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Thursday, June 13, 2024 | Back issues
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NY Justice Removed for ‘Dishonest’ Loan Dealings

(CN) - The New York Appeals Court upheld the removal of state Supreme Court Justice Joseph Alessandro from the bench after he broke his promise to repay a $250,000 loan from his campaign manager and then gave her the runaround.

Alessandro, who was elected by the voters of Westchester County in 2003, accepted the loan from campaign manager Barbara Battista, but did not keep his promise to repay her within one year.

While assuring Battista that he would obtain financing to repay the loan, he and his brother, Bronx County Judge Francis Alessandro, paid $300,000 cash to buy property in Seaside Heights, N.J.

The brothers had secured the $250,000 by co-signing a handwritten mortgage on their jointly owned property in Valhalla, N.Y.

When Battista hired a lawyer to help her recover the loan, Joseph told the lawyer that he couldn't repay it unless the title to his Valhalla property was clear. He demanded an affidavit stating that the handwritten mortgage was "null and void since it was unrecorded."

In 2005, the Commission on Judicial Conduct asked Joseph to identify which lender had requested the affidavit, and he gave the names of two banks that denied speaking with him. He later changed his answer to his attorney "or one of the banks he was working with." But his lawyer denied requesting the specific documents that Battista had provided.

The Court of Appeals upheld the commission's decision to remove Joseph Alessandro from the bench.

"We conclude that Joseph Alessandro engaged in misconduct warranting removal from office. We have repeatedly emphasized that 'deception is antithetical to the role of a Judge who is sworn to uphold the law and seek the truth,'" the court wrote.

"[W]e find it particularly troubling that Joseph gave changeable answers when asked to identify the bank that asked for information regarding Battista's mortgage," it added. "His evasiveness creates a strong inference that he was dishonest in his dealings with Battista and her attorney with respect to the requested affidavit, and in his testimony in these proceedings."

Francis was also up for removal due to his failure to fully disclose assets and liability on his 2003-04 financial statements, but he was instead admonished by the appeals court.

"We are not convinced ... that Francis deliberately omitted required information from his financial disclosure statements," the court wrote. "He had no apparent motive to do so, and even the Commission acknowledged that these omissions constituted carelessness."

In February 2006, Joseph and Francis settled their dispute with Battista for $273,000 ($250,000 plus $23,000 in attorney fees).

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