Today’s NY Times reports that Judge Lee Holzman, the Bronx surrogate since 1988, is in the midst of a disciplinary hearing in which he is charged with allowing his staff to run amok and to take fees that were excessive and unearned from estates that it was handling. The Times reports that Judge Holzman could lose his job as a result of the hearing.
“I was shocked,” Judge Holzman said,referring to his reaction when he learned that Esther Rodriguez, the former Bronx public administrator, and her former counsel, Michael Lippman, had allegedly deviated from that protocol. (NY Times)
Surrogate’s Court is the last bastion of political patronage for party bosses and the lawyers loyal to them. The list of lawyers given lucrative assignments reads like a Who’s Who of party activists.
The Surrogate’s Court hears cases involving the affairs of deceased New Yorkers, including the probate of wills and the administration of estates. It also handles adoptions (in conjunction with Family Court).
Managing the estates of people who die without a will and incapacitated persons is a steady source of income for politically connected attorneys. These lawyers often work on petitions, election law cases and other legal business on behalf of their county organization.
Our surrogate’s court system needs reform. These judges should be independently appointed, not elected. The appointing panel should seek to promote diversity. The term of Office should shortened to just five years, instead of ten. And the state Office of Court Administration should maintain a list of vetted and qualified estate managers that is changed biannually.
Do you support reforming the NYS Surrogate’s Court? Leave a comment.
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