Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter
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Sunday, March 01, 2009

Too bad Dahlia Lithwick missed the Joseph G. Makowski scandal in her brief run-down of recent stories about out-of-control judges. The Makowski thing is a real beauty. Apparently the deal is that he will indeed keep his pension rights unless the State Commission on Judicial Conduct retroactively removes him. The Commission has 120 days to act.

The Buffalo News thinks that the DA did a swell job here, but I'm not so sure. At a minimum it looks like there was a conspiracy to obstruct justice, and there is some talk that there may have been additional parties to the conspiracy. I don't see that giving a crooked judge a walk is such a great bit of prosecutorial discretion-- it seems to me that on the spectrum of these things Crooked Judge is far worse than DWI Lawyer, or even DWI Lawyer who offered a false instrument and attempted to tamper with physical evidence. Incredibly, Makowski is actually still on the bench, and will be until March 6. Even if he wasn't hauled off in irons, you'd think he'd have been frogmarched out of the building, but in fact he is still working on cases.

How'd we get this guy? The Buffalo News' Bob McCarthy lays it out nicely. "The judge, you recall, arrived at the bench in a time-honored way — he gained the favor of the Erie County Democratic chairman. Back in 1998 when Makowski was elected, he served as the party’s chief fund-raiser. That, combined with the mutual interest of the Democratic and Republican chairmen, earned him bipartisan backing and guaranteed his election.

"But Makowski believed he had a further obligation — this one to the system that got him there.

"He raised $33,575 for his campaign—even after his election was guaranteed. He gave $27,535, or 72 percent of what he raised, to the two parties and other campaigns — the highest percentage for any State Supreme Court candidate that year.

"Makowski paid $9,000 in various ways to Erie County Democrats, $7,500 to Erie County Republicans, $2,000 to a fund supporting Democratic gubernatorial candidate Peter Vallone, $1,100 to State Senate Democrats, $1,000 to Senate candidate Chuck Schumer, along with other donations.

"In addition, Makowski and his wife contributed $5,100 of their own funds to the Assembly campaigns of Susan Peimer and Brian Higgins — top Democratic priorities that year.

"Makowski even paid a headquarters staffer $3,400 in consulting fees for a campaign in which he had no opponent.

"I had no ethical or political problem with it," Makowski told The Buffalo News in 2002. “I was on the ticket; my name appeared on the ballot. As a candidate, it would be expected you would support the ticket consistent with the ethics."

People have been marveling at Mr. Makowski's arrogance, and how it blinded him to the risk he was taking-- and the offense he was committing, but viewed as McCarthy describes it perhaps it isn't all that remarkable. He paid good cash money for the job-- why shouldn't he do whatever he wanted in it?

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