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Judge Loses Seat

As other blawgers have noted, New York Probate Judge (Surrogate) Michael H. Feinberg was removed from the bench by a 2003 ruling of the Commission on Judicial Conduct, as affirmed last week by the New York Court of Appeals.

According to the Court of Appeals, Judge Feinberg had appointed an associate of his in several hundred probate cases and had routinely approved fees that were two percent above the prevailing rate. Although there was no allegation that he personally benefited from the arrangement, he also routinely failed to require an affidavit from the attorney as to the renditon of legal services, a practice as to which Judge Feinberg pled ignorance.

The popular media noted that the case was remarkable for the fact that there was no allegation of personal benefit. Judge Feinberg had no venality, but merely failed to follow the law.

In the debate over litigation reform, opponents sometimes make the argument that "bad judges" ultimately are removed from office, or are reversed on appeal. But for every case like this one, there are dozens of others that never see the purifying light of day.

Feinberg's downfall was an investigative report by a local newspaper that uncovered the strange pattern in appointments and pursued the matter through the Commission on Judicial Conduct. But for the interest of the local paper, however, the matter never have been uncovered.

The beneficiaries of the estates administered through his court lacked the expertise to discover the problem. Other attorneys would have refrained from complaining by the adverse consequences they could have perceived from criticizing a member of the bench.

While New York seems to have reached the right conclusion in Feinberg's case there remains a need to strengthen our judicial system through an institutional mechanism that reviews the output, decision-making and integrity of our judiciary.



Rafael Mangual
Project Manager,
Legal Policy

Manhattan Institute


Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.