Expatriate Owl

A politically-incorrect perspective that does not necessarily tow the party line, on various matters including but not limited to taxation, academia, government and religion.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Yom Kippur 5770

I haven't posted the past 10 days, what with the pressures and deadlines and the holidays and the other standard excuses.

There were some proposed postings under contemplation, but I had some reservations as to whether they should be posted. As matters developed, it is better that they were not posted, at least during the past 10 days. One or more of those postings may or may not go up (with relevant updates and redactions, of course) at some point in the future, but for now, I shall hold my fire. Some things just aren't meant to be made public too early.

Tonight is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, for the year 5770 of the Hebrew Calendar. I am carbo-loading for the fast, attending to some other holiday preparations for Sukkot, doing some legal research, grading a few papers, and working on possible rendezvous with professional colleagues, and also a cousin's club reunion on my wife's side of the family.

To all who sincerely seek my forgiveness as Yom Kippur approaches, I give you my mechilah, and likewise, I ask all I may have wronged during the past year for mechilah.

Everyone, have an easy fast, and may you be sealed in the G-d's book for a good, happy, healthy and prosperous year!

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Monday, September 14, 2009

First Person Plural

The great ideal is that we Jewish people take responsibility for our own; not only in helping the needy among us, but some sort of responsibility for the actions of our fellow Jews. Though not fully achieved 100% of the time, this standard has sustained us through adversities of the past and present, and will ultimately redeem us in the future. Though everything, of course, depends upon G-d Almighty, we Jews are all connected to one another, and when one of us hurts, all of us feel the pain.

[Just for the record, being Jewish is not me and my wife's sole, nor even necessarily our primary, criterion for selecting providers of goods or services. Our insurance agent, lawn mowing service, plumber, electrician -- none of these are Jewish. They have served us well, so we are loyal customers and clients. My wife and I have seen too many people get into too much trouble by automatically taking their business to a lantsman. We are equal opportunity employers. But I digress.].

This concept of "Am Echad," that the Jewish people are one nation, has its obvious benefits. My wife and I each travel out of town from time to time for professional and business reasons, and we are often aided by Jewish people in the out-of-town locations. And, over the centuries, the assistance by fellow Jews has often made the difference between life and death.

The downside is that we also have to account for the transgressions of our coreligionists. Much of the liturgy of the Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services, when we seek G‑d's forgiveness and repent from our sins, is couched in the first person plural. "Avinu Malkeinu Chatanu L'fanecha" (Our Father, Our King, We have sinned before you). "Ashamnu, Bagadnu, Gazlanu …" (We have become guilty, we have betrayed, we have robbed ….).

When we go through the confessional prayers, we do NOT say "Mallayev murdered, Madoff swindled, Spitzer shtupped a hooker, Garson took bribes and Yagman cheated on his taxes." It is "WE murdered, WE swindled, WE shtupped hookers, WE took bribes and WE cheated on our taxes." It is, of course, physically impossible for a single individual to commit every one of the enumerated sins. And a goodly number of the transgressors are prosecuted, civilly and criminally, by other members of the Jewish community. But G-d -- and the nations of the world -- judge us not only as individuals, but as a group. We, as a community, are called upon to take an interest in the personal rectitude of all of our members.

And so, I shall now comment on two of our transgressors, and some of the broader implications.

First, there is Yochanan Levitansky, the New Haven man who swindled 1,077 Ebay customers to the tune of $237,257 by taking their money and not delivering the goods. He will be doing 6 - 12 months, and paying some restitution. Levitansky's attorney, public defender Sarah Merriam, argued in the sentencing memorandum that "As a young man who had been raised with the idea that he would one day become a rabbi, Yochi Levitansky was ill-prepared for the challenges of running a business on his own." Merriam further argued that Levitansky's fraud was mitigated by the fact that Ebay's insurance covered it. Hold it right there, buster!! Don't insurance companies have the Constitutional right to equal protection under the law?

[I don't know whether these really were Levitansky's own rationalizations, or whether Ms. Merriam came up with them in order to discharge her duty to zealously assert her client's interests. If it was the latter, then I can hardly blame Ms. Merriam. Sometimes, defense attorneys, civil and criminal, get stuck with piss poor clients who have little in the way of positive attributes. I myself have had such clients in years past, and was duty- bound to assert whatever arguments might lessen the negative consequences, even at the risk of ridicule by the plaintiff's attorney, judge and/or jury. I now can be more selective of whom I take on as a client. And Levitansky did get significantly less than the legal maximum, so Ms. Merriam certainly cannot be accused of being an ineffective counsel.].

