"If the judges interpret the laws themselves, and suffer none else to interpret, they may easily make, of the laws, [a shredded] shipman's hose!" - King James I of England, around 1616.

“No class of the community ought to be allowed freer scope in the expression or publication of opinions as to the capacity, impartiality or integrity of judges than members of the bar. They have the best opportunities of observing and forming a correct judgment. They are in constant attendance on the courts. Hundreds of those who are called on to vote never enter a court-house, or if they do, it is only at intervals as jurors, witnesses or parties. To say that an attorney can only act or speak on this subject under liability to be called to account and to be deprived of his profession and livelihood by the very judge or judges whom he may consider it his duty to attack and expose, is a position too monstrous to be entertained for a moment under our present system,” Justice Sharwood in Ex Parte Steinman and Hensel, 95 Pa 220, 238-39 (1880).

“This case illustrates to me the serious consequences to the Bar itself of not affording the full protections of the First Amendment to its applicants for admission. For this record shows that [the rejected attorney candidate] has many of the qualities that are needed in the American Bar. It shows not only that [the rejected attorney candidate] has followed a high moral, ethical and patriotic course in all of the activities of his life, but also that he combines these more common virtues with the uncommon virtue of courage to stand by his principles at any cost.

It is such men as these who have most greatly honored the profession of the law. The legal profession will lose much of its nobility and its glory if it is not constantly replenished with lawyers like these. To force the Bar to become a group of thoroughly orthodox, time-serving, government-fearing individuals is to humiliate and degrade it.” In Re Anastaplo, 18 Ill. 2d 182, 163 N.E.2d 429 (1959), cert. granted, 362 U.S. 968 (1960), affirmed over strong dissent, 366 U.S. 82 (1961), Justice Black, Chief Justice Douglas and Justice Brennan, dissenting.

" I do not believe that the practice of law is a "privilege" which empowers Government to deny lawyers their constitutional rights. The mere fact that a lawyer has important responsibilities in society does not require or even permit the State to deprive him of those protections of freedom set out in the Bill of Rights for the precise purpose of insuring the independence of the individual against the Government and those acting for the Government”. Lathrop v Donohue, 367 US 820 (1961), Justice Black, dissenting.

"The legal profession must take great care not to emulate the many occupational groups that have managed to convert licensure from a sharp weapon of public defense into blunt instrument of self-enrichment". Walter Gellhorn, "The Abuse of Occupational Licensing", University of Chicago Law Review, Volume 44 Issue 1, September of 1976.

“Because the law requires that judges no matter how corrupt, who do not act in the clear absence of jurisdiction while performing a judicial act, are immune from suit, former Judge Ciavarella will escape liability for the vast majority of his conduct in this action. This is, to be sure, against the popular will, but it is the very oath which he is alleged to have so indecently, cavalierly, baselessly and willfully violated for personal gain that requires this Court to find him immune from suit”, District Judge A. Richard Caputo in H.T., et al, v. Ciavarella, Jr, et al, Case No. 3:09-cv-00286-ARC in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania, Document 336, page 18, November 20, 2009. This is about judges who were sentencing kids to juvenile detention for kickbacks.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Assigned counsel for the rich and powerful and their expensive champion, attorney James Gleason of Binghamton, New York

On 10/28/2013 my husband Frederick J. Neroni sued several defendants, among them attorneys Ellen L. Coccoma, Otsego County Attorney, special counsel to a large and powerful law firm Hinman, Howard and Kattel, LLP,  former disciplinary investigator and prosecutor who was a member of the Professional Conduct Committee for the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division, Third Judicial Department who refused to investigate and prosecute politically connected attorneys whom Mr. Neroni turned into the Professional Conduct Committee and who instead prosecuted investigated and started the prosecution of Mr. Neroni, which ultimately resulted in his disbarment.  

