Brooklyn Surrogate's Court 2005

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Thursday, June 30, 2005

News helps get dirty B'klyn judge axed

New York Daily News - June 30, 2005
News helps get dirty B'klyn judge axed
By Nancie L. Katz

Citing a Daily News exposé, the state's highest court yesterday booted Brooklyn's most powerful judge for lining a pal's pockets.

The Court of Appeals, in a 15-page unanimous decision, slammed Surrogate Michael Feinberg for routinely awarding a former law school buddy and personal friend nearly $9 million in fees as counsel for the public administrator.

The lawyer, Louis Rosenthal, never filed the required affidavits showing what he did to earn the money.

In February, the state Commission on Judicial Conduct demanded Feinberg be removed for granting Rosenthal nearly $2 million in excessive fees between 1997 and 2002. Feinberg was suspended at that time.

The commission probe was sparked by a 2002 Daily News exposé that found Feinberg routinely gave Rosenthal 8% or more of the estates of people who died without a will, ignoring 1988 and 1994 accords that capped fees at 6% or less.

The Court of Appeals noted Feinberg appointed Rosenthal to the "lucrative" counsel position in 1996 without "any search or interview process."

"In the spring of 2002, [Feinberg] learned that the New York Daily News was about to run an exposé of the Kings County Surrogate, revealing his practice of approving [Rosenthal's] fee requests without affidavits or individualized review of the cases," the judges wrote. Only then, they said, did Feinberg start collecting the affidavits.

The court scoffed at Feinberg's assertions that he did no wrong because he had acted in ignorance after only skimming through the Surrogate Courts Procedure Act.

Neither Feinberg, his lawyers nor Rosenthal responded to calls yesterday.

Candidates were already lining up yesterday to replace Feinberg. Rebel Democratic Judge Margarita Lopez Torres announced her candidacy. Other potential contenders for the November ballot include Brooklyn Supreme Court Justices Lawrence Knipel and Diana Johnson, sources said.

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