One of the most disgusting taxpayer frauds going in New York
is the 18b legal representation program in White Plains Family Court. The 18b program provides free legal assistance at a judge or magistrates discretion to parents and children – sounds like a great idea for sure. The problem is that what actually transpires is a money grab by court insiders. Attorneys with over 100 active cases in family court are being handed the vast majority of 18b cases, 80%, while many qualified attorneys have only a single 18b case.
No other elected official in New York besides a Family Court Judge or Magistrate has the power to literally hand out millions of taxpayer dollars directly to a small group of people with no accountability. Imagine if each New York Senator could hand out $4,000 to anyone they see fit with no questions asked. Well that’s what Judges and Magistrates do in Family Court in New York under the 18b program.
I’ve analyzed the 18b expenditures of White Plains Family Court for Q4 2013 and here’s some incredible facts I dug up:
1. The top 36 18b attorneys in White Plains Family Court represented 825 18b litigants with an average of 23 cases while the bottom 65 attorneys in the 18b program had 203 18b cases combined, with each attorney averaging around 4 18b cases . Red flag?? Are insiders getting favoritism or are these top 36 attorneys the best in the 18b program?
2. The top 36 18b attorneys are entitled to about $3.3million in direct taxpayer paid legal fees (plus expenses) while the bottom 65 18b attorneys split about $810,000 in taxpayer paid legal fees. Seem a little top heavy?
3. Westchester County Attorney Robert Francis Meehan had about 980 active cases in WP Family Court alone in Q4 2013. Are poor families completely screwed in WPFC with this type of representation? While unrelated to the 18b program it’s a staggering number for his office.
4. There’s not a single publicly available measurement of the effectiveness of 18b representation. One powerful White Plains Attorney had over 70 18b cases in my sample period equating to $288,000 in taxpayer paid legal fees, plus expenses. Is this attorney such a better advocate for poor families than the 50 18b attorneys with 5 or fewer 18b litigants? Never met the guy and he may be the best lawyer ever but in my sample period he had over 150 active cases , including 72 18b clients. Is this the best choice for poor families?
5. There’s not a single public accounting of the 18b handouts in WPFC. Money is handed out to whoever a judge or magistrate likes, regardless of their MEASURED effectiveness. An attorney who shows up unprepared and is able get last minute adjournments time and time again can easily consume $4000 in legal fees, the 18b maximum, plus expenses, without doing a single thing for the families they represent.
6. County Executive Rob Astorino is in violation of New York Law and hasn’t filed 18b expenditure reports for WPFC as required by the 18b program. Since no one is counting how much money our elected judges and magistrates are handing out and there’s no accountability for the performance of the attorneys who receive this money the 18b is nothing but a slush fund for court favorites.
7. Poor families are getting screwed in the current 18b system in White Plains Family Court and a few connected attorneys are getting rich off us taxpayers with no questions asked.
8. The top 20 18b attorneys in WPFC represented over 1500 litigants including over 680 18b litigants in my sample period. Do you think the top 20 18b attorneys spend a few minutes in court each day? Perhaps they are in court every day all day? Is it possible that the most familiar faces are getting the most money from our elected judges and magistrates and not the best attorneys?
9. Of approximately 7000 litigants in the court, 1028 were pro se. There are many datapoints to show that pro se are screwed worse than anyone in our family courts. How can a State allow a court to be predatory to 20% of litigants in the court? If 20% of litigants can’t afford lawyers shouldn’t New York at least start to track what’s happening to pro se in our family courts?
The Family Court system of New York has all kinds of legal nonsense to try to legitimize the horrible things they do in the name of money. Reading the application to be an 18b attorney in Family Court is certainly interesting but to see how this program is implemented it’s clear that this program has naxo accountability. To have such a self-important application when judges and magistrates are simply handing millions of our tax money to the same over-worked attorneys time and time again is morally reprehensible.
Ripping of taxpayers is the run-of-the-mill in New York politics and I can’t see why anyone in the DoJ would even care about it, but I can’t imagine that there’s no one that cares about what’s happening to poor families in the middle of the system. Clearly poor families aren’t getting effective representation in this system because it’s physically impossible for a small firm to represent over a hundred litigants at one time, especially when some are paying $450 an hour and some are taxpayer funded at a far lower hourly rate.
I have data to substantiate my numbers and anyone with Excel and a few hours on their hands could replicate my data. Taxpayers are being ripped off in the White Plains Family Court 18b program and it’s time for some accountability to the taxpayers for the vast sums we are paying for the 18b program. We need transparency, accountability and perhaps graft investigations to end this system. Let’s hope it comes soon.
Originally appears on nydivorceconsultants.com