucrative appointments from the bench. Schlein's handling of his court-appointed caseload produced so many complaints that he was booted from the approved list of court-appointed fiduciaries in February, 2006. As the Voice detailed later that year, Schlein caused one family to lose a home to foreclosure and another's property to be listed as abandoned. He ignored pleas from the family of an 87-year old retired Irish domestic worker to set aside funds so that her last surviving friend could pay for car service to visit her at a Bronx nursing home. At the same time, Schlein kept the woman's entire $240,000 savings in a one-percent savings account at a bank owned by one of his other clients.
Exiled briefly from Bronx Democratic politics after a dispute with former party leader Jose Rivera, Schlein rode back to power with new Bronx leader Assemblyman Carl Heastie. (pictured at left) Schlein hasn't shown up yet as one of Mayor Bloomberg's massive reelection expenditures, but not because the mayor doesn't remember him fondly.
As Joyce Purnick reveals in her new political bio, Mike Bloomberg: Money, Power, Politics, Schlein was working the phones in Bloomberg's midtown hotel suite on election night in 2001, counting votes alongside Bloomberg pollster Doug Schoen as the Republican businessman vanquished Schlein's Democratic party that night. A couple of years later, the mayor named Schlein as the $63,000 part-time chairman of the Civil Service Commission. Schlein was later fined $15,000 after a Conflicts of Interest Board investigation found that he'd used the office and its staff for his private law practice.
Tussle mars Bronx Democratic convention to nominate judicial candidates
By Bob Kappstatter, DAILY NEWS BRONX BUREAU CHIEF, September 24th 2009,
The chairman of the Bronx Democratic Party and a local assemblyman got into an in-your-face blowup Thursday night at what was supposed to be a relatively scripted convention to nominate judicial candidates.
Yelling and jabbing his finger, Assemblyman Peter Rivera (pictured at right) had to be held back from Assemblyman and Party Boss Carl Heastie.
Rivera has been orchestrating political moves by party dissidents loyal to deposed leader Assemblyman Jose Rivera, no relation.
After Peter Rivera's faction of delegates lost their fight to nominate their own judge candidate, the two exchanged words in the back of the room at the Villa Barone catering hall.
Suddenly, Rivera was lunging at Heastie and other members were jumping in to keep them separated.
A member of Rivera's camp, Sigfredo Gonzalez, a staffer of State Sen. Pedro Espada, shoved and blocked a reporter trying to take a photo of the melee.
Heastie later told the delegates he had extended the olive branch a number of times to Rivera to participate in party affairs.
"How many times can I be slapped in the face before I say enough is enough," he told them.
Thursday night's convention was held almost a year after the raucous Sept. 28 party convention that saw Jose Rivera nominated by a mixed audience of delegates, supporters and confused invited seniors.
The Rivera camp later pulled the plug on the loudspeakers and walked out, leaving Heastie delegates to run a by-the-book nomination.
A judge later upheld the vote for Heastie.
Stanley Schlein Rides Again
A Bronx fixer's scandalous history doesn't bother Yankees or Democrats
By Tom Robbins, The Village Voice, December 24, 2008
A smart lawyer with good connections is a handy person to have around, no matter his pedigree. That's why, despite his steadily outrageous scofflaw behavior, the services of Bronx attorney and powerbroker Stanley K. Schlein remain in strong demand.
That Schlein, 60, is still at the top of his game was clear this month when he sat down at the elegant University Club in midtown across from Governor David Paterson and Senate Democratic leader Malcolm Smith. Schlein was there representing the three renegade Democratic senators who are demanding a fat share of the spoils before they agree to give their own party its long-sought majority in the state senate. He was holding all the aces.
The deal that Schlein helped win was so shockingly favorable to the so-called Gang of Three—awarding them committee chairmanships and leadership posts—that the rest of the Democratic caucus erupted in furor, forcing Smith to welsh on his handshake agreement with Schlein and his clients.
"Schlein is a very skillful negotiator," said a Democratic legislator who sat in on portions of the meeting. "He outmaneuvered Smith and his own lawyer."
Another delighted client happy to overlook his foibles is the New York Yankees, who keep Schlein on retainer as lobbyist, lawyer, and all-around fixer for issues dealing with city government. Public records show that Schlein has collected some $150,000 from the team over the past two years in legal and lobbying fees as he helped win political approvals for the new taxpayer-funded stadium that now stands where a wonderful public park once stood. Schlein's remuneration is undoubtedly much more because he and his client don't have to disclose his earnings from the local litigation he handles for the team when it needs a lawyer to appear in the Bronx courts.
Schlein remains the best man for this job because he has been in the Bronx judge-making business for decades. He is so revered in the courthouses on 161st Street that when he walks into court, the judges stand up for him—instead of the other way around. He earned this love and respect by being the leading point man for the Bronx Democratic organization, which picks most of the borough's jurists.
Schlein's political career was briefly interrupted when he and former Bronx Democratic party chairman José Rivera had a falling-out, leading Rivera to boot Schlein last year from his party posts. This is also why Rivera is now the "former" chairman. Schlein took his services to a group of party malcontents who quickly succeeded in ousting Rivera and his team from party power.
The new Bronx Democratic party chairman is a genial state assemblyman named Carl Heastie, who last week explained that he is delighted to have Schlein as his legal adviser. "Stanley is a very good election lawyer," he said. "That's what's important to me."
These well-tended clients make a point of knowing as little as possible about the rest of Stanley Schlein's career, including the scandals that have surrounded him in recent years. For starters, there was his removal in 2006 as chairman of a panel overseeing civil service disputes. Schlein had enjoyed a post on the city's Civil Service Commission as a patronage plum dating back to the early 1980s. Mayor Bloomberg was so pleased with Schlein that he named him chairman of the panel in 2003, a part-time job that paid $63,000 a year.
This ended when City Hall quietly let it be known that Schlein would not be re-nominated. No one was so impolite to say exactly why, but in January of this year, the city's Conflicts of Interest Board announced that Schlein had agreed to pay a $15,000 fine for "misusing city resources."
