Courthouse Confidential: Tingling Makes 1st High-Level Appointment as County Clerk

Former Manhattan Justice Milton A. Tingling, who succeeded Norman Goodman as New York County Clerk on Jan. 1, has appointed as his counsel, Manuel Tavarez, who has been his law secretary since 2001. The appointment is confirmed by a change in the County Clerk’s Office public phone directory.

It is unclear what will happen to the number two position in the office, which was handled by James A. Rossetti for 28 years until his forced departure in December 2013. Rossetti, a lawyer, departed as a result of an OCA Inspector General’s investigation, which was opened after Tingling brought to the attention of top court officials racist and misogynistic postings in the County Clerk’s records room (see WiseLawNY story dated Mar. 6, 2014 for details).

For the last year of Goodman’s 45-year tenure, Rossetti’s position as chief deputy county clerk remained unfilled. Instead, Goodman’s counsel, Phyllis Mingione, who had been working half-time, was made a full-time employee and took over some of Rossetti’s responsibilities.

Sources are reporting that Tingling has settled upon Nelson Capote, who is currently in charge of the pro se staff office at the Manhattan Supreme Court, to fill one of the office’s top posts. Under Goodman, Rossetti was the top deputy county clerk, and under him were two deputies, one in charge of jury operations and the other in charge of all other office functions. Whichever position Capote is transferred to, he will remain at the same pay level, Grade 30. Capote, who has been with the court system since 1987, earned a total of $134,000 in 2013, according to the website SeeThroughNY.

While the ultimate parameters of Capote’s duties have not been publicly revealed, Tingling brought both Capote and Tavarez along with him to the annual luncheon sponsored by the Managing Attorneys and Court Clerks Association held earlier this week, according to a source.

Politically Incorrect Jokes

Both Tavarez and Capote bring some baggage with them to the County Clerk’s Office. Tavarez was suspended in November 2013 by the Appellate Division for failing to keep his attorney registration current for more than four years, according to court records. The suspension was lifted three months later after he paid $1,100 to bring his registration up to date. It is not clear whether he was required to certify that he had completed his continuing legal education credits during that period.

In response to a  phone call to Tingling’s former chambers, his secretary, Mary E. Jenkins, responded to say that Tavarez declined to be interviewed. According to the County Clerk phone list, Jenkins has been appointed as Tingling’s executive assistant at the County Clerk’s Office.

Capote circulated a set of funny, but very politically incorrect, jokes to other staffers at 60 Centre Street, according to a copy I obtained of an e-mail he sent out in February 2011. Capote’s title for the jokes was “Oh What the Heck … Let’s Offend Everybody!” suggests that it is OK to make ethnically-charged jokes as long as the darts are sent off in a sufficient number of different directions. I leave to others to determine whether that is sufficient in a court system, which has long placed a premium on workplace diversity and tolerance.

Here are several examples of the jokes, all of which consist of a question and answer:

  • “Q. Why aren’t there any Puerto Ricans on Star Trek? A. Because they aren’t going to work in the future either.”
  • “Q. What did the Chinese couple name their tan, curly haired baby? A. Sum Ting Wong” [ i.e. “something wrong” for those slow on the uptake].

Capote, who is of Cuban descent, even made light of his own heritage in one of the ten jokes—“Q. What’s the Cuban National Anthem? A. Row, Row, Row Your Boat.”

Capote could not be reached for immediate comment.

©DanielJWise2015

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