The state Commission on Judicial Conduct has dismissed a complaint against state Supreme Court Justice Thomas Whelan related to his awarding of lucrative court foreclosure work to Oheka Castle owner Gary Melius and his associates.
In a letter to Whelan dated Nov. 19 and released by Whelan’s lawyer Monday, commission administrator and counsel Robert H. Tembeckjian wrote, “It appears that you were compliant with court system policies and protocols in effect at the time of the fiduciary matters at issue.”
The two-paragraph letter provided no other explanation. Commission officials do not comment on their rulings or proceedings.
“Throughout his career Justice Whelan has proudly upheld the highest standards of both the practice of law and of the judiciary,” his attorney, Clifford Robert of Uniondale said in a statement. “He is pleased that the Commission on Judicial Conduct dismissed the complaint and confirmed the propriety of his actions.”
The commission opened an investigation in November 2014 into Whelan and state Supreme Court Justice Emily Pines after Newsday reported that the judges violated court rules designed to stop cronyism when they named Melius and a network of his associates as property managers and receivers — essentially temporary landlords — at four office complexes in foreclosure. The judges failed to report the appointments and fee awards, as required by court rules, effectively hiding the group’s activity.
The complaint against Pines, who handled one of the four receiverships, also was dismissed after the commission found that Richard Bellando — who is Melius’ former son-in-law and was the Nassau Independence Party leader — had been hired as a property manager without Pines’ knowledge. Court rules bar party leaders from holding court fiduciary appointments.
Records show that Whelan gave three receiverships to Melius and his associates, who claimed nearly $600,000 in fees for serving as appointed property managers and receivers. That figure represented 79 percent of all the fees Whelan had awarded fiduciaries from 2008 to November last year.
After the Newsday stories appeared in late 2014, state and county court leaders announced that they would exercise greater oversight over fiduciary appointments. Suffolk’s chief administrative judge, C. Randall Hinrichs, ordered a comprehensive review of appointments and state Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman appointed a court monitor to ensure that court fiduciary rules were being followed.
“This has been a problem statewide at times,” Lippman said in February of court appointment cronyism. “It popped up again on the Island and I think we have to address it.”
State court spokesman David Bookstaver said neither he nor Lippman would comment about the commission’s decisions.
The Commission on Judicial Conduct is an 11-member body that hears complaints made against judges. It can sanction judges and remove them from the bench or dismiss complaints. Members are appointed by the governor, the court system’s chief judge and leaders of the State Legislature.