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Saturday, April 19, 2014
First in a series

Politics plays key role in appointments

A 'Press' special report

By CUNY Graduate School of Journalism investigative reporting students in conjunction with Riverdale Press editors
Posted
Marisol Díaz/The Riverdale Press
Bronx Supreme Court

This series was reported and written by a class on investigative journalism taught by Tom Robbins at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. Contributors include: Lindsay Armstrong, Carla Astudillo, Sean Carlson, Tristan Hallman, Jacob Hodes, Alex Robinson, Rachel Sapin, Jorteh Senah, Joe Stepansky, Emma Thorne, and Kate Trafecante. Adam Wisnieski and Kate Pastor of ‘The Press’ provided additional reporting and editing.

Despite years of reforms, in some Bronx courtrooms, it is still just as helpful to know the judge as the law. Sometimes, it’s even more so.

That’s the finding of a Riverdale Press review of discretionary appointments by local judges and the legal practices of politically connected attorneys who often appear before them.

The review found that in spite of repeated efforts to divorce the courthouse from the political clubhouse, links between judges who must seek election and the lawyers who help them win ballot lines and votes, remain strong.

Those ties surface glaringly, the review found, when judges are called upon to appoint attorneys to serve as legal representatives for those unable to care for themselves, or to handle estates and foreclosures.

• As a Supreme Court judge, Nelida Malave-Gonzalez, who was elected in November as the Bronx’s new judge of the surrogate court, repeatedly tapped leaders of the Bronx Democratic County Committee, commonly referred to as the Bronx Democratic Party, to serve as court-appointed counsels, designations that yielded tens of thousands of dollars in fees. Since she began making appointments in 2010, Judge Malave-Gonzalez’s most frequent appointee, records show, has been Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, who has represented Riverdale and Kingsbridge in Albany for 19 years and who serves as chair of the Bronx Democratic Party’s county committee.

• Howard Vargas, a past executive director of the Bronx Democratic Party who currently serves as the party’s legal counsel, has won 87 appointments from local judges since reforms went into effect in 2003. Mr. Vargas’ court designations over the years have included about two-dozen appointments as a receiver for troubled multi-family properties in bank foreclosures, although records show that several of the buildings continued to deteriorate under Mr. Vargas’ administration.

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MannyG

I commend the RP for writing this article exposing how these elected officials are part of a club you and I aren't in. Finally some real journalism.

Thursday, February 28, 2013 | Report this
unodostres

Hi MannyG

I believe students from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism deserve the credit for this superbly written and well researched article...with additional props to the RP Editorial Staff. Great work guys (and girls).

Now my two cents...

The Hon. Nelida Malave-Gonzalez is actually a fair Judge and actually considerate of Bronx residents, especially in credit card collection cases. She was very much aware of the credit card industry's unscrupulous collection practices - especially against low income residents of the South Bronx - and the many times I appeared before her in pro se matters she made sure I understood the process. I have to commend her for that.

Insofar as Dinowitz is concerned...let's be clear, Riverdale politicians can make (or break) your political career in the Bronx if you decide you want to cowtow to their demands and rely upon Riverdale funds for your campaign. Look at BBP Ruben Diaz Jr! It's seems BBP Diaz walks around with Jeffrey Dinowitz arm so far up his a-- that if you look hard enough you can see the Assemblymans pointer and thumb fingers trying to YANK Diaz Jr.'s wisdom teeth out of his head...as he controls Diaz Jr.'s every word. Its sad and its sickening. If only Assemblyman Dinowitz were trampled into resignation by angry Bronx residents at the Loews Paradise a few years back, maybe we would not have to bear witness to his control of the BBP in such an emasculating, embarassingly dominatrix-y fashion. As fate would have it, he was spared from serious injury and we are now all subject to his narcisstic maneuverings as well as his sneaky bag biting brand of politics.

It is a shame a judge like Hon. Nelida Malave-Gonzalez is also beholden to the Dinowitz/Koppell/Engel Riverdale machine. I guess this dynamic can also account for all of the Riverdale arrests/violations being thrown out (dismissed) for Riverdale residents...while the lower income areas are subject to higher penalties/fines/violations and astronomical incarceration rates.

"Religion is the opium of the people." Marx

Friday, March 1, 2013 | Report this
Rosemary

This is a great piece, it rare to see this level of print journalism..Thank you!

Sunday, March 3, 2013 | Report this
MannyG

to Unodostres, yes I agree with your post. Very well written. I used to write for the RP very briefly in 2007. At that time, one of the first things I participated in was an organized softball game with Dinowitz and his staff against the staff of the Press. Now, it was fun and we had a great time, but in the back of my mind I was thinking "how are we going to report on this cat if we're buddy buddy playing softball with him?"

It was obvious that the local political establishment and the management of the RP were more friendly than they should have been. That cozy relationship has not served anybody well, and I'm very glad to see a little crack appearing with this article. Let's hope its the beginning of a trend. Although I have no faith in politics or either party, it's obvious that these entrenched career pols who think they have jobs for life need a little comeuppance. And it's not acceptable for them to be foisting their puppets on us either.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013 | Report this
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