"I am not a biased judge," is what U.S. District Court Judge John Koeltl proverbially claimed during a Court Conference 19 October 2017, to nobody's belief. Photo Illustration/Fair Use (President Richard Nixon photo by Associated Press ; John Koeltl by NYU)

To restore public confidence in the U.S. District Court for S.D.N.Y., Judge John Koeltl must resign

EDITORIAL : Because of Judge John Koeltl’s perceived biases and misconduct, the prospect looks bleak that he will decide that the Government should be held accountable for its pattern and practise of violating FOIA. As a result, Judge Koeltl must resign.

By The Editorial Board

In recent decades, corruption scandals have, at times, threatened to engulf entire branches of Government, except for the judiciary. Until now.

Scandals have crossed the State of New York, from New York City Hall, to the State capital, to Niagara Falls, and across eras. From the Parking Violations Bureau scandal during the administration of Mayor Ed Koch (D-New York City) that claimed the life of Queens Democratic Party boss Donald Manes and the careers of others, to the slush fund operated by the New York City Council during the speakership of Councilmember Christine Quinn (D-Chelsea), to the CityTime contract fraud scandal of the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg (R-New York City), to the New York Police Department gun permits bribery scandal to the voting rights violations by the New York City Board of Elections, each under the administration of Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-New York City) — to the corruption trials that ended the political careers of former New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Lower East Side) and former New York State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) — to the the Buffalo Billion economic development programme of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-New York) — corruption have seemed endemic to the executive and legislative branches of Government.

During all this time, the only law enforcement responding, to some extent, to the crisis of corruption has been the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices in Brooklyn and Manhattan, and the corresponding Federal Courts. By and large, because State and Local prosecutors must run for office with the support and endorsement of County political party committees, State and Local prosecutors are not sufficiently independent to investigate or to bring charges against significant Government officials. More of a process of elimination than a selection of the truly virtuous, the political ecumbrances of State and Local prosecutors have placed Federal prosecutors at the forefront of investigating public, political, and campaign corruption. Federal prosecutors, say some, have not entirely acted in the public interest and have, instead, acted to prop up the appearance of legitimacy to what has become a corruption-riddled Government that has wholly surrendered to the destructive role of money in politics.

Judges and Justice officials must set the standard in public ethics in order to serve as a check on the executive and judicial branches of Government.

But it is not only the executive and legislative branches of Government that have become worrisome to anti-corruption activists. The judiciary has increasingly come under scrutiny. The Brooklyn U.S. District Court is referred to as the E.D.N.Y., and the Manhattan U.S. District Court is referred to as the S.D.N.Y. A Federal Judge on the bench of the S.D.N.Y. is particularly troubling. As reported by Progress New York and other news outlets, Judge John Koeltl has established a career that is fraught with conflicts of interest and accusations of judicial bias. Judge Koeltl has faced accusations of using extremism against activists and making prejudicial statements that are disqualifiable. Judge Koeltl arguably sent the now late activist attorney, Lynne Stewart, to an early grave after the judge increased her prison sentence at his sole discretion following an unusual request made by the Government. Judge Koeltl has also faced public criticism over showing bias to one party over another. Recently, Judge Koeltl was assigned to preside over the Democratic National Committee‘s frivolous lawsuit against WikiLeaks, and others, alleging collusion with the Russian Federation to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election (frivolous, because the DNC rigged the primaries against Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Judge Koeltl also teaches at New York University, the notorious engine that produces élitism, gentrification, and displacement. Judge Koeltl has also, in the past, recused himself from cases where conflicts of interest were obvious, but he has only done so temporarily. His entire approach to professional ethics is situational.

Prosecutors work hand-in-hand with the Courts, where charges are filed and cases are tried. More and more, efforts to root out corruption from legal circles have faced institutional setbacks, even as at least some individuals have faced accountability. State Supreme Court Justice John Michalek (Erie County) pleaded guilty, amongst other charges, to accepting bribes. Efforts to hold prosecutors accountable for misconduct faced a set-back when the Cuomo administration settled a lawsuit seeking to create an oversight panel. Similar concerns exist on the Federal level. An ethics complaint was filed against at least one prosecutor in the Brooklyn U.S. Attorney’s Office, Rukhsanah Singh. Judges and Justice officials can also see their careers deteriorate. Chief Magistrate Judge Roanne Mann, in the E.D.N.Y., spent a career breaking through the glass ceiling only to join the Good Ole Boys’ network ; now an establishment judge, she has issued recommendations that gut the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA. Raymond Dearie, when he was the U.S. Attorney in Brooklyn, investigated criminals connected with the Parking Violations Bureau scandal. He now sits, as an E.D.N.Y. judge, on the U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, where he rubber stamps the Nation’s non-stop requests to eavesdrop on citizens. His peer at the time, Rudolph Giuliani, then the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan, also investigated corruption from that time then, and he led the prosecution of corrupt officials, including of then U.S. Rep. Mario Biaggi (D-The Bronx). Mr. Giuliani is now a shill-for-hire to President Donald Trump (R). Preet Bharara, who, as U.S. Attorney in Manhattan, prosecuted former Assembly Speaker Silver and former Senate Majority Leader Skelos, is now allegedly engaged in unjust enrichment from his time in office. Some of those appearing at once so virtuous end up becoming corrupted by greed following public service. Other judges, like S.D.N.Y. Judge Deborah Batts, develop a reputation of entirely doing whatever the Government requests, according to information obtained by Progress New York. The work of U.S. Attorneys increasingly rests on the eroding integrity of each of prosecutors and the judiciary, raising questions about whether the Courts will ever serve as a check on prosecutors, much less on the Government, further casting doubts on the prestige vested, perhaps wrongly, in the U.S. District Courts in New York City.

There is a high opportunity cost to having bad judges on the bench. On the subject of transparency, as the Government has sought to gut the Federal open records law in litigation seeking to bring the Government into compliance with FOIA, for example, and Judge Koeltl’s record would keep allowing the Government to gut FOIA. Judge Koeltl does this, either because he is too meek or to corrupt to uphold the rule of law. For the public to have faith in the judiciary working in partnership in Justice officials to hold accountable the executive and legislative branches of Government, the judiciary cannot tolerate misconduct or judicial bias, and that includes the appearance of the same. No amount of reasoning, or judicial complaints, has compelled Judge Koeltl to introspectively examine the causes or sources of his bias and misconduct. Landmark decisions get made from the S.D.N.Y., like in Floyd, et al. v. City of New York, et al., which ruled that the use by the New York Police Department of stop and frisk tactics was unconstitutional. Also, important decisions do not get made, like how the Courts have permitted the Government to block any attempt to use the Courts in the Second Circuit to articulate an inquiry or test for a claim that the Government is engaged in a pattern or practise of violating FOIA. Because a pending FOIA Lawsuit before Judge Koeltl seeks a pattern or practise hearing about the DOJ’s violations of FOIA that Judge Koeltl has already indicated he will not hold ; because of past allegations of conflicts of interest, judicial bias, and disability ; and because of the real prospect of establishing dangerous jurisprudence as the new standard for the S.D.N.Y. on the cases on his docket, Judge Koeltl, now about 73 years old, must resign.

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