Avoiding Even the Appearance of Due Process

If someone introduced a resolution at Park Slope’s Central Brooklyn Independent Democrats (CBID) to honor Lynne Stewart, an attorney convicted of aiding and abetting an Islamo-fascist terrorist group, it would undoubtedly pass with flying colors.

And while Stewart’s conviction does raise some troubling questions about what appears to be an effort by the Federal government to impede the rights of criminal defendants and their counsel, Ms. Stewart is clearly no hero.

I normally don’t believe in judging criminal lawyers by their clientele; some attorneys represent anyone in need of counsel as a matter of personal principle; others are just amoral or have hungry children. But, Ms. Stewart is not amoral, her children are grown and she does not, as a matter of personal principle, deign to represent just anyone who is in need of counsel.

Her principles are like those of her ex-partner, William Kuntsler. Ms. Stewart is the sort of radical lawyer who only represents those she loves, and in this case she loved a scumbag, and apparently went far beyond the bounds of the ethics of her profession in expressing that love.

But criminal conviction for aiding and abetting the slaughter of innocents is one thing; being a Brooklyn hack who is merely under indictment is quite another. As such, no one was really surprised when CBID passed a resolution calling for Jeffrey Feldman to step aside as Executive Director of the Brooklyn Democratic Party while his indictment for allegedly helping to extort money from judicial candidates is pending.

“The resolution was just a way of the club continuing to advocate for political reform,” said Josh Skaller, CBID President. “Basically, we believe that when it comes to the Kings County Democratic Party, avoiding even the appearance of impropriety should be paramount, given the Norman conviction.”

Former County Democratic Leader Clarence Norman, also under indictment in Feldman’s case, was earlier convicted on petty griftering charges unrelated in any manner to Jeffrey Feldman, but let’s forget about the reality, because, after all,  it is only appearances that we are concerned with. 

At any rate, Feldman’s removal wouldn’t avoid “even” the appearance of impropriety; it would avoid “only” the appearance of impropriety. For, if the County organization, made up of the same exact District Leaders, with or without Feldman, is intent upon committing improprieties, they will doubtless continue to do so under different management (although with perhaps less subtlety, style, wit and charm). 

I mean, when you get down to it, for folks like CBID, party organizations, by their very nature, will always have the appearance of impropriety, even when nothing unsavory is actually going on.

But, silly me; I thought that a person, whether an Islamo-fascist terrorist accused of mass murder, or even a Brooklyn hack accused of being a Brooklyn hack, was presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Nonetheless, those who argue that Feldman's continued employment by the Party, during the pendency of his indictment, makes for a bad appearance, would better make their point if they called upon the party to give Feldman a paid leave of absence (he certainly looks as if he could use the rest). If and when Feldman is ever convicted of a crime, the party can, of course, consider his dismissal.

Feldman’s opponents have also set up a website: http://jefffeldmanmustgo.blogspot.com/.

When one reads the actual postings on the site, it becomes clear that, for those calling for Feldman’s dismissal, the indictment, and its appearance, matter almost not at all.

Most of the site is dedicated to complaints about Feldman’s record in helping to knock "reform" candidates off the ballot. Feldman has a long history of trying to knock off insurgent candidates of all stripes, sometimes in collaboration with "reformers" (ask John O'Hara); that is what he is paid for.

If and when "reformers" take over the Brooklyn party, Feldman, who attaches to power in much the manner a fly attaches to excrement, will  be only too happy to do their bidding as well. If that is not satisfactory, he can then be removed; although it would be remiss not to point out that Brooklyn “reformers”, even CBID,  have certainly never shied from knocking their opponents off the ballot (ask John O'Hara).

Many of the other postings on the anti-Feldman site complain of Feldman’s conduct towards Surrogate Margarita Lopez-Torres (MLT), the Brooklyn “reformer’s” answer to Joan of Arc.

A little background; in 1992, Vito Lopez succeeded in getting County to agree to nominate an Hispanic for a Civil Court seat whose prior nominee had just been selected for Supreme Court by the party’s Judicial Nominating Convention.

In a process charmingly known as “backfill”, Lopez then handpicked MLT, an attorney at Brooklyn Legal Services in Williamsburg (at the time a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Lopez anti-poverty empire), who thusly got to the bench without ever spending one dime, or shaking one hand at 6:00 in front of a subway stop.

MLT’s time on the bench seems to have been checkered. She bounced from court to court, eccentrically writing opinions on such matters as the right of poor people to deny their pets medical treatment without fear of being prosecuted for animal cruelty, while many other judges junior to her were elevated by merit selection to the rank of Acting Supreme Court Justice.

