Join the GOOGLE +Rubber Room Community

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Bronx Surrogate Seat Up For Grabs When Lee Holtzman Steps Down...Soon

Betsy Combier, Bob Kappstatter
On September 22 2011 I was lucky to have a second with one of the best reporters out there,
Bob Kappstatter of the NY Daily News.

I was at the Republican event in the Bronx with Ed Cox, Mike Bloomberg (there for 3 minutes), Jay Savino and others, including Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. and Bronx District Attorney Rob Johnson....

Party pick ahead for new Bronx Surrogate

NY Daily News

Bob Kappstatter

Thanks to a term limit and possible misconduct, the plum Bronx Surrogate's job is soon coming up for grabs.

Surrogate Lee Holzman is due to step down when his 12-year-term expires Dec. 31, 2012. Maybe even sooner.

Michael Lippman
Earlier this month, the State Commission on Judicial Conduct recommended disciplinary action against him for allegedly appointing lawyer cronies, chief among them his main campaign fund-raiser Michael Lippman, who milked the estates of Bronxites who died without wills. It could mean anything from a slap on the wrist to dismissal for Holzman.

Surrogates traditionally favor appointing lawyers with connections to the ruling political party.
And we hear there already may be some behind-the-scenes wrangling over whether an African-American or Hispanic jurist will get the party's nod for the prize job.

Holzman's replacement for the $136,700 a year job - chosen by party boss Carl Heastie "in consultation with the party leadership" - will run in the September primary next year.

It also doesn't preclude other candidates gathering petitions to run against the party pick in the primary.

To keep the judicial job list interesting, another seat will open up when Bronx State Supreme Court Justice Yvonne Gonzalez retires at the end of this year.

Her term expires Dec. 31, 2012, so Gov. Cuomo is expected to appoint someone to fill out her term, with the Bronx Democratic Party's Judicial Convention in the fall of 2012 voting on a permanent replacement to be on the ballot line in the November general election.

In both cases, the party's non-partisan judicial screening panel will interview candidates and approve or disapprove them.

Stay tuned....

Conduct Panel Accuses Surrogate of Inaction in P.A. Counsel Scandal
Daniel Wise, New York Law Journal, 09-13-2011

The New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct has accused Bronx Surrogate Lee L. Holzman of failing to turn in to the authorities a former counsel to the Bronx public administrator after learning the attorney, Michael Lippman, had received payments exceeding those authorized by an oversight commission headed by the surrogate.

The charges became public when Surrogate Holzman waived his right yesterday to have the commission proceedings against him remain confidential.

Read documents in the commission proceedings.

The commission issued charges on Jan. 4, 2011. But while the first witness was on the stand yesterday, a judge in Manhattan ordered the hearing temporarily stayed.

In its formal complaint, the commission charged Surrogate Holzman with misapplying guidelines for the payment of counsel to the public administrator in a case linked to Mr. Lippman, who was indicted in 2010 for collecting $300,000 in excessive fees (NYLJ, July 9, 2010).

The commission's complaint charged that in 2005-06 when Surrogate Holzman became aware that Mr. Lippman had received fees in excess of the 2002 guidelines, the judge failed to report Mr. Lippman to either law enforcement or professional disciplinary authorities.

Surrogate Holzman similarly failed to report payments that had been advanced to Mr. Lippman by a former Bronx public administrator, according to the complaint.

Surrogate Holzman's lawyer, David Godosky fired back that Surrogate Holzman "took immediate action" in late 2005 and early 2006 as soon as he learned of any misconduct in the Public Administrator's Office.
Ruben Diaz Jr, Betsy Combier, Robert Johnson

"Investigations by the Bronx District Attorney's Office, the New York City Department of Investigations and the FBI all concluded that the problem was in the Public Administrator's Office, not the Surrogate's Court," said Mr. Godosky, of Godosky & Gentile. Only the conduct commission has taken the position that Surrogate Holzman is "somehow responsible under a theory of respondeat superior," he added.

Surrogate Holzman became the chairman of the Administrative Board of the Offices of the Public Administrators in 2002, the year the body formulated guidelines for the payment of counsel to public administrators. The guidelines, which are not mandatory, set compensation at 6 percent of the first $750,000 at issue in an estate case, with the percentage declining in increments to 1.5 percent for amounts exceeding $5 million.

Surrogate Holzman remained the board's chairman through 2009 and continues to serve as a member.

The Surrogate's Court in each county appoints both the public administrator and his or her counsel. Public administrators are responsible for distributing the assets of persons who die without a will and who have no close relative to wind up their affairs.

