Thursday, June 7, 2007


Ready their jail cells

Judge sentenced to 3-to-10; Brooklyn big sent to Rikers

Wednesday, June 6th 2007, 4:00 AM

Two former Brooklyn powerhouses - a Democratic leader and a judge - were led out of court in handcuffs yesterday in a corruption scandal that has prompted calls for sweeping changes in picking jurists.

"I am profoundly sorry," cried ex-Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Gerald Garson, 74, who broke into sobs before being sentenced to three to 10 years behind bars for accepting bribes.

Garson was convicted of taking cash, cigars, dinners and drinks from a crooked lawyer - all caught on tape - in return for favors.

"As I watched the tapes, I was embarrassed and appalled at my demeanor," he sobbed.

Just a few hours earlier in the same courtroom, Clarence Norman, the former Brooklyn Democratic Party chairman and 11-term assemblyman, was shackled and ordered to begin a two-to-six-year sentence for campaign corruption. His appeal was rejected last week.

"God is good," Norman said, hugging relatives before being shipped off to Rikers Island.

The courtroom drama yesterday closed the circle on a four-year probe into judicial corruption by Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, who began going after Norman when Garson told investigators at his March 2003 arrest that the bench could be bought. No hard evidence has emerged of that yet, but the probe is continuing.

Yesterday, in a courtroom packed with family and Brooklyn residents who believed Garson had done them wrong, Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey Berry slammed Garson for tainting the judiciary by allowing crooked lawyer Paul Siminovsky to "sucker him into" giving him lucrative appointments and fixing a case in exchange for thousands of dollars in free meals, drinks, cigars and cash.

"What you brought upon yourself is terrible. ... The perception you gave is that justice was being bought," Berry said in an hour-long speech before announcing the sentence. "You should be as pure as the driven snow. You abdicated your judicial responsibility, your moral fiber."

Sigal Levi said she no longer has a relationship with her two oldest sons because Garson gave custody to her ex.

"Mr. Garson, you sold my children for a very cheap price," said Levi, whose husband pleaded guilty to paying $10,000 to a middleman to gain custody. "You had a moral obligation to protect the welfare of my children. You abused the system and ruined all our lives."

Defense attorney Michael Washor asked Berry for leniency, citing Garson's battle with cancer and heart disease, personal tragedies and his bout with alcoholism.

But prosecutor Michael Vecchione shot back, branding Garson's courtroom a "vile, corrupt place" that he treated as a personal "piggy bank."

Garson does not have to head straight to jail, however. An Appellate Division judge allowed him to stay out of jail on bail pending his appeal. Garson declined to comment.

A federal judge ruled in August that the process for selecting state Supreme Court justices - where party bosses pick the candidates - is unconstitutional and ordered an immediate halt to back-room wheeling and dealing.

More on this story..

From the Daily News Opinions

Jailbirds of a feather
Wednesday, June 6th 2007

The mighty have fallen. Hard and far. Sentenced to prison yesterday were: a) Clarence Norman, once the undisputed boss of the most powerful Democratic Party organization east of Chicago; and b) Gerald Garson, ex-judge who had served on the state's highest trial court. Theirs were separate crimes, yet of a kind, in that they violated the public trust they swore to uphold. Good riddance to both of them - maybe they can share a ride to Dannemora or sit next to each other in the license plate workshop.

Norman (photo) was for years kingpin of the Brooklyn Democrats, a dealmaker and judgemaker who filled the borough bench with hacks and pals and relatives of hacks and pals, many lacking even the fundamentals of being a judge. A lawyer and assemblyman before his conviction, he went down for a number of crimes, the most serious being grand larceny for coercing a judicial candidate to use a favored vendor. He'll do two to six years.

Garson was a lawyer whom Norman transformed into a state Supreme Court justice in 1997. His chief qualification: party loyalty. Garson had long toiled as a party man and served as party treasurer. He also had kin on the courts. His cousin preceded him as a Brooklyn state Supreme Court justice and his wife would later become a Brooklyn Civil Court judge.

Garson was busted in spring 2003 after being caught on video in his chambers pocketing cash and expensive cigars from a lawyer with cases before him. Convicted of taking bribes and rewards for official misconduct, he'll do three to 10 years.

Garson's arrest prompted District Attorney Joe Hynes to commence a probe to find out whether the party was selling judgeships. Hynes hasn't made that case, but he did get Norman, who was indicted in the fall of 2003.

Norman and Garson are gone. There is a new leader, Vito Lopez, and new judges, like his girlfriend's brother, Jack Battaglia, whom Lopez put on Brooklyn Supreme Court last year. Thus it is ever until New York changes the way judges are picked.

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