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?