by Maggie Haberman, Jack Newfield, Allen Salkin and Erika Martinez
Patronage, favoritism and nepotism are still a way of life for New York's judiciary.
More than a century after Boss Tweed's corrupt political machine ground to a halt, some politically connected lawyers and ex-judges are monopolizing millions of dollars in patronage from judges who owe their robes to party bosses.
The head of the state court system has pledged to appoint an inspector general and a blue-ribbon commission by Feb. 10 to once and for all clean up this system of enriching the well-connected at the expense of widows, orphans and bankrupt businesses, A continuing Post investigation of courthouse patronage has uncovered a "Dirty Dozen" examples of this judicial insider trading over the past three years, with highlights including:
Fritz Alexander, former deputy mayor and Court of Appeals judge, received a $350,000 fee from one court appointment by a judge "he had been seeing" and who was his former campaign manager, according to court transcripts.
Former Mayor Ed Koch received a $25,000 appointment and failed Senate candidate Geraldine Ferraro got one worth $23,000 from Manhattan Surrogate's Court Judge Renee Roth after both endorsed Roth in a hard-fought 1996 primary.
City Council Speaker Peter Vallone and his two lawyer sons pulled in $95,450 in court patronage from Queens judges.
Three scandal-tarnished ex-judges who took in nearly $250,000 in court appointments include a judge who was removed for lying to the FBI, another who was censured by the Commission on Judicial Conduct, and a third who was once named one of New York's worst judges by New York magazine.
Here are some of the city's top patronage profiteers.
A lion's share of Queens patronage goes to one politically-wired law firm -- Sweeney, Reich, Gallo -- whose partners include Thomas Manton, Democratic county leader; Gerard Sweeney, counsel to the public administrator; Michael Reich, executive secretary of the Queens Democratic Party; and David Gallo, Housing Court Advisory Council appointee.
Altogether, this one law firm, which did not return calls for this story, has taken in at least $400,000 in patronage since 1996, records show.
Many of the appointments came from Queens Surrogate's Court Judge Robert Nahman, who got his job through Manton's maneuvering.
Lawyer Ravi Batra has gotten more than $175,000 worth of judicial appointments since 1995, the year he became law partner with Kings County Democratic leader and state Assemblyman Clarence Norman.
Last year, Batra hosted a dinner for 150 judges at the Harmony Club on the Upper East Side at which he gave awards to two judges who had given him numerous receiverships -- Richard Huttner of Brooklyn and Stephen Crane of Manhattan.
None of the judges had to pay for their dinners.
Election lawyer Lawrence Mandelker, who played major roles in the campaigns of Mayors Giuliani and Koch, received $47,500 through two appointments from Judge Crane.
Mandelker has also collected a $25,000 retainer from the City University to defend its elimination of remedial classes.
Longtime Brooklyn Democratic Party player Arnold Ludwig reaped $71,750 through 35 judicial appointments -- but because of a legal loophole, it is difficult to know how many hundreds of thousands of dollars more in patronage he may be receiving.
Batra told The Post he paid Ludwig's firm "a lot of money" to perform legal work on Batra's court-appointed receiverships.
The Office of Court Administration, in a loophole that makes it nearly impossible for court-watchers to completely track the flow of money, does not require any central disclosure of fees paid to lawyers who work for receivers.
Ludwig, who had no comment for this story, helped spark several investigations into courthouse patronage by co-writing, with his partner Thomas Garry, a potentially self-destructive letter complaining that Batra had fired them as lawyers in a Cypress Hills Cemetery case even though they had long been loyal to the party organization.
Former Queens Surrogate Louis Laurino and his son, Louis Jr., racked up $176,652, much of it directly from a judge who had good reason to owe them a favor.
The senior Laurino conveniently resigned just after the filing deadline for candidates in the 1991 primary election, allowing the Queens Democratic party to install Nahman as his successor without the voters having a say.
The Laurinos received $117,900 of their appointments from one judge -- Surrogate Nahman. Laurino Sr. was censured by the state Commission on Judicial Conduct for conflicts of interest while surrogate.
William Driscoll, party-boss Manton's former chief of staff, who now works as a campaign consultant, reaped $125,322 from 53 judicial appointments.
Council Speaker Peter Vallone, the son of a judge, and his two sons, Peter Jr. and Paul, together received almost $100,000 in legal appointments, all from Queens judges. Speaker Vallone is raising funds for a 2001 mayoral bid.
Arlene Stringer-Cuevas, mother of a state assemblyman and wife of the New York County clerk, enjoyed $16,110 in patronage through nine appointments in Manhattan and The Bronx.
John Monteleone, named one of New York's 10 worst judges by New York magazine in 1972 for leniency toward two Mafia defendants, made $44,000 through 13 appointments by Brooklyn judges.
In the 1980s he led the campaign for higher salaries for judges.
Monteleone said he was given the appointments because he is a malpractice expert.
inMichael Capanegro, a former boyfriend of singer Connie Francis who was convicted in 1977 of embezzling funds from the Communications Workers union during a strike, received $14,000 in ap-pointments from Queens Supreme Court Judge Edwin Kassoff.
Explaining that he received the appointments because of his legal expertise, Capanegro said, "In my area, I'm very well qualified."
Irving "Red" Levine, a former Brooklyn judge who was removed from the bench for case-rigging and lying to the FBI, has received $35,000 worth of court assignments since 1996. Thirteen of the 16 appointments were from Brooklyn Surrogate's Judge Michael Feinberg, for whom Levine raised money and provided advice during a bitter 1996 primary. In Feinberg's latest financial disclosure forms, the address of his campaign headquarters is the same as Levine's home address. Reached at his Florida vacation home, Levine had no comment on his lucrative appointments.
Harvey Greenberg, former executive assistant to Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes, pocketed a tidy $119,201 -- much of it from appointments made by Feinberg, whose election campaign he helped run.
LOAD-DATE: February 2, 2000