What he had done, Schlein acknowledged in a signed statement, was basically use the commission and its employees as his private law office. He had the office manager use computers, telephones, copiers, and fax machines to handle his legal work. He had her type and mail correspondence, prepare invoices, and even sit with clients to go over documents. Another office assistant delivered packages, greeted clients, and fetched materials from his car.
Lawyers need telephones, and the Conflicts Board found when it examined just two years of Schlein's phone usage at the commission that he had made more than 2,000 calls for what the board delicately referred to as "non-city related matters." The board refused to share those bills, but these calls were apparently easy to identify since many were long-distance, to Puerto Rico and elsewhere.
A less-charitable interpretation of this practice might have been theft of services, fraud, or even grand larceny. Just last week, days before Christmas, the city's Department of Investigation found it necessary to arrest a Bronx woman on charges of concealing the presence of another income-earner in her subsidized apartment, thus defrauding the city Housing Authority of $19,000. This terrible crime prompted an entire paragraph of felonies, the worst of which is punishable by seven years in prison. In Schlein's case, he was allowed to sign a stipulation, pay a fine, and continue on his way.
There was also no punishment handed out, other than his being told he couldn't do it anymore, after the city's court administrators found in 2006 that Schlein had mishandled several guardianship cases awarded to him by some of those Bronx judges that so admire him. Schlein was dropped from a list of eligible attorneys to receive such appointments, and that was that.
In fact, a Voice investigation that year into those musty folders in Bronx civil court found that "mishandled" was another polite euphemism. In a dozen cases, Schlein had repeatedly ignored the desperate pleas of family members and loved ones. There was the construction worker, brain-damaged from an accident, whose family could never get hold of Schlein when they needed him so that they could spend money from a lawsuit settlement to buy a wheelchair and clothes. Schlein somehow let a condo the victim owned go into foreclosure and be sold at auction. At the same time, he steered legal work from the estate to his friends in the Democratic Party.
There was the elderly incapacitated woman whose taxes Schlein never got around to filing and whose valuable stock certificates were allowed to expire. And there was Mary Johnson, 87, retired Irish domestic servant and devoted Catholic, whose life savings Schlein put in an account earning 1 percent at a bank where he was a major stockholder and which he also represented. Johnson was in a nursing home on Gun Hill Road, just minutes from Schlein's home on City Island, but nurses never saw the lawyer at Mary's side. Her family's one request—that money be set aside so that her last surviving friend, another elderly retired domestic, could use a car service to visit her—went ignored as well.
When the article appeared, several lawyers commented that the court's attorney disciplinary panel would be obligated to investigate. If so, no findings were ever issued.
Stanley Schlein remains a lawyer in good standing, negotiating with governors and senators. When the Voice asked for permission to use a photograph of Schlein from a recent charitable dinner for Easter Seals, the group's vice president called to praise him. "This is the guy who makes Christmas happen," said John McGrath. "He brings the kids toys from the Yankees, raises tons of money. This is an amazing human being." Which is what the family of Mary Johnson thought as well.
ATT'Y IN BRONX DEM WAR IS A PARKING CHEATER
By SALLY GOLDENBERG, NY POST, November 17, 2008
A well-known attorney involved in a battle for leadership of the Bronx Democratic Party used a bogus firefighter placard to park illegally, The Post has learned.
Lawyer Stanley Schlein was spotted parked in a crosswalk outside the Bronx Supreme Courthouse twice earlier this month, with a Uniformed Firefighters Association placard displayed on his dashboard, according to photos obtained by The Post.
He got away with the infraction once, but a source close to Schlein said the lawyer ended up receiving a $115 violation during one of the courthouse visits.
The placard reads "Active Firefighter," but Schlein is not a firefighter. He received it from a friend at the union because "he is a strong supporter of the UFA," the source said, declining to be identified.
The city's Department of Transportation does not honor parking placards distributed by law-enforcement unions - only those given out by Mayor Bloomberg - but police often turn a blind eye to illegally parked cars with fire- or police-union cards on the dashboards.
When contacted by a Post reporter, Schlein said he was jogging and could not talk on the phone. He did not return later calls for comment.
He formerly worked for Assemblyman José Rivera, who led the party until an election in October, when he was challenged by Assemblyman Carl Heastie, who belongs to a group that calls itself the Rainbow Rebels. The results of the election are still being disputed in court.
Schlein had a major argument with Rivera earlier this year and now works as Heastie's lawyer.
Heastie and Rivera battled for leadership of the party in September, and both declared himself the winner.
As the issue makes its way through court, with a decision expected before Thanksgiving, the warring factions have continued to attack each other.
Rivera and Schlein reportedly had a verbal fight during the annual Somos el Futuro conference for New York legislators in Puerto Rico earlier this month.
January 23, 2008, 6:23 pm
Prominent Lawyer Is Fined by Ethics Board
By Jonathan P. Hicks, City Room
The New York City Conflicts of Interest Board has fined Stanley K. Schlein, a prominent political lawyer, lobbyist and former chairman of the New York City Civil Service Commission, $15,000 for misusing city resources and personnel to perform work for his private law practice.
The fine, the third-highest in the board’s history, was part of a settlement with Mr. Schlein, who admitted wrongdoing in an affidavit that was released by the board.
The board said that Mr. Schlein acknowledged using workers at the Civil Service Commission to perform “non-city tasks” for him while on city time. The statement said that workers used computers, telephones and various machines to do work related to Mr. Schlein’s private law practice. The board said that Mr. Schlein had workers making more than 2,000 calls for matters unrelated to the commission from January 2004 to September 2006.
Mr. Schlein has long been a notable figure in New York City politics. For years he has been counsel on critical matters to the Bronx Democratic Party organization, defending incumbents and helping to get insurgent candidates kicked off the ballot.
In recent years, he assisted the Yankees in their longtime goal of starting a new baseball stadium in the Bronx. He was an election lawyer to the former Bronx borough president, Fernando Ferrer, during his unsuccessful challenge to Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg in 2005. And he has represented politicians in the Bronx in the city’s plans to build a water-filtration plant under Van Cortlandt Park. He was named chairman of the Civil Service Commission by Mayor Bloomberg.
