Played in Court, Tapes Show Judge Coaching
Lawyer and Taking
urveillance tapes made last year in a Brooklyn
matrimonial judge's office and played publicly by prosecutors for
the first time yesterday show the judge, Gerald P. Garson, offering
a lawyer detailed instructions on how to argue a case before him. He
also assures the lawyer that if he follows them, "The worst possible
scenario is a win."
In the tapes, Justice Garson tells the lawyer, Paul Siminovsky,
that he will award his client in a divorce case the rights to a
house and uses an expletive to describe how the decision would
affect the client's estranged wife. Justice Garson also dictates to
Mr. Siminovsky the exact language he should use in a memo to the
judge and urges him to charge his client extra for the memo.
The tapes were played yesterday in State Supreme Court in
Brooklyn in the criminal trial of Justice Garson's former clerk and
a court officer, who are charged with taking bribes to steer Mr.
Siminovsky's cases to Justice Garson.
Justice Garson himself has been charged with accepting cash,
cigars and dozens of meals from Mr. Siminovsky in return for giving
him the edge in divorce cases and for referring clients to him. His
case will not come to trial until next year at the earliest, as
prosecutors are appealing the dismissal of some of the charges
Prosecutors say they played the tapes yesterday in the case
against the clerk, Paul Sarnell, and the officer, Louis Salerno, to
show the jury how closely Mr. Garson and Mr. Siminovsky were
The tapes, peppered with profanity and ethnic slurs and including
several other court employees, depict a courthouse culture that
appears at best indifferent to conflicts of interest if not outright
Justice Garson's lawyer, Ronald P. Fischetti, said yesterday that
the tape segments and the transcripts of them released by the
prosecutors had been unfairly excerpted from hundreds of hours of
tape made in Justice Garson's robing room.
"There are many other tapes surrounding this tape," Mr. Fischetti
said. "During the trial, you will see many other tapes that we are
going to put into evidence that will put an entirely different slant
The Brooklyn district attorney's office has described the tapes
as the centerpiece of its case against Justice Garson largely
because they show him accepting $1,000 cash and a $250 box of cigars
in his office from Mr. Siminovsky, who by then was cooperating with
prosecutors and who now faces no charges.
While those tapes were also shown yesterday, it was a tape made
on Feb. 5, 2003, before Mr. Siminovsky was recruited, that shows
what appears to be blatant case-rigging.
The tape shows the two men discussing a case in which Mr.
Siminovsky represented a man named Avraham Levi, who was suing his
wife for divorce. The judge says of the house the couple lived in,
"I'll award him exclusive use on it."
Justice Garson later adds: "You're in good shape. You're a winner
either way.'' He adds that the client does not deserve the favorable
In a tape made a month later, after Mr. Siminovsky began
cooperating with investigators, Justice Garson feeds him language to
use in the memo in the case. "The only evidence in this case is the
deed,'' Justice Garson dictates.
The judge interrupts himself, then continues: "The house has been
evaluated at --''
"Six-fifty," Mr. Siminovsky fills in.
"Whatever the hell it is," the judge says, continuing: "During
the course of the marriage the parties have --''
"Incurred these debts,'' Mr. Siminovsky says.
Justice Garson corrects him: "Did certain improvements to the
Justice Garson tells Mr. Siminovsky to be sure to bill Mr. Levi
for writing the memo. "I'm telling you to charge for it," the judge
says:" 'The judge made me do it If you don't like it, then I can't
really put too much effort into your memo.' ''
Justice Garson granted Mr. Levi's divorce in January 2003 but did
not get a chance to rule on the house because he was arrested on
Mr. Levi's ex-wife and the mother of his five children, Sigal
Levi, said yesterday by phone that she had the feeling during the
case that it had been fixed. But she said she had not known how
closely the judge was working with her husband's lawyer.
"Is he a judge?'' Ms. Levi said. "What is he? How is he deciding
the fates of people and families, ruining houses and families and
children? They should put him in Alcatraz. And when he dies,
vultures should eat his body."
In June, Mr. Levi pleaded guilty to giving a middleman $10,000 to
obtain favorable treatment from Justice Garson.
In the final tape shown yesterday, made March 10, 2003, Justice
Garson shares with Mr. Siminovsky some of his judicial philosophy.
When Mr. Siminovsky asks, "Do you got any trials this week?"
Justice Garson replies: "Let me tell you something about this job.
One of the greatest things about this job is I don't know what the
[expletive] I have tomorrow until I get here. I don't give a
[expletive] either, you know."
Mr. Siminovsky replies, "Can't argue with that."
A few minutes later on the tape, Mr. Siminovsky hands the judge
something that prosecutors say is a short stack of ten marked $100
bills. The judge pockets it without comment. Ten minutes later,
Justice Garson, alone in his office, pulls what appears to be the
money out of his pocket and counts it.
After an interlude in which he is interviewed in his office by a
high school student, Justice Garson, having apparently summoned Mr.
Siminovsky back to his office, gives him back the money and asks him
to write a check to his wife's judicial campaign instead.
Mr. Siminovsky urges the judge to take the money and offers to
write a check, too. Justice Garson seems to agree and puts the money
in his drawer.
A few minutes later, Mr. Siminovsky leaves the office.
"Keep the faith," he tells the judge.