The civil division of the New York State Supreme Court is being investigated by federal authorities over its links to alleged corruption by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a source told the New York Post.
Silver was arrested last month on corruption charges over his freelance legal “work” and the millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks he received from real-estate and asbestos claims, federal officials said, according to the Post.
Many of these cases landed in the courtrooms at 60 Centre St., presided over by judges with ties to Silver and his lifelong friend Jonathan Lippman, the chief judge of the state Court of Appeals. Both men grew up on the Lower East Side, and Silver has helped Lippman reach New York’s top judicial post, the report said.
Judge Martin Shulman is a former president of Silver’s synagogue and his neighbor in a Grand Street co-op complex. In 1999, the judge was appointed an acting Supreme Court justice by Lippman, then the state’s chief administrative judge, the Post said.
Shulman has been handling tax-reduction claims at the Centre Street courthouse for at least a dozen years and now presides over most of these cases. Many of these cases were filed by the Goldberg & Iryami law firm, which is accused of providing $700, 000 worth of secret kickbacks to Silver, according to the report.
The indictment accuses Silver of steering billionaire developer Leonard Litwin, the state’s largest political donor, to the firm, along with another unnamed developer. In exchange, Silver reaped referral fees, the Post said.
The firm handled tax appeals for 15 buildings owned by Litwin’s organization, Glenwood Management, and its limited liability companies, prosecutors said, according to the report.
David Bookstaver, a court system spokesman, denied there were conflicts of interest in Shulman’s court, the Post said.
“The issue of conflict really doesn’t exist as most of these cases in the tax part settle and the ones that go to trial are jury trials. Furthermore, Judge Shulman has no knowledge whatsoever of any compensation to Mr. Silver, ” Bookstaver said.
Litwin owns a rental building, The Fairmont, where Lippman and his wife rented a one-bedroom apartment between 2007 and 2010, the Post found. And Lippman’s son, Russell, a Harvard-educated lawyer, rented an apartment there between 2003 and 2005, public records show.
Lippman, who earned $156, 000 in 2010, moved into the rent-stabilized building in 2007 shortly after he was appointed presiding justice of the Appellate Division in Manhattan and was required to live in The Bronx or Manhattan, the Post said.
Bookstaver said Lippman rented at the Fairmont because he needed to move quickly and knew of the building because his son had lived there, and that Lippman did not know Litwin owned the property, according to the report.
As for other allegations, Weitz & Luxenberg, the law firm where Silver was “of counsel” until he was dumped last week, practically rules a special section of the court dealing with complex asbestos litigation, the Post said.
The American Tort Reform Association last year called the asbestos court the nation’s top “judicial hellhole” where plaintiffs’ lawyers are “brazenly favored by the judges”, according to the report.
It’s unclear whether any judge is being targeted by the investigation. The U.S. Attorney’s Office said it could neither confirm nor deny any probe, and an FBI spokesman would not comment, the Post said.