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Kings Inn troupe to stage blizzard-delayed ‘Movie Night’ on March 4

Chuck Otey's Pro Bono Barrister

February 9, 2015 By Charles F. Otey, Esq. Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Kings County American Inn of Court, led by President Dave Chidekel, Eagle file photo by Mario Belluomo
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A Look at What Lawyers Can Learn from ‘My Cousin Vinny,’ ‘Anatomy of a Murder’ and ‘The Verdict’

When the almost-great Blizzard of 2015 struck a few weeks back, the Kings County American Inn of Court, led by President Dave Chidekel, was forced to cancel its CLE-accredited “Night at the Movies” performance.

We’ve learned, from a well-placed source, that the adjourned session will now take place on March 4 at Brooklyn Bar Association (BBA) Headquarters, 123 Remsen St.

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Employing a motif that’s become popular in recent years — former Supreme Court Justice Patricia DiMango, now a television star on the well-received “Hot Bench,” often used “My Cousin Vinny” to illustrate points of criminal trial law — a distinguished inn panel, led by Justice Sylvia Ash and John Lonuzzi, will take to the boards on March 4 at BBA Headquarters.

The Kings Inn of Court was founded by now retired Justices Abe Gerges, Gerard Rosenberg, former Justice Edward Rappaport and Justice Marsha Steinhardt more than 14 years ago. Its agenda is patterned after the 800-year-old traditions of the ancient London Inns of Court.

As founder Hon. Rappaport told us recently, the inns actually preceded by centuries the creation of actual schools of law.

“You learned about the law by joining an inn and paying close attention to the teaching and examples set by practicing barristers,” he said.

Many of the inn’s presentations offer a true-to-life staging of actual trials featuring a judge, bailiff, competing attorneys, jury and all. They provide experienced practitioners an opportunity to sharpen their trial skills and enable new barristers to experience the feel and challenge of a realistic courtroom scene.

The films selected to highlight many legal points include the above-mentioned “My Cousin Vinny,” “Anatomy of a Murder” and “The Verdict.” These featured well-known stars such as Brooklyn’s Marisa Tomei, Lee Remick and Paul Newman.

Kings Inn President Chidekel is supported by a talented cadre of officers, including President-Elect Justice Arthur Schack, Counselor Judge Miriam Cyrulnik, Treasurer Jon Besunder and Secretary Appellate Division Justice Sylvia Hinds-Radix.

* * *

A Persistent Steve Cohn Wins ‘Referee Protection’

As we have noted here earlier, the Brooklyn Barrister, which comes out bimonthly, is the official publication of the BBA and is distributed to all members and others. Under its new editor, attorney Anthony Lamberti, the Barrister is becoming a very useful paper.

For instance, the recent edition featured a very timely and newsy feature by attorney Steve Cohn, one of our state’s best-known pro bono volunteers, whose service to the legally underserved has extended even beyond the reaches of the BBA’s fabled Volunteer Lawyers Project.

A careful reading of “A Bill Becomes A Law: Referee Protection Act” reveals that barrister Cohn’s initiative in dealing with pitfalls which have besieged court-appointed referees actually reached the New York Legislature and brought about a new law that’s being cheered by those who are assigned by the courts to perform selected fiduciary responsibilities. That’s the title of Cohn’s article, which hones in on one of the most troubling challenges facing court-appointed referees.

For those who haven’t yet seen the latest Barrister, we offer here the tale of how attorney Cohn defined the problem and achieved a very satisfactory solution:

“Beginning about three years ago, court-appointed referees — most of whom are trusted attorneys and retired judges — began receiving dunning statements from the New York City Department of Finance for deeds that were filed two, sometimes three, years before [their appointments], indicating that the referee was personally responsible for interest and penalties on the late filed deed.”

Many referees we (here at PBB) talked with were upset that they had received such notices. They knew the notices were ridiculous. But, they also knew that should the bumbling city bureaucracy continue to pursue these “liens,” the attorney-referee involved could face disciplinary, IRS, or other problems down the line.

In his article, Cohn provided the appropriate background:

“A referee receives a statutory fee of five hundred ($500) dollars to sign the deed as the grantor/referee. The city was sending statements to many referees for $700 to $3,200 for interest and penalties!”

“Many letters were written to the Commissioner of Finance David Frankel and Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo,” he wrote. “When this issue had come up in past (pre-Bloomberg) administrations, the city immediately understood and rescinded these notices. However, under the Bloomberg administration, they were going full speed ahead against the referees.”

Not the kind of attorney to rely on mail or e-mail, when he received such a letter, Steve Cohn took action.

“I immediately went to the NYC Department of Finance Office at 345 Adams St. and, although they were understanding, they said nothing could be done,” he described. “However, after the many threats of lawsuits, they agreed to cancel all previous issued notices beginning in January 2013.”

What happened then? Did the City keep its promise? No. Cohn added, “It seems that they went back on doing that, but the issue remained.”

Undeterred, he did further research into the depth of the problem.

“I wanted to check the process and personally went to the Municipal Building to file a deed,” he described. “I went to clock the deed and was told that due to budget constraints many deeds were not clocked in when filed, but instead went in a big box and would be processed when they got around to it.”

“So,” barrister Cohn concluded, “the city was holding referees for late filing when, in fact, no one could determine when the deed was actually filed! (exclamation point ours).”

Continuing his investigation, Cohn learned how widespread the tax lien problem is.

“When I spoke to Richard Gutierrez, president of the Queens Bar Association, and to retired judges and many attorneys, all [said they] were going to stop acting as referees because they feared having judgments enacted against them by the City,” Cohn revealed.

* * *

Sought Aid of Golden, Lentol to Get Measure Protecting Referee

A political realist, attorney Cohn knew that the best way to deal with this dilemma was through legislation, so he wisely went to both sides of the political aisle and enlisted the aid Republican-Conservative Sen. Marty Golden and Democratic Assemblyman Joe Lentol.

“You need a Democrat sponsor in the Assembly and a Republican sponsor in the Senate,” he said. “But we succeeded … [in passing Assembly and Senate bills] … amending the tax laws.”

“Finally, on Sept. 23, 2014, Governor Cuomo signed the law to prevent referees of sheriffs from being held liable for interest, or penalties, or transfer taxes to be paid on deeds filed in their [appointed] capacity, pursuant to a judgment of foreclosure and sale.”

Most attorneys probably aren’t aware of the long and effective battle waged by attorney Cohn to win this bill, which relieves hundreds of appointees from the misery of fighting off an undue, unjustified and troubling lien.


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