How Much "Justice" Can You Afford?
- J.A.I.L. News Journal
Los Angeles, California August 31, 2002
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How Much "Justice"Can You Afford?August 3, 2002
Former Justice Said to Have Deal on Bribery Plea and Jail TermBy WILLIAM GLABERSON
ictor I. Barron, the former Brooklyn Supreme Court justice who was charged with accepting a bribe, has reached an agreement with prosecutors to plead guilty and spend at least three years in prison, people close to the negotiations said yesterday.
Under the deal, Mr. Barron, 60, is to acknowledge at a court appearance on Monday that he is guilty of a felony charge of receiving a bribe. The agreement calls for him to be sentenced to three to nine years in prison, making him eligible for parole after three years. At trial, he would face a maximum of 5 to 15 years.
As outlined by the prosecution after the judge's arrest in January, the case was one of the most blatant examples of judicial corruption in New York in many years. Charles J. Hynes, the Brooklyn district attorney, said then that it included evidence of a demand for $115,000 to fix a case and a wiretapped conversation from January in which a lawyer is heard making a transaction with Justice Barron, giving him a down payment of $18,000 in marked $100 bills stuffed in an envelope.
Justice Barron's arrest at his home in Marine Park, Brooklyn, on Jan. 22 began a frenzied period for the state courts in Brooklyn, with rumors of a wider investigation and unusual scrutiny of allegations of less sensational misdeeds by other judges.
Some lawyers said the arrest of Justice Barron, a product of a system of judicial selection that is infused with politics, demonstrated the need for new scrutiny of the city's courts.
Lawyers said yesterday that the relatively stiff sentence of at least three years behind bars suggested that Mr. Barron did not supply information about wrongdoing by other judges and indicated that any larger investigation had stalled. It had been known for some time that talks about a possible guilty plea were under way, but the terms of the deal had not been disclosed.
Mr. Barron's lawyer, Barry Kamins, acknowledged yesterday that there had been plea negotiations but he would not discuss the substance of the talks. Jerry Schmetterer, a spokesman for Mr. Hynes, who has handled the case personally, declined to comment. Mr. Barron is to plead guilty to the charge in the indictment, bribe receiving in the second degree, the people close to the negotiations said.
The agreement to a three-to-nine-year sentence can go forward only with the approval of Justice Nicholas Colabella, a Westchester judge assigned to hear the case. Justice Colabella is believed to have approved the sentence at a meeting in May in White Plains with Mr. Hynes and Mr. Kamins. Earlier scheduled hearings had been postponed.
Mr. Barron, already suspended from his $136,700-a-year position, resigned from the bench effective Wednesday. After sentencing, a plea of guilty to a felony under state law would be grounds for disbarment and automatic removal from the bench, said Gerald Stern, the administrator of the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct.
Even if sent to prison, Mr. Barron, who was a judge for 14 years, would collect his $97,000-a-year pension, said David Bookstaver, a spokesman for the Office of Court Administration. ....
On Jan. 18, wearing a microphone, the lawyer went to see the judge in his chambers with the envelope of marked bills, the district attorney said.
Even the most cynical lawyers said they were flabbergasted by the openness of the transaction they heard on the tape, which was filed in court and broadcast on news programs. On the tape, when Mr. Berenholtz complained about the difficulty of having to come up with big sums for the payoff, the man prosecutors said was Justice Barron reminded him of the even larger fee the lawyer had collected. "Gary, excuse me," he said, "not a lot more difficult than if there was no fee."
On the tape, there was a rustle, which the prosecutor said was the sound of an envelope containing $18,000 in cash being passed from a lawyer to a judge in Brooklyn.
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