Thursday, June 08, 2006

"Things to Do in New Jersey After You're Indicted."

The image accompanying this post and the image feature has been blocked again, for some reason, so I suggest you see this image of me today: and ask the authorities: "Why?"

I wonder why it is that I seem to experience so many difficulties with image-posting sometimes, also obstructions and spyware problems? I have created a discussion group at MSN called "Critique."

Any posts which are obstructed here, I will attempt to post at that site. MSN is now blocked, so I am back at blogger -- Face Book and My Space are next.

Laura Masnerus, "Witness Recovers From Overdose to Describe New Jersey Graft," The New York Times, June 7, 2006, at p. B1.
Peter Applebome, "Side Effects to a Remedy for Housing," The New York Times, June 7, 2006, at p. B1.
David Kocieniewski, "Audit Disputes $52 Million In School Medicaid Claims," in The New York Times, June 8, 2006, at p. B6.

"The case of Raymond J. O'Grady is the culmination of years of work by federal investigators, a tale opening a window on small-town graft that brought down more than a dozen public officials in a New Jersey county run by old-fashioned patronage politics." That's exactly like most New Jersey counties.

Political bosses in New Jersey's urban counties, especially, usually claiming an affiliation with the Democrats, "sell their souls" -- if they have any -- for votes delivered on election day. They use local government as well as connections to state and/or federal government funds and influence to create fiefdoms of power and privilege. A refrain from local bosses is: "This is my territory." Political and judicial hacks "misappropriate" funds and accumulate power for themselves and their friends, by controlling police (look up the history of the "old" and not-so-old West New York police department) and "clubhouse" appointments to the judicial bench.

The Times reports that "school districts in New Jersey improperly billed Medicaid more than $51 million for special education programs, according to a federal audit, filing claims for thousands of speech and physical therapy treatments that they could not prove were necessary, were provided by qualified practioners or were ever actually delivered."

What happened to the kids who really needed the service or the teachers trained to provide it? They got screwed. If you live in New Jersey, you got screwed -- and got to pay for it.

A few months down the road, I expect that we will be told that much of this money went to install a new pool in a politician's home or to pay for a fact-finding mission by some Jersey politicians in Las Vegas. Much of the money probably came back (under the table) to public officials. I would not be surprised if some of the money found its way also into the pockets of persons who, eventually, became judges. ("Law and Ethics in the Soprano State" and "Jaynee LaVecchia and Conduct Unbecoming to the Judiciary in New Jersey.")

"You got a problem, go see Nicky or Joey. When you get to court, it'll be taken care of." This advice whispered in a young lawyer's ear is usually followed by a baritone's chuckle and a puff on a cigar that looks like a missile. "No, thanks. I'll take my chances." There are Municipal Courts in New Jersey where a little group of friends gathers out of earshot, right before sessions begin, seemingly working things out very nicely. This is always long before anything is said on the record and has nothing to do with legitimate plea bargaining. How are things at North Bergen Municipal Court? Union City? ("Jay Romano and Conduct Unbecoming to the Judiciary in New Jersey.")

Any attorney who is outside "the club" will not receive such favorable deals from prosecutors. Any attorney on the local boss's "shit list" will be routinely sanctioned for behavior that gets a nod when it comes from others, his or her clients will be treated more severely, whatever may be the merits of their cases. The reasons for getting on the secret "shit list" will never be explained and cannot be appealed. An unwillingness to bow down to these local potentates may be sufficient to earn their hostility or even disbarment. Think of the goons' hostility as a badge of honor. Nothing in any rule book provides for this. It is just how things work. "That's how it's always been done."

These sordid realities and unwritten exceptions in New Jersey's corrupt legal world should be explained in law school. Maybe on the bar exam there should be a question about the proper way to pay your respects to the local unelected official who really runs the court system in Trenton.

"Mr. O'Grady, 56, a former committee man in Middletown Township, N.J., is charged with taking $8,000 in cash to help steer municipal work to contractors" -- this sort of thing is a daily occurence in most counties in the Garden State -- "including two men who turned out to be agents of the F.B.I."

The F.B.I. has an annoying tendency to spoil everybody's fun. These corrupt "public servants" are involved in "getting" people appointed as judges and in "getting" a few "big time lawyers" on the big time bar committees. These are the sort of local "public servants" who (not being encumbered with ethical concerns themselves) evaluate the ethics of others or have an influence on who gets to do so. The opinions of such people concerning one's ethics should not be all that troubling. Neil M. Cohen?