For a time, officials of the Bloomberg administration, which appointed him chairman of the commission, said that they did not consider Mr. Schlein’s political activities and résumé a conflict. But there have been a few blemishes in Mr. Schlein’s legal career over the years and, in 2006, Mr. Bloomberg decided not to reappoint Mr. Schlein to the commission on which he had held a seat since 1982.
Mr. Schlein did not respond to messages left on his cellphone. But a spokesman, George Arzt, said, “Mr. Schlein decided to settle this matter on an expeditious basis and has agreed to the stipulated payment called for in the settlement.”
In his affidavit, Mr. Schlein stated that, during his time as chairman of the commission: “I asked a principal administrative associate to perform non-city tasks for me on city time, which tasks he did perform for me on city time. These non-city tasks related to my private law practice and included but are not limited to: delivering packages, retrieving and sending facsimiles, greeting visitors and retrieving materials from my car on a number of occasions.”
Mr. Schlein is a graduate of New York University and Brooklyn Law School. He became an important figure in the Bronx Democratic organization in the early 1970s.
At one point, he was top aide to Thomas J. Cuite, a Brooklyn Democrat who was the City Council’s majority leader from 1969 to 1985. Mr. Schlein was also close to Stanley M. Friedman, the onetime Bronx party leader, and Stanley Simon, the Bronx borough president. Both men were driven from office and jailed in municipal corruption scandals. There was never any indication that Mr. Schlein was part of those scandals.
The Bronx Bomber
While rooting the Yankees to a new home, Democratic political fixer Stanley Schlein failed his other clients
Tom Robbins, The Village Voice, April 25, 2006
It is April 5, a big day for the Yankees, and they have sent one of their stars up to bat. He is the tall man in business-suit pinstripes in the corner of the crowded hearing room upstairs at City Hall. He is watching closely as City Council members cast their votes on whether or not to approve a new billion-dollar stadium for the Bronx ball club. His name is Stanley Kalmon Schlein, and although he has never run for elective office and most people don't know his name, he is to politics in the Bronx what Randy Johnson is to baseball in the Bronx: a crafty veteran with a wicked fastball who can throw over the plate or at your head depending on what the situation demands.
In the hearing room, Schlein is listening to every word as intently as Joe Torre watches his players, alert for the slightest flaws. It is not a shutout. One Bronx councilmember has dissented, criticizing the new ballpark because it will snatch 22 acres of parkland from the green-starved South Bronx with too little in return. But this was expected. A Brooklyn councilman has also voted no, denouncing George Steinbrenner, principal owner of baseball's wealthiest club, for rampant greed. But the councilman is a renegade, a member of no one's team, and this, too, was expected. The committee hearing is a warm-up for the vote an hour later by the full council. The tally there is a lopsided 45-2. The Yankees win. The Yankees win.
Stanley Schlein walks quickly from the hearing room, his BlackBerry to his ear. He is speaking in a low voice to Yankees president Randy Levine, the Giuliani-era deputy mayor who hired Schlein at $450 an hour to help guide the team to this moment. Standing in the City Hall rotunda, the cell phone still glued to his cheek, Schlein accepts congratulations from council aides, other lobbyists, reporters.
He is 58 years old, handsome with thinning brown hair and hooded eyes that have been watching power traded in this building as long as anyone. His first lessons came years ago from the Bronx's wily Democratic Party boss, a man named Pat Cunningham, who also served as a Steinbrenner counselor. When Cunningham went to prison, Schlein worked just as hard for the new party chief, a goateed cigar chomper named Stanley Friedman. Schlein carried out the laborious election-law chores, maneuvering allies onto the ballot, knocking foes off of it.
He held City Hall jobs as well, first as a top adviser to the council's leader, then as an aide to Mayor Ed Koch, who named him to an obscure patronage-filled body called the Civil Service Commission. Schlein has remained on the panel ever since, reappointed by Democrats and Republicans alike. When Friedman was later convicted of bribery and racketeering, Schlein suddenly was the last man standing, the party's political bulwark. As such, he helped to school a new generation of leaders who came out of the borough's now dominant Puerto Rican political clubs.
The current Bronx Democratic Party chairman, Assemblyman Josï¿½ Rivera, stands in the rotunda a few feet away from Schlein. Rivera wears a grizzled white beard and a baseball cap, and carries his ever present video camera, with which he obsessively records every event. His title is not to be confused with decision-making power. Rivera's key contribution here is his progeny. His 26-year-old son, Joel Rivera, is the council's majority leader and the chief of the borough's delegation pushing for the Yankees' plan. But Schlein is clearly the shepherd. He has guided Bronx Democrats to an arrangement with Steinbrenner's team under which the lost parkland will be replaced with new open space and public ball fields, albeit constructed with synthetic turf atop new parking garages.
The local community board hated the scheme, voting 2-to-1 against it, citing high asthma rates and increased traffic. But their vote doesn't count. More important to sealing the deal is a commitment by the Yankees to supply $800,000 a year in grants that Bronx pols can dispense at will. Also included are thousands of free game tickets, as good as cash in New York. This is the deal Schlein has successfully packaged and sold.
That he is on both sides of the negotiation by virtue of his power within the Bronx Democratic Party and his Yankees lobbying retainer is a problem only for ethics watchdogs and spoilsports. "It's as though he sat in a room alone and negotiated with himself," remarked one dissident Bronx Democrat, one of many who have long marveled at Schlein's staying power.
Even those who look askance at the wheeler-dealer's behavior have long acknowledged his rascally charm. "Did I hear the word 'indictment'?" he said with wide eyes and a broad grin as he approached a group of reporters chatting in a City Hall corridor a few weeks ago. He has always been a good quote, a patient and courteous handler of an often ill-informed media. He has a tendency to speak in the staccato cadences of another of his mentors, former Liberal Party boss Raymond Harding, who helped keep Schlein in the fold during the Giuliani years and won him a midnight reappointment to his Civil Service Commission post in Giuliani's last week in office.
