NEW YORK (WABC) – Eyewitness News, during a six-month investigation into New York’s guardianship system, found that guardianship lawyers, law firms or people involved in guardianship cases who donated to judges’ campaigns were appointed guardians by the same judges in subsequent years.
Eyewitnesses used the news public government database of guardians search for guardians or people involved in guardianship cases and match their names to donations made to New York guardianship judges. Donations listed at New York State Election Commission public website.
For example, Judge Charles Troy of Staten Island received $17,091 in campaign donations in 2021 from 27 guardianship lawyers, guardianship law firms or individuals acting as guardians, according to the databases, thereby appointing to people or law firms in 2022 for a total of 83 appointments.
In one case, Troy received $500 from the Carasaniti law firm & Andreo, and then granted one of their attorneys, Margaret Andrea, nine guardianship appointments.
Eyewitness News contacted Carasaniti and Andrea to see if they consider the donation a conflict of interest.
By 7 On Your Side investigative reporter Christine Thorne was even able to ask the question, Secretary Carasaniti And Andrea hung up on her. Thorne called back and left a message, then emailed Margaret Andrea directly. She did not return to us.
Judge Matthew Tyton of Staten Island received $4,425 in campaign donations in 2018-2019 from nine custody lawyers, law firms or people involved in custody cases, and subsequently assigned those same people, according to publicly available databases. or law firms for a total of 11 appointments.
In 2019, Queens Judge Wyatt Gibbons received $2,000 in campaign donations from nine custody lawyers, law firms or people involved in custody cases, and made 22 appointments to those same people or law firms in 2022.
In 2021, Judge Rosemary Montalbano in Brooklyn received $6,745 from six custody lawyers, law firms or people involved in custody cases and assigned 11 appointments to those people or law firms in 2022.
For example, attorney Daniel Antonelli donated $500 to Judge Montalbano’s campaign and received four trustee appointments in 2022.
Eyewitness News contacted Antonelli to ask him if he considered the donation a conflict of interest. He did not return to us.
Manhattan judge Judge Lisa Sokolow received $5,720 in 2019-2022 campaign donations from 20 custody lawyers, law firms or people involved in custody cases, and made 62 appointments to those same people or law firms in 2022 .
One of the lawyers who donated to her was Paul Mederas. In 2022, he donated $1,000 to Sokolov’s election campaign. In 2022, Sokolov appointed seven guardians to Mederas.
Mederas told Eyewitth News that the donation was not a conflict of interest. He said that he has known Sokolova for 29 years and has always supported her career.
“I’m very proud of her,” he said.
In 2018, Judge Lisa Otley in Brooklyn received $1,300 in donations from three custody lawyers, and in 2022, each of those lawyers received 10 appointments.
One donation came from attorney Michael Benjamin, whom Otley later appointed as the broker for the Cobble Hill townhouse sale. The owner of the house was under guardianship. Benjamin made $210,000 from the sale of the $3.5 million home.
Benjamin and a spokeswoman for the New York court system told Eyewitness News that the donation was not a conflict of interest.
Eyewitness News investigative reporter Christine Thorne first began looking into the donations while investigating the Otley Benjamin conservatorship case. She discovered that Benjamin had donated $500 to Otley’s election campaign three years earlier.
When Thorne contacted a spokesman for the New York judiciary about Benjamin Otley’s donation and when the court found it to be a conflict of interest, Lucian Chalfen, a spokesman for the judiciary, responded: “Judges don’t know what lawyers are, lay people. , in which case anyone can contribute or not contribute to their campaign. Appointments are based on performance and availability.”
However, if Eyewitness News was able to find who was involved in the judges’ campaigns, so can the judges.
When Eyewitness News sent Chalfen information we had gathered about six New York custody judges and the donations they received from custody lawyers.
“Elected and appointed judges are required to follow and enforce the rules governing judicial conduct,” Chalfen said. “We hope and believe they do, and if a case of inappropriate behavior is brought to our attention, it may be referred to the appropriate authority for investigation.”
Eyewitness News passed on the donation data to New York State Sen. Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who called the information “disturbing.”
“You can’t draw a straight line between political donations and public policy — it’s never that clear-cut,” he said. “But I’ll tell you this — it’s a concern.”
See the full list of donations to New York custody judges and subsequent custody appointments revealed by Eyewitness News.
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