I am always far more critical of myself than any such person could ever be, and more entitled to make such judgments, about myself and the unelected political hacks who govern New Jersey, allegedly, on behalf of organized crime. No wonder citizens have little respect for the legal system there, while many Jersey attorneys are utterly cynical about law and what they do. They should be. The state's legal system is a hideous farce. Those whose lives have been damaged beyond repair by judicial incompetence or the unpunished criminality of "connected" political operatives have every right to protest. (See "Maurice J. Gallipoli and Conduct Unbecoming to the Judiciary in New Jersey.")

"Mr. O'Grady was among 15 local officials arrested in February and March 2005 in a continuing investigation called Operation Bid Rig" -- one of several unfolding in New Jersey right now, by my estimate, and the best is yet to come! -- "which started in 1998." A key witness against him is a veteran of Jersey politics, "Anthony J. Palughi," who "recently retired as Monmouth County superintendent of bridges, and agreed to tape conversations with Mr. O'Grady, among other officials, when he [Palughi] was arrested in December 2004. [Palughi] pleaded guilty in August 2005 to setting up bribes for other officials and pocketing money for himself."

Mayor Healy of Jersey City was arrested recently in Monmouth County. He is alleged to have assaulted a police officer. Mr. Healy served as a Prosecutor in Hudson County and was a Superior Court judge before becoming Mayor. He is not someone I claim to know well, but I always saw him as fair and reasonable. One of the few political figures in Hudson County I regard as honorable. I would be shocked if the allegations against him are true. And I am not often shocked. I don't believe these accusations against Healy, which may be more "behind-the-back" character assassination from the Jersey Boys.

The best proof that the allegations against Healy are false will be a smear campaign directed against him in the media ("we have friends in the newspapers"), which may have begun already. Attempts to attribute mutual smears to the two U.S. Senate candidates will result in heated responses from each of them, thus preventing the political parties from cooperating, allowing organized crime to thrive. Like Milton's Lucifer, Jersey Boys flourish on chaos, delighting when politicians are at each other's throats, so they can abscond with the goodies while no one's looking, and without fear of being prosecuted.

One theory is that the south Jersey political bosses and machine are in a war with the rest of the state and everybody else, so they wanted to send a message by these "allegations" against Mr. Healy. They'll probably be leaking dirt about both Senate candidates and attributing the leaks to the candidates' respective camps. Nothing surprises me about the behind the scenes machinations in New Jersey.

Somehow New Jersey state authorities missed this criminal organization and activity in Monmouth County for forty years or so. They were too busy arranging for judges to have their portraits painted. "Along with other recordings that the jury heard when the trial opened last week, the tapes track the two men discussing their 'deals,' all in dialogue that could have been lifted from a 'Sopranos' script -- accents and expletives included."

Lawyers in New Jersey have been known to utter these immortal words: "Hey, what do you know? I don't know about this? You know about this? ... I don't know from nothin' ..." So much was left out of my law school experience. As they say in the vicinity of Bayone: "Geez, we gotta go to the matresses again?"

"Mr. Palughi admitted that he had no qualification for the county jobs that he held for more than 20 years. In his $92,000-a-year job as superintendent of bridges, he said, he worked mostly as a chauffer for freeholder Director Harry W. Larrison Jr., one of the two elected officials who died." You won't see him no more. Take the canolis. And here is the "bottom line" in New Jersey:

"That's how the system worked for years and years, [Mr. Palughi said,] no matter what party was in," [Palughi repeated,] "It's a sin [and a crime!] that it had to work that way, but it did." You said it, Anthony. How come we never put you on the Supreme Court? You are a man of wisdom. Badda-bing, badda-boom. Gee, whiz ...

Meanwhile, back at the Supreme Court building in Trenton: there are continuing problems of incompetence surrounding the New Jersey Supreme Court's -- well-intentioned -- "Mount Laurel" decision. That decision requires "developers" ("Hey, Fat Tony Montana, isn't your brother-in-law a 'developer'?") to provide specific amounts of moderate to low income housing in some new housing construction projects. New Jersey's Supreme Court is the national example of judicial incompetence in usurping legislative functions. You want to buy a group portrait of the justices for your office? They're pretty cheap right now. The portraits are cheap, that is, the cost of the justices votes (if any) is not disclosed publicly.

It is one thing when judges are fearless in upholding individual rights, at the level of Constitutional principle. It is quite another when they decide to "fix" society by dictating social policy in areas where they lack economic or other technical expertise even to understand what the difficulties are, let alone to prescribe solutions. Republicans and advocates of judicial restraint -- when it comes to courts formulating public policy -- have a point in advocating caution; liberals are right, however, to insist that courts must not shirk their responsiblity to defend persons' rights, even when they are unpopular for doing so.

