PRO BONO BARRISTER: ‘Wine! Whine! Wine’ provides spirited Inn of court agenda

February 26, 2013 By Charles Otey, Esq. Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Topic of `Wine! Whine! Wine’ Provides Spirited Inn of Court Agenda

What does the law have to do with an upcoming CLE program titled “Wine, Whine, Wine?”

“There’s a lot most lawyers don’t know about the complex regulations, custom and usage and various statutes that govern the wine and spirits industry,” a well-place source confided. “This area of the law is often arcane, sometimes political or pragmatic as it pertains to state and local economies, but it holds a lot of surprises for the typical barrister.” he added.

The answers will be provided by a panel of top lawyers and judges at the next session of the Kings County American Inns of Court led this year by President Marc Dittenhoefer.

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

Heading the panel probing this tasty topic – Tuesday, Feb. 26, 6 p.m., at Brooklyn Bar headquarters, 123 Remsen St.– are Justice Arthur Schack, former Justice Edward Rappaport and Jon Besunder.

“How should Inn members prepare for the unique ‘Wine, Whine” program,’ we inquired? “Best way to get in the spirit of this session would be to watch several editions of that great HBO bootlegging series–`Boardwalk Empire,’ he replied with a straight face. “Steve Buscemi [of Brooklyn] is fabulous!”

Members would be well-advised to arrive at 123 Remsen St. at 5:30 because Executive Director Jeff Feldman has arranged for a gourmet buffet dinner.

The Inn officers also include President-elect Ellen Spodek, Counselor Dave Chidekel, Treasurer Justice Schack and Secretary Judge Miriam Cyrulnik. Immediate past president is Ross D’Apice.

As is common among Ancient English Inns of Court this Kings chapter is governed by a board of masters that include Hon. Gloria Cohen Aronin, Appellate Division Justice Sylvia Hinds-Radix, Justice Barry Kamins, Chief Administrative Judge for Criminal Matters Carl Landicino, U.S. District Judge William Kuntz, and Judge Joanne Quinones along with barristers Paul Weitz, Mark Longo, Victoria Wickman, Steve Goolnick, Steve Finkelstein, Lawrence DiGiovanna and Jon Besunder.

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Justice Kurtz Civil Forum: Reminder: It’s February 27

A regular PBB reader pointed out to us that our last report on the upcoming Goldberg-Aronin Civil Forum – chaired by Justice Donald Scott Kurtz — explored the history of the forum all the way back to its founding by then Administrative Judge Michael Pesce, but a vital item was omitted. “However,” he added, a bit too smugly: “You didn’t include the date!”

I immediately cited one of the famous quotes employed by the late great Brooklyn Law School Prof. Robert Reuben Sugarman who used Latin to explain various human frailties. “Errarae humanum est!” he would proclaim in his smooth, booming voice in the sweltering non-air conditioned class rooms on Pearl Street.

For the record, this vital exchange of ideas between bar and bench with key administrators, will start promptly at 9 a.m. in the 360 Adams St. 11th floor boardroom.

Leading the forum agenda will be the introduction of Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence Knipel. Refreshments will be served.

Reminder: The March 4 Public Forum starting 6 p.m. at 123 Remsen St. sponsored by the BBA Law Foundation will offer free advice on the myriad problems facing those in troubled marriages. Chair Fern Finkel notes that this is an ‘excellent opportunity’ for lay persons (and perhaps some barristers) to get some valuable matrimonial ‘tips’ from the expert panel. Contact BBA Executive Director Avery Okin, attorney Finkel or former Chair Diana Szochet.

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Part II: No Fault Insurance: Good or Bad?

(Following is Part II of our personal look back at No Fault Auto Insurance, which was instituted in the early 70’s after intense lobbying efforts by large auto insurance carriers. The drastic ‘change’ in the law was intended to wipe out most of the auto negligence bar. Battling all the way to the Albany chambers were over 1,000 members of plaintiffs’ and defendants’ trial firms.)

The owners of defense insurance firms championed No Fault. So in Albany that day to protect their interests were well known figures such as Phil Hoffer of Empire, Bill Rosa of Aetna and many others.

Our local legislators – the late R-C. Sen. Bill Conklin and late R-C Assemblyman Dominick DiCarlo — treated us graciously, and we spent time in their chambers and on the Senate floor.

Nevertheless they candidly admitted they were going along with Gov. Nelson Rockefeller and vote later that day to bring in No Fault. Some of Rocky’s financial interests, it seemed, involved various insurance giants.

Making the lobbying rounds that day was a surprising No Fault backer in the person of prominent reporter Gene Spagnoli of the Daily News (being the conservative daily those days, with the New York Post dominating the political left).

Spagnoli, who lunched with the Republicans, agreed that the new “reparations” statute should decimate the negligence bar as far as auto-related injuries were concerned. He wrote how No Fault would “get rid of the lawyer middleman” and “reduce soaring insurance rates once and for all.”

What the carriers didn’t know was that a flaw was built into the legislation. In fact, my lobbying group, the Bay Ridge Lawyers Association, led by the late Frank Maher (a defense lawyer) and others, was personally assured that there was a very large loophole in the statute.

Later that same day, word went around the Albany halls that, buried in the reams of paper attached to the reparations statute, was a well-disguised feature which would actually benefit legitimate plaintiffs. This ‘insertion of understanding’ we were quietly told, would bring cheer to trial lawyers on both sides of the auto negligence bar.

Four decades later I can report now that Assemblyman DiCarlo – the only Brooklyn Republican Conservative ever endorsed by the New York Times — confided to a few of us that “you guys won’t be totally unhappy with the bill we finally pass.” He added that there was an almost fatal flaw in the thresh-hold test which insurance carriers hoped would wipe out auto litigation. “You’ll see it,” he said with a smile.

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What Derailed No Fault As Insurance Carrier Bonanza?

DiCarlo, who later became chief judge of the International Court of Trade, was right. The No Fault bill did not become the financial bonanza Rosa and Hotter thought it would be. It developed that legislators from both sides of the political aisle had written in last-minute “threshhold” conditions that plaintiffs could reasonably meet.  

First there was a monetary threshhold ($500 in medical damages), then “verbal,” i.e., a loosely phrased version of what constitutes a permanent injury. We were assured that a injury would qualify as “permanent” under the statute even if it resulted in as little 5 per cent disability.

My boss, Ira Gammerman, who won a Manhattan Civil Court seat eight years later, seemed  pleased with the No Fault statutes as enacted. So was the auto negligence bar. Quickly the New York Trial Lawyers Association began to offer lectures on “How To Win a No Fault Insurance Case” at its Nassau Street headquarters.

Empire’s Hoffer had no reason to be happy with the new legislation. Just a year or two later, the new law apparently backfired. In fact, one of his insurance companies was rendered insolvent. The explanation unofficially offered was that the No Fault law forced the carriers to pay out monies sooner, much sooner, to accident victims, causing a dramatic drop in insurance company reserves.

We must note that, in addition, many of these claims would have previously been barred entirely by “contributive negligence.” But contributive counted for very little where No Fault payments were involved.

Which brings us to the question: How has No Fault insurance worked over the years? Has it been good of bad for injury victims? Have insurance companies suffered?

Forty years later, what do lawyers, most of whom never tried a case pre-No Fault, think about No Fault? Has it reduced auto insurance rates as promised?

So I’m again reaching out to trial bar colleagues, local bar associations and specific barrister: Has No Fault been a boom or bust for trial lawyers and the insurance industry?
I’m not on Twitter, so you can reply in 140 characters, or less. For now, it’s [email protected] .

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