"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.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Wife-of-a-judge Ellen Coccoma and the saga of her time sheets as the Otsego County Attorney

Some New York agencies are a pleasure to work with in terms of Freedom of Information requests and some are ... well, not a pleasure to work with.

For example, I do not recall having a problem, to date, when filing FOIL requests with the office of the New York State Comptroller.

The NYS Comptroller's office 

(1) has a contact e-mail for FOIL requests;
(2) promptly responds to FOIL requests;
(3) promptly provides requested records, and
(4) even has a public list of types of records that are available for FOIL requests - whether that list is complete or incomplete, I did not have time to check yet, but it is long, 11 pages.

One of the items on that 11-page list is time-sheets of employees.

It is understandable that employees on taxpayers' payroll must have time-sheets showing whether they actually worked on a certain day or not.

If they didn't work on a certain day, they cannot draw their salaries and benefits for that day (or for hours not worked).

That principle is applicable to taxpayer-funded public officials on all levels, from state to county to local governments.

Apparently, not so for wifes-of-judges who are public officials.

I filed, long time ago, in September of 2015, a FOIL request regarding time sheets of Otsego County Attorney (NY) Ellen Coccoma, who is wife of the Chief Administrative Judge of upstate New York Michael Coccoma.

Yesterday, on March 28, 2016, as part of my administrative appeal of constructive denial of my FOIL request, after assurance of a prolonged "legal review" of my request, I finally got the answer to  my inquiry for Ellen Coccoma's time sheets - there are none.

Now, why did Otsego County need 6 months and an administrative appeal of constructive denial of my FOIL request to provide an answer that there are NO public records responsive to my request?

To give Ellen Coccoma time to find and destroy those time sheets better?  After her alleged "legal review" that Otsego County claimed they are doing?

So, either Otsego County Attorney Ellen Coccoma destroyed those as part of her alleged "legal review", or such time sheets were never filed by her.

And that's a shame.

Because I know for a fact - and there are court records to back me up - that Ellen Coccoma, during daytime, when she, as a full-time, taxpayer paid Otsego County Attorney was supposed to do work for Otsego County - was representing private clients in private court cases, in her side job as "special counsel" for Hinman, Howard and Kattel, a large law firm out of Binghamton, New York.

"Coincidentally", Ellen Coccoma was recently part of the Professional Conduct Commission of the Appellate Division, 3rd Judicial Department.

As an attorney and "officer of the court", spouse of a high-ranking judge, and a recent prosecutor of attorney misconduct, Ellen Coccoma should be beyond reproach - not in the sense that she is immune to criticism and above the law, but she should conduct herself to a higher standard than the lay public.

Yet, in a "strange coincidence", Ellen Coccoma did not file or destroyed her time sheets, so that they are not available for my review on FOIL request, and a recent attorney for the same Professional Conduct Committee where Coccoma was a recent member, of the NYS Supreme Court Appellate Division 3rd Department Steven Zayas (along with the Chief Attorney Peter Torncello and third attorney) was caught and "resigned" for falsifying time sheets - which did not cause them to lose their law licenses, as it did not cause Christina Ryba, "special counsel" for that court's chief judge Karen Peters, to lose her law license after she was fired in November of 2015 for unethical conduct.

Do they teach how to engage in unethical conduct and escape without discipline in that 3rd Department Committee - or is it just the wife-of-a-judge pedigree that went to Coccoma's head?

I will follow up with FOIL requests and other actions to several public authorities about this extraordinary admission by the Otsego County that I squeezed out of Otsego County only at the threat of a lawsuit.

Stay tuned.

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