He doesn't lack for fans. Former Bronx borough president Fernando Ferrer, (pictured above) who used Schlein's legal talents for his mayoral campaigns and even the real estate closing on his home, calls him "a lawyer of extraordinary skill. He is a careful guy. An ethical guy."
But that talent and charisma have had zero effect on some of those who have encountered him in his role as a court-appointed guardian for those unable to care for themselves. His charm has been lost on the families of an injured Bronx construction worker, an ailing elderly Manhattan woman, and an aging Irish domestic servant, all of whom depended on Schlein to guard the well-being of their loved ones. If he attended to every little detail for his Yankee employers with a hawk-like intensity, he has been deaf to these other clients.
A few weeks before he guided the Yankees to their victory at City Hall, some of those complaints, many of them years old, finally caught up with Schlein. They came in the form of a brief letter from Ann T. Pfau, one of the state's top administrative judges. The February 22 letter informed Schlein that he was being removed from the list of those qualified to serve as court-appointed fiduciariesï¿½those named by the court to handle large sums of other people's money and oversee their property.
Such appointments are the stock-in-trade of every political organization. They are part of the portfolio of perks, patronage slots, and handsome lobbying fees that come with a strong party and the successful exercise of power. Judges, elevated to the bench with the party's approval, routinely name attorneys with clubhouse ties to serve as guardians, receivers, or referees. Many of the appointments are on behalf of the elderly or the infirm, those who have become incapacitated for one reason or another and are deemed no longer capable of managing their own affairs. The positions are highly prized because they usually offer a light workload and a virtually guaranteed payday that can range from a few hundred dollars to many thousands for each case.
As befitting his years of service to the Bronx Democrats, Schlein has long been a key recipient of appointments from judges who come out of the borough's political machine. Since 2000 he has received some $125,000 in fees. But that gravy train came to an abrupt halt with Pfau's letter. While offering no specifics, the judge cited his mishandling of property in two cases, that of a Bronx construction worker named Vincent Robinson, who lapsed into a coma after a construction accident, and an elderly Manhattan woman named Sylvia Friedland, who was institutionalized due to dementia.
"Accordingly, you will be removed from the list of qualified applicants by the Court as of the date of this letter," Pfau wrote.
Schlein refused to comment publicly about his handling of either case, or several others where complaints were lodged about his performance. "I am not going to talk about client matters," he told the Voice repeatedly during three lengthy talks conducted from his cell phone. "It's just not appropriate."
There had been occasions, he acknowledged, when he had failed to file required documents in a timely manner. "Mea culpa. I apologize," he said. "I take responsibility for that." But aside from those occasional lapses, he insisted that his wards had always received the appropriate care and attention. Moreover, he said that his attorney who represented him on the investigation had been told that if he chose, he could apply for reinstatement. Yet he had decided not to do so. "I said it is not worth it to me. I don't make a living out of this thing. It is not the core of my profession. I don't need the aggravation."
His real problem, he suggested, was a heightened sensitivity among judicial overseers to suggestions of political influence in the courts. "I know the county I come from," he said. "Other people may have conducted themselves differently. As for me, I have done everything I can to be a person of honor and ethics."
The family of Vincent Robinson, however, was unconvinced. Stanley Schlein entered their lives in 1998, eight years after an electric saw Robinson was using on a roofing job severed the femoral artery in his leg, causing massive blood loss and ensuing brain damage. Robinson's family received $2.4 million from a civil lawsuit. The family went to court to ask that a guardianship be created to allow them to make decisions about his finances. A Bronx Supreme Court judge named Anne Targum, who came out of the Bronx Democratic organization, appointed Schlein as an "evaluator" to determine if a guardian was warranted. When Schlein reported back that a guardian was indeed necessary, the judge promptly named Schlein to that post as well, allowing him to fully oversee Robinson's property and finances. It was one of 16 such appointments that Targum, who left the bench last year, gave to Schlein in the past decade.
Robinson's wife and adult children objected. Through their attorney, Brian Heitner, the family insisted that they were capable, with the help of professional advisers they would enlist, of handling the finances themselves. One of the things the family said they wanted to do was to build a new home that would accommodate Vincent Robinson so that they could take him out of the nursing home where he had been kept since the accident. There, he would be cared for by his wife, Esther, a nurse who had spent the prior seven years commuting daily to the Westchester facility to care for her husband's personal needs.
The judge, a transcript of that May 1998 session shows, adamantly opposed the idea. "We have this all the time, where the family seeks to invade the incapacitated person's funds and benefit themselves. I would never allow that, sir," said Targum.
Heitner, the family's attorney, said that the judge was "misconstruing" their intentions and pointed out that Vincent's daughter, Veronica, had been handling her father's finances since the accident, and that his son, Patrick, was a college graduate who would help as well.
The judge responded that the earlier finances had been "minimal. Now you're dealing with millions of dollars." The new assets, the judge said, "should be handled very professionally." The Robinsons "are not versed in property management," she said, "and have no possible background in that particular field." On the other hand, the judge said she was "fully satisfied with Mr. Schlein's competency, his conduct and everything else."
A few weeks after Schlein's appointment, the Robinsons and their attorney complained to the judge that they could never get in touch with Schlein and that he was refusing to return their messages. The family then moved in court to appeal the appointment. Two years later, a five-judge panel on the appellate division unanimously agreed, ordering that Schlein be removed, and that Robinson's daughter and son replace him. The judges ruled that there was "no evidence" that Schlein, "other than through his status as an attorney, was any better suited to manage large sums of money than a layman."
But the Robinsons had already learned that the hard way. Despite repeated warnings, Schlein had somehow allowed a Florida condominium that had been bought by Vincent Robinson for $72,500 to be sold at a foreclosure action by a bank that held a mortgage on it. In a motion to Judge Targum objecting to fees being demanded by Schlein, Heitner said that his firm had served notice frequently over several months on Schlein about the pending foreclosure, to no avail.
