Chuck Otey’s Pro Bono Barrister: Salary-deprived justices know cost of cutting essential court funds

June 28, 2012 Brooklyn Eagle Staff

By Chuck Otey

Veteran attorneys note that our justice system has not faced more financial challenges since the days of the Great Depression back in the 1930s.

As proof, they point to the headline “No Courts, No Justice, No Freedom” which was the unique and ominous theme of Law Day marked May 1 on the stairs in front of 360 Adams St. near Columbus Park.

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Solemn in their black judicial robes, scores of Kings justices heard words of hope and challenge from Kings Administrative Judge for Civil Matters Sylvia Hinds Radix; her counterpart in criminal matters, Administrative Judge Barry Kamins; Supreme Court Justice Marsha Steinhardt, and Court of Claims Judge Juanita Bing Newton.

Hon. Robin Garson“We all know of good friends and talented, indispensable court employees who have been forced to retire or transferred to all corners of the city”, one of the jurists confided to this writer. “All court personnel were upset that it took us [the justices] 12 years to get a pay raise now their own ranks have been decimated!”

To this writer’s recollection the Brooklyn Bar’s special program dealing with the many ways ‘depression’ is hurting the legal community was the first of its kind. The fact that leading jurists such as Hon. Sarah Krauss and the Hon. Robin Garson would devote their time heading the panel underscores the unusually difficult era for barristers, jurists et alia. We’ve learned their program was well received and very helpful to those among our ranks who are facing challenges in and out of court.

Hon. Sarah KraussAs one of the first programs under the new presidency of Domenick Napoletano, it’s clear this is going to be a unique year especially in view of the stunning rulings coming down from the Supreme Court, notably those in the misnamed Citizens United fiasco. We wish him well, and he’s got a top-notch team to work with Andy Fallek, Rebecca Woodland, Arthur Aidala, Frank Seddio and the ever-reliable Executive Director Avery Okin.

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The Howe family offers a portrait in courage

Because the theme of Pro Bono Barrister since its inception almost 13 years ago is telling about “the good that lawyers do,” we’ve often mentioned the name of attorney Bob Howe, a successful and respected practitioner who is regularly seen in the Surrogate Court and the Supreme Court.

Howe is a ranking executive of the Kings GOP, who has taken a lead non-political role in civic and business matters in southwest Brooklyn, especially in Bay Ridge, where he lives with wife Diana and where they have raised their four children.

Bob Howe will rigorously and professionally pursue the rights of a client, but he is one lawyer who doesn’t seek the spotlight. He was surprised this year when his parish, St. Anselm’s in Bay Ridge, singled him out as a top honoree on the Parish’s 90th anniversary. (This is in addition to other honors he’s received in the past from the Bay Ridge Ragamuffin Parade Committee and the Bay Ridge St. Patrick’s Day Parade Committee.)

Personally, it’s been a very rewarding experience for me to work with Bob as an officer of the Merchants of Third Avenue, a business-civic organization which he has led as president for almost 20 years. And, as readers know, Bob and Di Howe have regularly written in-depth restaurant reviews for the Eagle during the past five years.

So I could only gasp when I heard via a phone call early on a recent morning that the Howes’ 81st Street home had been destroyed in an “all-hands” fire.

“They are all fine!” my caller quickly assured me. “They just made it out!”

When I visited the scene later in the day the home that held 30 years of memories for the Howe family was charred and gutted throughout. Bob told me that they were actually saved by a neighbor banging at their door at 3 a.m. The warning came just in time.

As soon as they and a daughter fled the fire through a side door the back of the house exploded and was engulfed in flames.

Despite this tragedy which consumed all of their furniture, clothing as well as irreplaceable photos and family memorabilia, the Howe family courageously appeared the following weekend at the Bay Ridge “Relay For Life.” This is a moving celebration where over a thousand persons publicly offer their support as part of the battle against cancer.

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‘Trekkers for Trevor’ move on despite crisis

Candles are placed in small shopping bags with the names of friends or relatives drawn, and once the twilight passes the candles are lit, lining the entire oval surrounding the Fort Hamilton High School football field. Cancer survivors, their family and friends are also there in great number some wearing specially designed T-shirts denoting their particular cause.

The Howes including daughters Siobhan, Caitlin and Brianne were all there as part of “Trekkers for Trevor,” giving thanks that their son Trevor had made it through his own personal encounter a few years back.

Since the fire, hundreds of people have reached out to Bob and his remarkable family. Lawyers have volunteered to cover his court cases. Others have offered living quarters. Everyone seems to ask “What can I do to help?”

One purpose of this message is to let court personnel know a little more about this soft-spoken, lanky lawyer who almost daily is handling a case in one Kings legal venue or another. It’s also to remind ourselves that maybe we shouldn’t take for granted the good things in life. But when events take a near-catastrophic turn we can benefit from this singular Howe family and their inspirational example of how to live life, one day at a time.

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Supreme Court restores hope in judicial system

Following the 2000 election wherein a majority of voters chose Al Gore over George Bush, the United States Supreme Court abandoned its own precedent based on stare decisis and yanked the hotly contested

Florida presidential legal battle out of lower court to award the election to George Bush.

Then the anointed Bush-Cheney administration abused the uniting spirit created by the horrendous 9/11 attacks to skip over a just war in Afghanistan and launch a tragic and unnecessary war against Iraq.

The Iraq War which we later learned was based on government lies, some of which were bought totally by the media, most lamentably the New York Times has cleared the way for Iran to take over a substantial portion of the Mideast, posing an existential threat to Israel.

It wasn’t lost on the voters and most lawyers that the justice casting the deciding vote in 2000 was the Hon. Clarence Thomas, who had been appointed some years before by then-President George H W. Bush, the father of a named litigant.

Since then, this Supreme Court has further endangered our already-hamstrung electoral system by declaring that “corporations are people” and inviting billionaires to give limitless amounts to office-seekers most notoriously those seeking the presidency.

Then, the same Supreme Court issued an anti-labor decision that will seriously curtail the rights of blue-collar workers and make it impossible for millions of them to move into our vanishing middle class.

Against this backdrop, it seemed impossible that the Supremes would uphold President Obama’s health care law.

Yet at 10:10 Thursday morning, startled TV anchors came on, proclaiming “Supreme Court upholds health care.”

Wow! Was this the result of the court sensing outrage with the above decisions especially one which that may result in Las Vegas/Macao billionaire Sheldon Adelson giving up to $100,000,000 to the Romney campaign? Were the justices learning that ultimately its authority rests on public trust?

It’s too soon to tell. But rest assured Mitt Romney’s inner circle will no longer be able to sneer when the use the loaded term Obamacare!


PRO BONO BARRISTER is a weekly column dedicated to telling about the good that lawyers do. Send your comments or suggestions to this writer care of this newspaper or to [email protected] Readers seeking legal representation on a Pro Bono Publico basis should not contact this columnist. Rather, they should seek out the Brooklyn Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project at 718 -624-3894.

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