FAILURE OF OCA TO REFER LEGISLATORS TO APPELLATE DIVISION OF THE SUPREME COURT

 By Harry Reynolds       

            When in 2007 the  Office of Court Administration (OCA) unlawfully withheld  from the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court the modest 25 year record of Congressman Rangel’s failure  to register, was the cause of the OCA’s decision the fact that the OCA knew that there were New York State legislators who were as guilty as Rangel and that the OCA  had not referred them to the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court?

 

            Who had the motive and arrogance to make those decisions?

 

            Did the then Chief Administrative Judge, Jonathan Lippman, now the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals, our highest court, know of those decisions?

 

            Did Sheldon Silver, Speaker of the Assembly who was responsible for Lippman’s appointment in 2009 as Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals, speak to Lippman about any of the guilty legislators?

 

            Who were the New York State legislators blessed by the happy disposition of the OCA towards them? How many guilty legislators since 2007 have left the OCA building in lower Manhattan wearing party hats?

 

            If the OCA was sensitive to the heady air of politics, did it extend to other matters such as delinquent attorneys sleeping in its records as “delinquent” for four, six, and eight consecutive years?

 

            Can you tell by looking at any OCA attorney registration list  the number of consecutive years a registered attorney has been “delinquent”?  Why doesn’t OCA list that information?

 

            Is it fair to state that the Chinatown lawyer, Stanley Chin,  was suspended in his eighties from the practice of law by a court that did not know that the OCA unlawfully refrained from referring legislators to that court for disciplinary action warranted by the conduct for which Chin was suspended?

 

Sister Ildephonse

                                     Sister Ildephonse

[Fiction]

by Harry Reynolds

When I was eleven years old I was told, and I believed it to be true, that God punished evil people, but then I saw that he didn’t, and then I saw that sometimes he did punish them, but then I saw that evil people sometimes were good and sometimes good people changed in midstream in doing good and turned to evil while they were doing good. In the end, I saw that God had absolutely nothing to do with good and evil, that good and evil were, so to speak, none of his business.

And so, one day, at a Lower East Side school where I was educated by military officers disguised as German nuns, when Sister Ildephonse looked at the ceiling and said, as if to herself, “No matter who you are, children, you can always rely on God’s love”, at that moment the course of my life was changed when I snidely whispered to the class forger, Vladimir Petrov, “God owes us nothing”. Sister Ildephonse, upon hearing what I had said, swooped down the aisle, grabbed my red tie, and dragged me upright into the cloakroom, where she beat me about the head, left and right, left and right, with such force that for a moment I stood apart from her beating and wondered at her strength as she delivered her blows. That night, as I lay in my bed in our cold water flat, I rolled over and over thinking of a plan for vengeance on Sister Ildephonse but could think of no way in which I could conceal my identity. But then I prayed to God to help me, and so he did, and I saw that, though he did not owe me anything, he was just. I suddenly realized that the key for concealing my identity was by telling a priest in a confessional something evil about Sister Ildephonse. We had been told by Sister Ildephonse herself that a priest’s mouth was silenced forever, even by the threat of death, about what he had heard in the confessional from any penitent. I was, I may as well say it, transfixed by the joy that my plan for vengeance upon Sister Ildephonse came out of her own mouth. For the next week, I could think of nothing but the variety of lies that I could tell the priest without making him suspicious of me whose identity of course he would know by looking through the grill at my bent form.

And so, having selected Father Fleckenstein, the newest priest in the parish, who was young and nervous looking, I entered his confessional on a Saturday afternoon, the time when the priests every week were in their confessionals ready to deal with the sins of what I thought a surprising number of parishioners. “Bless me father, for I have sinned. My last confession…” “Get on with it, boy, no need to go into that recitation.”

I confessed about five or six sins, none of them extraordinary. Sins of disobedience of my parents, of a choice lie that I was somewhat proud of, of my dreaming of a naked girl, the oversized Sophie Wyzinski who lived in our tenement, and so on until, as if I were munching on a fact that I seemed to be concealing, I blurted out that I saw Sister Ildephonse, after class had been dismissed, in the cloakroom with Father O’Brien, the Pastor, and they were laughing. Father Fleckenstein said, after pausing at length, “There’s nothing wrong with that. Why do you even mention it?” “ I don’t know”, I said haltingly, “except that I could see Sister Ildephonse wasn’t wearing her skirt. It was on the floor.” This time there was a very long pause. “What else did you see?” asked Father Fleckenstein. When I heard that question, fright overcame me. I couldn’t breathe. I began to cry. I could have urinated in my pants. Father Fleckenstein said, “You are never to tell what you saw to anyone. Never tell anyone. God will strike you and even your family dead. Do you understand that… Tell me you understand that.” And I said “Yes, I understood that.”