The one area in which MLT excelled was independence, spending much of the decade engaging in activities which Lopez considered disrespectful, while MLT’s husband publicly called for Lopez’s political defeat.

Vito obviously felt that MLT hadn’t shown sufficient (or indeed any) gratitude for being plucked from obscurity and being given a job many people would kill for. In 2002, Lopez prevailed upon Clarence Norman and his fellow District Leaders not to support MLT’s re-nomination.

While the active support of one powerful leader will not guaranteed a candidate party support, the active opposition of one very powerful leader, who makes it clear that this is a marker he will remember for life, will almost certainly deny a candidate party support; and so it was with MLT.

Denying an incumbent judge party support was a virtually unprecedented move that shocked many regulars, including most of the courthouse crowd.

The failure of County to support MLT's re-nomination to the Civil Court in 2001 was a major slap in the face to judicial independence. It was also one of the stupidest and most troubling things ever done by the County organization, and in many ways is at the root of much of the Brooklyn party's current troubles, including the indictments currently pending against Feldman and Norman.

Ironically, Norman and Feldman, who wouldn’t have cared enough to rock the boat on their own, face indictment over incidents directly stemming from a primary Lopez forced, while Lopez now sits as the County Leader, and MLT, transformed by their actions into a martyr, sits as Surrogate.

But the anti-Feldman website concerns itself more with slights and hurt feelings than actual crimes.

Specifically, it speaks of a 2003 incident, recently mentioned in a Federal Court decision by Judge John Gleason, where MLT, as a candidate for Supreme Court, came to Feldman in February of that year and asked for a list of the delegates to September’s Democratic Party Judicial Nominating Convention.

Since the petitions to nominate such delegates were not being circulated until June, and no one knew who the candidates on those petitions would be, Feldman laughed at and made fun of MLT. I myself would have had trouble stifling a guffaw, although it is now quite obvious that MLT has had the last laugh, and more than just once.

The Gleason decision also said that, when asked by MLT about contacting the delegates directly, Feldman told her that the District Leaders would look askance at this. This is most assuredly the advice he would also give to someone he was trying to help.

There are other sins documented on the website, many of which seem peculiarly focused upon the inability of Brooklyn’s Russian community to elect one of its own to public office.

This is clearly the corrupt result of party-controlled 97 year old election inspectors willfully discriminating against enrolled Republicans who desire to vote in a Democratic primary. For shame!

Why the political defeat of pro-Bush reactionaries should be the concern of the left-liberals who dominate the reform movement is anyone’s guess, especially when the only crimes committed in these races involved forgery and other forms of fraud committed by the Russian candidates and their supporters.

Jeff Feldman is certainly no candidate for sainthood. In 1996, County successfully ran Michael Feinberg against Lila Gold for Surrogate, in a campaign featuring a phony candidate, Ferne Goldstein (any confusion caused by the names is purely intentional), put on the ballot by operatives in County’s employ.

When Goldstein was ordered removed from the ballots by the courts, manipulations, which point to County, prevented the Board of Elections from meeting to carry out its legal obligations, and then, malingering by Board of Elections employees, which also point to County (as well as to the usual incompetence of that agency), prevented the removal of Goldstein’s name from the ballot until such removal was too late to implement before the machines had to be delivered to poll sites.

The end result was that dozens of poll sites did not open until the afternoon, resulting in the disenfranchisement of thousands of voters, while at other polls sites, Goldstein’s name illegally remained on the ballot.

During the Board of Elections meetings, Brooklyn’s Democratic Board member, Weyman Carey, would sometimes speak, but witnesses say Feldman’s voice always seemed to be coming out of his throat.

It was as ugly a spectacle as ever has been seen in New York politics, and there has never been a satisfactory explanation for what occurred, although the sins of the election were soon overshadowed by the rot and corruption of Feinberg’s administration (in fairness, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that Feinberg’s supporters included such erstwhile “reformers” as Alan Fleishman, Joan Millman, Lambda, IND, Nydia Velazquez, and Major and Chris Owens, although not Vito Lopez).

At any rate, then as now, Feldman’s management of party affairs clearly reflected the desires of the party’s democratically elected leadership.

Removing Jeff Feldman as the Party’s Executive Director might give the appearance of change, but until reformers and their allies can manage to elect a majority of the party’s executive committee, the appearance of change, and not its actuality, is all that will result.

But, it is far easier, and much more fun, to kick a man when he’s down than it is to do the hard work needed to accomplish any real change.