The state’s former chief administrative judge has been ordered to give deposition testimony in a $15 million suit filed by attorney Ravi Batra claiming that he was defamed by a 2003 episode of the TV series “Law & Order” allegedly based on the bribery case of Gerald Garson, a former Brooklyn Supreme Court justice.
Supreme Court Justice Lucy Billings (See Profile), in a decision Dec. 24, refused to quash a subpoena in which Batra wants Acting Supreme Court Justice Ann Pfau (See Profile) to testify as to comments she may have made regarding his character that were reported by the New York Post.
Batra’s 2004 suit names “Law & Order” producer Dick Wolf, NBC Universal and 33 other defendants involved in an episode called “Floater,” in which a bald, Indian-American matrimonial attorney named Ravi Patel attempts to bribe a Supreme Court justice in Brooklyn. Batra was born in India and bears some resemblance to Indian-born actor Erick Avari, who played “Ravi” in “Floater.”
Garson was charged in 2003 along with divorce lawyer Paul Siminovsky. The ex-judge was later convicted of accepting bribes. Simonovsky pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor.
After he was charged, Garson attempted to curry favor with prosecutors by claiming that Batra, a well-known figure in political circles who was a member of the Brooklyn Democratic Party judicial screening panel, was selling judgeships for $50,000 and up, records show. Garson surreptitiously recorded a lunchtime conversation with Batra where he unsuccessfully attempted to elicit incriminating statements from the attorney. Batra was never accused of wrongdoing.
“Law & Order” claims that even if Batra can sustain his burden and prove that he was the model for the character in “Floater,” Batra’s name had already been sullied by the media and therefore the show caused him little damage.
That is where Pfau comes in.
While the Garson scandal was unfolding, Pfau was deputy chief administrative judge and also administrative judge for Kings County.
A report in the May 3, 2003, New York Post claimed that “Brooklyn’s administrative judge has warned fellow jurists to steer clear of Ravi Batra, a veteran lawyer who has close ties to Brooklyn Democratic leader Clarence Norman.” The article also stated: “One source quoted Pfau as saying, ‘If I ever get a call from Ravi Batra it won’t be returned. Anyone who deals with him is on his own.’”
Pfau moved to quash both the deposition subpoena and a subpoena duces tecum, claiming that each seeks information that is irrelevant and privileged.
But Billings said that since the Post cannot be compelled to disclose its sources, Batra can ask Pfau if she made the statements reported and, if so, to whom and the information on which she based the statements.
“Given Judge Pfau’s stature in the legal profession, it is potentially relevant and useful for plaintiff to find out whether or not she in fact cast him in such a poor light to her fellow jurists: as a person to be avoided and a person associated with criminal activity, as portrayed by the New York Post article,” Billings wrote in Batra v. Wolf, 116059/2004.
Billings said that Pfau’s “personal opinion of plaintiff’s ethical or professional stature is irrelevant, except insofar as her opinion was disseminated to the legal profession or the public so as to affect his reputation.” However, she added that if Pfau made the statements to other judges in performance of her official duties, the communications may be privileged.
Billings ordered Pfau to produce any documents in her possession or control that refer to Garson’s allegations involving Batra or documents related to the statements reported by the Post.
To “minimize interference with Judge Pfau’s official duties and disruption of judicial operations,” Billings limited questioning of her by Batra to 90 minutes. She gave the defendants one hour to question Pfau.
Batra is representing himself. The defendants are represented by Daniel Kummer of NBC Universal and Elizabeth McNamara of Davis Wright Tremaine.
Shawn Kerby, assistant deputy counsel for the Office of Court Administration, appeared for Pfau.
@| John Caher can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.