Source: Frontier News™
Manhattan judge leaving the bench. Retirement or removal?
Mel Katznelson in Moscow and Victor L. in New
February 4, 2012
Wednesday Bernard Fried, a justice in the Manhattan Commercial Division of
the New York Supreme Court formally announced that he would leave the bench in
July of this year. (Reuters,
Veteran New York judge Fried to retire
Justice Bernard Fried
The news stunned New York County courthouse insiders. "Bernie never said anything
about retiring" said a long-time acquaintance who did not
wish to be identified. "He loves being a judge, this courthouse is his
whole life" she said. Fried indeed cherished his job. "It’s the
best job there is" he said to the members of the Senate Judiciary
Committee, at his confirmation hearing on May 5, 2010, when he
unsuccessfully sought to
be certificated as a full-fledged Supreme Court justice.
Fried was facing mandatory retirement in 2010, the year
he turned 70. The judge however applied for an appointment to the
position of interim justice, which would allow him to stay on the
bench until age 76. In April 2010, Governor Paterson approved
Fried’s application, and in 2011 Fried was certificated as a full
Supreme Court justice - - after 27 years of serving as an "acting
justice". His current judicial term was to run until the year
2019, but for his unexpected retirement.
Fried’s "official" explanation
is that he wants to work less and spend more time with his wife
who is a Federal judge in Brooklyn. But many remain skeptical.
some believe that Fried’s departure was not voluntary, that
Fried was permitted to retire gracefully as an alternative to the
humiliation of being publicly removed from the bench.
Six months ago
LB published an article raising questions about
the propriety of Fried's handling of the
ownership dispute over Buddha Bar (now Ajna Bar NYC), a landmark
restaurant in Manhattan's meatpacking district (Doubts
raised over NY Judge's controversial Buddha Bar Decision). The
LB report addressed a 16-month long hearing before Fried,
following the much reported March 2010 raid on Buddha Bar
The "black widow"
As reported here and
elsewhere, on March 31, 2010, a contingent of 20 to 30 men armed with guns and steel batons stormed
into Buddha Bar, threatened the employees and locked out its
management dating to the company's inception. Leading the pack of
intruders were Martin Russo and Sarah Khurana, two lawyers with a
small Wall Street firm,
Kaplan, Bruno & Nusbaum PLLC,
and a French national
Jean-Yves Haouzi, former manager of Buddha Bar. Haouzi was fired
by Buddha's holding company, Little Rest Twelve, Inc. in 2007.
Buddha's official version of Haouzi's firing was that the
lacked sufficient experience to run the 700-seat restaurant. (Global
Glitch, NY Post). Court filings however show that Haouzi
was fired for theft and fraud.
and Gusrae Kaplan
are lawyers for Inna Gudavadze,
a Russian national and
estranged wife of a deceased Georgian billionaire investor and
philanthropist, Badri Patarkatsishvili.
Badri passed away in February 2008.
Immediately following the businessman's death, suspicions were
broached that Badri, a perfectly healthy 52-year old man,
according to his friends and doctors, did not die of natural
causes. Gudavadze, who following Badri's death became an instant
mega-millionaire, hastily retained the world's most expensive
public relations firms to tout to the press the theory that Badri
might have been murdered by the security forces of the Republic of
Georgia. In 2006 Badri ran for the presidency of this small
mountain nation against the incumbent Mikhail Saakashvili. His run
was unsuccessful with Badri's getting just over 5% of the vote,
amidst Saakashvili's decisive victory.
Despite Gudavadze's massive public relations campaign, allegations have persisted that
Gudavadze, who is sometimes dubbed "the black widow"
by Eastern European media, was herself complicit in Badri's death
aspiring to seize control of his fortune. According to one
wrongful death lawsuit against Gudavadze, Badri's "death was
caused by intentional unlawful acts of defendant Inna Gudavadze,
Badri’s widow, in conspiracy with defendant Boris Berezovsky, a
notorious Russian "oligarch" wanted by Interpol on international
arrest warrants." (Gudavadze, Berezovsky, Implicated in Death of Badri
Patarkatsishvili, Lawsuit Alleges) Gudavadze vehemently denies
allegations of involvement in Badri's murder.
Literally days following Patarkatsishvili’s untimely death,
Gudavadze commenced a belligerent worldwide court battle against
other members of Badri’s family over the remnants of his estate
including Buddha Bar. Her principal foes were Joseph Kay, Badri's
cousin and former partner, Olga Safonova, Badri's second wife,
and their minor child David.
Gudavadze sued Safonova in a Moscow court and succeeded in
annulling their marriage posthumously claiming that Badri had not
formally divorced Gudavadze. "I am not surprised" said one
Russian lawyer who was following the bewildering "post-mortem
divorce" proceedings, "in Russia you can get a court to annul
person's birth too if you have enough money".
According to allegations filed in the wrongful death lawsuit, one
of Gudavadze’s motives for murdering Badri was scorn over
his relationship with Safonova. .
