On Friday (Dec. 15) the flamboyant lawyer, Richard A. Luthmann Jr., was arrested on charges of defrauding buyers of scrap metal. Justice Judith P. McMahon’s lawyer is attempting to use Luthmann’s bombshell arrest to discredit whistleblower Michael Pulizotto, who is the main witness against his client.
Luthmann had been representing Pulizotto in a libel lawsuit filed against Dennis Quirk, the leader of the New York State Court Officers Association in the wake of the infamous “Day of the Rat” at the St. George courthouse.
Luthmann’s arrest, despite the shocking charges, has no bearing on whistleblower Michael Pulizotto’s credibility, whose covertly recorded audio-tapes form the core of the ongoing probe of Justice McMahon.
On Monday (Dec. 18), Pulizotto released a statement announcing that he has severed his relationship with Luthmann and that he expects to be retaining a new lead lawyer shortly. In his statement, Pulizotto said Luthmann’s arrest came as “a complete shock to me” and “it is obvious that Richard must focus on what will be a tremendous fight for him personally.”
As reported in WiseLawNY last week, the Office of Court Administration’s Inspector General’s Office has an active investigation of McMahon’s role in undermining an order that OCA issued in 2015 to protect the public confidence in the neutrality of the court after McMahon’s husband, Michael E. McMahon, was nominated in 2015 to become the Democratic candidate for Staten Island’s district attorney.
The Eastern District U.S. Attorney’s Office accused Luthmann of orchestrating a scheme to defraud buyers of scrap metal and employed mob-connected enforcers to carry out the fraud.
Luthmann once famously challenged an adversary to “a trial by combat,” according to numerous published accounts.
McMahon’s lawyer John P. Connors has circulated to the press a detention memo prepared by the U.S. Attorney’s Office which contains reference to an unidentified confidential informant’s statement that Luthmann approached people offering them money if they would claim that Justice McMahon had sought bribes from them in order to “swing” cases.
Upon the strength of the detention memo, which was prepared by Eastern District Assistant U.S. Attorney Moira Kim Penza, U.S. Magistrate Judge Robert M. Levy remanded Luthmann to the federal prison at Foley Square without bail on Friday, Dec. 14. A hearing to set bail has been scheduled for tomorrow (Dec. 20).
Connors submitted a proposed comment (see sidebar containing “comments”) to last week’s story reporting on the continuing OCA probe which highlighted the unidentified confidential informant’s comment. That is perfectly legal because in the federal system detention memos are public documents. Nonetheless, in my view, trafficking in unfiltered allegations of criminal activity offered by unidentified confidential informants is beneath the dignity of a lawyer of Connors stature. Connors, whose firm is Connors & Connors, is the head of the head of the Grievance Committee in charge of policing the conduct of lawyers practicing in Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island.
Connors also apparently brought the detention memo to the attention of the Staten Island Advance, which ran a story based on information contained in it. The Advance story ran the quote about Luthmann seeking to bribe witnesses to make statements about McMahon’s misconduct without referring to the source being unidentified but, instead, with the attribution “court records allege.”
The Staten Island Advance appears to be particularly deferential to McMahon’s version of the story. A source told me that the Staten Island Advance had done a version of last week’s story reporting that the OCA probe, despite an earlier suggestion to the contrary, was continuing. The comment contained a link to a story in the Advance to that effect. But if Advance readers click on the link all they will find is a blank page.
The ongoing OCA investigation goes to the heart of the court’s system’s integrity. If, as appears to be the case from the thrust of the tapes provided by Pulizotto to the Inspector General’s Office, McMahon continued to get involved in criminal matters after the administrative authority of her court was divided, she made a charade of OCA’s efforts to preserve the public’s faith in the neutrality of the court.
Simultaneously with the issuance of the OCA order on May 28, 2015, Staten Island Justice Stephen J. Rooney was appointed Administrative Judge for criminal matters. Nonetheless, articles published in the Staten Island Advance and the New York Times quoted Pulizotto’s tapes and hand-written notes as revealing, among other things, that McMahon:
- Handled a media request to bring a camera into a high-profile criminal proceeding.
- Instructed Pulizotto to forward a Freedom of Information Act request addressed to the court to the District Attorney’s Office.
- Dispatched Pulizotto to instruct a judge to declare mistrial in a criminal case where the jury was divided 10-2 in favor of acquittal. (The jury, however, voted to acquit before Pulizotto delivered the message).
- Ordered that no more “complex” criminal cases go to two justices of the court because they were too “defense-oriented.”