Brooklyn Boro

Times’ portrayal of Sanford Rubenstein lifts image

Chuck Otey's Pro Bono Barrister

December 23, 2014 By Charles F. Otey, Esq. Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Sanford Rubenstein, Eagle file photo by Mary Frost
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Has Court Street Attorney Been Tried and Found Guilty in ‘The Press’ and Denied Presumption of Innocence?

Attorney Sandy Rubenstein may be a controversial figure these days, but it is possible that he is responsible for the New York Times publishing its most flattering comments ever about the fabled and too-often-maligned “Court Street Lawyer.”

You can look it up in the Dec. 14 Sunday Times — the edition with the Gray Lady’s widest distribution nationwide.

As part of a lengthy profile on the guy whose office is at 16 Court St., Times writer Alan Feuer wrote the following in the well-read Metropolitan section’s lead story, with a four-column photo of Rubenstein: “There are a number of ways to describe Mr. Rubenstein’s place in the fractious tribe of the New York bar. He is, among other things, a Court Street lawyer, a term that situates him both in a physical location — his office is at 16 Court St. — and in a stylistic genre: When people say, ‘Court Street lawyer,’ they generally mean a street-smart sharpie who may not have an Ivy League degree, but does possess verve, hustle and a striver’s charisma.”

I can’t speak for other Court Street lawyers, but I’ve never interviewed a personal-injury victim who demanded, “Help me find a white-shoe Wall Street lawyer to bring my case!”

When I’ve been approached with a possible case out of my field, I would certainly get in touch with top-notch Court Street lawyers such Steve Cohn, John Bonina Jr., Richie Neimark, George Farkas, Jim Ross, Dave Feldman, Arthur Hill, Dick Klass (who claimed the title “Your Court Street lawyer” a few years back), Mark Longo, Ross D’Apice, Hon. Edward Rappaport and Andy Fallek, just to name a few.
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No Criminal Charges Against Attorney Rubenstein

The Times story started with a provocative headline — “On the Edge of Disgrace” — and went into great detail on the many large, alleged police brutality cases handled by attorney Rubenstein, working with the Rev. Al Sharpton. Feuer also revealed that Sharpton sought Rubenstein out as an ally after the “Court Street Lawyer” successfully handled the notorious Abner Louima case back in 1997.

Rev. Al immediately distanced himself from his ally of 17 years and, shortly thereafter, Sharpton let it be known that the family of Eric Garner — the Staten Island man who died while being wrestled to the sidewalk by New York City cops — would no longer employ Rubenstein’s firm to represent them.

Sharpton was clearly acting to protect himself and his National Action Network, at which the alleged victim was employed, and this abandonment added to the perception, fashioned by “police sources,” that Rubenstein was guilty.

But Feuer was careful — unlike the tabloid dailies and some local papers — to note that no criminal charges have been brought yet. Most readers of daily newspapers would be surprised to learn that, a full month and a half after the alleged incident, the Manhattan district attorney had not legally accused Rubenstein of anything.

The absence of a formal indictment at this juncture was puzzling to many, especially those (whose minds were already made up) who had not been made aware that the stories and headlines damning Rubenstein as an unrepentant rapist substantially relied on “police sources.”

There has certainly been immense pressure brought to bear, from segments of the NYPD and possibly other city agents, to “throw the book” at this guy who has cost New York City tens of millions of dollars and has often unfairly and, perhaps, wrongly, castigated police officers who had been involved in controversial arrests.

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Sharpton’s Exit ‘Story’ Strikes Humorous Note

Parts of the Times article were almost humorous, notably when Feuer wrote that the Rev. Al actually claimed that he and Rubenstein seemed to compete with each other when it came to garnering press exposure.

Sharpton charged, according to Feuer, that “Mr. Rubenstein sometimes ‘got in front’ of the cases by rushing from the courthouse to deliver statements to reporters.”

Sharpton said he complained to his attorney about this scene stealing.

“I would tell him, ‘Look, this isn’t about you,’” he said he warned Rubenstein.

Hard to believe that anyone could beat Rev. Al to a press gathering, especially with TV cameras present.

Rev. Al is very canny and has demonstrated excellent survival instincts. He may even be aware that his employee’s case will be very difficult to prove. With a solid knowledge of the applicable law, he also knows that, whether or not criminal charges are filed here, there will certainly be a subsequent civil suit against Rubenstein.

What will happen then? Attorney Rubenstein will most likely settle the case without admitting anything and resume his practice on Court Street.

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Has New York Times Dropped Its Long Anti-Brooklyn Bias?

The Times has a history of demeaning Brooklyn in general — and Court Street lawyers in particular. In this Internet age, when yesterday’s news is quickly confined to cyberspace, it’s easy to forget that the Times was the daily newspaper in Manhattan for almost four decades before Brooklyn became part of New York City. It looked down on Brooklyn from the start. Its outer-borough bias has persisted.

For instance, the Times had no qualms about championing legendary civic activist Jane Jacobs when she led the battle to prevent Robert Moses from destroying part of Greenwich Village with one of his “super highways.”

But later, when Moses wanted to eviscerate two or three Brooklyn neighborhoods to pave the way to Long Island and Staten Island with an oversized Gowanus Expressway, coupled with Verrazano Bridge approaches (which would displace some 10,000 people in Sunset Park and Bay Ridge), it was a different — or, rather — no story. In addition to anecdotal evidence, there’s nothing in the record to indicate that the Times showed any concern for these “outer-borough” victims.

Nor did it seem to care when Moses ripped asunder one dozen square miles of Brooklyn neighborhoods, enabling more and more city dwellers to flee to the suburbs. He became the darling of Detroit and the financial angel for scores of large construction firms. Jacobs became a heroine, deservedly, and, as usual, Brooklyn got the shaft.

Perhaps the Times’ most obvious pertinent slur came in a story published prominently in the early 1980s, demeaning the “Court Street Lawyer” and embellishing its effort by running a sizeable picture of a rumpled, shaggy bearded guy huddling in a phone booth near Court and Montague streets. At a glance, you just knew that this character epitomized the “Court Street Lawyer.” Closer scrutiny told a different tale.


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