'Kangaroo Court' T.K.O.'s Lawyer by Disbarring Him
Milton Allimadi - December 16, 2002
The Grievance Committee was created to protect the public from the many crooked and unethical lawyers out there. But what happens when the Grievance Committee is usurped and used as a personal instrument by powerful political entities intent on disbarring a lawyer in order to prevent him from exposing a multi-million dollar fraud?
Who then protects the public when the Committee's integrity is compromised? These are some of the questions one lawyer is now posing as The Black Star News continues its investigation of corruption in New York's judicial system. This newspaper has exposed corruption in the system since last summer (please see www.greatestscoops.com). Thousands of New Yorkers are demanding a federal investigation.
Today's case in point is the story of Israel Weinstock, a victim of the Grievance Committee. He was disbarred, not for the reasons he was ostensibly charged with, but for daring to fight against opponents represented by powerful law firms and aided by at least one corrupt judge, the notorious State Supreme Court judge Richard D. Huttner, he says and records show. As readers who have been following our series recall, Huttner was censured last year for unethical conduct in an unrelated case. His punishment was a transfer from Brooklyn to Queens. "So I guess Queens deserves an unethical judge," Weinstock observes wryly.
In Weinstock's case, the Grievance Committee complaint, which ultimately cost him his license after 42 years of practicing law without a blemish, was initiated by lawyers for his opponents in a civil litigation. He was in the midst of appealing an adverse decision in his civil case when the Committee filed a complaint against him. "The intent was to deprive me of my means of livelihood and the wherewithal to continue pursuing the civil case. That was the intent all along," he says, in an interview.
The Committee lodged four charges of misconduct against Weinstock: he was accused of "coercion and overreaching" by taking an 80% interest in 4200 Avenue K Realty Corp., a corporation which once belonged to Jack Walker, a client of his; the second charge was based on Weinstock's taking a 20% interest in the same corporation in 1984 as a contingency for representing Walker in two trials in connection with the corporation; the third charge was based on the fact that Weinstock was sanctioned $10,000 by the Appellate Division for filing a single appeal in connection with his matrimonial trial.
The Good Doctor Can't Remember
During the first phase of the matrimonial trial, during which Weinstock's former wife challenged the validity of a separation agreement that she had entered into with her husband at her attorney's office (a fact not even mentioned in the Appellate Division decision), she testified that she had been under psychiatric treatment, under medication and consuming alcohol and that she "had no idea of Weinstock's income, assets or business", records show. The agreement was, therefore, set aside.
Accordingly, a second trial was necessary to determine what chunk of the marital assets should be given to his former wife. However, during the second phase of that trial, Weinstock's former wife testified that she was very familiar with Weinstock's income and assets, since she had been his bookkeeper, prepared financial statements and maintained all financial records. She also admitted that she had not been under psychiatric treatment, nor on any medication or under the influence of alcohol. The judge in the second trial noted in his decision that her contentions that she was not fully informed of Weinstock's financial affairs was "belied" by documentary evidence in her own handwriting.
Since his former wife's testimony at the second trial blatantly contradicted her testimony in the earlier trial, Weinstock made an application to the judge who presided over the second trial to vacate the decision resulting from the first trial, in which the Appellate Division (not the Trial Court) had accused him of not disclosing his finances to his former wife and of "coercing" her into signing the separation agreement. The judge who heard the second phase of the trial denied Weinstock's application on the grounds that it was not within his power to vacate a decision that the Appellate Division had rendered. "The Appellate Division, in rendering the first decision, had relied on the testimony of a psychiatrist who was, admittedly, suffering from Alzheimer's disease," Weinstock recalls. "Indeed, the doctor surrendered his license to practice soon after the trial."
The doctor had testified in 1988 with respect to events that allegedly occurred in 1981, when he saw Weinstock's former wife. On cross-examination, the doctor could not remember when he saw her, whether or not she was working at the time he saw her, what was the reason for seeing her, nor any other details relating to the psychiatric encounter with Weinstock's former wife. The doctor could not even remember whether he was a member of any professional associations.
Two other doctors, who had known Weinstock and his former wife, both testified that they never noticed her impaired or under the influence of drugs, alcohol, or any other substance. Since the justice presiding over the second phase of the trial denied Weinstock's motion, he filed an appeal of the denial of that motion. It was the Appellate Division that, in deciding the first phase, had stated that there was a "fatal lack of disclosure". His former wife's testimony at the second trial proved that the Appellate Division had made a mistake in its finding that there was a "fatal lack of disclosure".