Mr. Lippman was indicted in 2010 for receiving a total of $300,000 in excessive fees in five cases. Also, according to the conduct commission complaint, he received improper advances on his fees from a former public administrator, Esther Rodriguez. Those advances had not been approved by Surrogate Holzman.

The commission listed nearly 50 cases in which Mr. Lippman had received either excessive fees or advances on his earnings.

After learning of the improper payments in 2006, Surrogate Holzman fired both Ms. Rodriguez and Mr. Lippman, according to the commission's complaint, but allowed Mr. Lippman to continue working with the understanding that any fees he earned would be applied against the excessive or advance fees already paid to him.

A new public administrator and counsel were appointed, and during the next three years, Mr. Lippman, though no longer counsel, continued to work on 20 percent of the new cases that came into the office, said John J. Reddy Jr., who replaced the interim counsel in 2009.

Any amounts Mr. Lippman earned on those accounts were also used to replenish estates on which Mr. Lippman had received improper payments from Ms. Rodriguez, Mr. Reddy said.

With Mr. Reddy's arrival, Mr. Lippman's work on the Bronx office's cases ceased. At the time, according to Mr. Reddy, about 300 cases remained in which either overpayments or advances had not been worked off by Mr. Lippman.

Now that number is down to 32, he said.

Mr. Reddy said that fees generated by work that he or his firm, Reddy Levy & Ziffer, performed on Mr. Lippman's cases are used to replenish the estates that paid the excessive or advance fees to Mr. Lippman. Mr. Reddy said that to recover his own fees, he would have to sue Mr. Lippman for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Stay Issued

Manhattan Justice Barbara Jaffe stayed the commission hearing yesterday morning while Ms. Rodriguez, the first witness, was on the stand.

Last Thursday Justice Jaffe had denied Surrogate Holzman's Article 78 petition for a stay to enable him to secure testimony from Mr. Lippman, who is certain to invoke his right to protection against self-incrimination until the criminal case is over. The criminal case, brought by the Bronx District Attorney's office, is still in the motion phase.

Surrogate Holzman also asked to delay the commission's hearing until the completion of Mr. Lippman's criminal case so the judge could obtain records compiled by law enforcement agencies in conjunction with the prosecution.

Yesterday, however, Justice Jaffe granted Surrogate Holzman's motion to reargue the Article 78 and stayed the commission hearing until the next court date, Sept. 21.

Daniel Wise can be contacted at
Commission on Judicial Conduct must send Lee Holzman packing
NY Daily News Editorials,
Saturday, July 19th 2008,

 Any judge who lets cronies mishandle $20 million belonging to the heirs of the dead deserves to be kicked off the bench.

Any judge who puts taxpayers on the hook for $20 million by letting pals wrongly invest people's money deserves to be kicked off the bench.

Any judge who awards large fees to a buddy without requiring the buddy to first explain what he did to earn the money deserves to be kicked off the bench.

Bronx Surrogate Judge Lee Holzman must go.

The state Commission on Judicial Conduct must open a probe leading to Holzman's removal from office.
The facts are not in dispute. The whole outrageous story is detailed in Sunday's Daily News by reporter Nancie L. Katz. The cast of characters is a sorry lot.
Top billing goes to Holzman, a creature of the Bronx Democratic organization who presides over the estates of the dead. The post is coveted among machine lawyers because the surrogate dispenses lucrative assignments to attorneys and accountants.

The surrogate also appoints the public administrator, who handles estates that have no wills. And the surrogate names a counsel, a private lawyer who gets fees for services.

It has long been a swamp, but some laws and rules are aimed at keeping the muck to a minimum. No matter. Holzman, his former and present public administrators, Esther Rodriguez and John Raniolo, and counsel Michael Lippman went out of bounds.

For starters, Rodriguez and Raniolo were supposed to put inheritance money in conservative investments like treasury bonds. Instead, they put $20 million from 37 estates into what are known as auction-rate securities.

These are like bonds, only riskier. And the market for them froze with the subprime crisis. So Holzman & Co. can't redeem them. Controller William Thompson has determined the city must cover the $20 million and take the securities in return. Let's hope trading rebounds someday.

Holzman was ultimately responsible for approving the investments. His claim that he "had no knowledge [of the investments] until there was a problem" condemns him.

The result: Holzman's crew has denied the heirs access to the money - while doing well for themselves. Lippman pocketed $1.9 million in fees. And, for quite some time, Holzman signed off on payments before Lippman documented his charges.
Boot him. Case closed.