The sticky part was that Ellen Coccoma's husband Michael Coccoma recused from Mr. Neroni's case in 2007 that led to his disbarment, Mokay v. Mokay, which is not finalized and adjourned without a date at the request of the plaintiffs and at Mr. Neroni's objection to this day. 

While her husband recused from that case, Ellen Coccoma did not recuse from investigating and prosecuting the same case, but who am I to question propriety of actions of the blue bloods of the State of New York.

Ms. Coccoma is the spouse of the powerful Deputy Chief administrative judge of New York State Courts and the chief administrative judge of upstate New York Michael V. Coccoma who, by the rules created by the New York State Court administration, gets to decide which of the retired judges get lucrative well-paid positions of judicial hearing officers post-retirement.

Mr. Neroni sued Ms. Coccoma and the law firm where she worked as special counsel on two grounds:

(1) Mr. Neroni had a standing as a taxpayer and landowner in Otsego County.  

Mr. Neroni did not like the fact that Ms. Coccoma, a full-time county employee, a County Attorney earning reportedly $74,702.00 a year, is also employed as a special counsel in HHK and represents private client on Otsego county time funded, in part, by Mr. Neroni as a taxpayer.  

That was a claim against Ms. Coccoma as the Otsego County official, based on taxpayer standing of waste of public funds - a state claim under supplemental jurisdiction of the federal court.

(2) Mr. Neroni did not like the fact that: 

  • in 2010 Ms. Coccoma, Mr. Neroni's investigator and prosecutor, who had access to Mr. Neroni's allegedly existing records in the Committee (to which Mr. Neroni could not get access before his disciplinary proceedings commenced, during those disciplinary proceedings and after his disciplinary proceedings, and up to now), now represents private clients and makes claims of impropriety against Mr. Neroni as a former corporate officer, in other words, 
  • that Ms. Coccoma is using or may use for private gain information obtained against Mr. Neroni through her investigative or prosecutorial activities in the Committee.  

Mr. Neroni was suing Ms. Coccoma for violation of his due process rights and deprivation of the honest services of a neutral and impartial investigator and prosecutor.  

Only a portion of this claim was targeting Ms. Coccoma's conduct when she was part of the Committee.  

Most of the claim was targeting Ms. Coccoma's private conduct when she left the Committee, but still held confidential information from Mr. Neroni's record which she was about to use for her personal gain in a proceeding for a private client.  

That was a federal claim for violation of federal civil rights by a private actor who is using the delegated power of the state and engages in acts with other state actors in order to deprive Mr. Neroni of his constitutional rights to due process of law and to be free from unreasonable seizures (court-ordered depositions).

(3) Mr. Neroni did not like the fact that on November 8, 2011 Ms. Coccoma, instead of notifying the Delaware County Supreme Court, the Hon. John F. Lambert, of the death of her client which resulted in these three consequences:

      (a) the court has temporarily lost jurisdiction over the proceedings (jurisdiction abated, CPLR 1015);

     (b) Ellen Coccoma and her firm HHK lost authority to represent the deceased client;

     (c ) Ellen Coccoma and her firm HHK lost authority to represent the deceased client's children who were acting in litigation on a power of attorney from their father, and powers of attorney become invalid when the person who gives them dies;

  • made a motion to that same court to compel appearance of Mr. Neroni at a deposition, 
  • argued that motion, 
  • obtained a void court order to compel such a deposition, 
  • aggressively tried to enforce the order, and 
  • revealed that her client died only when, after repeated efforts of opposing counsel to bring her dead client to a deposition, the opposing counsel warned Ms. Coccoma that her client will be brought to that cross-deposition by a motion to the court to compel her client's appearance.

Only then, in April of 2012, Ms. Coccoma disclosed to the opposing counsel the fact, but not the date of death of her client.

Mr. Neroni, naturally, was not happy with this fraud and fraud upon the court, and especially with the fact that 

  • Ms. Coccoma manipulated the court, during the court's absence of jurisdiction and when her own and her law firm's authority to represent the deceased client and his children stopped, and 
  • unlawfully caused the court to compel violation of Mr. Neroni's due process and 4th Amendment rights - his appearance at a court-ordered deposition without his consent.

