Former justice pleads guilty to bribe charge

Victor I. Barron, a former State Supreme Court justice in Brooklyn charged with receiving a bribe, pleaded guilty yesterday under an agreement that will send him to prison for at least three years.

His gray hair swept back over the collar of his pinstriped suit, Mr. Barron stood at the defense table before Justice Nicholas Colabella. Reading from a sheet of paper, he used dry legalese and a near whisper to describe how he had agreed to fix a case.

“I solicited a quantity of money in excess of $100,000 and accepted $18,000” from a lawyer, he said, “on the understanding I would sign an infant’s compromise order.” He did not mention that the lawyer, Gary Berenholtz, needed that signature to complete a multimillion-dollar settlement and that the $115,000 the judge demanded was a kickback on $1.6 million in legal fees.

Under the plea agreement, Mr. Barron is to be sentenced to three to nine years, making him eligible for parole after three years. Justice Colabella set sentencing for Sept. 30.

One question that was not answered yesterday was why Mr. Barron, 60, had sought the bribe. The Brooklyn district attorney, Charles J. Hynes, said his investigators had found no evidence of a pattern of payoffs in other cases handled by the judge. Mr. Hynes, who personally led the prosecution team, said the motive appeared to be simple greed. “It’s someone who wanted money that he wasn’t entitled to,” he said at a news conference after the court session.

Mr. Barron’s lawyer, Barry Kamins, said in an interview that there were “mitigating factors” that helped explain the crime but he declined to disclose them.

Mr. Barron spoke briefly to reporters outside the courtroom after his appearance. Showing little emotion, he acknowledged that “there is much I have to say, both to the public, my wife, my family and friends and my former colleagues.” But he said his explanation would have to wait. Mr. Kamins called the circumstances tragic. “Because of a single act,” he said, “he has lost everything: his reputation, his position and his liberty.”

Mr. Hynes described the minimum of three years Mr. Barron will serve as “the most substantial sentence ever served by any former Supreme Court justice.” William C. Brennan, a Queens Supreme Court justice who was convicted of accepting bribes in 1985, was sentenced to five years and fined $200,000. He served 26 months.

Mr. Barron was not assessed any fine, in part because the $18,000 in marked bills that Mr. Berenholtz gave him was recovered by investigators.

As part of the plea agreement, Mr. Barron reserved the right to appeal on a single issue, an assertion that the sentence was excessive. Mr. Kamins, the former judge’s lawyer, said after court that Mr. Barron was considering an appeal because the sentence was “a little beyond what other judges have received” in similar circumstances. He cited the time served by former Justice Brennan and a 1996 sentence of two-and-a-half to seven years imposed on a Housing Court judge who took bribes.

Mr. Barron’s arrest last January spurred widespread speculation that prosecutors would try to get information from him about judicial corruption in Brooklyn.

But Mr. Hynes said yesterday that the relatively stern sentence reflected the fact that there had been no easing of the punishment in exchange for information. “Frankly, he had nothing to give us,” Mr. Hynes said.

Mr. Hynes said the plea deal would send a message that judicial corruption would not be tolerated. But he made a point of declaring that there was no evidence to suggest any widespread problem among judges in Brooklyn.

He said he had been told of Mr. Barron’s comment after court that he owed his family and former colleagues an explanation. “At long last,” Mr. Hynes said, “he has understood the shame he has brought on his family and himself and how he has sullied the reputation of the judiciary in this county.”

William Glaberson, New York Times, August 6, 2002

Categories: Corruption, Odious Debts

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