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The overheated Rudy-Donna court battle over their marital abode is in the hands of a cool-headed judge who will listen to the evidence and cut through the emotional static that often obscures divorce disputes, several matrimonial lawyers said Monday. Acting Justice Judith J. Gische, 45, has won the respect of the matrimonial bar during her four years in divorce parts as having a practical, down-to-earth approach that accords respect to both litigants and lawyers. That said, several matrimonial lawyers noted yesterday that, aside from the celebrity of the divorcing couple — New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and First Lady Donna Hanover — the question of whether the mayor could bring his girlfriend Judith Nathan home to Gracie Mansion where he still lives with his wife and children was straightforward. David Aronson, who has handled a number of high-profile divorces said, “Is there some pressing civil need to have [Nathan] there other than as the mayor’s date? If that’s the reason, she shouldn’t be there.” He added, “If I made that argument for any of my clients, I would be blasted out of court.” Another matrimonial lawyer said that in more than 15 years in practice, she had never heard of anyone being so “brazen” as to ask to bring a girlfriend or boyfriend home while a couple was still residing together with their children. “It’s absurd — you just don’t do it,” the lawyer said. But another matrimonial lawyer pointed out that the private and public are often mixed at social functions at Gracie Mansion. Should not the mayor be permitted to bring Nathan to a clambake held at Grace Mansion as a part of a lobbying effort for key legislators and their guests? the lawyer asked. Justice Gische, who was assigned to a matrimonial part in 1997 after being appointed as acting Supreme Court justice, may take a dim view of permitting Nathan in close proximity of the mayor and Hanover’s two children, Andrew, 15, and Caroline, 11, another lawyer suggested. In a case where the question came up of whether a paramour could stay overnight at a vacation home, the lawyer said, Gische made it clear that she would not allow such an arrangement if children were involved. NO OVERNIGHT STAYS Several lawyers said that even when someone has moved out of the marital home and established his or her own apartment, most judges will not allow a lover to stay overnight at the same time that children are sleeping there. More court papers are due in the case on Wednesday, but no date has yet been set for oral argument on Hanover’s motion to bar Nathan from Gracie Mansion. Both as a matrimonial judge and as a Housing Court judge before she was elected to the Civil Court in 1993, Gische has gained a reputation as a judge who will let the lawyers put on their cases, and then reach a decision based solely upon the evidence and the law. Sandy Russo, the top tenants’ lawyer at Legal Services for New York, said Gische is a “careful” judge who issues “well-reasoned decisions” based on the evidence. Gary Rosenberg, a partner at Rosenberg & Estis, a leading landlord firm, agreed with that assessment. Matrimonial lawyers also described her as hardworking and straightforward. She lets lawyers know what she thinks about their cases and that helps promote settlements, one lawyer said. Another added that her ability to get beneath the legal arguments to the “emotional subtext” of a case allows her to forge time-saving, creative remedies. Among the judges sitting in matrimonial parts, she is considered on the “low” side in terms of alimony awards, one lawyer said. She was recently reversed by the Appellate Division, 1st Department, for not approving an award of interim attorneys’ fees to a wife whose husband had spent at least $745,000 on his lawyers. Gische had approved $419,000 in interim fees for the wife, but rejected her request for an additional $159,000 ( Gober v. Gober, 2001 Lexis 4091). The mayor’s divorce is not the first high-profile divorce to come Justice Gische’s way. Last year she handled telecommunications mogul Shelby Bryan’s divorce from Katherine Bryan. And in 1995, a year after she became a Civil Court judge, she ordered the model Fabio to appear for a videotaped deposition. In 1995, she was also tapped by court officials to review requests to reopen cases handled by Housing Court Judge Arthur R. Scott, who pleaded guilty to accepting bribes. Gische went to college and law school at State University of New York at Buffalo. After graduating from law school in 1980, she spent two years as a clerk at the Appellate Division, 3rd Department. From 1982 to 1990, she worked at Richenthal, Abrams & Moss, a firm specializing in complex real estate and commercial matters. In 1990, Gische was appointed to the Housing Court, and three years later, in November 1993, was elected to the Civil Court as a Democrat in the Ninth Judicial District, which covers the wealthiest portion of the East Side of Manhattan and extends west into Chelsea.

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