At Christmas, we learned that Sister Ildephonse was now in the Phillipines. I heard my mother telling my father that the rumour in the parish was that Vladimir Petrov had seen Ildephonse in the cloakroom with one of the priests, which priest no one knew. I marveled at how the seal of the confessional was observed and how God was so right in pointing the way to me. In the end, I could see that he might not owe us anything, but he certainly knew how to be just without disclosing my identity. It was then, I recall, though I cannot be certain, that I began to believe that one day I might become a lawyer.

Yuri

 

   YURI

When I was a boy in knickers, history was a story about events we saw around us, but there came a day when suddenly I saw that there was an unseen, unspoken, history of what was going on when we were not looking.

On that day, many decades ago, I was sitting in the dimly lit classroom of a parochial school when there was a knock on the door followed by the entry of the Principal, Sister Norbertine, a kind, dwarf-like German nun who had in tow a tall, lean youth, his head bent, looking straight ahead, walking in slow, hesitant steps, as if he was disabled. He seemed several years older than the rest of us. Sister Norbertine looked about and said, as if in explanation of his appearance, “This is Yuri Kirov, he’s from the Ukraine. He will be our guest for two days.” She directed him to the desk next to mine. I greeted him, hand extended. As he sat down, he looked not at but towards me, as if I were not there. He did not shake my hand.

At the end of the school day, Sister Norbertine signaled to me from the hallway and in a whisper asked me if “for the sake of Jesus” I would take care of Yuri who had suffered for Jesus in the Ukraine, she said. “What happened to him?” I asked. “I can’t say”, she said. “Is he from our neighborhood?” I asked. “He was sent by that Ukrainian Church on the West Side. Just do it for Jesus,” she said crankily, and glided away as nuns seem to do when they move.

I bent towards Yuri and told him that he would be eating with us tomorrow in the school’s cellar. He didn’t answer, and then suddenly said “Yes”, looking at me as if he knew something that I didn’t know.

The cellar was long and narrow, its walls covered with a paint that long ago had faded from white. Small electric bulbs gave off a weak light over a scarred, wooden table with wooden benches astride it. Fixed into the wall was a life size wooden crucifix from which hung the bleeding Christ. At lunch time the next day I took Yuri to the cellar. The class, in the main made up of Russian boys, thought Yuri weird, and so followed behind us.

When we were all settled, I turned to Yuri and told him that my father was Irish but my mother’s family were Ukrainian Cossacks. He stared at me and said nothing. I then asked him to tell us about himself, and that then we would eat the inevitable cabbage soup that the German nuns had prepared.

Yuri shot up, straight as a rod. With an imperious, almost laughably melodramatic look around the cellar, his hands at his waist, he began in a sing song voice, rapidly, as if a gun were being held against his head, to name his village, his farm’s location, its area, its age, every piece of machinery on it, its products, his horses, cows, pigs, chickens, and then his parents, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins and then, without a sign, he stopped as if controlled by a turn table in the sky….and, looking at the ceiling directly above him, he yelled, not shouted, but yelled with all his might at the ceiling at the top of his voice.WHERE ARE THEY? DEAR AMERICAN COMRADES, WHERE ARE THEY! MILLIONS DEAD EVERYONE EVERY THING DEAD! AND IN YOUR PAPERS NOTHING! MILLIONS OF UKRAINIANS DEAD IN CRAZY STALIN LAND AND NOTHING IN YOUR TIMES PAPER! PEASANTS HANGING FROM TREES AT RAILROAD STATIONS, GRAVES IN CITY PARKS, TENS OF THOUSANDS OF PEASANT KIDS IN WAREHOUSES STARVING, LOCKED UP BY OGPU, PEOPLE HOLDING ON TO ONE ANOTHER’S BELTS FOR PIECES OF BREAD, LITTLE GIRL – LISTEN TO THIS – SHE WENT TO HEAD OF BREAD LINE AND WAS BEATEN TO DEATH BY THE BAKER!