Mr. Neroni was also not happy that Ms. Coccoma 

  • further moved to substitute the legal representative of her deceased client, but did not claim, as it was required by law to restore jurisdiction of the court, that causes of action in the original lawsuit survived her deceased client's death, and 
  • adamantly relied upon the void decision of Judge Lambert made without the judge's knowledge of the death of Ms. Coccoma's client, as on the "law of the case", and that Ms. Coccoma
  • won that motion in front of judge Kevin M. Dowd, a judge who is, upon information and belief, close to retirement, and thus has a financial interest in the outcome of litigation, because if he would please Ellen Coccoma, he can look at a blessing from Ellen Coccoma's husband to be appointed as a judicial hearing officer, a financially lucrative position.

In New York, private attorneys are still considered " officers of the court"  and, unlike private pro se parties, are delegated by the state its police power in issuing witness subpoenas.  

Ms. Coccoma was enforcing against Mr. Neroni such a subpoena issued by her before the death of her client, but was enforcing it, obviously illegally, after the death of her client and after her own authority ceased, without notification of either Mr. Neroni or the court.

The third claim was a private claim against a private attorney who, acting on a delegated state power to issue subpoenas, under the color of state law, and jointly with several other state actors (a judicial hearing officer of the court, the presiding judge of the court, her own husband, a high-ranking judge), violated Mr. Neroni's constitutional rights.

Now - didn't Mr. Neroni have a point that what Ms. Coccoma and HHK did was in fact a violation of his constitutional rights?

Of course, the presiding judge Gary L. Sharpe did not share Mr. Neroni's opinion, and made so far intricate and unique mistakes in favor of Ms. Coccoma and her co-defendants.

In the lawsuit, HHK was representing itself through its partner James Gleason.

It is the representation of Ellen Coccoma which was tricky and sticky.

On the one hand, Ellen Coccoma was supposedly a competent counsel who could handle self-representation.

On the other hand, HHK could represent Ellen Coccoma, as well as itself.

Neither of these options suited Ellen Coccoma.

Ellen Coccoma did not want to represent herself and did not want to pay for her legal representation.

Ellen Coccoma came up with three options as to how to do it, and I am saying that based only on public records which I retrieved from a public website   

I do not know how much telephone activity happened and at what levels to help smooth Ms. Coccoma's way to a free representation by New York State Attorney General.   

This we may never know, because the lawsuit was dismissed and I do not see any eagerness in any state or federal agencies to investigate Ms. Coccoma, her husband or other powerful player in this sordid story.

In New York, as I have written in this blog before, according to repeated announcements of NY Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, over 80% of litigants cannot afford legal representation.

In New York, as in other states, the legal profession has a monopoly for representation in court, and practicing without a license has recently become a felony, thanks to the voting of multiple attorneys-Senators (I checked, voting in NY Legislature is public record) who blatantly disregarded the conflicts of interest involved in such a voting.

I get reports from indigent people who get denied assigned counsel by judges on different grounds, such as that they got a tax refund - and judge would not hear that the tax refund already went to satisfy other obligation, such as a mortgage or arrears in child support, so people remain without counsel.

It is against this background that Ellen Coccoma, 

decided to get free legal representation at the expense of New York taxpayers, including those who themselves get denied assigned counsel because of tax refunds, as I described above...

I do not know the sequence of which avenues Ms. Coccoma explored to get to that result, to create for herself a "class of one", an assigned class for the rich and powerful entitled to free legal representation at the expense of taxpayers.

Yet, I know that suddenly Mr. Neroni received a letter from Ms. Coccoma's liability insurance carrier notifying Ms. Coccoma that she is ineligible to receive legal representation at the expense of the insurance company.

