Eyewitness News research finds a connection between guardianship attorneys, case officers and judges

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) — Eyewitness News, in its six-month investigation of the New York City guardianship system, found that guardianship attorneys, law firms, or people handling guardianship cases who donated to judges’ campaigns have received guardianships from the same judges in subsequent years.

Eyewitness News used the state’s public database of guardians to look up guardians, or individuals involved in guardianship cases, and matched their names to donations made to guardianship judges in New York City. Donations are listed on the New York State Board of Elections public website.

For example, according to the databases, Judge Charles Troia of Staten Island received $17,091 in campaign contributions from 27 guardianship attorneys, guardianship law firms, or persons acting as guardians in 2021 and awarded the same individuals or law firms a total of 83 appointments in 2022, according to the databases.

In one case, Troia received $500 from the Carasaniti law firm & Andreo and subsequently granted nine guardianship appointments to one of her attorneys, Margaret Andreo.

Eyewitness News contacted Carasaniti & Andreo if they believe the donation posed a conflict of interest.

Prior to 7 On Your Side, investigative reporter Kristin Thorne, a secretary at Carasaniti, was even able to ask a question & Andreo hung up. Thorne called again and left a message and then emailed Margaret Andreo directly. She hasn’t contacted us.

According to the public databases, from 2018 to 2019, Staten Island Judge Matthew Titone received $4,425 in campaign contributions from nine guardianship attorneys, law firms, or individuals involved in guardianship cases, and subsequently made a total of 11 appointments to the same individuals or law firms.

Judge Wyatt Gibbons, Queens Judge, received $2,000 in campaign donations from nine guardianship attorneys, law firms or individuals involved in guardianship cases in 2019 and awarded the same individuals or law firms 22 appointments in 2022.

In 2021, Brooklyn Judge Rosemarie Montalbano received $6,745 from six guardianship attorneys, law firms or individuals involved in guardianship cases and awarded 11 appointments to the same individuals or law firms in 2022.

Attorney Daniel Antonelli, for example, donated $500 to Judge Montalbano’s campaign and received four guardianship appointments in 2022.

Eyewitness News contacted Antonelli to ask if he viewed the donation as a conflict of interest. He hasn’t contacted us.

Manhattan Judge Judge Lisa Sokoloff received $5,720 in campaign donations from 20 guardianship attorneys, law firms or individuals dealing with guardianship cases from 2019 to 2022 and awarded the same individuals or law firms 62 appointments in 2022.

One of the lawyers who donated to her was Paul Mederos. In 2022, he donated $1,000 to Sokoloff’s campaign. Sokoloff granted Mederos seven guardianship appointments in 2022.

Mederos told Eyewitness News the donation was not a conflict of interest. He said he has known Sokoloff for 29 years and has always supported her career.

“I’m very proud of her,” he said.

Judge Lisa Ottley of Brooklyn received donations of $1,300 from three guardianship attorneys in 2018, and each of those attorneys received appointments in 2022, for a total of 10 appointments.

One of the donations came from attorney Michael Benjamin, whom Ottley later appointed to broker the sale of a townhouse in Cobble Hill. The owner of the house was under guardianship. Benjamin made a net gain of $210,000 on the sale of the $3.5 million home.

Benjamin and a spokesman for the New York court system told Eyewitness News the donation did not pose a conflict of interest.

Eyewitness News investigative reporter Kristin Thorne began investigating the donations while researching Ottley’s assignment of Benjamin to a guardianship case. She found out that Benjamin had donated $500 to Ottley’s campaign three years earlier.

When Thorne contacted a New York court spokesman about Benjamin’s donation to Ottley, and the court believed there was a conflict of interest, Lucian Chalfen, a spokesman for the court system, responded: “Judges don’t know what attorneys, lay people, every individual person may or may not have contributed to their campaign. Appointment is based on performance and availability.

However, if Eyewitness News was able to find out who contributed to judges’ campaigns, so can judges.

When Eyewitness News sent to Chalfen the information we had collected about the six New York guardianship judges and the donations they had received from guardianship attorneys.

“It is incumbent on the elected and appointed judges to follow and uphold the rules of judicial conduct,” Chalfen said. “We hope and believe that this is the case and if an instance of improper conduct is brought to our attention it may be escalated to the appropriate authority for investigation.”

Eyewitness News brought the donation data to New York State Senator Brad Hoylman (D-Manhattan), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, who called the information “concerning.”

“You can’t draw a clear line between political donations and public policy — it’s never that clear,” he said. “But I’ll tell you one thing – it’s worrisome.”

See the entire list of donations to New York City guardianship judges and subsequent guardianship appointments uncovered by Eyewitness News.

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