Some boys began to laugh, nervously. One of them said, “Get this freak out of here! He’s nuts. Is this a joke?” But everyone was afraid to move. And then, Yuri strode over to the huge crucifix and leaning against it on his elbow, as if he was pretending, mockingly, to be a passing friend of the hanging Jesus, he whispered in Jesus’s ear, “Tell them what I saw in the barn, Jesus. Go ahead. Tell them about Aunt Sophie and what I saw. Tell them. Tell them! Go ahead, tell them how I was beaten after I ran yelling across the field and told my father what I saw and he ran to the barn and came back and grabbed me by my mouth and beat me to keep me quiet…..Tell them, Jesus, tell them I saw my aunt Sophie eating her dead baby! I SAW MY AUNT SOPHIE EATING HER DEAD BABY! I SAW MY AUNT SOPHIE EATING HER DEAD BABY! I SAW MY AUNT SOPIE EATING HER DEAD BABY!”

Comrades, my dear comrades, I’ll bet you didn’t see that in your glorious newspapers!

And with that, Yuri sat down, his seizure over. Reaching for his spoon he wiped it against his sleeve and ate his cabbage soup as if it was his last meal.

We didn’t know what to do. And so we watched him, without moving, without touching our soup, without uttering a word.

When he finished, he crossed himself, rose, and trudged up the cellar steps and disappeared in the peaceful quiet of the tenements of the Lower East Side. We never saw Yuri again.

A Ukrainian priest came to bless the cellar the next day. When we asked his reason as he cast holy water on the crucifix, tables, and walls, and particularly where Yuri had sat, he said nothing except that Stalin had starved several million Ukrainians to death because he wanted their farms. In a flash, I realized why the Ukrainian Church had sent Yuri to a school filled with Russian children.

In four months, Germany would invade Poland and an unending, catastrophic tsunami of human blood, eventually called World War II, would begin, having long been hiding in a little cove of unspoken history where no one had been looking.

Sister Philomena 1937

 

Sister Philomena

by Harry Reynolds

I stand at the window and watch the snow fall.

I am eight in the third grade in a Catholic school in a slum with crazy Sister Philomena and God all around in a dark land of prayer, guilt, daily Masses, a bleeding Christ crucified above the blackboard, the fear of having my face slapped or my hands beaten with a ruler held by Sister Philomena, souls screaming in Purgatory in a print over her head, Hell behind every closet door ready to break out with the Devil reaching for me as his daily catch. It is 1937.

I walk through life heedlessly innocent to a dangerous degree of the malice in the world. I am thankful for the privilege of sitting next to the hot belly of a coal stove in winter, protected from the murderous winter wind trying to get through the newspapers stuck under the hallway doors and in the tops and sides of the old windows through which I can see, across the park, the tiny lights in the surrounding snow shrouded tenements.

And then there’s Confession. I have to confess my sins come Saturday to an old priest sitting in a dark box, he on the other side of a grill, me on my sinful knees – God knowing it all, why do I have to tell this priest anything – he seems asleep, and has bad breath.

But if I don’t tell him everything, the confession is bad, I commit sacrilege by taking communion, and if I don’t take communion at least once a year, then it’s into Hell I go, for it’s a law that thing about communion once a year, break that and it’s the Devil inhaling my breath one night as I lay asleep in my bed in our cold water flat on the top floor of the tenement on Avenue B next to St Brigid’s Church across from Tompkins Square Park.

Yes, it seems that everything in life is connected and if I knew the spot where I could pull out the plug everything would disappear.

If, I thought, my mother dies and I don’t go to that school every day and smell Sister Philomena’s body bent over my shoulder, looking for ink spots on my paper that would make her grab it and rip it up, if my mother dies and I don’t have to go to Mass every morning except Saturday and watch the priest do the same thing over and over again, if I kept on sleeping in my bed and no one noticed that an ambulance came and took me to Bellevue Hospital where those parents of Mickey Rooney in the movies would take me secretly from Bellevue to Judy Garland in their snowbound house in Westchester far from Avenue B, then I could pull out that plug and whenever I wanted I could buy a thirty-five cent corned beef on club, with mustard, at Katz’s on Houston Street, and everything wouldn’t be connected anymore, especially Sister Philomena, who would be dead.

