Crowley Sisters Violate Nepotism Rules In Queens Courts

Written by City & State on . Posted in Government Operations, Other News.

The Queens court system is getting crowded with Crowleys—so crowded that the borough’s top political dynasty is breaking rules meant to prevent nepotism.

In early 2010, Margaret Crowley, sister of Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley and cousin of Queens Democratic Leader and Congressman Joe Crowley, landed a $100,000-a-year job as the principal law clerk to Queens Supreme Court Judge Darrell L. Gavrin.

Since then, records show Margaret Crowley’s sisters, Bernadette and Theresa, and their law firms have seen a spike in the number of cases they have been appointed to by Queens judges.

Those appointments violate rules that bar siblings of high-level court employees from winning case appointments in the same judicial district where that sibling works. Those rules were imposed nine years ago to prevent the rampant nepotism previously found in the state’s court system, especially in Queens.

After an inquiry by City Hall, a spokesman for the New York Unified Court System, David Bookstaver, said the Crowley sisters had improperly failed to remove themselves from a list of attorneys eligible for case appointments, and have now agreed not to receive cash for any future appointments.

“The sisters were on the eligible list prior to their sister [Margaret] becoming law clerk,” Bookstaver said. “They should have removed themselves from the eligible list at that time.”

Lydon Sleeper, a spokesman for Elizabeth Crowley, said the councilwoman’s sisters had been unaware of the court rules and agreed to return the money they had already received from the appointments.

“I think they’ve returned the money—and they’re going to do the rest of the cases pro-bono just because it’s the right thing to do,” Sleeper said.

From 2005 through 2010, the sisters had been granted only five appointments. But since early 2010 they received 13, including 11 so far this year. Notably, none of the appointments came from Gavrin, the judge for whom Margaret Crowley works.

Both Bernadette and Theresa Crowley are law partners at Rossi & Crowley, where a third Crowley, Rosaleen, is listed as an associate. And yet another lawyer, Patricia Powis, who works for a firm called Crowley & Powis that is registered to the same Douglaston address, has pulled in $5,600 during that time period.

Surrogate and supreme court appointees serve, among other functions, as legal counsel for widows, orphans and the disabled, and as receivers for properties in foreclosure.

While the payouts for many of the appointments had not been determined, the cases can sometimes be quite lucrative, and likely were worth tens of thousands of dollars. Four of the Crowley sisters’ cases from this time period had already paid out nearly $8,000.

Theresa, Bernadette and Margaret are among fifteen children of Walter and Marie Crowley, who were both appointed by former Queens Democratic chairman Tom Manton to the City Council in the 1980’s. Elizabeth Crowley was a home decorator before being tapped by her cousin, Rep. Joe Crowley, as the Democratic candidate in a City Council special election she won in 2008.

The 2002 anti-nepotism rules followed an extensive review by Supreme Court Chief Justice Judith Kaye that found rampant cronyism in the state’s supreme and civil court systems. More than a decade ago, a series of scathing New York Post articles found Queens supreme and surrogate court judges—who almost always win office with the backing of the party machine—regularly handed out lucrative guardianship and receivership cases to attorneys with close connections to the party. Critics argued the courts had become so politicized that cases could not possibly be decided on the merits.

The rules, though, have had some effect on the Crowley family’s ability to land case appointments. From the mid-1990’s though mid-2000’s, John “Sean” Crowley, Joe Crowley’s brother, landed hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth.

Sean and his father, Joseph Crowley, Sr., ran an Elmhurst law firm together during the 1990s until the senior Crowley passed away in 2001. Scott Kaufman, a CUNY law school classmate of Sean Crowley, joined the firm and it was remained Crowley & Kaufman.

But in September 2006, following Manton’s death, Joe Crowley was elected Queens Democratic chair—and Sean Crowley was no longer allowed to land appointments. One of the 2002 reforms prohibits the awarding of court appointments to a sibling of a county party chair.

Sean Crowley left the family law firm to become a partner at the top New York City lobbying firm Davidoff, Malito and Hutcher. But Crowley’s former law partner, Kaufman, remains a frequent recipient of case appointments and has built the bulk of his law practice around them.

Kaufman also works as the $3,000-a-month campaign treasurer for Joe Crowley, whose campaigns are run out of the Crowley & Kaufman law office, according to campaign finance records.

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Comments (3)

  • VJ Machiavelli


    Nice story and I wonder who tip you off ?

    Before there was the “Oracle at Delphi” there was Count Vampire J. Machiavelli

    VJ Machiavelli
    The Legislative Budget is Too Damn High


  • Concerned with Margaret Crowley's influence on Judge's Garvin decisions


    Reminder to Ms. Margaret Crowley

    (E) Disqualification.

    (1) A judge shall disqualify himself or herself in a proceeding in which the judge’s impartiality might reasonably be questioned, including but not limited to instances where:

    (a) (i) the judge has a personal bias or prejudice concerning a party or (ii) the judge has personal knowledge of disputed evidentiary facts concerning the proceeding;

    (b) the judge knows that (i) the judge served as a lawyer in the matter in controversy, or (ii) a lawyer with whom the judge previously practiced law served during such association as a lawyer concerning the matter, or (iii) the judge has been a material witness concerning it;

    The rules governing judicial conduct are rules of reason. They should be applied consistently with constitutional requirements, statutes, other court rules and decisional law and in the context of all relevant circumstances.

    An independent and honorable judiciary is indispensable to justice in our society. A judge should participate in establishing, maintaining and enforcing high standards of conduct, and shall personally observe those standards so that the integrity and independence of the judiciary will be preserved.

    Section 100.3 A judge shall perform the duties of judicial office impartially and diligently.

    (3) A judge shall be patient, dignified and courteous to litigants, jurors, witnesses, lawyers and others with whom the judge deals in an official capacity, and shall require similar conduct of lawyers, and of staff, court officials and others subject to the judge’s direction and control

    4) A judge shall perform judicial duties without bias or prejudice against or in favor of any person. A judge in the performance of judicial duties shall not, by words or conduct, manifest bias or prejudice, including but not limited to bias or prejudice based upon age, race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, religion, national origin, disability, marital status or socioeconomic status, and shall require staff, court officials and others subject to the judge’s direction and control to refrain from such words or conduct.

    (6) A judge shall accord to every person who has a legal interest in a proceeding, or that person’s lawyer, the right to be heard according to law. A judge shall not initiate, permit, or consider ex parte communications, or consider other communications made to the judge outside the presence of the parties or their lawyers concerning a pending or impending proceeding


  • marychencontrary


    This guy has been flying under the radar for too long. The people need to vote this bozo out. It is disgraceful. His family has hijacked the political system and makes money from it.


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