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A luncheon discussion about a year ago gave birth over the holidays to a week-long educational trip to Cuba for 13 New York State Supreme Court justices and some of their wives. Brooklyn Justice Frank J. Barbaro said he raised the subject of a Cuba trip with a group of colleagues after friends returned from a trip in 1999, shortly after travel restrictions were loosened. “The judges had a lot of interest in seeing whether shortages exist in Cuba and the extent of poverty there,” Barbaro said. “I had been told that it was really an incredible trip — that Cuba was very open. That you could go wherever you want.” As a former longshoreman, Barbaro, who was also a State Assemblyman before joining the bench, said he intended to check out the situation of workers on Cuba’s docks. Other judges wanted to observe the conditions of peasants in the more remote parts of the 1,000-mile long island, he added. Even with the relaxation of travel restrictions, the rules only permit professional and other types of religious, trade or fraternal groups into Cuba if they have established an educational program. That limitation meant that a number of the judges’ spouses could not make the trip. Many other judges would have gone if they did not have to leave their families over the holidays, Barbaro noted. Because several spouses work as teachers, however, a separate educational program for teachers was arranged by the travel company, Barbaro said. About 20 teachers went, along with several lawyers and two journalists who joined the judges’ educational program. The judges arrived in Cuba on Friday, December 22. On Saturday the 24th, they met with judges from Cuba’s National Union of Judges. On Tuesday the 26th, the New Yorkers observed a trial at the Cuban Provincial Tribunal. The group also met with experts on the Cuban penal code and criminal-justice system from the Cuban Society of Penal Sciences. They planned to meet with defense lawyers and prosecutors to discuss the role of lawyers in the Cuban justice system and, separately, with law professors and law students from the University of Havana. The other Brooklyn judges are Justices Irving S. Aronin, Gloria Cohen Aronin, Melvin S. Barasch, Abraham G. Gerges, Muriel Shaff Hubsher, Joseph S. Levine, Yvonne Lewis, Edward M. Rappaport, Leonard Scholnick and Jules L. Spodek. Queens Justice Phyllis O. Flug and Manhattan Justice Harold Tompkins also took the trip. Among the non-judges were attorney Sanford Bernstein, who has handled a number of high-profile police brutality suits (including the current representation of Abner Louima), Frederick Halla, the publisher of the Brooklyn Eagle, and Albert B. Lewis, a former state senator and superintendent of insurance, who is now counsel at D’Amato & Lynch. In all, 40 people joined the Cuba trip. “It just grew by word of mouth,” Justice Barbaro said.

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