When a state Supreme Court ignores "crimes against humanity" committed by state agents, then it may no longer deserve to be regarded as a court of law. New Jersey's Supreme Court fails on both counts. It caters to majority prejudice on the death penalty and other "get tough" issues, even as it deigns to instruct others concerning construction and engineering matters -- not to mention sewage treatment options -- about which the justices know nothing. Much worse, the justices have failed to protect basic human rights by choosing to look the other way when they know -- or should know -- of widespread psychological and physical torture by government officials and their "friends." As Martin Luther King, Jr. said: "There comes a time when silence is betrayal."

In the midst of allegations and irrefutable evidence that New Jersey is the most corrupt and inept jurisdiction in the nation, that the state legal system is a grotesque caricature of what a legal system should be, the justices remain silent, frozen by indecision. Perhaps this is fortunate. If they act, they may only make things worse. Thank goodness for the feds.

Mayor Cassella of East Rutherford -- that's not far from the big stadium -- was quoted as saying: "I think the obsession [is] to look like you're doing something for the unhoused poor, to use the judge's phrase, [but] there's a lack of common sense, a total lack of looking at the real world."

Sometimes judges don't want to look at the real world, Mr. Mayor. As I said, people are tortured secretly by persons affiliated with the government -- or maybe at the courts' secret instruction -- so as to get information from them, illegally, that is to be used against them. Sometimes judges can't really do much because there are behind the scenes "bosses" who really call the shots. Thievery seems to be a major preoccupation of New Jersey's Supreme Court. Right, Jaynee? David Kocieniewski, "No Title and No Elected Office But Influence Accross New Jersey," The New York Times, January 7, 2006, at p. B1.

Who is running the N.J. court system again? Is it George E. Norcross, III?

This may come as a shock to citizens of New Jersey, who never elected such figures and may not even have heard of them. I bet those big "bosses" like it that way.

How do people put up with this for years? Ideology. Yes, I plan to get into Antonio Gramsci soon. They simply cannot conceive of any other way of life. Government is the province of organized crime and there is nothing that you can do about it. Maybe you can get along with them, the hoods, so they'll toss you some crumbs now and then. Also, fear. People are scared and do not trust either courts or police in New Jersey. I don't blame them. Both courts and police are contaminated by the mob. You wanna talk to me about "ethics," Big Stu?

Street wisdom says that, if you oppose those "bosses," the police will pick you up one night and you'll be framed for something or nobody sees you again. Judges may be aware of these crimes, but (if so) they'll pretend not to know what you're talking about when you raise the issue, since they're hoping not to make waves. "That's how it works in America." I was told this by people who understood local government much better than I did, without the benefit of a law school education.

Well, it is not how it works -- and certainly not how it should work -- in America. There is a little something called the Constitution. Sometimes you can actually get the powers that be to abide by it. There is also the FBI (Scully, is that you?) and U.S. Supreme Court. Maybe by preventing efforts to obstruct and silence critics in the "blogosphere," like me, the system can demonstrate its legitimacy. I will not allow hoods and political leeches to define the society in which I raise my child.

I will not surrender my faith and trust in the U.S. Constitution because too many men and women have paid the ultimate price for that document to be something more than an exhibit under glass. Violations of a person's rights can never be for his own good. We must not break faith with those who have defended the Constitution -- including those who do so in our streets, every day -- by being afraid to stand up for its principles at home or anywhere in the world. No wonder they want to destroy these writings. Still blocking my access to MSN?

You want to know what is essential to America? Remember the Revolutionary War slogan that said: "Don't tread on me"? I promise you that spirit of independence and freedom in ordinary people is still very much alive and is at the heart of what the United States of America is all about. Remember that on July 4th.

That independence and freedom is one aspect of U.S. politics and culture which people everywhere in the world still admire and respect. It is not an aspect of contemporary American values that is seen much these days. It should be. Rich and poor, white and black -- all fought, and are still fighting in wars (not all of which are military) to preserve freedoms that will not be given up.

Most people in America do not run major corporations and are just as shocked about some of the things done in their name -- like torture -- as are others around the world. This unwillingness to surrender freedom is an attitude that cuts across the political map, an attitude which (I insist) is alive and well. Anybody seen Howard Zinn? Al Sharpton? Noam Chomsky? Bill Buckley? Bill Bennett? Jon Stewart? Sarah Vowell?

No one is going to agree with all of these people, who do not agree with each other. What they have in common -- that I agree with -- is a fearlessness about expressing controversial opinions and a disposition to go against majorities on matters of principle, also an unwillingness to be impressed or intimidated by the powerful. Laughing at the powerful is always good. The system shows weakness, not strength when it goes after controversial criminal defense lawyers and civil rights' advocates, like Ms. Lynne Stewart. Society needs those gadflies. Now more than ever.

Let's fight to put those Jersey boys away for a long time and leave a better society to our children. No justice, no peace.

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