"Buddha Bar is dead"
Buddha's management filed an emergency application to Fried asking
the judge to
remove the intruders.
Fried promptly issued an
order referring Russo and Haouzi to the Manhattan District
Attorney's Office. "It strikes me as there may be a basis for
criminal investigation here", Fried said. (Lawyer Martin Russo Referred to Manhattan DA for Criminal
Curiously however, Fried declined to remove them and instead
directed a hearing ostensibly to determine which attorneys should
represent Little Rest Twelve. Buddha's management's objected to
Fried's decision to permit the intruders to remain in control of
the restaurant, Fried however assured that the hearing would
take no more than a day, adding "I'll set aside a half a day, I
don't think it will take more than that".
hearing took longer than half a day... It took longer than a month
... It took longer than a year. In the meantime the raiders remained in
total control of the jumbo
restaurant with its management being locked out. (Judge Taking Year to Decide Buddha Bar Motion).
In an interview one
year later, Nina Zajic, Little Rest's CEO said: "I have not
received my salary in a year, "creditors are breathing down our necks,
we can't pay our lawyers and I don't know what to do,
except to file for bankruptcy ... it is no longer our restaurant,
even if we ever get it back, we'll never be able to restore it to
what it was, Buddha Bar is dead", she said. Indeed, by
leaving Gudavadze's proxy in control of the restaurant for
over a year, Fried de facto signed a death warrant to
Buddha, as New-Yorkers and foreign visitors knew it.
Although the restaurant is operating to this day, it bears little
resemblance to the the formerly famed hangout "for select few
hundreds" often featured in international media.
Shortly thereafter, the company's
larger creditors indeed filed an involuntary bankruptcy petition against Little
After nearly 16
months of hearings, Fried had finally issued a 45-page decision,
essentially awarding control of Buddha to the individuals he had referred to the
Manhattan DA's Office.
Buddha's management appealed Fried's decision. Experts believe
however that its chances are not high because Fried's decision is
largely based on his own perception of witness credibility,
something on which appellate courts usually defer to trial
judges. "The judge cleverly crafted his decision to make it
virtually appeal-proof", one lawyer said, "it is all
based on his
personal impressions that every witness who testified against Gudavadze 'not
"It's all about money"
controversial Buddha decision
came on the heels of controversy over Gudavadze’s alleged boasting
respecting her ability to influence courts’ decisions through
extra-judicial means and by paying off witnesses to give
perjurious testimony. Gudavadze's niece, Yaffa Yakoubov, testified
in the related bankruptcy proceedings about her conversation with
Gudavadze in an effort to broker peace in the family. But Gudavadze
said that she did not need to engage in any settlement talks and
blustered that she "took care" of a judge in Gibraltar in order
to get a favorable ruling there, and is doing the same in
New York court. "It's all about money" Gudavadze said, according
to the witness' testimony. Others confirmed Yakoubov's account in
radio and TV interviews.
Following Fried's decision, one non-party witness depicted by
Fried as "not worthy of belief" said in an interview that he would
file a complaint questioning Fried's motives with judicial ethics
bodies. Another subpoenaed non-party, Elaina Burstein, also found
by Fried to be not credible, wrote to Fried pointing to the
"multiple alterations and deviations" in Fried's recitations of
her testimony. Burstein suggested that Fried may want to double
check the transcript and correct these errors. The judge has never
responded to Burstein's letter and never corrected his obviously
erroneous recitations. Stenographic transcript of the proceedings
reveals that Fried significantly mischaracterized and mis-recited
the testimonies of the witnesses he found “not worthy of belief”.
"This foul decision is still on the public court's site
soiling my reputation" said the witness. "And whatever Fried's
motives for making these unfounded findings are, I will do all I
can to ensure that these motives are brought to public limelight
and thoroughly investigated", he said.
has learned that at least one complaint questioning Fried's
partiality to Gudavadze's proxies was indeed filed with the New
York State Commission on Judicial Conduct late
last year. The complaint recites Gudavadze's blustering
about her ability to influence judicial decisions and notes that
"in light of [Fried's] Decision, which many believe to be at least
unorthodox, these events may be tainting the integrity of New York
mid-January of this year the Commission concluded that "there was insufficient indication of
[Fried's] judicial misconduct to justify judicial discipline". Although the complaint against Fried was
dismissed, his puzzling decision to retire two weeks later is
viewed by some as an unlikely coincidence.
"In the past the Commission was
criticized for being too harsh on the judges" said one insider,
"it would take a lot of will to prosecute a complaint against a
veteran Manhattan judge." Instead, some believe, Fried was
privately "talked to" and advised to leave the bench immediately,
as an alternative to demeaning probe and risk of being removed in
Fried said that he would take
a job with JAMS, a company that provides mediation and arbitration
services. "JAMS is a respected mediation organization", the
insider said "but after 27 years on one of the most powerful
benches in the country, this is a significant downfall."
Fried could not be reached for