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Re: New York Sun: February 18, 2004: Brooklyn D.A. Accused of Improper Use of His Powers

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Posted by Roy Lester on 15:44:48 10/08/05

In Reply to: New York Sun: February 18, 2004: Brooklyn D.A. Accused of Improper Use of His Powers posted by GET NY

: Brooklyn D.A. Accused of Improper Use of His Powers
: The New York Sun
: For years, Civil Court Judge John Phillips cut a colorful, eccentric figure on the political scene in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood. He had a black belt in karate, packed a pistol, and ran a political club whose headquarters doubled as a martial arts studio.
: Although shunned by the Democratic establishment in Brooklyn, Mr. Phillips won a 10-year term on the bench in 1976, using fliers that advertised him as "the Kung-Fu Judge." He lost a re-election bid in 1986, but ran again in 1992 and won, despite being rated "not approved" by the Bar Association. He retired from the bench in 1995.
: Mr. Phillips was also known as the owner of a string of residential and commercial properties in central Brooklyn - most notably, the provocatively named Slave Theater near the corner of Fulton Street and Bedford Avenue. For years, the Slave was home to weekly rallies of the United African Movement and its firebrand leaders, Alton Maddox and Al Sharpton.
: After leaving the bench, Mr. Phillips announced plans to run for Brooklyn district attorney in 1997 and 2001- but he abruptly vanished from the political scene, and his buildings were shuttered or sold. Part of the mystery of what happened may have been answered yesterday, when a political foe of Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes accused Mr. Hynes of improperly using the power of his office to declare Mr. Phillips mentally incompetent and seize his properties.
: The charges are detailed in papers filed in Brooklyn Supreme Court yesterday by Sandra Roper, a Brooklyn attorney who unsuccessfully challenged Mr. Hynes for the Democratic nomination in 2001. While running against Mr. Hynes in an acrimonious and close contest, Ms. Roper complained that she was the subject of a whispering campaign alleging she stole money from a client, forged a document, and filed false court papers.
: An official grievance committee of the state courts, which handles most accusations of wrongdoing by lawyers, dismissed the client's complaint against Ms. Roper in September 2002, but she was indicted on the same charges in June of 2003 and fired from her job as a court clerk. Although the government's case is being handled by a special prosecutor from Manhattan, Ms. Roper - who denies the charges - claims her attempt to unseat Mr. Hynes is the reason she was indicted.
: Ms. Roper's lawyer, Raymond Baierlein, argued in yesterday's motion that the case should be dismissed as an "uneven application of prosecutorial discretion motivated by malevolent intent." The parties are due in court next week; no trial date has been set.
: Calls to Mr. Hynes's office yesterday were not returned; in the past, the office has declined to comment on the Roper case. But in his motion alleging selective prosecution, Mr. Baierlein claimed to answer a question that has been asked in Brooklyn political circles for the last two years: Whatever happened to judge Phillips?
: According to the court papers filed yesterday, Mr. Phillips planned to run for district attorney in 1997, but abandoned the effort after police arrested him in front of his political club for carrying a gun with an expired firearms permit. The charges were later dropped.
: In 1998, the city's housing court ordered Mr. Phillips to place several of his most dilapidated apartment buildings in the hands of an administrator and ordered him to spend $1.4 million to cure hundreds of code violations. In 2001,W. Phillips again announced plans to run for district attorney.
: Around the same time, according to court papers, Steven Kramer - an assistant prosecutor in Mr. Hynes's office who specializes in helping elderly victims of crime - asked a Long Islandbased lawyer, Frank Livoti, to initiate an action to have Mr. Phillips declared in need of a court-ordered guardian to handle his financial affairs. A message left for Mr. Livoti yesterday was not returned.
: "I have never met a Frank Livoti, and I believe he is scheming to seize my property," Mr. Phillips wrote to his lawyer, Dominick Fusco, in April of 2001. Mr. Phillips said he suspected that "Mr. Cramer [sic], an assistant district attorney in the Kings County D.A.'s office, is behind a plan to declare me incompetent, prior to my announcing my candidacy in the democratic primary against Mr. Charles Hynes."
: Mr. Fusco, now retired, yesterday told The New York Sun that Mr. Phillips should never have been declared incompetent. "For some reason they were trying to take his property. He wanted to run for D.A., that's what started all the trouble," said Mr. Fusco. "He wasn't incompetent. He was a little eccentric, but he knew what the hell he was doing. It was all politically motivated."

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