A Staten Island court clerk who secretly taped conversations around the courthouse alleges that the borough’s district attorney and his wife, an administrative judge, worked together to steer criminal cases away from courts that she deemed as too defense-friendly.
Michael Pulizotto, whose two-year stint as chief clerk of Staten Island courts ended in September after news broke that he recorded conversations with judges and other court personnel, alleges in a lawsuit filed on Monday that Staten Island District Attorney Michael McMahon took part in a scam in which he would manipulate grand jury applications so that cases would be sent to a judge who served as a “rubber stamp” for Supreme Court Justice Judith McMahon, the DA’s wife.
Pulizotto alleges that the DA’s Office lists drug offenses as top counts on grand jury applications—despite the presence of more serious offenses—so that cases would be sent to a narcotics part presided over by Acting Staten Island Supreme Court Justice Charles Troia, who Pulizotto said is “under the thumb” of Judith McMahon, instead of Acting Supreme Court Justices Mario Mattei and Wayne Ozzi, who Judith McMahon allegedly called “defense oriented.”
To support his accusations, Pulizotto included in his complaint a clip of an audio recording he made of a profanity-tinged conversation he allegedly had with Acting Staten Island Supreme Court Justice Stephen Rooney, in which Rooney apparently said to Pulizotto that “someone is going to drop a dime” on the diversion of criminal cases to Troia’s court and that it will “come back to haunt her,” though he is not heard mentioning either of the McMahons by name.
Troia’s chambers referred questions to a spokesman for the Office of Court Administration. Both Mattei and Ozzi declined to comment and Rooney did not respond to a request for comment.
Pulizotto alleges in his suit, filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, that Judith McMahon, court officials and high-ranking members of the New York Supreme Court Officers Association retaliated against him for blowing the whistle on supposed wrongdoing taking place in the courthouse on Staten Island and turning over his audio recordings to the OCA’s inspector general.
OCA officials and top-level members of the Supreme Court Officers Association are also named as defendants in the suit.
In September, Judith McMahon and Rooney stepped down from their administrative posts in the state Supreme Court on Staten Island and McMahon was transferred to Manhattan to preside over a judicial mediation part. Rooney still presides over criminal matters on Staten Island.
After McMahon stepped down from her administrative role, Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Deborah Kaplan was transferred to Staten Island to serve as administrative judge.
Pulizotto said he reported alleged wrongdoing on Staten Island to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.
Richard Luthmann of the Luthmann Law Firm, who represents Pulizotto in the matter, said that he met with officials from the Southern District U.S. Attorney’s Office a few months ago and was told that an investigation is still ongoing.
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York declined to comment.
Judith McMahon’s attorney, John Connors Jr. of Connors & Connors, said in an email that his client denies the “baseless” allegations contained in Pulizotto’s “frivolous” complaint.
For example, he said, Pulizotto’s allegation in his suit that Judith McMahon wielded wholesale control over the grand jury process is backed up by an audio recording in which Judith McMahon can be heard asking her husband about the location of a door to the grand jury. “Judge McMahon looks forward to this and all other claims against her being dismissed,” Connors said.
Ryan Lavis, a spokesman for the Staten Island District Attorney’s Office, said that Pulizotto’s claims are “simply preposterous” and are the product of a “disgruntled employee and his bombastic, headline-seeking attorney.”
Lavis said that, as former chief clerk for Staten Island courts, he should be aware that it is up to the clerk’s office to assign cases to court parts. He said top counts are determined by the state penal law and that the office brings charges based on the evidence presented.
“Any accusations or allegations to the contrary are baseless, not credible, and without merit,” he said.
OCA spokesman Lucian Chalfen declined to comment on the suit because the litigation is pending.
Pulizotto said in court papers that he turned recordings over to the court system’s inspector general; Chalfen said an investigation into the matter is still ongoing but declined to comment on the details of the investigation.
Mario Gallucci of Helbock, Nappa & Gallucci, a Staten Island-based defense attorney who previously worked as a prosecutor in the borough, said he does not agree with Pulizotto’s allegations.
Gallucci said that Troia’s part was created about a year ago to divert cases from Staten Island’s upfront part and noted that the courts in the other four boroughs in New York City each have dedicated narcotics parts.
With regard to Mattei, who Pulizotto said McMahon considers pro-defendant, Gallucci said he has won two cases before Mattei but lost four or five others. He also disputed the notion that Troia is pro-defense, saying he is “good to both sides.”
“I’ve seen nothing to indicate that he is prosecution-friendly or defense-friendly,” Gallucci said. Pulizotto is still employed with the court system and is currently working as its office in lower Manhattan.
He is also the plaintiff in a defamation suit filed in November against Dennis Quirk, the head of the Supreme Court Officers Association, for setting up a giant inflatable rat bearing Pulizotto’s name in the public square outside the Staten Island courthouse.