CLOSEClose Law.com Menu
 
X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
Important new details in the bribery case against Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Victor I. Barron — including the name of the lawyer who is the chief prosecution witness — emerged Thursday as a grand jury handed down an indictment against the judge. At a press conference announcing the indictment, Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes described in detail how Barron demanded a $250,000 bribe before he would approve a $4.9 million settlement for a brain-injured baby, and how he ultimately accepted an $18,000 payment from the lawyer in a conversation that was electronically recorded. Hynes quoted Barron as saying, after he accepted an envelope containing $18,000 in cash last Friday, that he did not want to have to “chase” the lawyer and make “any more phone calls to get you over here.” The indictment identified the lawyer from whom Barron demanded the bribe as Gary Berenholtz, a solo practitioner with an office at 225 Broadway in Manhattan. Barron’s lawyer, Barry Kamins, said Thursday: “We look forward to the opportunity to litigate the charges in court.” Barron, who has been on the bench since 1987, pleaded not guilty on Tuesday evening and was released, on the agreement of the prosecution, without having to post bail. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. The judge has been suspended with pay. The Office of Court Administration announced Thursday that it had assigned Justice Nicholas Colabella, who sits in the 9th Judicial District, to preside over the case. The 9th District covers the five counties to the immediate north of New York City. A former partner of Berenholtz, who continues to share an office suite with him, said Thursday that Berenholtz would not be available for an interview. However, the former partner, Joseph Frost, volunteered to serve as a spokesman. He described Berenholtz as agonizing over the decision to come forward and tell the Brooklyn prosecutor’s office about the bribery demand. He was “shaking and shivering” and “could not sleep,” Frost said. At the press conference, Hynes said that Justice Barron first broached the subject of a bribe on June 11, when he told Berenholtz that he would be “inclined” to sign off on the $4.9 million settlement if the lawyer paid the judge $250,000 of the $1.6 million fee the lawyer was slated to receive under the settlement. The next day, according to Hynes, the two met again, and when Berenholtz refused to pay the $250,000, Barron replied, “$115,000, take it or leave it.” Berenholtz agreed to the lower figure, and the judge signed the order approving the compromise. Hynes said Berenholtz never intended to pay the judge. In balking at approving the settlement, Hynes said, Justice Barron raised concerns that Berenholtz might have had a conflict of interest in representing both the baby who was left brain injured after a 1998 automobile accident in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, N.Y., and the little girl’s mother. The concern, Hynes explained, was that the girl might have had a negligence claim against her mother, who was driving the car at the time of the accident. But Hynes pointed out that the driver of the other car had conceded liability by admitting that she had run a red light. In any event, Hynes added, the conflict issue had been resolved before the settlement was submitted for approval; another lawyer was appointed to represent the girl’s mother. Frost identified that lawyer as former supreme court Justice Ronald Aiello. Aiello said Thursday that Berenholtz had asked him to take over the representation of a mother in a tragic case involving a mother and child, but declined to confirm that it was the lawsuit at the core of the bribery case against Justice Barron. In any event, Hynes said at the press conference that Berenholtz did not hear from Barron after June 12 until Jan. 4, 2002, when the judge called him and asked him to come to his chambers. Ten days later, on Jan. 14, Berenholtz reported the alleged shakedown for the first time to the district attorney’s office, Hynes said. After being given 180 marked $100 bills as a part of an investigation “assisted by electronic means,” Hynes said, Berenholtz went to Barron’s courtroom at 15 Willoughby St. last Friday, Jan. 18. At about 1 p.m., after the judge adjourned the case that was on trial before him, the two went into the judge’s chambers. Behind a locked door, Justice Barron again raised concerns about Berenholtz having a conflict, Hynes said, and the lawyer then told the judge he had “some money” for him, and passed him the envelop. Four days later, on Tuesday, detectives assigned to the district attorney’s office arrested Barron at his home in Marine Park at 6 a.m. Some criminal experts questioned why the district attorney’s office waited four days to make the arrest, and reportedly missed the opportunity to recover the marked bills that had been allegedly given to the judge. Jerry Schmetterer, a spokesman for the district attorney’s office, said further payoffs were initially being considered, but it was decided after the first encounter that a sufficient amount of evidence had been gathered. When asked why Berenholtz had waited seven months to come forward, Hynes said the decision to give prosecutors evidence of a crime against a judge was “a torturous” one for any lawyer. Frost also pointed out that Berenholtz would have been expected to pay the judge from the proceeds of his fee in the case, which he did not receive until September or October. NOT WELL KNOWN Though Berenholtz was handling a significant case worth nearly $5 million, several prominent personal injury lawyers with active practices in Brooklyn said Thursday that they had not heard of him. Frost described Berenholtz, 50, as having a general practice that included negligence, matrimonial and real-estate matters. In addition, he is known to have done some criminal work, and, at least in one instance, to have represented the Railroad Patrolman’s Benevolent Association, the union for the police officers working for the Metro-North Railroad commuter line. Frost, 70, said that he and Berenholtz had been partners from 1990 until 1999, when Frost decided to scale back his practice. Before 1990, Frost added, Berenholtz had worked for Rappaport & Frost, a firm that Frost shared with Edward M. Rapport, who left after being elected to the supreme court in Brooklyn.

This content has been archived. It is available exclusively through our partner LexisNexis®.

To view this content, please continue to Lexis Advance®.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber? Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® is now the exclusive third party online distributor of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® customers will be able to access and use ALM's content by subscribing to the LexisNexis® services via Lexis Advance®. This includes content from the National Law Journal®, The American Lawyer®, Law Technology News®, The New York Law Journal® and Corporate Counsel®, as well as ALM's other newspapers, directories, legal treatises, published and unpublished court opinions, and other sources of legal information.

ALM's content plays a significant role in your work and research, and now through this alliance LexisNexis® will bring you access to an even more comprehensive collection of legal content.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

 
 

ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.