Leon R. Koziol, J.D.
Former Civil Rights Attorney
Founder, Citizen Commission Against Corruption, Inc.
While in office, New York’s top jurist, Janet DiFiore, sent a letter to a disciplinary hearing judge seeking the harshest outcome against the head of the court officer’s union. She did so as punishment for his criticisms of her safety practices during the pandemic and with full knowledge that this case could end up before her someday.
But before she could be exposed by inquiring media, Chief Judge DiFiore resigned, as she had to, faced with an indefensible position that would assure protracted ethics deliberations harmful to the reputation of the same court system she swore to administer. Appointed by disgraced ex-Governor Andrew Cuomo, DiFiore evinced no shame as she was exposed again for her misuse of security after leaving office.
DiFiore operated under a different set of ethics than the rest of us in positions of trust and public service. A predecessor chief judge, Sol Wachtler, may have mentored such elitism with brazen crimes committed 30 years earlier. Appointed by Andrew’s father, Mario Cuomo, Wachtler served a mere seven years in a medium security facility after being arrested for extortion, racketeering and blackmail.
Like DiFiore, Wachtler used the influence of high office to interfere with a licensing process of the attorney exposing his misconduct. It featured Wachtler’s debutante mistress who ended their affair. He made false reports to the FBI and threatened to kidnap her child under a pseudonym. Ironically, Wachtler was renowned for an opinion wherein he criticized prosecutors who could “indict a ham sandwich.”
Wachtler was reinstated after his disbarment, hired as a law school professor, and rewarded with book royalties from his prison memoir entitled, After the Madness. In it, he defended his misconduct because judges are supposedly trained to think of themselves as gods. This was a man being groomed for a possible run for president and Supreme Court Justice.
From the top down, our nation’s most esteemed public servants are committing misconduct at unprecedented levels. These are the jurists who have carved out an absolute immunity for themselves that finds no source in our Constitution. It is routinely applied to liability claims and civil rights actions raising the most reprehensible behavior with impotent oversight, undeserved deference and rampant apathy.
Qualified attorneys are best positioned to expose and report judicial misconduct. However, they are justifiably reticent to assume the risk of incurring retributions such as concocted disciplinary actions, destruction of professional reputation, and loss of livelihood of the kind incurred by this attorney whistleblower. The question then emerges: how many DiFiores and Wachtlers are lurking among us?
That number may be staggering on the bias prohibition alone, an easily abused standard. Beyond that, states like New York and California investigate fewer than 10 % of complaints each year. With lawyers shirking their duties, ethics cases depend increasingly on circumstantial evidence which many commissions deem more reliable than human testimony in an age of sophisticated forensics and monitoring.
Damning circumstances can be found among such high-profile cases as Dobbs v Jackson where the abortion rights case, Roe v Wade was overturned by the Supreme Court. A version of this opinion was leaked out followed by commitments to expose the wrongdoer. Six months later, the presumed insider remains at large with the apparent hope that it will simply blow over. Instead, it has only bred more distrust.
The late Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, was more public in her violation of judicial ethics. She launched attacks from chambers disparaging a private businessman’s run for president in 2016. Donald Trump was ultimately successful. Yet she betrayed no guilt or shame until pressured by media criticism. This month, Justice Brett Kavanaugh drew similar criticism by attending a holiday party hosted by Trump supporters.
Such egotism sets a poor example for lower judges, attorneys and litigants. It calls for an overhaul of our justice system beginning with hearings in Congress. This is not a gender, race or political issue. It is a crevice in the foundations set by the framers of our Constitution. We must all join in a demand for that overhaul with the same kind of chastising dispensed by these same jurists from the bench.
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About the Author
Leon R. Koziol, J.D. is a human rights advocate who practiced law for more than two decades in federal and state courts. He appeared on the CBS program 60 Minutes for his defense of landowners targeted for eviction by Indian tribes alleging violations of ancient treaties. In 2004, he secured a judgement in New York Supreme Court invalidating the 1993 Turning Stone casino gaming compact.
His recoveries feature substantial jury verdicts for victims of government abuse. Case citations include, Koziol v Hanna, 107 F.2d 170 (NDNY 2000); Patterson v City of Utica, 370 F.3d 322 (2nd Cir.2004); Oneida Indian Nation v County of Oneida, 132 F. Supp. 2d 71 (NDNY); Peterman v Pataki, 2004 NY Slip Op 51092(U) and Parent v State, 786 F. Supp. 2d 516 (NDNY 2011).
The latter was a consolidated case intended as a class action on behalf of parents defrauded in divorce and family courts. It was part of a bold challenge to judicial and sovereign immunity which yielded severe retributions upon the author’s licenses and parent-child relations. The horrific ordeal which led to a near death climax was captured in his book, Whistleblower in Paris, published in 2021.
Leon Koziol can be reached at (315) 796-4000 and email@example.com.