Did OCA Place Top Prudenti Aide With Legal Services Agency?

On July 28, 2015, the Office of Court Administration swiftly swung into action to accommodate one of its own when then Chief Administrative Judge A. Gail Prudenti announced her plan on July 28, 2015 to retire two days later to head up a student clinic at Hofstra University School of Law. A month later Prudenti’s chief of staff, Eugene Myers, was in place as the top non-lawyer administrator at Mental Hygiene Legal Service for the Second Department, whose 80 lawyers represent persons confined in mental institutions and sex offenders the state wants to civilly commit after they have served their prison terms.

Unlike many of Prudenti’s staffers who either retired or sought work elsewhere with her departure pending, the former Chief Administrative Judge said Myers wanted to remain with OCA until he could qualify for a full pension. Also, tired of the lengthy commute to OCA headquarters in lower Manhattan, she added, he wanted a post closer to his home in Suffolk County.

The Mental Hygiene Legal Service (MHLS), which has its headquarters in Mineola, had an opening for a deputy director, but there was one very substantial obstacle: the job could only be filled by a lawyer and Myers is not an attorney.

To clear that hurdle, court administrators reclassified the deputy director position to eliminate the requirement that the applicant be admitted to the bar, according to a document released in response to my Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request. In a cover letter, Shawn Kerby, OCA’s FOIL officer explained that the new position was designated as “Special Programs Coordinator” rather than as Deputy Director, Mental Health Legal Service. Despite that designation, Mr. Kerby stated that Myers currently uses the working title of “Deputy Director of Administration.”

The last time the deputy director position was posted in 2011, the job posting required that applicants be admitted to the New York bar.

Myers started working on Aug. 27, 2015, the same day the deputy director position was reclassified.  Kerby also stated, in response to the FOIL request for a copy of the job posting, that there had been none.

Neither Myers nor Michael D. Neville, the director of MHLS, which has approximately 20 offices throughout the 10-county Second Department, responded to a request for an interview but referred the inquiries to April Agostino, the clerk of the Appellate Division in Brooklyn. Agostino declined comment.

 

High Praise from Prudenti

In an interview, Prudenti praised Myers as being highly regarded in OCA “administrative circles” as a top-notch administrator. He would have been highly qualified for any position he applied for, she added.

Prudenti said she had not been involved in finding Myers any specific job, but that she had praised his skills to anyone who would listen, including the Second Department’s Presiding Justice Randall T. Eng.

Myers started working for the court system as a court officer in 1985 and three years later became a senior court clerk in Suffolk County, a post he held until 1990. He ascended through the administrative ranks, and in 1996 became the District Executive in charge of all non-judicial employees throughout courts within Suffolk County, which is designated as the Tenth Judicial District.

Myers first started working directly for Justice Prudenti in 1999 when she was appointed as Administrative Judge for the Tenth Judicial District, and remained her top aide for the next 17 years.

With no response either from MHLS or the Second Department, it is not possible to ascertain how and why the job was created. It is possible that higher ups at OCA, or even the director Neville himself, decided that the agency needed a single manager to handle the administrative side of the agency.

But, to my mind, the written record contains too many factors to reach such conclusions though it is not possible to rule them out. The timing of Prudenti’s leaving and Myers need for a new post was too coincidental. The speed with which the existing job was reclassified, the fact that it removed the one impediment to Myers’ taking the job and that there was no posting of the job are all earmarks suggesting that change was made with Myers in mind. Also, it happened to accommodate Myers’ desire to avoid the lengthy commute he had for the last 15 years as Prudenti’s top aide at OCA and before that when she was the Second Department’s presiding justice.

The decision to hire Myers in the newly created position required a rejiggering of both Neville’s and Myers’ salaries. Myers’ salary was reduced by $6,000 to $160,000 and Neville’s was raised by $6,000 also to $160,000. The fact that OCA was willing to raise Neville’s salary is certainly an endorsement of his performance, and likewise Myers’ willingness to take a pay cut signaled how strong his desire was to be closer to home. Certainly with Prudenti and Eng as his backers, he could have successfully competed for almost any court job in the state. Eng’s support is evident because he was the only official who could waive the requirement that the job be posted.

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After her retirement from the court system, Prudenti joined the faculty at Hofstra Law School as executive director of its Center for Children, Families and the Law. She became the school’s interim dean on Jan. 1 of this year.

 

©DanielJWise2017

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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