Nor was the condo foreclosure the only problem, the family said. Because they hadn't been able to reach the guardian, they'd also been unable to obtain the necessary funds to buy clothes for Vincent Robinson, pay for a personal-care assistant to help him at the nursing home, and even to make payment for a wheelchair they'd sought to buy.
Schlein termed those charges "ludicrous" in a blast back in his own court filings, in which he insisted no one had ever told him that a wheelchair was needed. He also accused the family of having purposely abandoned the condo in order to "blame me for the loss," as he wrote. He then went on to seek court approval to pay himself $35,000 in fees from Vincent Robinson's holdings for the work he said he had done on the matter.
There were others from the Bronx Democratic organization with their hands out as well. Schlein also asked the judge to approve $4,750 for his friend Gerald Sheiowitz, the treasurer of the Bronx Democratic Party, who had served as Schlein's accountant and attorney in the matter. In addition, he sought $5,000 to pay Flora Edwards, another attorney friend who is a former law partner of a top Bronx Democrat now a judge. Edwards's role, Schlein said, had been to review the appeals motions made by the family seeking his removal as guardian. In effect, he wanted the family to pay the court costs even though they'd won the case.
Finally, Schlein also presented a bill for $4,500 for the services of a lawyer named Alberto Torres, at the time a law partner of then Bronx Democratic boss Roberto Ramirez. Torres's role had been to examine the objections raised by the family concerning Schlein's conduct. Torres punted on that question, never offering his own opinion on Schlein's performance. But he did note in his own filing that, under one interpretation of the statutes governing guardian compensation, Schlein could be entitled to $10,000 more than he'd requested.
Ultimately, the Robinsons decided to drop their objections. Schlein and the other Democratic lawyers all got what they sought. "When push came to shove, the family decided they just wanted to put it all behind them and get Schlein out of their lives," said Heitner. A few months later, in September 2001, Vincent Robinson died. He was 68.
The Robinson family's problems with Stanley Schlein would likely have been buried forever in a Bronx court file if not for a feisty freelance magazine editor named Lisa Goldstein, who waged her own dogged pro se battle against Schlein after her 90-year-old aunt, Sylvia Friedland, became institutionalized and unable to handle her affairs.
Here, too, the incapacitated person, as they are called in guardianship-speak, was loaded. Friedland had about $2.5 million in cash, stocks, and bonds when Schlein was named by Judge Lucindo Suarez, a Bronx Democrat then sitting on a Manhattan bench. It was one of six times Suarez chose Schlein to handle cases.
Because Lisa Goldstein insisted she wanted to share the responsibilities for her aunt's care, Suarez allowed her to be Schlein's co-guardian. To qualify, Goldstein took a required course in court fiduciary procedures.
But the joint arrangement quickly fell apart amid mutual nasty accusations. In a series of letters to the court and various disciplinary panels, Goldstein complained that after she and Schlein were appointed, she was unable to get in touch with him for months at a time. She said that she had had to compile the court-required filings on her own, with no help from Schlein.
"Mr. Schlein just didn't seem to have the time for the guardianship," Goldstein said at a hearing last year on the matter. "Any number of times, I called him, paged him, tried him at his office." She had even asked the judge's clerk to track him down for her.
"I was always available, your honor," Schlein responded.
But Goldstein pointed out that there had been real consequences from the communications gap. Her aunt, already advancing into senility, had failed to file taxes for the two years prior to the guardianship. Interest and penalties were piling up. Goldstein said that she appealed to Schlein for help in getting the taxes up-to-date, but that he was unconcerned. Goldstein wrote to the appellate court disciplinary panel that Schlein had told her that "he felt no compulsion" to file new tax returns since her aunt was already behind in prior years and the interest could be waived. She said that Schlein insisted a special accountant, his friend Gerald Sheiowitz, the Democratic Party treasurer, would be recruited to handle the task. But when Schlein made no move to prepare the filings, Goldstein hired her own accountant.
Goldstein said that she had also entrusted Schlein with some $500,000 in expired stock and bond certificates that her aunt had held in a safety deposit box. The certificates were out of date, either no longer earning dividends or in need of exchange for new forms. Goldstein said that Schlein insisted he would handle the task. But as Schlein acknowledged in the court hearing, his only effort was to call an acquaintance at the state comptroller's office to ask how the expired bonds should be handled. In the meantime, a half-dozen corporations sent her aunt's stock holdings to state offices as abandoned property.
An exasperated Goldstein finally got Schlein to return the certificates so that she could handle the matter. She said Schlein, whose law practice is conducted from his cell phone and his home on City Island, had her pick up the documents from an office manager at the Civil Service Commission's offices in the Municipal Building. There, she said, she sat patiently with the clerk while they went over a list of serial numbers to make sure she had them all.
Schlein scoffed at that account, in- sisting that he had never used the city offices for his private work. But others dispute that. The commission's former general counsel, a Bronx woman named Willena Nanton, said that she and others were often asked to assist Schlein with his own legal chores. "I remember that there was a niece of a woman for whom Stanley was the guardian and that she had complained about him," Nanton told the Voice. "He had the office manager xerox all the stocks for her and then meet with her there."
Nanton, who worked at the commission for seven years, shouldn't be believed, Schlein said, since she is currently suing him and the commission in federal court for racial discrimination in her termination from her post. But two other people who used to work at the commission and are not involved in the lawsuit also said that Schlein used the office and its assistants for private tasks, ranging from filing motions in election law cases to meeting with lobbying clients.
"It's absolutely not true," Schlein responded. "I do civil service work there, not business. If I ever met a client there it was to go out to lunch."
He said that in Goldstein's case, her animus against him had been sparked because she coveted her aunt's fortune. "Ms. Goldstein's only concern," he wrote in an oddly worded letter to the court disciplinary panel, "was preserving estate assets to the detriment of her aunt. My dwarfing her efforts exposed me to her ire." He added that he had intended to seek Goldstein's removal as a co- guardian but that, "sadly, Sylvia Friedland died shortly thereafter, rendering any motion I may have had to remove her moot."
