Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Sunday, December 04, 2005

I thought this was an interesting strategy: "Judge Facing Removal Seeks Paid Suspension". I have to say that appearing in Queens Supreme is just about the only thing that rivals the experience of Kings County: it sometimes seems so corrupt that you think you can feel it on your skin. I don't know Justice Blackburne, but I remember reading about the incident that has her in hot water: apparently thinking that she was a character in a Dylan song or something she let robbery suspect in her courtroom escape arrest by allowing him to leave through a back door.

My eyebrows went up when I saw who the judge's lawyer is-- I've known Dick Godosky for a long, long time. He grew up on the same block as the man who taught me this business, and although they were friendly you couldn't find two more contrasting characters outside a Dickens novel. Dick is a creature of the political culture that surrounds our court system. I don't mean to say that he doesn't lawyer by knowing the law, but he prefers not to. Instead he trades on the network of favors he has built up, maneuvering to the best position available. In this way he embodies a particular paradigm of late 20th Century Bronx legal culture: Roy Cohn famously used to say, "Some lawyers ask what the law is; I ask who the judge is." I've tried a few cases with Dick over the years, although I don't think we've ever taken a verdict, and I've always felt that I had to watch him like a hawk, just to figure out how I was going to get screwed. He's the kind of guy that walks out of the robing room while your setting up for the day, thinking that you were the first lawyer in the courthouse.

Back when I was working in the Bronx every day-- Dick's natural habitat-- the Hon Louis Fusco, the Chief Administrative Judge, who ran the place like his personal banana republic, got into a spot of trouble and found that he was obliged to resign. This was an event of seismic proportions-- nobody knew what might happen next, if there were going to be indictments-- it was a weird time. Burt Roberts, the former District Attorney and the Chief Administrative Judge on the Criminal side of the building (and the guy that Tom Wolfe based the judge character on in "Bonfire of the Vanities") was put in charge. The story is that Dick approached Roberts through an intermediary and asked to have the court shut down for an afternoon so that they could have a farewell lunch for the departing Judge Fusco. The way it's told, Roberts replied, "Tell Godosky that if he wants to be a big shot, he can throw him a dinner," and the building stayed open. Still, if you admire chutzpah, you have to love it that he even asked.

In a way, Dick's current application to the court is a similar request, or at least similarly audacious. It takes a very particular kind of guy to be able to ask for this kind of stuff without blushing. I would put it to you that having an elected judiciary at least fosters this sort of thing-- Dick Godosky doesn't think that he is making an unreasonable request-- ever-- because he believes that what we do is all about swapping favors with people. He'll whisper a name to someone, then maybe someday the name will be able to do a little something for Dick when he needs a favor for a client. A little thing like a suspension with pay for a judge that helped a suspect escape arrest in her courtroom (what is on the wall behind the bench in that courtroom do you suppose? "This Way to the Egress"?)-- this should be no big deal.

I don't see this one happening-- but even if it doesn't Dick looks good to his client, and will just shrug if he's asked about it. "She should be entitled to defend herself," he'll say. He won't be critical-- that's not his style at all. He wouldn't ever run the risk of insulting someone who might otherwise be inclined to do some smaller favor someday. Like Goldilocks he will ask for favors in all sizes until he finds the right fit-- and then, in that case, he'll get the sort of result that he expects to get every time out of the box. That is when Dick Godosky stands on the courthouse steps and says "Justice was done."

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