Surveillance tapes made last year in a Brooklyn matrimonial judge’s office and played publicly by prosecutors for the first time yesterday show the judge, Gerald P. Garson, offering a lawyer detailed instructions on how to argue a case before him. He also assures the lawyer that if he follows them, “The worst possible scenario is a win.”
In the tapes, Justice Garson tells the lawyer, Paul Siminovsky, that he will award his client in a divorce case the rights to a house and uses an expletive to describe how the decision would affect the client’s estranged wife. Justice Garson also dictates to Mr. Siminovsky the exact language he should use in a memo to the judge and urges him to charge his client extra for the memo.
The tapes were played yesterday in State Supreme Court in Brooklyn in the criminal trial of Justice Garson’s former clerk and a court officer, who are charged with taking bribes to steer Mr. Siminovsky’s cases to Justice Garson.
Justice Garson himself has been charged with accepting cash, cigars and dozens of meals from Mr. Siminovsky in return for giving him the edge in divorce cases and for referring clients to him. His case will not come to trial until next year at the earliest, as prosecutors are appealing the dismissal of some of the charges against him.
Prosecutors say they played the tapes yesterday in the case against the clerk, Paul Sarnell, and the officer, Louis Salerno, to show the jury how closely Mr. Garson and Mr. Siminovsky were working.
The tapes, peppered with profanity and ethnic slurs and including several other court employees, depict a courthouse culture that appears at best indifferent to conflicts of interest if not outright collusion.
Justice Garson’s lawyer, Ronald P. Fischetti, said yesterday that the tape segments and the transcripts of them released by the prosecutors had been unfairly excerpted from hundreds of hours of tape made in Justice Garson’s robing room.
“There are many other tapes surrounding this tape,” Mr. Fischetti said. “During the trial, you will see many other tapes that we are going to put into evidence that will put an entirely different slant on things.”
The Brooklyn district attorney’s office has described the tapes as the centerpiece of its case against Justice Garson largely because they show him accepting $1,000 cash and a $250 box of cigars in his office from Mr. Siminovsky, who by then was cooperating with prosecutors and who now faces no charges.
When Mr. Siminovsky asks, “Do you got any trials this week?” Justice Garson replies: “Let me tell you something about this job. One of the greatest things about this job is I don’t know what the [expletive] I have tomorrow until I get here. I don’t give a [expletive] either, you know.”
Mr. Siminovsky replies, “Can’t argue with that.”
A few minutes later on the tape, Mr. Siminovsky hands the judge something that prosecutors say is a short stack of ten marked $100 bills. The judge pockets it without comment. Ten minutes later, Justice Garson, alone in his office, pulls what appears to be the money out of his pocket and counts it.