A few days after Schlein leveled those charges in his letter, Goldstein fired back a response, saying that she had never considered herself her aunt's potential beneficiary, since her father was still living. Schlein's accusations, she wrote, were "a fruitless attempt to deflect attention from his own inaction as a guardian."
Goldstein also decided to find out if other people had run into similar problems with the attorney. She went to the Bronx Supreme Court clerk's offices and read through all the files where Schlein had been appointed as guardian. She found four cases where family members had complained to the appointing judge about Schlein, including the Robinsons'. Goldstein then sent letters to several authorities asking for an investigation. Among those she wrote to, she said, were Judge John Buckley, the presiding appellate justice in Manhattan and the Bronx; state chief judge Judith Kaye; the Commission on Judicial Conduct; and the attorneys' disciplinary committee.
Eventually she wrote directly to the inspector general for the state's court system. It was an investigation by that office that resulted in Schlein's removal last February.
Up on Gun Hill Road, on the other side of the Bronx from where the Yankees will soon start building their new temple, resides another of Stanley Schlein's wards. Mary E. Johnson, 87, resides in Kings Harbor Multicare Center, and according to her closest friend from childhood she is happy and well cared for, even though she has been largely unaware of her surroundings since 1997, when she fainted at her residence in Manhattan and was found to be suffering from dementia.
An immigrant from County Kerry in Ireland, Johnson came to America as a young woman and worked as a domestic servant for wealthy families. An ardent Catholic, she was a member of the Blue Army of the Blessed Virgin Mary, an organization of laypeople devoted to promoting Christian values. She never married, but she kept close to her few friends and saw her family when they visited from the other side. Her needs were few and she had a substantial sum, about $400,000 in savings, when she was admitted to the nursing home.
The original plan of Johnson's three nephews in Ireland and a niece who lives in Florida was to have their aunt relocated back to the old country, to live in a comfortable seniors' residence near her family. But while she was uncertain about many things, Johnson expressed herself clearly in her desire to stay in New York. "She considers herself a New Yorker now," said one of the attorneys who interviewed her.
The matter of her guardianship landed in the court of Judge Anne Targum, the same judge who handled the Robinson case. An attorney representing the family, Elaine Harrison, suggested that one of the nephews was willing to make regular visits from Ireland and could serve as guardian. But when Targum said she couldn't appoint someone who lived outside the country, the family offered no strong objections.
The one specific request attorney Harrison made of Schleinï¿½memorialized in a December 19, 1997, letter to the judgeï¿½was that he use Johnson's finances to pay for car service so that Johnson's oldest and sole surviving friend in America, a woman named Catherine O'Neill, could visit from her home on Webster Avenue in the north Bronx. Harrison even asked that such a provision be included in the judge's order. "It will be very beneficial for Ms. Johnson," she wrote, "if her friend is able to visit her regularly."
But as in the Robinson and Friedland cases, friends and family reported problems soon after Schlein's appointment. Catherine O'Neill, who grew up with Johnson in County Kerry, wrote Judge Targum in the fall of 1998 to state that "Stanley K. Schlein has not performed his duty." No one can reach him, she said, "and many of the things that Miss Johnson needs are being neglected, for example warm clothes." In addition, she said that she had never heard from Schlein about the cab fare. Winter was approaching, she said, and "being that I am 74 years old I fear walking the 18 blocks round trip to the nursing home from the closest bus stop in the ice and snow. Please do not deny Mary the only person in this world she recognizes, and that visits her on a weekly basis."
Catherine Vitanyi, Johnson's niece in Florida, also wrote to the judge that she had tried repeatedly but failed to get in contact with Schlein in order to arrange a meeting with nursing home staff when she visited her aunt. "As far as I know, none of the family has had any communication from him," she wrote. "The social worker at Kings Harbor also said that they have not met him nor has he met Miss Johnson."
Harrison, the family attorney, also wrote Judge Targum about the matter. Harrison said the staff from Kings Harbor had called her recently seeking permission to buy Johnson some winter clothes. "When I suggested that they contact Mr. Schlein, I was informed that the home was unable to reach him by phone because there is no answering machine. Thus, the only way to reach Mr. Schlein is by letter." She also reminded the judge about the order requiring that Catherine O'Neill's car fare be provided. "I doubt that this has been done," she stated.
Harrison's letter, which sits in the court file of the Matter of Mary E. Johnson, is accompanied by two unsigned, handwritten notes by court staff. Both suggest that Schlein was treated with deference in the judge's chambers. One reads: "On November 13, I spoke w/ Stanley. He stated that he gave her his pager and telephone . He will go to nursing home. I told him that I would call Ms. Harrison and tell her to 'cc' him if she is going to write letters about him." A second note appended to the letter, dated November 16, 1998, states: "I spoke w/ Elaine Harrison. I told her to page Mr. Schlein if she needed to speak w/ him and to write to him if she had anything to say to him."
According to rules governing court-appointed guardians, Schlein is obligated to visit his wards at least four times a year, and to file annual accounts of their finances. But records show that Schlein made no such filings for Johnson until 2002, five years after his appointment. He then submitted so-called "annual inventory and account" filings for years 1998 through 2001. For this, Schlein requested and received a total of $16,358 from Johnson's holdings.
There were no further filings until late 2005 and early this year when Schlein submitted more late reports covering the years 2002, 2003, and 2004. He sought and received permission, this time from Judge Bertram Katz, who took over the case after Targum stepped down, to receive $12,655 for the work. To assist him with the filings, he retained Hillary Sheiowitz, the daughter of Gerald Sheiowitz, who worked with Schlein on the Robinson and Friedland cases.
Like her father, Hillary Sheiowitz is also active in the Bronx Democratic Party, serving as treasurer of Bronx Young Democrats, as well as other political committees. She was awarded $2,250 for assisting Schlein. There was one more legal layer applied to Johnson's finances. An independent court-appointed attorney received $2,955 for examining the accountings to make sure they were properly compiled.
