The state Commission on Judicial Conduct has dismissed a complaint that state Supreme Court Justice Emily Pines improperly awarded foreclosure work to a political party leader, who is also the former son-in-law of Oheka Castle owner Gary Melius.
In a letter dated Nov. 19 and released Friday, commission administrator and counsel Robert H. Tembeckjian said the commission determined that Richard Bellando, who was the Nassau Independence Party leader, had been hired in a court-appointed receivership to work as a property manager on a foreclosed office building without Pines’ knowledge. Court rules bar judges from appointing political leaders for fiduciary work.
“Judge Pines is very pleased that this matter has been closed and that the commission has determined that she acted appropriately,” said her attorney, Paul Shectman, who is a former chairman of the state Ethics Commission. “As a judge, she has held herself to the highest standards of the profession.”
The commission in November 2014 opened its investigation into Pines and Suffolk Supreme Court Justice Thomas Whelan after Newsday published a series of stories revealing 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. By failing to report the appointments and fee awards, as required by court rules, the judges effectively hid the group’s activity.
Pines presided over one of the four receiverships included in Newsday’s reports. Records show that Pines approved $90,000 in payments to Bellando for work at The Whitman Atrium in Huntington Station but never signed a court order, as required, to appoint him property manager.
Instead, the receiver appointed in the case, Ronald Rosenberg, sent an email to Pines asking that he be allowed to hire Bellando. That correspondence was not placed in the court file.
After Newsday’s report, Pines acknowledged that she had made mistakes and immediately reopened the case. She rescinded her approval of the payment to Bellando but did not require him to return the money. Pines noted in her ruling that the “refusal” of Evan Krinick, the attorney representing the lender, to ask for the money back left her with limited authority to order its return.
Pines ran for re-election in November and lost.
“Justice Pines has had a truly outstanding 17-year judicial career and is a well-respected legal scholar,” C. Randall Hinrichs, Suffolk’s administrative judge, said in a written statement. “The entire Suffolk County Courts’ family will miss her upon her retirement from the bench at the end of the year.”
The status of the commission’s investigation into the other receiverships handled by Whelan is unknown. The commission does not comment on its investigations or rulings, and a court spokesman said the justices were unavailable for comment.