Staten Island Administrative Judge Judith P. McMahon is not out of the woods yet.
Last September, McMahon and her court’s chief clerk, Michael Pulizotto, were both mothballed to lesser jobs in Manhattan after Dennis Quirk, the head of the New York State Court Officers Association, went on a tear because word had leaked out that Pulizotto was the source of information provided to the Office of Court Administration’s Inspector General’s (IG) Office.
On Sept.7, Quirk brought the parade-sized balloon, “Scabby, the Rat,” to the Staten Island courthouse to expose Pulizotto’s role in providing tapes that he covertly recorded, which contained evidence that McMahon had violated a rule, promulgated by the Office of Court Administration, to prevent a sticky situation involving McMahon and her husband, Michael E. McMahon, who is now Staten Island’s District Attorney.
In the aftermath of “Rat’s” appearance, McMahon was re-assigned to Manhattan where her job is to attempt to settle cases before they are cleared for trial. Mediation work of this nature is often done by law clerks working for the court system.
On Nov. 9, Lucian Chalfen, OCA’s chief spokesperson, told the Staten Island Advance that the IG’s office had completed its investigation and issued a report. This created an impression that McMahon had been cleared.
But, Chalfen added a wrinkle when I (WiseLawNY is a one man operation) asked him why McMahon was still mediating cases on Nov. 30 — the dated that I visited McMahon’s Manhattan courtroom (Room 422). Chalfen responded in an email, which amended his prior statement to the Staten Island Advance, to disclose that “certain aspects” of the investigation “remain open.”
When I contacted McMahon’s attorney, John P. Connors Jr. for comment on Monday (Dec. 11), he said that it is “completely inaccurate” to report that McMahon still faces questioning from the IG’s office. To the contrary, he said, she has been doing “exemplary work” in Manhattan and has been told by both Chief Administrative Judge Lawrence K. Marks and Deputy Chief Administrative Judge George J. Silver that she could return as Administrative Judge in Staten Island “anytime she wants.
Connors, the head of the the Second Department’s Grievance Committee for Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island, noted that, in addition to mediating cases in Manhattan, McMahon has been responsible for handling medical malpractice discovery and all foreclosure cases in Manhattan.
With regard to the question of whether a commitment had been made that McMahon could return to Manhattan at her option, Chalfen, OCA’s press officer, responded in an email, “Neither Judge Marks nor Judge Silver assured Judge McMahon or her attorney that she could return to Staten Island whenever she wanted.”
Judge Silver is the Deputy Chief Administrative Judge for New York City Courts as well as acting administrative judge for the civil side of the Supreme Court in Manhattan.
OCA has posted a notice for the replacement of Pulizotto as clerk of the Staten Island court. He has, however, been permanently assigned to the Office of Professional Services at OCA headquarters on Beaver St., a unit of OCA, which oversees a variety of court programs. He continues to receive the same level of pay that he received as Chief Clerk of the Staten Island court. On Monday (Dec. 11) Pulizotto filed a lawsuit in the Southern District of New York, which seeks his reinstatement as chief clerk of the Staten Island court as well compensatory and punitive damages.
On May 28, 2015, Michael McMahon (Justice McMahon’s husband), received the Democratic nomination for District Attorney, following the election of his predecessor, Daniel Donovan, to Congress. The next day, May 29, OCA promulgated an order requiring the appointment of a second administrative judge, to supervise the criminal side of the court to prevent the potential, but obvious, conflict that would have been created by having Justice McMahon in charge of all cases brought by District Attorney McMahon’s office. Simultaneously, Staten Island Justice Stephen J. Rooney was appointed to the new position.
McMahon was elected as Staten Island’s District Attorney in November 2015.
Pulizotto has acknowledged covertly recording numerous conversations allegedly capturing McMahon subverting the division of the Staten Island court’s authority in a libel complaint that he filed against Quirk, the president of the court officers’ association. The most arresting, according to the complaint, was a recording of a speaker-phone conversation between the two McMahons from Justice McMahon’s chambers in which grand jury matters were discussed.*
D.A. McMahon yesterday issued a statement calling that startling claim “duplicitous and deceitful.” In reality, he stated, “the grand jury matter” was only about a need to replace a door hinge in the grand jury room. According to the statement, Pulizotto asked Justice McMahon about replacing the hinge because he was unable to contact D.A. McMahon.**
Chalfen, OCA’s press officer, has categorically denied that the court system had any knowledge of Pulizotto’s recording at the courthouse. Under a chief judge rule, audio or visual recording is prohibited anywhere within a courthouse unless prior permission is obtained from a court administrator. Since both McMahon and Rooney were subjects of Pulizotto’s covert investigation, that was not a viable option for Pulizotto. One of the tapes quoted Rooney as saying that “someone is going to drop a dime” upon McMahon. ***
Richard A. Luthmann, Pulizotto’s attorney, in an interview, challenged Chalfen’s denial of OCA’s knowledge of the recordings, saying that for over two years Pulizotto was in close contact with the IG’s Office, which was well aware of his taping and tacitly condoned it.
Luthmann in Separate Battle with D.A. McMahon
On a separate front, Luthmann has been involved in a battle with D.A. McMahon, who claims that Luthmann set up phony websites to disseminate false and misleading information about his campaign and those of two other candidates for office.
The New York Post reported on Aug. 29, 2017 that a special prosecutor, Thomas Tormey Jr., former prosecutor in Manhattan, had been appointed to investigate McMahon’s claims that Luthmann had set up phony websites to discredit his candidacy. According to the Post article, Luthmann used the website to lampoon McMahon’s campaign as a Mafioso crime family and listed Justice McMahon as the head of the family.
Luthmann did not deny the Post’s report. Instead, in court papers filed on Monday (Dec. 11) seeking to quash the special prosecutor’s subpoena, he claimed that D.A. McMahon leaked non-public information to the Post about the appointment of a special prosecutor and the nature of the claims he would be investigating.
*Amended libel complaint against Quirk, para. 118(Q).
**D.A. McMahon’s full statement reads as follows: “The incident in question shows just how duplicitous and deceitful Mr. Pulizotto is. He sought out Judge McMahon because he could not reach the D.A., whom he wanted to ask about where a door hinge should be placed in new physical space for the Grand Jury. The call was about a door. Upon reaching him, the D.A. asked Mr. Pulizotto to meet him in the space. The call ended. They met and the door was built. Now Pulizotto and his bombastic lawyer are claiming there was talk about a “Grand Jury matter.” That is false. This is a baseless misrepresentation made by a disgruntled employee and his lawyer who are manipulating the media.”
***Amended libel complaint, para. 118(T)