The Mary E. Johnson case was not one of those cited by Judge Pfau in removing Schlein from court-appointment eligibility. But despite the close scrutiny it was supposed to have already received, a review of Johnson's file suggests there are a few important questions that could be raised.
Back when Harrison, the family's attorney, was involved with Mary Johnson's case, she had written to the state comptroller's office of unclaimed funds to see if any of Johnson's assets had gone astray. She received a letter back listing several accounts and stocks that appeared to belong to Mary Johnson. One of the accounts was with Republic National Bank of New York and was supposed to contain about $38,000. Harrison then forwarded the state comptroller's letter to Judge Targum with a note suggesting that the new guardian should seek to obtain the funds, a practice known in the field as "marshaling the assets."
But Schlein never acquired the accounts. Instead, state comptroller records show that the office sent a July 2001 letter to Schlein's City Island home address stating that since it had not heard from him in over a year it was rendering Johnson's request file "inactive." The state representative then provided instructions to be followed if Schlein decided to "re-establish" his claim.
A spokesman for State Comptroller Alan Hevesi said last week that the funds were still being held as unclaimed property.
Asked about the matter, Schlein said his recollection was that he had been told that there were no assets to be claimed.
But the slipshod handling of the finances isn't the only question raised by the filings. After Schlein took charge of Johnson's funds, he merged most of her money into a large savings account at Doral Bank of New York that currently holds more than $240,000. Yet records show that the funds are barely earning any interest. In 2003, the Doral account earned just over $2,200ï¿½about 1 percent. In 2004, the account brought in just $1,200, about 0.5 percent. The bank's rate listings show that its highest deposit rate is 4.6 percent for a three-year CD. Its lowest is 0.5 percent. That's for its Christmas and vacation clubs.
Schlein, maintaining that it would be improper to discuss his client's affairs, suggested that he had deliberately kept the earnings on the account low because Johnson faced the likelihood that her assets would be taken in a Medicaid repayment action. He declined to provide specifics, and his filings contain no reference to a potential Medicaid problem.
But Doral, a Puerto Ricoï¿½based bank, appears in Schlein's own personal financial disclosure statements, which he is required to file with the city's Conflicts of Interest Board. Those records show that Schlein holds 22,500 shares of stock in Doral Financial Corporation. In 2004, he listed the stock as worth more than $500,000 and indicated that he earned more than $30,000 in dividends from it.
Did he know Doral officials?
"I did a litigation and a lease for them," he said. "About $35,000 worth of legal work. And I bought their stock. They are the largest bank in the Caribbean. They are a growing bank here in New York, and I think they are a good bank that services the community. The financial investments are appropriate."
As for his elderly ward Mary Johnson, Schlein insisted he had visited her "periodically"ï¿½as required under guardianship regulations. He said he hadn't heard from any of the relatives or from Catherine O'Neill, Johnson's friend, but he denied that anyone had had trouble contacting him. "I am never missing in action," he told the Voice. "You know that."
In Florida, Catherine Vitanyi, whose mother was Johnson's sister, said last week that she had been able to make just that one trip north back in 1998 to visit her aged aunt, a circumstance she regretted. "The last thing my mother said was 'Take care of Mary.' And I am in this situation where this man doesn't even want to talk to anyone, so it makes it kind of difficult. He wouldn't cooperate to even send a Christmas card. Easter, I have always sent a plant to her. I have never gotten any acknowledgment back. I asked Mrs. O'Neill one time about a poinsettia plant I sent. She said there was none there."
Officials at the nursing home said they were not allowed, under federal privacy rules, to comment on whether or not Schlein has been to see his ward, Mary Johnson. Catherine O'Neill, however, said she's never met him.
"I visit Mary all the time. I can't tell you anything about him. I never heard from him. I never saw him." She said her visits had been interrupted last fall when she underwent a hip replacement. "But I do keep in touch with the social worker there."
Up until the operation, she said, she had made all of her visits to the facility on the bus, walking the 18 blocks back and forth from the bus stop because the promised car service money had never been provided. "I take the bus," she said. "The cab fare they don't give at the nursing home, and I can't afford it."
July 26, 2005
Bronx Lawyer Is a Power Behind Several Thrones
By SAM ROBERTS, NY TIMES
There he was, advising the Rev. Al Sharpton during last year's presidential primaries. This spring, he joined the legal team promoting the Jets' proposed West Side stadium. Now he is navigating government bureaucracy for the Yankees and also counseling Fernando Ferrer about mayoral campaign arcana.
His name is Stanley K. Schlein, and he has a hand in some of the city's biggest projects and political campaigns. But few people outside the city's intimate political world have ever heard of him.
"I'm a guy who's always been low-profile," he says.
In the patois of New York politics, Mr. Schlein is a process broker. He is a man typically found, Zelig-like, in the background of photographs celebrating the announcement of a new project or a declared candidacy. People gravitate to him because, as a result of his political connections and legal expertise, he has a reputation for getting things done.
"I'm definitely steeped in politics up to my eyeballs," Mr. Schlein says. "But I'm not a politician. I'm a technician."
For years he has been a vital cog in the Bronx Democratic machine, defending incumbents and knocking insurgents from the ballot in the merciless tradition of city politics. This background makes it all the more remarkable that he also serves as chairman of the commission charged with protecting the city's civil service system, and its hundreds of thousands of municipal jobs, from the spread of partisan politics. Though the Civil Service Commission is considered "the guardian of the merit system," he does not consider his role an anomaly.
"I've been involved in organized Democratic politics for my whole life," Mr. Schlein says. "I talk to Democrats. I talk to Republicans. I'd like to think that people get beyond the party label."
Officials of the Bloomberg administration, which appointed him to the chairmanship, say they also do not consider his political activities a conflict. (As of March, Mr. Schlein's term expired and he technically became a holdover awaiting reappointment.)
"He knows how to survive and be successful," said Peter J. Madonia, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's chief of staff and a neighbor from the Bronx. "He knows how to separate politics from government."