Weinstock says he was only interested in clearing his name, which had been vilified after the publication of the decision in the first phase of his divorce litigation. "I did not seek any change in the ultimate distribution of the marital estate. My wife ultimately received less after the second trial than she would have received under the terms of the separation agreement," he notes. Yet, Weinstock was fined an unprecedented $10,000 for filing the appeal, as the Appellate Division asserted that he only filed the appeal to harass his former wife. The Appellate Division ignored the new evidence that disclosed that his wife's assertions, where she litigated the validity of the separation agreement, were proven to have been false by her own testimony.
Worthless Stock now Valued in Millions
To appreciate the frivolous nature of the charges that cost him his license, Weinstock argues that it's worth reviewing the civil case he was involved in and the powerful entities lined up against him. The two cases were connected the Grievance Committee sought sanctions against Weinstock arising from those two civil cases.
As previously reported in The Black Star News's November 14-21 edition, Weinstock's ordeal started as an admittedly fabricated disagreement between a lawyer and his client it morphed into a prolonged vendetta against Weinstock with Weinstock on one side, and his former client Walker and Walker's associate Emmerich Handler on the other. Handler was represented by the powerful firm Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen and Hamilton (CGS&H), and Walker was represented by other Handler attorneys, Schlam, Stone and Dolan (SS&D).
In 1984, Weinstock represented Walker when he wanted to enforce the rights of his company (4200 Avenue K Realty Corp.) to purchase two Brooklyn properties for $1.9 million. The first two trials ended in losses for the client.
Then partners at the law firm that had retained Weinstock for Walker quarreled. Walker sued Weinstock for fraud. When Weinstock threatened a counter lawsuit, Walker admitted, under oath, that his lawsuit against Weinstock was groundless and fabricated. Handler, Walker told him, had instigated the lawsuit to put pressure on his partners.
The two men discussed a settlement so Weinstock would release Walker from liability. Weinstock was so incensed at the false accusations that he made a demand of $2 million in settlement. Weinstock said that he was more interested in the apology than in the amount of the settlement. "I therefore reluctantly accepted Walker's offer for the remaining 80% stake in 4200 Avenue K Realty Corp., which by then had no value due to the two adverse court decisions. In 1985, I had accepted a 20% stake as my contingency fee for representing Walker in the enforcement trials," he says. These were the deals that in fact led to Weinstock's disbarment. Ironically, his stake in 4200 Avenue Realty Corp. remained worthless forever, he would still have his license today.
What happened was that after the deal with Walker, Weinstock prepared and filed an appeal at his own cost to reverse the negative decision on the enforcement trials. In 1986 the verdict was reversed in his favor. Suddenly, Weinstock had in his possession a valuable corporation. In the meantime, the value of the property had doubled. "Not surprisingly, some old friends came knocking on the door," he recalls. "Indeed, as it later turned out, they didn't just knock on the door they stole the door."
Cancer Victim's Refusal to Die
Before Weinstock could uncork champagne bottles, he was struck with stomach cancer. Handler claimed, without any documentation whatsoever, that Walker had agreed to give his former law firm 50% of the stock of the corporation "as a fee," and that Walker subsequently agreed to give Handler an additional 10% of the stock. There was no record of any agreement. There was just Handlers word.
While Weinstock lay on his deathbed in September 1986, Handler retained Cleary Gottlieb to represent him, and also retained Schlam, Stone & Dolan to represent Walker. Schlam and Stone had held high executive positions in the office of the US Attorney for the Eastern District of New York. Their complaint alleged that Weinstock had "coerced" Walker into signing over the ownership of 4200 Avenue K Realty Corp. when he threatened to counter sue for Walker's own prior fabricated lawsuit. Walker subsequently admitted under oath in open court, and also in the presence of an FBI agent, that the second lawsuit was also contrived at the request of Handler, who wanted to get part of the property after Weinstock won the appeal in 1986, records show. "Judge Douglass struck the testimony of the FBI agent, and ignored the confessions of Walker," Weinstock says. "He even ignored the sworn complaint and believed the claims of Handler based upon alleged oral conversations."
The Appellate Division decision, which stated that Weinstock had "coerced" his former wife to sign the separation agreement, was rendered in 1989. In 1986, Handler, Walker and their attorneys had already instituted the lawsuit against Weinstock, alleging "coercion" on Weinstock's part. Did the decision in Weinstock's matrimonial case in 1989 have anything to do with the then pending lawsuit by Handler and Walker? Is it just a coincidence that the Appellate Division referred to "coercion" in both cases, although neither of the trial courts had ever mentioned coercion?
