Courting Disaster

Judge Cindy Lederman, champion of justice and advocate extraordinaire, bends the rules on the bench

Another incident occurred in early 1999, when County Court Judge Wendell Graham was serving as an interim judge in the dependency division. During open court one day, Graham scheduled a case on Lederman's calendar and assigned George Metcalfe (the lawyer who clashed with Lederman during the Baby J case) to handle it, after taking Metcalfe's name from the wheel. Within minutes Graham's clerk received a call, according to two witnesses. The clerk said, "'Judge [Graham], you can't assign Metcalfe to that case,'" one witness recalls, adding that Graham questioned the statement. "[The clerk] told him: 'Because Judge Lederman doesn't get along with him.'" Metcalfe was not appointed.

Graham refused to comment. Metcalfe says he has heard rumors of the incident. "I'm receiving appointments now, so it's a nonissue," he adds.

Lederman responds: "I have no knowledge of this and can't be responsible for someone else's actions. I get along with George Metcalfe."

The Juvenile Justice Center, where the state takes on society's most dysfunctional families
Steve Satterwhite
The Juvenile Justice Center, where the state takes on society's most dysfunctional families

Lederman's influence was also made clear on February 28, 2000, when Karl Hall says a court clerk called him to confirm that he was no longer taking cases before Lederman. Hall asked for the source of that information. The clerk cited a female DCF prosecutor. "She told the clerk that I didn't take appointments in Lederman's division," Hall says. Incensed, he confronted the prosecutor and her supervisors.

DCF district administrator Charles Auslander acknowledges the exchange took place and says he cautioned the prosecutor. "I think she realizes this was a mistake," he offers. "She was trying to be helpful to the clerk making the appointments. But it's clearly a mistake. The DCF should have nothing to do with the blind appointments on the wheel."

Critics of Cindy Lederman say she is winning. The attorneys she dislikes are leaving. Alberto Batista recently withdrew his name from the wheel. He still practices in juvenile court, taking only private clients.

Virginia Stanley, in many ways the doyenne of juvenile court's defense attorneys, recently announced plans to move to Maine and write books. "I'm getting the hell out of Dodge," she says.

Lederman, meanwhile, faces re-election this November.

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