A Crime Wave In the Courts

The next time some preening politician jumps in front of television cameras to announce the latest drop in crime, maybe somebody will ask about the crimes committed on or near Joralemon Street, Stuyvesant Place, Grand Concourse and Queens Boulevard. This will bring the proceedings to an abrupt end and send any self-respecting politician toward the tinted-window haven of his or her government-supplied car.

Joralemon Street in Brooklyn, Stuyvesant Place on Staten Island, Grand Concourse in the Bronx and Queens Boulevard in Queens are four of the most dangerous streets in New York, for there, amid courthouses and government buildings and lawyers’ offices, you will find gangs of politicians and judges and all manner of low-level power dealers who prey on the naïve, the vulnerable and the weak. There you will find well-dressed people with impressive titles, people who expect you to rise to your feet when they enter their place of work, who will take money to fix a child-custody case. We know this happened on Joralemon Street in Brooklyn because a State Supreme Court justice who worked there already has been indicted on this horrible charge. There is no reason to believe that such practices, or variations on the theme, are restricted to Brooklyn.

While every percentage-point drop in crime inspires howls of delight and congratulatory handshakes in and around City Hall and the offices of the city’s five district attorneys, parents in Brooklyn have been getting held up by judges who demand money in exchange for favorable decisions. These judges carry no guns, but they are ruthless in their use of another weapon: children. According to a grand-jury indictment, Supreme Court Justice Gerald Garson took children away from mothers in custody cases because their former husbands gave him cash and gifts. There is an ongoing investigation of the honorable judges of Kings County to see what other crimes have been committed there while New York celebrated its great victories over the criminal classes.

Two Brooklyn women already have come forward to tell how they lost custody of their children because of crimes committed in or around the Supreme Court building. Perhaps, in the interests of full and truthful crime reports, politicians will release figures on political corruption, a crime that damages and separates families.

The crime spree in Brooklyn has provoked questions about the kinds of people who become judges, not just in Kings County but throughout the city. Many civic leaders seem puzzled by reports that ambitious lawyers with visions of black robes and fine pensions have given large contributions to those organizations and people who decide who shall be robed and who shall not. It did not occur to them, apparently, that when a single organization has the undisputed power to nominate judges-i.e., the Democratic Party leaders in each of the five boroughs-there is a tendency to see this process as a chance to make money that will not be reported on the following year’s tax returns.

For years, the working assumption among some reporters and aspiring political insiders has been that judicial nominations are available for sale at debugged (but not deloused) offices and cafés near the city’s impressive civic and judicial centers. That is not to say that every judge has paid tribute to the local organization in order to qualify for the bench, but an accumulation of evidence suggests that the practice is not exactly rare.

Even a cynic, however, must be shocked to learn that the city’s judicial bazaar includes the auctioning off of children. Of Judge Garson, one victimized woman told the New York Post : “He was selling people like objects …. “

What kind of person commits such a reprehensible crime? In Judge Garson’s case, a politically connected lawyer who did fine work for the Brooklyn Democratic Party by serving as its treasurer-well, who better?-and ingratiating himself with the party chairman, Clarence Norman. Like other Democratic chairmen, Mr. Norman’s organization decides which of the city’s great legal minds will be nominated to serve in various judicial posts. The greatest legal minds, knowing this, make sure they are seen at every chicken-dinner event the party runs.

If you think the Garson case will inspire great calls for reform of the judiciary-the legal equivalent of the General Slocum or Triangle Shirt Waist fires-you stand accused of criminal naïveté. Many of the same people who control judicial nominations also have the power to crush reform-minded legislation. And they will. Talk about changing the way New York selects its judges has been around for decades-and still, in Brooklyn, a judge is accused of putting children up for auction, but very few people seem outraged.

If nothing else, New Yorkers can take some comfort in knowing that crime on the street continues to decrease. Whatever you do, however, don’t go near your local courthouse or political clubhouse. There’s no telling what might happen to you.