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Prize in today’s election: control of court appointments

Among the judicial candidates on the ballot today is Carl Landicino, attorney for the Kings County Democratic Party

Carl Landicino, candidate for judge

In Brooklyn, Carl J. Landicino, left, is on the ballot for State Supreme Court Judge. Photo: Alice Brennan/The New York World

Unless something extraordinary happens today, Brooklyn voters will elect Carl J. Landicino, an attorney for the county Democratic Party, as a State Supreme Court judge.

He is one of six candidates on the Democratic Party ballot line in Kings County, running for six judicial seats with a 14-year term on the bench. The six are also all running on the Republican Party line, and four of them, including Landicino, are also on the ballot for the Conservative Party. Two other candidates are running soley on the Conservative line.

In September, The New York World examined the judicial pre-selection process within the Kings County Democratic Party. Landicino has until now been an attorney the county Democratic organization frequently turned to when it sought to eject primary election challengers from the ballot. His Queens-based law firm, Borchert, LaSpina, Genovesi & Landicino, also pursues foreclosure cases on behalf of lenders. As Landicino ascends to the bench, another line of business for his firm will bring it to State Supreme Court in Brooklyn: lucrative receiverships from Kings County judges to oversee financially troubled real estate.

Citywide, New Yorkers are taking to the polls to choose 42 Supreme Court Justices, who will preside over lawsuits, foreclosures and other non-criminal cases. Under New York State law, the judges elected today will not be able to preside over cases in which they hold direct conflicts of interest, or in which a lawyer or party has been a campaign contributor. But they will face no such restrictions in making the kind of fee-generating appointments that flow into Borchert, LaSpina for court-appointed receivers for property and for guardians for individuals who cannot manage their own affairs.

In New York, legal guardians are appointed by the court to act on behalf of children, or adults who are incapacitated. The guardian is responsible for providing an impartial perspective about the needs of a client and to arrange for services they need to survive. Judges keep a pre-approved list of potential guardians and use their discretion to appoint them. Judge approve the fees, which are usually based on what the client can afford to pay.

Receiverships work similarly, but for properties that are in dispute or are being foreclosed upon. Court-appointed attorneys use income from the properties and from responsible parties to ensure the buildings are maintained and kept to an acceptable standard; in addition, the receivers are paid a fee each year for their services. Court rules put a $75,000 annual cap on any individual’s earnings as a judicially appointed guardian; no such cap exists on receivership fees.

As Carl Landicino pulls on his judicial robes after today’s election, he like many others in his position will have to be personally vigilant about how he selects receivers, guardians and other fiduciary appointees. A partner in Borchert, Genovesi, LaSpina & Landicino, Gregory M. LaSpina, has received numerous receivership appointments in Brooklyn and Queens courts. Over the last five years, he has been awarded about one in every 15 receiverships in Kings County, and those appointments he has received have been among the most lucrative: In the past year, LaSpina received $40,051 out of a total of $69,428 in compensation awarded throughout the county. Of the 46 sitting Civil Supreme Court Judges in the Kings County, at least 12 have appointed LaSpina as a receiver or for other fee-generating fiduciary work.

Landicino and LaSpina did not return several calls requesting comment on their intentions regarding court appointments.

Adam Skaggs, senior counsel for the Brennan Center for Justice, said that New York courts should establish a clear set of guidelines for judges assigning guardianships and receiverships. “If they have a conflict, or they used to work with the potential receiver, they either hand the case on, or purposely appoint someone aside from their former partner.”