But wait. Should I have killed off Sister Philomena just because, balding and pot-bellied in age, I am watching the monotonous fall of snow on Bradley Road? Americans say they love realism (of course they are lying, they love realism as an entertainment) and if they love realism shouldn’t they receive dollops of it even if only in a local weekly newspaper? The truth is that on other occasions, particularly when speaking before bar association groups, I have wheeled out Sister Philomena as the third grade teacher who turned my life around by instilling in me the desire to excel as a student. Of course my motive to study was in part prideful but deep down in my heart it was to save me from an attack by this nun who represented the Pope. As a lawyer I have never drafted an agreement without her shadow enveiling the paper that had invisible ink spots made by my invisible dip pen. Whenever and wherever I stand in public I stand with the rigidity of a German officer in memory of Sister Philomena’s order of German nuns who punished slouchers with a slap from behind at the back of a head. Waste not, want not was tattooed across Sister Philomena’s forehead, and in self-defense across mine in larger letters. Every sheet of paper that we used had to be used on both sides so that in the fifth grade I took a test on the back of a sheet the front of which had the third-grade scrawl of Thomas, my younger, black sheep brother. We were fed lunch every school day by the Sisters for a dollar a week. Huge helpings of chopped meat, boiled potatoes, German cabbage, beans and so on, were laid across our plates with the two-fold warnings that as we ate we should remember that our parents were digging ditches or cleaning floors or unloading the tween decks of ships for that dollar a week and that there were millions – yes, millions – of children who looked just like us who were starving in India and China thinking of that very food on our plates. Sister Philomena said, as we ate, that these thoughts should make us humble, a thought that I kept in mind as I walked in winter to the cold water flat that Charles Dickens had thoughtfully provided for my arrival. Last, and the greatest gift from Sister Philomena, was the gift of memory, the gift instilled by the sheer fear of failing to recite each and every word, including punctuation, exactly as they were found in our old, dreary text books, smudged by the hands of other prisoners who had passed before Sister Philomena’s half-closed eyes as she looked down on us when one by one we recited from memory in fright the paragraphs assigned by her for memorization the prior night.

So, good and gentle folk, I’ll turn Sister Philomena in her wheel chair and walk towards stage left where I’ll keep her behind the curtain in a sepia toned memory cell, waiting for another snow fall.

The Sad, Unknowable, Case of Charles Rangel

   By Harry Reynolds                     

 

This is the sad, but unknowable, case of Charles Rangel found, so to speak, in the records of the New York State Office of Court Administration.

 

In April, 2014, Chinatown lawyer Stanley L. Chin, in his eighties,  was suspended from the practice of law by the Appellate Division, First Department, for failing to register biannually since 1982 when the registration system was established. The Judiciary Law states that “Noncompliance by an attorney with the provisions of this section and the rules promulgated hereunder shall constitute conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice and shall  be referred to the appropriate appellate division of the supreme court for disciplinary action.” 

 

 

 

Registration involves the payment of a $375 fee, proof of the completion of 24 continuing legal education credits, and, most significantly, the affirmation that the attorney  has observed during the prior two years regulations concerning the lawful keeping of records of moneys received from and paid out on behalf of one’s clients. In substance, every attorney affirms, among other things,  that he has not stolen money from his clients. Lie about that matter  and one faces a criminal  charge, not to mention the triggering of tax evasion prosecutions.

 

 

 

When in April I read the Court’s Chin opinion, I recalled that in 2007 Harlem Congressman Charles Rangel was the subject of an inquiry by me of Jonathan Lippman, Chief Administrative Judge of the Office of Court Administration, for I did not find Rangel in the list of registered attorneys.  The Office of Court Administration surprisingly answered,  among other things,  that Rangel had failed to register for twenty-five years, an Olympic leap by any measure.

 

 

 

The Office of Court Administration thereafter resolved the matter not by referring Rangel  to the Court, in accordance with the Judiciary Law, but  by registering him presumably after his giving what must have been to the innocent ear  an incredible  explanation, for his guilt was clear and, like Mr Chin, he had no legal defense. By keeping the Rangel matter within the Office of Court Administration, it effectively kept the matter secret for it was regarded administratively as its confidential work, beyond the reach of public inquiry. Indeed, the public would never learn of what the Office of Court Administration had done.

 

The Judiciary Law and the regulations of the Office of Court Administration compelled the sending of Rangel’s  serious  violation  to the Court.  The Office of Court Administration does not have any judicial powers. It does not have the power to forgive, waive, or determine the measure of discipline. That was the business of the Court to be performed publically. If that were so, why was the Rangel matter disposed of  in the Office of Court Administration?

 

 

If we assume that the Rangel matter had been referred to the Court, and that the Court would have treated Rangel as in last April it had treated Chin, Rangel would have been suspended with the prospect of further election remote. Instead, the Office of Court Administration’s disposition of Rangel not only left the public totally ignorant of the reasons for its determination, for the procedure it followed was one which draws a veil of administrative secrecy over why and who  had done it, but it left the public with a sense of wonder, so suspect does it seem when held up to the light. 

 

            What do you say to Mr Chin as he suffers suspension from the bar while  Congressman Rangel, guilty of the same conduct, fox trots up the street whistling?

 

            Is this not a case into which there should be at least  the feigning of an inquiry by an appropriate body?