But not until the case was dismissed by Judge Sharpe and HHK applied for legal fees did it become obvious to what extent Ms. Coccoma's law firm went in order to help her obtain taxpayer-funded legal representation.

Now, I would like to remind the readers that HHK represented in the action Neroni v. Coccoma, 3:13-cv-1340-GLS-DEP only itself, HHK.  Below you can see a snippet picture from the docket report of the case indicating just that.

James Gleason stepped into the representation of HHK, and only HHK, on 12/02/2013, as Docket 27 of the case demonstrates below.

Yet, according to Mr. Gleason's own submissions to the court in Docket 63, application for attorney's fees, Mr. Gleason has engaged in a vigorous campaign on behalf of Ellen Coccoma since 11/05/13 to broker free legal representation for Ellen Coccoma, and charged his client (and is trying to shift that fee to a pro se civil rights plaintiff at this time) $ 4, 985.50 in legal fees for that campaign.

As a disclaimer, I made this calculation based on the fee list of Mr. Gleason, and where Mr. Gleason commingled different activities with activities to support free representation for Ms. Coccoma by the New York State Attorney General and did not provide a breakdown as to how much time was expended on each of the commingled activities, I assigned the entire value of the claimed commingled activities to Mr. Gleason's campaign to support free representation of Ms. Coccoma by the NYS Attorney General's office at taxpayer expense.

Nowhere does it appear that Mr. Gleason offered his colleague and employee his own pro bono services or services of his law firm.  After all, Ms. Coccoma was representing her client on behalf of HHK.

And I remind the readers once against that, throughout this entire campaign on behalf of Ellen Coccoma and to the end of this litigation, Mr. Gleason never appeared on behalf of Ellen Coccoma as an attorney and, thus, had no right to claim one penny in legal fees for his advocacy on her behalf.

Yet, since Mr. Gleason proudly announces that he advises state and federal judges on "joint issues" through a "State-Federal Judicial Council", he can count on support and understanding from both state and federal judges to rescue him from any ethical pits he throws himself and his law firm into.

The existence and operation of this "Council" is even more interesting in the context where state judges are sued in federal court...  Really, "joint issues" may arise...

But back to the story...

This is the relevant timeline of the Neroni v. Coccoma litigation and a summary of Mr. Gleason's legal fees Mr. Gleason found possible to put on his client (his own firm HHK) and to claim against a pro se plaintiff in a civil rights litigation - legal fees generated in the advocacy of taxpayer-backed free representation of a politically connected attorney Mr. Gleason did not represent:

Attorney fee charged by Attorney James Gleason to his client (own law firm – Hinman, Howard and Kattel, LLP [“HHK”]) and claimed against the Plaintiff
Lawsuit Neroni v. Coccoma et al. was filed
Summons issued for Ellen Coccoma
Summons issued for HHK
Summons issued for Eugene Peckham
Summons issued for LGT
Gleason's initial contact with Ellen Coccoma about the lawsuit
$           737.50
Gleason's initial contact with New York State Attorney General about the lawsuit
$           737.50
Gleason's e-mail exchange with Ellen Coccoma about indemnification
$           206.50
Gleason's follow-up with Ellen Coccoma regarding letter requesting defense/indemnification under the Public Officers Law to the Attorney General's Albany Office
$           118.00
Telephone conference between Gleason and Kevin Hickey of NYS AG about free representation of Ellen Coccoma by NYS AG
$           354.00
Notice of Appearance of Hiscock & Barclay on behalf of Levine, Gouldin and Thompson, LLP and Margaret Fowler, the law firm and a law partner of Eugene Peckham, former Acting Supreme Court justice and the hearing officer in Delaware County Supreme Court at the time of representation of clients in a case where Eugene Peckham previously presided as a judge
Discussion with Kevin Hickey of Ellen Coccoma's status for free representation by NYS AG's office
$        1,003.00
Exchange of e-mails "with counsel" regarding status of representation for Ellen Coccoma and Eugene Peckham
$           177.00
Notice of Appearance of New York State Attorney General on behalf of State Defendants with the exception of Ellen Coccoma and Eugene E. Peckham
Initial appearance of Attorney James Gleason (HHK) on behalf of HHK only, not on behalf of either Ellen Coccoma or Eugene Peckham
Gleason’s discussion with NYS AG’s office of the status of representation of Ellen Coccoma
$        1,327.50
Refusal letter from Ellen Coccoma's insurance carrier
Gleason's telephone conference with NYS AG regarding status of representation of Ellen Coccoma by NYS AG
$              88.50
Personal service of the summons upon Ellen Coccoma
Gleason's follow-up e-mail to NYSAG regarding Ellen Coccoma's request for indemnification/defense under the Public Officers Law
$              59.00
Gleason's exchange of e-mails regarding NYS AG's agreement to represent Ellen Coccoma and Eugene Peckham
$           177.00
Notice of Appearance of NYS AG on behalf of Ellen Coccoma, Eugene Peckham
$    4,985.50

