I wrote on this blog how Governor Cuomo made a strategic move to nominate Judge Leslie Stein to the New York State Court of Appeals, likely in order to garner Judge Stein's favor in ruling on the DEC case that, if ruled against DEC, could have resulted in massive voiding of environmental convictions and adjudications against New York landowners and necessity to return possibly millions of dollars of improperly collected fines.
The nomination of Leslie Stein put an end to the hopes of Judge Victoria Graffeo whose term on the NYS Court of Appeals ended in 2014, to continue in her judgeship.
Recently, information was released to the press that the retired Judge Graffeo has joined a law firm Harris Beach PLLC.
I took a quick look at what the firm is.
Of course, I found in the law firm Judge Graffeo's former "confidential law clerk", John T. McManus (male, white). Nothing like giving a former boss a part of your law firm - and gaining the prestige of having the former NYS Court of Appeals judge, with her connections and influence, as part of the team.
Of course, I found in the law firm a New York State Senator, Michael F. Nozzolio (male, white).
Of course I found in the law firm a number of former district attorneys.
Of course, I found in the law firm a person who is dealing with selection of judges specifically for appellate courts, which will raise interesting questions if Judge Graffeo decides to run for an appellate judgeship once again in the future.
Of course, I found in the law firm a hearing referee doing hearings for the New York State Commission for Judicial Conduct.
All in all, it appears to be a standard composition for a large and powerful law firm, same as I recently described in my analysis of the composition and its potential of another powerful law firm, Hiscock & Barclays, LLP of Albany, New York.
To me, employment of public officials in a law firm such as this raises red flags as to their impartiality and motivation in discharging their official duties, and whether the law firm hires these people in order to secure certain results from them in their official capacity, to promote their business and business of their - no doubt - prominent and wealthy clients.
Here is a summary table of attorneys in Harris Beach PLLS (I counted myself, maybe I made mistakes, but if I did, it was unintentional):
In Harris Beach LLC attorneys who are co-owners of the law firm (including now former Judge Victoria Graffeo) are called "members", as I understand, and attorneys who are employees are called "associates, of counsel, counsel, appellate counsel". I do not know the status of the "senior counsel".
Gender composition of associates:
|Racial composition of associates (judging by the picture provided on the website of Harris Beach PLLC):|
There are 3 female minority associates, as far as I could count, in Harris Beach PLLC - one Asian and 2 African American.
Racial composition of members:
There is only one minority (Hispanic) female member in Harris Beach PLLC.
One thing struck me though when I analyzed racial composition of attorneys in Harris Beach PLLC.
|There are 7 attorneys "of counsel", including NYS Senator Michael F. Nozzolio|
|(compare with Hiscock & Barclays' "of counsel" NYS Senator Neil Breslin).|
|Total of counsel||7|
|1 appellate counsel - Buzard, Vincent A., Male, White, with the following credentials posted on the website:|
"Supreme Court and the Appellate Division; a referee for the New York State Judicial Conduct Commission hearing cases involving alleged judicial misconduct, chair of the New York State Bar Association committee to review candidates for the New York State Court of Appeals. In 2006, Mr. Buzard was appointed by Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye to serve on the Special Commission on the Future of the New York State Courts and in 2007, he was appointed by her to chair the Seventh District Judicial Screening Commission which screens candidates for all courts in the district, served with Chief Judge Kaye on her Special Committee on the Establishment of Commercial Courts in the State of New York and was instrumental in the establishment of the Commercial Court in Rochester.
Tell me, who can EVER, for example, punish this law firm or any of its attorneys for frivolous conduct? No matter what they do - and I am not saying they are doing anything wrong - but theoretically?
Such an armor of protection, isn't it?
Such a potential to influence judges by participation in "screening" of candidates for judges and being a referee to potentially punish errant judges - while at the very same time practicing in front of judges who know that this firm employs an attorney who can make or break the judge's career as a referee for the Commission of Judicial Conduct.
Please, don't tell me that judges do not take that into consideration when they rule, that they are so ethical, fearless and impartial that it is unlikely that an idea to give this firm what they want does not cross a judge's mind simply out of a sense of self-preservation. We are all human, judges included.
Having as part of the staff a person who can make or break judges is a huge potential for influencing the court.
Advertising that potential to the public practically points out to the public this potential.
Now, this law firm practices in New York.
According to the U.S. Census information, only half of, let's say, Buffalo's population, is white. Moreover, Buffalo Law School, year after year, is called the best law school for black students.
Yet, look at the "numbing numbers" of racial, as well as gender, composition among associates, members and other attorneys.
What kind of customer base does Harris Beach PLLC serve that its members are nearly 100% white (and with a male supermajority - 80%)? Their "of counsel" attorneys are 100% male and white?
While the firm deems it acceptable to hire more females (percentage-wise) to do the firm's legwork, for the lowly-associates' positions, the firm only has 95.7% of the firm's members, nearly all of them, are white, and only 1/5 are female.
What kind of prospect of advancement does this composition promises a newly graduated minority law student?
Possibly - none, other than to go into a District Attorney's office, then become a judge - and then, when the judicial term expires and in the event she is not re-elected - to be embraced by a law firm such as Harris Beach PLLC?
I know it is a private business.
I know they can make their own decisions who to hire and promote.
Those decisions are exactly the point.
And the point is that Judge Victoria Graffeo joined this mix, and thus put a seal of her personal approval on this policy.