The judges’ friend and the $225,000 swivel chair

Well-reported New York Times piece on local attorney Ravi Batra, who “for much of the past decade … has been a particularly potent force in the clubby corridors of New York City courthouses. He played a role in picking State Supreme Court judges. Lawyers seeking an edge in the unfamiliar world of Brooklyn courts hired him as their guide. Judges who controlled court appointments — where lawyers typically manage the assets and welfare of the elderly, the young or of troubled companies — gave him 150 of these, worth more than $500,000 in fees.” In one case, involving “a wealthy 94-year-old woman with Alzheimer’s disease”, Batra nicked the woman’s estate for $84,753 in fees: “The investigators noted that he charged $100 for each of 80 short phone calls and never listed their subject matter.”

Keep reading and clicking through the fourth and last page of the story to reach what may be the most piquant Batra exploit of all, his lawsuit against the hapless owners of a Brooklyn furniture store after he fell out of a swivel chair they sold him. “He said the fall had left him with herniated disks, loss of height, worn-down teeth, heart damage and frustration and anger that ‘leaks out in certain relationships,’ according to court papers.” He wanted $80 million, not only for pain and suffering “but also for a patio bar and a game room with table-tennis and air-hockey tables ‘to permit activity without injury or waste of travel time,’ the papers said.” Eventually he settled for $225,000 on the claim. But lawyers for the furniture store weren’t told at the time that Batra was friendly with Manhattan judge Diane Lebedeff, who heard the case and who issued a number of rulings in Batra’s favor: for example, she gave him several court appointments, including the lucrative case of the woman with Alzheimer’s. Both Batra and Judge Lebedeff deny improper influence (Kevin Flynn & Andy Newman, “Friend of the Court: Cozying Up to Judges, and Reaping Opportunity”, New York Times, Nov. 11). More: for Batra’s side of the story, see the comments section on Legal Reader’s Nov. 11, 2003 post. Update Nov. 15, 2004: Batra sues TV’s popular “Law and Order” saying it defamed him by portraying him as a crooked attorney in a fictionalized but recognizable episode; Apr. 15, 2005: Judge Lebedeff censured.


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