Brooklyn Surrogate's Court 2005

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Thursday, June 30, 2005

Brooklyn judge removed from office

Newsday - June 30, 2005
By Anthony M. Destefano

The state's highest court officially booted Brooklyn Surrogate Michael Feinberg from his job Wednesday, finding that he debased his office by awarding undocumented fees in connection with certain estates.

In kicking Feinberg out of his job immediately, the Court of Appeals confirmed a February recommendation by the Commission on Judicial Conduct that he be removed from office. The jurist was already under suspension without pay.

At that time, the judicial watchdog agency found that Feinberg's action in giving the fees to public administrator Louis Rosenthal, a friend, without proper documentation tarnished the image of the judiciary. The public administrator handles estates of people who die without wills.

If a judge challenges the commission's recommendation for removal, as Feinberg did in his case, it is up to the Court of Appeals to decide whether that extreme penalty is proper. The state's highest court has backed the commission recommendation for removal more than 87 percent of the time since 1978.

By removing Feinberg, the appeals court set the stage for a September primary fight over his successor. Feinberg had been Brooklyn surrogate since his election in 1996.

One Brooklyn attorney who asked not to be identified but who is familiar with Democratic party judicial nominating proceedings said he believed the Court of Appeals ruled quickly on the Feinberg matter -- just 20 days after oral arguments -- to make sure that primary election petitions can be filed in time. Otherwise, embattled Brooklyn Democratic party boss Clarence Norman would be able to pick the nominee, the attorney said.

In its decision Wednesday, the Court of Appeals repeated how Feinberg did not for about five years require Rosenthal to file affidavits describing the work he did on the various estates. Feinberg sometimes gave Rosenthal the maximum 8 percent statutory fee. Rosenthal, who was appointed without Feinberg considering other candidates, got more than $8.5 million in fees.

Neither Rosenthal nor Henry M. Greenberg, an Albany attorney who represented Feinberg before the Court of Appeals, could be reached for comment Wednesday.

"It is never pleasant or easy to remove a judge from office, but sometimes it is necessary," said Robert Tembeckjian, administrator of the Commission on Judicial Conduct, in a statement.


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