The Commission on Judicial Conduct has voted to censure Bronx Surrogate Lee Holzman (See Profile) for failing to report misconduct by Michael Lippman, former counsel to the Bronx public administrator, but will not remove him from the bench.
The majority of the commission said in its opinion, made public yesterday, that Holzman had committed "serious misconduct," but found that censure was an adequate punishment, citing Holzman's "lengthy and unblemished tenure as a judge" and his mandatory retirement in less than two weeks.
Holzman's attorney, David Godosky, said he and his client were reviewing the censure and had not yet decided whether to appeal it.
Three of the 10 commissioners dissented and said that Holzman should have been removed. One of those dissenters, Richard Emery, a partner with Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady, wrote in his own blistering opinion that the case was "one of the most egregious cases that has ever been litigated before this Commission during the nine years that I have served," and that the majority had "lost its bearings."
Nina Moore, an associate professor of political science at Colgate University, said in her separate dissent that she did not entirely agree with Emery's characterization but did agree that censure was too lenient. Commission chairman Thomas Klonick joined in Moore's dissent.
Commission administrator Robert Tembeckjian, who drafted the charges against Holzman on behalf of the commission in 2011, does not have the right to appeal under the Judiciary Law.
"Naturally, I agree with the three who dissented for removal, but now, as always, we move on in good faith to the next case," Tembeckjian said in a press release.
The commission alleged that Holzman failed to supervise Lippman, who routinely collected legal fees from estates in advance, and sometimes took more fees than he was entitled to. It also claimed that Holzman approved legal fees based on insufficient information, routinely granting boilerplate requests from Lippman without asking for details required by state law.
When Holzman learned of Lippman's misconduct in 2006, he demoted him to associate counsel instead of firing him. Lippman was allowed to keep working on estates, using the fees he earned to pay what he owed to other estates.