Below are snippet pictures from Mr. Gleason's own statements of fees to the court in Neroni v. Coccoma, 3:13-cv-1340-GLS-DEP in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York, Docket 63-1, pages 7 to 12.

Please, note that Mr. Gleason values his advocacy for taxpayer-backed free legal representation of a politically connected attorney who was not his client, at $295/hr.  

On November 5, 2013, a week after the lawsuit was filed, Mr. Gleason calls Ms. Coccoma for the first time about this litigation (at least, that is what he claims in his list of legal fees).

On November 6, 2013 Mr. Gleason, a busy attorney, starts researching disciplinary rules for the benefit of Ellen Coccoma whom he does not represent in the action.  Well, at that time Mr. Gleason did not step into representation of HHK either, he only did it on December 2, 2013, in a month's time.

On November 7, 2013, the relentless Mr. Gleason exchanges e-mails with Ms. Coccoma pertaining her " eligibility for indemnification under the Public Officers Law and even has a telephone conference with Jeffrey Devorin of the New York State Attorney General's office in Albany.

On November 8, 2013 Mr. Gleason follows up with Ellen Coccoma regarding her request to the New York State Attorney General to represent her for free.

On November 13, 2013, Mr. Gleason has a telephone conference with the New York State Attorney General's office on the same subject, and accurately bills all of the above to his client (and law firm) HHK, even though he did not step into representation of HHK in the federal action yet, and did not (and never did in the future) step into representation of Ellen Coccoma in that lawsuit.

Mr. Gleason continues to discuss the same issue of Ellen Coccoma's free representation at taxpayers' expense with the NYS Attorney General's office on November 19, 2013.

On November 22, 2013 Mr. Gleason exchanges e-mails on the same subject of representation of Ellen Coccoma, and now adds to it the issue of taxpayer backed representation of Eugene Peckham, retired Acting Supreme Court Justice out of Broome County who is a law partner in another large and influential local law firm, Levine, Gouldin and Thompson, also a defendant in the Neroni v. Coccoma action who also sought - and gained - free representation by New York State Attorney General when sued for actions as a private attorney.

On November 26, 2013 Mr. Gleason holds yet another conference with the New York State Attorney General's office regarding representation of Ellen Coccoma by that office.

On December 2, 2013 Mr. Gleason prepares a waiver of service on behalf of Ellen Coccoma whom he does not represent and finally files his Notice of Appearance with the court on behalf of HHK only, not on behalf of Ellen Coccoma.

 On or about December 4, 2013 Ms. Coccoma receives a rejection letter from her insurance carrier refusing to represent her because she was charged in litigation with intentional misconduct.

Mr. Gleason's campaign on behalf of Ms. Coccoma to get her taxpayer backed representation by the Attorney General's office continues.

On December 9, 2013 Mr. Gleason holds yet another telephone conference with the Attorney General's office on the same subject of legal representation of Ellen Coccoma.

