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Chuck Otey's Pro Bono Barrister for September 16

Justice Johnny Lee Baines, LICH refreree. File photo

Brooklyn Daily Eagle

Ombudsmen, Thompson May Save Day for LICH

There may be light at the end of the tunnel for embattled Long Island College Hospital employees and patients, present and future. Supporters were buoyed by the news that two respected ombudsmen have been named to oversee the hospital’s operations during the prolonged crisis.

Equally as important and ensuring that the process will be fair and thorough was the revelation that Justice Johnny Lee Baines has named as LICH referee.

The physician ombudsmen are Dr. John Berall, an emergency room specialist, who served as chief medical coordinator following the disaster wreaked by Hurricane Andrew in Homestead, Fla., and Dr. Eric Manheimer, a former chief medical officer at Bellevue Hospital for 15 years and currentlya clinical professor at NYU’s Langone Medical Center.

Anchoring this effort, of course, is Judge Thompson – the father of the mayoral candidate – who is one of the best organized and persuasive figures on the city’s public scene.

Justice Baynes and Justice Carolyn Demarest have been issuing orders to SUNY, and it seems that SUNY hasn’t fully complied with the court’s wishes. SUNY(State University of New York) is the public authority that runs LICH and a number of other hospitals.

With Judge Thompson serving as the enforcement link between the court and the ombudsmen, court orders issued through Kings Supreme Court have taken on a new urgency especially when coupled with the reputations and cited goals of the physicians.

"As I understand the job, the position of ombudsman is essentially to return LICH to where it was on July 19,” Dr. Berall told the Eagle, according to writer Mary Frost. Avoiding any ambiguity, he added that he knew his job was to "make sure the orders are complied with, and if not, why?”

Dr. Berall won the recommendation and the immediate backing of Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, the winner in Tuesday’s primary. "We support this recommendation because of Dr. Berall’s impressive medical credentials and his commitment to protecting care for Brooklyn patients,” said de Blasio spokeswoman Eliza Bates.

Progress in complying with court mandates was immediately apparent at LICH, according to writer Frost, with Dr. Berall announcing that "The emergency room is open. It’s fast, ready and available. Patients are walking in and being treated – 60 patients yesterday, 58 the day before and 47 the day before that."

* * *

Thompson Well Suited To Judicial Enforcer Role

Winning quick approval from LICH supporters was a comment by Dr. Berall that "Dr. Manheimer and I agree that the hospital should remain a hospital; acute care and full service...no condominiums. That would be a good shake for Brooklyn.”

The senior Thompson has been so effective for so long that some people mistake him for his son and vice versa. A graduate of Brooklyn Law when it was in the prior building (near Pearl Street) in 1965, he was elected to the state Senate, re-elected two years later, and within a year he was elected to the City Council, where he served from 1969 to 1973.

By 1974, the rising legal political scholar was elected to the Kings County Supreme Court. He became assistant administrative judge four years later and, in 1980 was designated by Gov. Hugh Carey as an associate justice of the Appellate Division, Second Department. ultimately serving as the presiding judge.

Judge Thompson retired in 2001 but remains a very effective force in New York’s legal-political community. He is of counsel to the Court Street partnership of Jim Ross & Arthur Hill, one of the city’s top trial firms.

* * * 

Justice Knipel Sees Hope For Lifting Judicial Age Bar

While life expectancies have grown substantially over the last 60 years, many of our outstanding jurists are still faced with the anachronistic retirement age of 70. To qualify after that age, each jurist has to go through a rigorous, arbitrary procedure known as recertification.

Interestingly, the proposition of raising the judicial retirement age has been on the electoral ballot before and was soundly turned down. The problem seems to be that the legal system, judges included, has never been popular with the voters.

"Everyone loves lawyers when they need one and has great respect for judges when they’re in court, but in the privacy of the election booth they show their true colors," said a veteran Brooklyn lawyer who once sought a judgeship.

Indeed, lawyers make for good jokes, and the reputation of all is often marred by the bad acts of one. That’s why, for the past 13 years, Pro Bono Barrister has had as its theme, "Telling about the good that lawyers do."

Newspaper editorialists regularly excoriate every judge who “sets free” an alleged criminal who then goes out and commits some heinous act. Extremists in the far right attack “activist” judges who dare to interpret any statute in a way that displeases them. Ironically, these same people always seem pleased with the rulings of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia,

who seemingly wants the country to go back to those halcyon days of the late 1770's.

(Brooklyn lawyers may just have a chance to have a dinner with the famed Justice Scalia on Sept. 23. For details write BBA CLE Director Meredith Symonds at msymonds@brooklynbar.org.)

While Justice Scalia has acquired iconic status in some quarters, most judges know that the voting public is unlikely to be fair to them when any issue improving their lot comes up for a vote – as it is scheduled to this November.

Among those looking forward to a vote changing the state constitution to allow many judges to serve regular terms after the age of 70 is Kings County Chief Administrative Judge For Civil Matters Lawrence Knipel.

Evincing a positive, pragmatic approach, A.J. Knipel told Eagle writer Charisma Miller recently that “this is the most significant proposed change affecting our state’s judiciary in 40 years.” He emphasized that the “economics” of raising these age limits favor the voting public.

“Firstly,” he explained, “the most experienced judges will be permitted to preside for additional years [at no extra cost]. Secondly, taxpayers will save substantial pension costs because senior judges will begin collecting pensions at 80 instead of 70 or 76 years of age."

Just down the road from the 340 Adams St. courthouse is the Eastern District Federal Court at Cadman Plaza. Federal judges actually have lifetime tenure under the U.S. Constitution.

Their only limit is the so-called "Rule of 80" that requires U.S. District Court jurists to assume "senior status’ when they turn 80. These judges have the option, at age 65, to retire on existing salary or take senior status if they have been on the bench more than 15 years.

We admire Justice Knipel’s hopeful attitude and the very logical ways in which he explains the advantage to all who are concerned with altering state judicial limits to conform with the federal bench.

It would be good for the legal organizations to come out with some timely advertising in advance of the election extolling the virtues of wisdom and experience that are often sacrificed in adherence to a requirement which itself has “aged out.”

* * *

We’ve Lost Irwin Kosover, ‘Summer Kosover,’ Too?

Premier defense lawyer Irwin Kosover was known not only for his legal skills as for advocating on behalf of the trial bar when it came to fighting for better conditions for attorneys on both side of the litigious aisle.

For the last two decades, Irwin was lobbying for a “date certain,” a vacation period during which lawyers would not have to pick juries in Kings Supreme Court. “Our summers are ruined when we can’t schedule a vacation in late summer!" he told lawyers and judges who gathered for the regular Civil Court Forum.

He didn’t limit his campaign to the 11th floor boardroom sessions. Irwin regularly cornered jurists such as Justice Mike Pesce, Justice Joseph Levine, Justice Abraham Gerges and others in the busy hallways of 360 Adams St.

Ultimately, to Irwin’s credit and a little bit of surprise, the powers that be deigned to grant lawyers a trial-free hiatus in late summer. They called it a hiatus, but we at PBB dubbed it the "summer Kosover.”  Every time I would see him after referring in PBB to the “summer Kosover,” he would look at me and laugh: “What in the hell are you doing now, Otey! You want those judges to come after me?”

September 16, 2013 - 12:00pm


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