Judge Douglass himself, who had awarded Handler more than double what Handler had asked for, did not make any finding of coercion. Is it just "coincidence" that the Appellate Division, when deciding the Handler, Walker, Cleary Gottlieb lawsuit, cited Weinstock v. Weinstock for the proposition that Weinstock coerced Walker? Weinstock doesn't believe so. "What did one have to do with the other, except to conveniently depict me as a man with a tendency to coerce others?" he asks. "My former wife, and Walker, had admitted under oath that they had not been coerced. Counsel for my former wife was called as a witness at the Handler/Walker trial. His testimony was also shown to be false."
Walker hasn't returned a phone call from The Black Star News seeking comment.
In a previous interview with The Black Star, Handler denied any wrong doing, stating that since Supreme Court Justice Lewis Douglass later ruled in his favor, he had been completely vindicated. He accuses Weinstock of carrying out a 17-year vendetta against him and adds, "The Grievance Committee found that he even coerced his own wife."
While Weinstock was hospitalized, George Weisz, senior partner at Cleary Gottlieb, proposed a temporary truce, in writing. The status quo would be maintained until a court would decide the merits of the Handler/Walker claims, or the parties would settle said claims. Surgery and aggressive chemotherapy offered little hope for Weinstock. In 1987, he suffered a heart attack.
Miraculously, he lived to continue his quest. In 1988, Weinstock could not get any information from Weisz about the status of Avenue K Corp. In 1990, he found out that in 1987(when Weinstock was expected to die), Handler had borrowed $3.8 million and used the property as collateral, transferring the corporation to his company. He had also given Cleary Gottlieb $500,000.
The war was on. Weinstock filed an answer and counterclaims against Cleary Gottlieb, alleging mail fraud and wire fraud amongst other charges since in his l987 bank application Handler said his wife, Rita, was a 90% owner of stock in the corporation and that neither he nor his wife were involved in any litigation, records show. Indeed, however, Handler was involved in litigation directly affecting the properties he was pledging to the bank.
Judged by Huttner, Who's Unfit to Judge
The case filed by Handler and Walker ended up before the notorious judge, Richard D. Huttner. Judge Huttner first referred the case to Referee Irving Kramer; when Kramer returned the case to Huttner, he referred the case to Judge Douglass, rather then send it to the Trial Assignment Part to be randomly assigned, as was required. Douglass decided that Handler was, "at all times," the 100% owner of the property, even though Handler himself had never asked for more than 48% (jointly, with a charitable institution, which he later admitted was only his "nominee"). "Handler's trial attorney admitted on the record that until he came into the picture, at least 6 years after the assignment made by Walker to Weinstock, that everybody, including Handler and his attorneys, thought that Walker was the owner of all of the stock of the corporation," Weinstock notes. "That is, until he came into the picture in 1991 and thought of a new theory which would explain how Handler received his interest in the corporation Walker was the owner."
In the meantime, Weinstock purchased a judgment, which the FDIC had won against Handler and his wife Rita Handler. "I knew that Handler had more than enough money to satisfy the judgment," he explains. The FDIC had been unable to collect a penny from Handler. Enforcement proceedings were then instituted by Weinstock before US District Court Judge Robert Patterson, Jr. who had jurisdiction because it was a Federal judgment. "When Judge Patterson threatened to jail Handler because of his false responses to questions, Handler retained several high powered criminal defense lawyers for what he thought would be an imminent prosecution," he notes. On August 25, 1997, Handler's criminal defense lawyers filed a complaint with the Grievance Committee against Weinstock; correspondingly, on September 18, 1997, Handler's criminal lawyers filed a similar complaint with the Grievance Committee against Weinstock, on behalf of Walker. The two complaints alleged coercion and overreaching with respect to the 4200 Avenue K Realty Corp. deals between Walker and Weinstock, beginning in 1984. "These complaints were clearly meant to be retaliatory," Weinstock says, in an interview. "They were obviously meant to be bargaining chips. Why weren't they filed 13 years earlier, when the alleged misconduct supposedly occurred?"