On December 10, 2013 Ms. Coccoma was personally served with the summons to appear in the action, and her appearance was set at 20 days after the service, as a matter of law, to December 31, 2013.

On December 10, 2013 Mr. Gleason holds yet another telephone conference with Ms. Coccoma about "status"and deposition of Mr. Neroni where Mr. Neroni, instead of appearing, served Ms. Coccoma with the summons.  Thus, Mr. Gleason learns that Ms. Coccoma was served and has only 20 days to appear in the action.

On December 16, 2013 Mr. Gleason sends a follow-up email to the NYS Attorney General's office to once again verify the status of Ellen Coccoma's representation by the NYS AG.

On December 18, 2013 Mr. Gleason's efforts to get taxpayer backed representation of Ellen Coccoma by the NYS Attorney General's office were finally crowned with success, and the NYS AG appeared on behalf of Ms. Coccoma and on behalf of Eugene Peckham in Neroni v. Coccoma litigation.

Now, some math.

According to the site collecting information from public sources about salaries and pensions of public officials in New York at the state, county and municipal levels,  

  • In 2013 Ellen Coccoma had a salary of $74,702.00 as a full-time Otsego County employee, a County Attorney, and an unknown amount paid to her as HHK special counsel;
  • In 2013 Ellen Coccoma's husband Michael V. Coccoma had a salary of $ 175.592 as the Deputy Chief Administrative Judge of the State of New York
The total income of the Coccomas, without counting Ellen Coccoma's income from HHK and sources other than their public office salaries, such as investments, rentals, if any, etc., in 2013 was $250,294.

This couple would be hardly eligible for assigned counsel in any court in the State of New York, and they knew it.

Mr. Gleason also knew better than to advocate for taxpayer backed representation of Ellen Coccoma, and Ellen Coccoma was not even his client, but he vigorously fought to get that freebie for Ellen Coccoma - and he won.   

Good job, Mr. Gleason, Judge Coccoma must be very pleased with your efforts.

According to the same site,, Eugene Peckham's judicial pension, without any other sources of income and without his income as a judicial hearing officer and his income as a law partner in Levine, Gouldin and Thompson, was in 2013  $78,337.   

Private attorney Eugene Peckham is not exactly an indigent party eligible for an assigned counsel either.

New York State gives attorneys a monopoly for representation of third parties in court.

Mr. Gleason does it at $295/hr.  

Over 80% of low income New Yorkers cannot afford legal representation, according to the repeated admissions of NYS Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, which necessitated to create a whole Task Force to help this crisis.

Yet, an attorney who portrays himself on his law firm's website as a beacon of propriety and even as an advisor to state and federal judges, advocates, at $295/hr, to have a rich and powerful attorney be represented at taxpayers' expense by the New York State Attorney General.

Mr. Gleason did what he did vigorously, persistently, without any authority since he did not represent Ellen Coccoma, but he arrogantly tries to claim to a federal court (which apparently he " advises on joint state-federal issues" through his State-Federal Judicial Council), fees as if they were incurred in bona fide representation of HHK, and tries to put the payment of those fees on a pro se civil rights litigant.

Now, let's forget that the pro se litigant here holds a J.D.  What if he didn't?  What if he was an indigent and illiterate pro se party?  Would he had a chance against Mr. Gleason?  Does he have a chance now, given Mr. Gleason's incestous  relationship with the state and federal court system?

If the claimed protection of the public by the legal protection is in all actuality claimed only to preserve the professions' privileged position and exorbitant fees claimed whether a certain attorney, like Mr. Gleason in this situation, is or is not entitled to those fees, it is time to end that monopoly and deregulate the market of legal services.

To say that the public is protected by blocking lay individuals from court representation and by installing a monopoly for the practice of law for the likes of Mr. Gleason, Ms. Coccoma, Mr. Peckham and people supporting them in their endeavors to get taxpayer-backed freebies for the wealthy and powerful, is to be a hypocrite of the highest order.

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