Using the same explanation, the administration also seems not to mind that its appointee as chairman of the Civil Service Commission is working for Mr. Ferrer, who hopes to replace Mr. Bloomberg as mayor.
"He is a longtime member of the Civil Service Commission through several administrations, and we're confident he can separate government from politics," said Edward Skyler, the mayor's communications director. (In 1989, as an appointee of Mayor Edward I. Koch, Mr. Schlein supported the mayor's rival, David N. Dinkins, and probably would not have been reappointed if Mr. Koch had been re-elected. )
Mr. Schlein was born in the Bronx and has lived there for all of his 57 years. By most measures, he is a successful "technician."
He made $68,385 last year as the chairman of the Civil Service Commission, working, he says, "a considerable amount" in a part-time position that pays $352 a day. He collected $35,742 on the legislative payroll of Assemblyman Jose Rivera, the Bronx Democratic chairman.
He also practices law privately, ostensibly out of his home on City Island and from his leased Mercedes, and made more than $250,000 in legal fees last year, according to city records. (The Jets paid him $450 an hour, Mr. Schlein said, and he is negotiating a retainer with the Yankees.) So far this year, he has also been paid $38,600 as a court-appointed guardian and evaluator, according to court records, named by judges in the Bronx, Manhattan and Westchester County. "Maybe I get introduced to a client or an opportunity because of my political involvement," he says. "Certainly any power I have is because an elected official allows me to talk to them and share my recommendations."
One relationship raised a few eyebrows, even in the Bronx. Mr. Schlein was married to Maria Echaveste, who, before heading the White House public liaison office for President Bill Clinton, was the Bronx Democratic member and the president of the city Board of Elections. (The two have since divorced.) Mr. Schlein helped write parts of the current state election law, which the board enforces, as counsel to a legislative committee.
In 1999, Mr. Schlein successfully defended Robert T. Johnson, the Bronx district attorney, against accusations that he actually lived in Westchester. Last year, he also defended his decision to back Assemblyman Rivera's daughter, Naomi Rivera, for an open Assembly seat, declaring: "We are upholding the tradition of the Roosevelts, Kennedys and Cuomos in supporting competent and qualified siblings for elected office." (Ms. Rivera's brother, Joel Rivera, is the City Council's majority leader.) He has been Mr. Ferrer's personal lawyer, handling the sale of his house and the purchase of his apartment.
In 1982, he filled in for John LoCicero, Mayor Koch's patronage dispenser and political liaison. When Mr. LoCicero returned to city government from Mr. Koch's unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign, the Koch administration tried to find another job for Mr. Schlein. "We looked around and saw what was available," Mr. LoCicero recalled, "and there was an opening on Civil Service."
Mark D. Lebow, who was the Civil Service Commission chairman then, said Mr. Schlein "did a fine job. I agreed with almost all of his decisions. I have no idea who yanked his chain, who tried to blow in his ear, but I never saw any evidence of that. I'm aware he was the election lawyer for the Bronx Democratic Party, but that's one of those specialties you get to use about one month a year."
Mr. Schlein was reappointed by Mr. Dinkins, whom he also served as campaign counsel, and by Rudolph W. Giuliani. He was named chairman by Mr. Bloomberg.
Mr. Schlein was introduced to the Jets through Robert Harding, their counsel and a former deputy mayor, whose father, Raymond B. Harding, was the head of the Liberal Party. He was recruited by the Yankees president, Randy Levine, also a former deputy mayor, whom he knew from the Giuliani administration.
He has also done legal work or lobbying for DaimlerChrysler (which persuaded him, when the lease on his Jaguar expired, to lease a Mercedes). He has also worked for clients seeking to obtain a city contract for delivering frozen meals to the elderly, or hoping to develop a Staten Island pier for vessels that would ferry gamblers to international waters, or opposing stricter limits on billboards. Always, he mined his contacts in government to gain an audience and make his case within the system.
"I'm not an iconoclast," he says.
Mr. Schlein was raised in Parkchester, where his father, who ran a liquor store and fancied himself a man of business like Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller, enrolled as a Republican. Stanley Schlein attended Brooklyn Technical High School and New York University, then decided to enter Brooklyn Law School, in part to avoid the Vietnam draft and also because he liked Perry Mason.
He began hanging around political clubhouses in the Bronx, becoming a protégé of Patrick J. Cunningham, the wily Democratic county chairman.
"Pat screamed 'Stanley' and five guys came running," Mr. Schlein recalled.
One of the others, Stanley M. Friedman, would succeed Mr. Cunningham and also become a mentor to Mr. Schlein. Mr. Schlein would eventually succeed Mr. Friedman as chief of staff to Thomas J. Cuite, the City Council majority leader.
"I gave him advice," said Mr. Friedman of Mr. Schlein. "Be honest."
Mr. Schlein was unscathed when Mr. Friedman and other Bronx officials were charged in the municipal corruption scandals of the 1980's. "People said I was either too stupid to be corrupt, or, 'he's the most honest guy in the world,' " Mr. Schlein recalled.
"I sleep at night," he said. "I don't need to take the last dollar off the table."
Mr. Friedman said another trait that distinguished his protégé was Mr. Schlein's willingness to say no. "His instincts are what's doable," Mr. Friedman said. "People rather pay you for a 'no' answer, a negative answer, than being strung along."
Mr. Levine of the Yankees said of Mr. Schlein's role in winning approval of the team's new stadium: "He knows his way around. He was instrumental in helping us frame the issues in getting our legislation through and dealing with the community."
Even one of Mr. Schlein's political rivals in the Bronx, Vincent A. Marchiselli, a former assemblyman and former member of the Civil Service Commission, said: "He'd always have a connection to protect himself. He was a judge-maker, a kingmaker. He was able to protect the organization's candidates in terms of the technicalities of the election law. He was always the guy to see when you had a problem. But I can't say he was dishonest."
Mr. Schlein does not deny his influence. "Do I recommend people for jobs? Certainly," he said. But he insists that he knows when to draw the line. "I turned down clients because they came to me to fix something or said, 'I want you to sit in the courthouse next to my lawyer.' "