Moreover, Weinstock insists, the deck was completely stacked against him at the Grievance Committee, which was not impartial. He points to an incident between him and Judge Huttner that occurred during the 4200 Avenue K Realty proceedings. On December 20, 1994, Weinstock's associate had objected when he was barred from speaking while lawyers from Cleary Gottlieb were allowed to make their presentation. Judge Huttner then accepted Cleary's motion to transfer Weinstock's separate RICO lawsuit against his opponents regarding the 4200 Avenue K Realty Corp. from the New York County Supreme Court, where it was instituted, to Huttner's Kings County Supreme Court, after which judge Huttner promptly dismissed the case. According to Weinstock's associate the judge then, before more than 50 witnesses, uttered the following insult: "This guy's an asshole."
Weinstock wrote to the judge demanding an apology. Judge Huttner instead called Weinstock's associate and told him that at least three of the witnesses the associate identified, all of them adversaries in that proceeding, denied hearing the insult. Significantly, this confirmed that the judge had spoken privately with opposing counsel. "I may want you to come in to Court and state your version on the record," Judge Huttner also allegedly told the associate, presumably to intimidate him, and added: "I'm going to make a complaint with the Grievance Committee."
Weinstock naturally feared that his pleadings would be compromised by such an adversarial relationship with the judge, and asked the judge to recuse himself; Huttner rejected this motion. On January 22, 1995 Weinstock filed a complaint against Huttner with the New York State Commission of Judicial Conduct. On January 31, Huttner himself filed a complaint against Weinstock and his associate with the Grievance Committee. Weinstock says the Committee's lawyers interviewed his associate on February 27, but subsequently took no further action regarding his complaint or Judge Huttner's. More egregiously, Huttner continued to be involved in the 4200 Avenue K Realty Corp. case. The Huttner complaint against Weinstock and the Weinstock complaint against Huttner were dismissed. Huttner, despite numerous accusations of impropriety in other cases that have been well covered by the media and an official censure, still sits on the Court and determines the fate of New Yorkers.
Disbarred by a Kangaroo Court?
When Weinstock again heard from the Grievance Committee, it was when Committee counsel Susan Korenberg called him in July 1998 to schedule a hearing regarding the 1997 complaints by Handler and Walker. That call followed Korenberg's receipt of a letter from one of Handler's criminal defense lawyers, suggesting that Weinstock should be suspended from the practice of law. The letter was addressed "Dear Susan" and timed while the appeal in the Handler/Walker case was pending, a unique circumstance. During the hearing on August 4, 1998, records show that, twice, Committee counsel Robert Saltzman informed Weinstock that he and Korenberg wanted to speak with Weinstock off the record. "The two Committee lawyers led me to an ante room and suggested that if I dropped my case with respect to Avenue K, then the Handler and Walker complaints would "go away,"" Weinstock says. "I was outraged by the suggestion. Not only did I realize I was being railroaded -- I was being told that I was being railroaded."
Both Saltzman and Korenberg didn't return detailed phone messages from The Black Star seeking comments by press time.
Weinstock says he wrote a letter to Saltzman and Korenberg explaining why he wouldn"t drop the civil case but didn"t get a response. On July 21, 2000 Saltzman and Korenberg filed a motion for a summary judgment on their Grievance Committee petition against Weinstock and the motion was granted on December 15, 2000. "I never even got the opportunity to confront my accusers some justice," Weinstock observes. He was disbarred on April 8, this year. He is preparing a lawsuit against those responsible for an outrageous miscarriage of justice.
Before Weinstock purchased the FDIC judgment, he attempted to share information with regard to Handlers finances and practices with the FDIC. He wrote, "Handler is an attorney who defrauded me and many dozens of other innocent victims, using the courts as a vehicle," and that he had been "personally swindled by Handler to the tune of millions of dollars." Handler and his attorneys "have literally "gotten away" with "sharp" practices, outright fraud, blatant perjury and essentially a systematic mocking of our administrative and judicial systems," Weinstock added.
He also alleged that Handler was a "one man crime wave" and that "Handler succeeds in controlling the litigation while insulating himself directly from the swindles he has perpetrated" and that together with one Samuel Roth was Handlers "silent partner in crime". Handler and Roth sued Weinstock for defamation. After a trial this past summer, a jury determined that Weinstock"s statements were not defamatory. For the defamation trial as well, Handler retained the politically well-connected attorney, Mel Barkan, who was the former chairman of the New York Civilian Complaint Review Board.
Handler on the other hand points out that the fact that he was awarded $1 by the Court shows that he was vindicated.
New York"s entire judicial system depends upon the integrity of the members of the bar, the judiciary and law enforcement system. When the "system" allows victims to be crushed in order to silence them forever, the foundations of the entire society are shaken to their roots. It"s time to restore dignity and integrity to our ailing system. The feds must act now.