Then, there is Yitty Shteierman, a Monsey, NY woman who stands accused of using a fake deed to a house she doesn't even own as collateral for two separate loans totaling $270,000, in two separate transactions. My rabbi has, of late, been talking about giving people the benefit of the doubt. Ms. Shteierman has yet to be convicted of a crime. She is legally presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty. So I will give Yitty Shteierman the benefit of the doubt, however, I shall, pending further developments in the case, refrain from entering into any business transactions with her (unless, of course, my own rabbi sees fit to do so).

I shall not now dwell upon the shortsightedness involved in the commission of crimes such as the the foregoing accused/admitted ones, where the acts necessary to commit such crimes produces a reliable paper and/or electronic trail of damning evidence.

The intrusive social pressures in the insular communities in which Mr. Levitansky and Ms. Steierman dwell are notorious. Schools will reject or expel students because their fathers wear blue shirts instead of white, or their mothers wear the wrong style wigs to cover their hair, or if their homes have Internet access or a t‑e‑l‑e‑v‑i‑s­‑i‑o‑n. In arranging marriages for their children, parents will reject a match based upon the color tablecloth the prospective spouse's mother uses for the Shabbat table. And, notwithstanding the nonhereditary nature of conditions such as Down's Syndrome, some parents of such children will go to all lengths to hide the fact that there is a Down's Syndrome child in the family, lest it ruin their other children's chances for a shidduch (marriage arrangement). [N.B. This latter assertion has actually been confirmed by a reliable source -- a parent in an insular "black hat" community in Israel who has disregarded all advice to keep her own Down's Syndrome daughter in the closet (and many who would hide their Down's Syndrome child from the world do literally keep such children out on the enclosed terrace to their apartment, which effectively is in fact a closet.).

So what needs to happen? WE need to start taking a dimmer view of fraud. WE need to shun and ostracize those who commit "white collar" fraud-type crimes as much as WE shun and ostracize the children of the man who wears a blue shirt, or the person who watches television or surfs the Internet, or the siblings of Down's Syndrome children. Because if such crimes are less socially acceptable in OUR insular society, then they will, no doubt, occur with significantly less frequency.

Yes, the Rabbis have their work cut out for them in sending out the message, but, in the final accounting, WE cannot leave it all to the Rabbis. It is all up to US!

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Monday, September 07, 2009

The Court's Gatekeepers

New York's has had an interesting and diverse history. Its first European discovery was by an Italian in the service of the French, and there was subsequent colonization under alternating Dutch and British flags before it joined in with American independence. The opening of the Erie Canal made New York City a robust commercial center where economic promise induced many people to immigrate. Among the new immigrants was a significant contingent of Irish, who provided rich fodder for the Tammany Hall political organization. Other groups likewise participated in the political landscape of New York City, and made their contributions. Artifacts from this history, foul and fair, are still very much a part of New York and its culture and government.

New York's legal system is a product of these historical events and trends. Specifically, New York has one of the most intricately developed set of procedural rules for legal practice in the courts. As one whose livelihood depends upon the ability to navigate within the Byzantine structure of the courts, I can attest that the courthouse clerks wield a tremendous amount of power. The corps of court clerks need regulation and oversight as much as any other bureaucracy, else they would quickly spin out of control and into tyranny.

An exemplar of how petty, picayune and penny-ass some court clerks can be is the case of Joseph E. Gehring, Jr., Esq., an attorney who attempted, just two days before the statute of limitations was to blow, to file an affidavit of judgment confession, a common means to secure and collect a debt.

The Clerk of the Court refused to accept the paper for filing because it was a copy and not an original.

It must be understood that Section 2101(e) of New York's Civil Practice Law and Rules ("CPLR") specifically provides that "Except where otherwise specifically prescribed, copies, rather than originals, of all papers, including orders, affidavits and exhibits may be served or filed." And, as recently updated, CPLR Section 2102(c) provides that "a clerk shall not refuse to accept for filing any paper presented for that purpose except where specifically directed to do so by statute or rules promulgated by the chief administrator of the courts, or order of the court."

Gehring sued Norman Goodman, the New York County Clerk and Clerk of the County Supreme Court (in New York, each county has its own Supreme Court, another anomaly of the New York legal system). And Judge Braun ordered Goodman and his subordinates to comply with the law and accept the copy of the affidavit for filing.

I have dealt with clerks in several courts, and can say from my own experiences that the clerks in the New York County Supreme Court are, with some exceptions to be sure, more arrogant than the clerks of the United States Supreme Court. Goodman has been there since 1969, and I have had to deal with his subalterns on numerous occasions. They run hot and cold, but stories of insolence by Goodman's boys and girls abound. Goodman has been implicitly or explicitly chastised by a judge on a number of occasions. This time he had it coming to him.

Where court clerks can make up the rules as they go along, they can also play favorites. And when the court clerks play favorites, the court system is no longer impartial.

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