Valenti's: The North Tonawanda FOIL

When Terry Valenti called in to the Shredd & Ragan show some weeks ago, he downplayed the police involvement at his now-defunct restaurant as being no big deal. Here are the police reports on Valenti’s dating back to October last year. Is this any way to run a business or conduct oneself?  

On 11/1/11, Valenti threw Brocuglio and Janiszewski off the property, and purported to fire them.

On 11/18/11, Brocuglio claimed that she was being harassed by an ex-employee, and applied for a restraining order.

On 11/26/11, Brocuglio argued with fired employee William Ripley over a “company car”. Brocuglio accused Ripley’s girlfriend of striking her.

On 12/31/11 at 11pm, a black Ford F-250 backed into the east door of the restaurant. Valenti claims he didn’t know whose truck it was, and that he didn’t get the plate number. It was, of course, the truck driven by Lori Brocuglio, but he did not admit this to the police until the following day.  Brocuglio told a police officer that she rammed the truck into the restaurant because, “we were fighting and he went to hit me so I tried backing away but I put it in gear moving forward and hitting the window”. 

On 1/1/12, Valenti and Brocuglio were in an altercation, and Brocuglio’s son was present for it.

On 1/10/12, Budwey made his complaint to the police about the bad $3,000 rent check. 

On 1/11/12, Budwey blocked the doors and told patrons to leave. A Valenti’s employee, Debbie Reining claimed Budwey pushed her out of the store, and pled out a harassment complaint against him. 

On 1/27/12, Budwey returned to the restaurant to curse Brocuglio out using some colorful language. 

Valenti’s: The North Tonawanda FOIL

Valenti’s Goes to Court

If you’re wondering why we’re still following the Valenti’s saga (begun here, with an innocuous takedown of a Janice Okun “review”, updated here, here, herehere, here, and here), it’s because the commentariat has weighed in well over 2,500 times. It’s generally the same 10 – 15 commenters adding details, accusations, and trading barbs, but I’ve received lots of positive feedback from people who remain riveted by how a mediocre red sauce joint could generate so much interest and hatred.

Terry Valenti and Lori Brocuglio took possession of the restaurant property in late September pursuant to a lease that commenced on October 1st. Their landlord, Frank Budwey, agreed to give them two free months’ rent, and also to pay deposits to National Fuel and National Grid to enable Valenti’s to turn those utilities on – they didn’t have the capital to do it.

The restaurant, however, wasn’t in Terry Valenti’s name. Instead, the property was co-owned by Brocuglio and an acquaintance of theirs named Melissa Janiszewski, who has since become estranged from them. There have been allegations made that Janiszewski’s credit and identity were deceitfully misappropriated. In North Tonawanda City Court yesterday, Ms. Janiszewski sat with Mr. Budwey.

Terry Valenti sat in the front row, with three people who were set to testify on the restaurant’s behalf. He was wearing a black button-down shirt, his head was uncovered, and he had shaven off his facial hair, leaving him almost unrecognizable. Ms. Brocuglio arrived soon thereafter, wearing a black specked suit and a red suede fringe jacket. When she sat down, she briefly spoke with their attorney, Mark Carney, and held up some sort of CD-ROM to one of their supporters and seemed proud of it for some reason.

Frank Budwey approached Carney and asked him if he had been paid. Carney replied that it was, “none of [his] business”, and Mr. Budwey retorted that he didn’t want Mr. Carney to waste his time. Under normal circumstances, a lawyer is not permitted to talk with a party opponent in any way, and had I been in Mr. Carney’s shoes I would have simply replied that I was not permitted to speak with Mr. Budwey, remained silent, or advised Budwey’s counsel of the approach.

Judge William Lewis presided over the rather informal eviction trial. Budwey’s attorney, James Rizzo, elicited testimony from Mr. Budwey about the non-payment of rent, now alleged to be $5,200. At one time, Brocuglio wrote Budwey a bad check for $3,000, a crime that is being contemporaneously prosecuted in North Tonawanda Court, and paid Budwey what he says was $500 cash in early January. However, the receipt for that cash shows $1,500 was received – Budwey claims that Brocuglio added the “1”. Judge for yourself:

$500 or $1,500?

Budwey testified that Valenti’s paid utilities for October and November, but not since. He testified that they have never been current on owed rent. On January 13th, Budwey terminated the lease by serving a 3-day notice to quit, and he filed the eviction action a week later.

However, Budwey claims that he crafts his leases to enable him to take self-help measures to secure the property and payment of rent if the tenant is 10 days in arrears. Under that provision, Budwey gives himself the right to enter and secure payment without the lease needing first to be terminated, and without any notice.

That’s exactly what Budwey did on January 11th – 11 days after the January rent was unpaid – he shut off the gas, blocked the doors, politely asked patrons to leave and offered to pay them cash, and wanted to prevent Valenti and Brocuglio the ability to destroy or loot the premises. The police were called, and Budwey relented. On cross-examination by Mr. Carney, Mr. Budwey acknowledged that he had recently changed the locks and the alarm codes. Mr. Carney’s questioning and demeanor were often argumentative (not that he was being rude, but that he was improperly making an argument during questioning), and at one point Carney and Rizzo got into a shouting match that was ended when Judge Lewis did a bit of yelling himself.

Carney made the point to the judge that he intended to remove the case to Supreme Court to pursue a claim against Budwey for self-help, seeking treble damages. Since that hadn’t been accomplished or applied for, Judge Lewis continued with the eviction proceeding.

The eviction is a simple action for Budwey to re-take possession of the unit, terminating the lease. There aren’t many defenses available to a commercial tenant in this situation – either the rent is paid, or it’s not. Valenti and Brocuglio’s claims about Budwey’s alleged illegal self-help are not defenses to the eviction, but a separate action for money damages. It is entirely possible that Budwey wins possession, but that he loses a subsequent trial for money damages in another venue. In speaking with Mr. Budwey, he indicates that he’d gladly pay to be forever rid of Valenti and Brocuglio, and he isn’t concerned about their threats of ongoing litigation.

At one point, I observed Mr. Budwey getting rather animated, requiring his attorney to shush him. I observed Mr. Budwey look directly at the seated Mr. Valenti, and ask him to “come on, speak up!” By contrast, Ms. Brocuglio was standing next to Mr. Carney the entire time, at one point looking back at Ms. Janiszewski and shaking her head at her. When Carney asked Budwey if the Valentis had abandoned the premises, Terry Valenti audibly said, “no”, and Ms. Brocuglio turned around and shushed him.

As Mr. Carney’s cross-examination was briefly halted, the judge sustained Mr. Rizzo’s objection over the line of questioning having to do with the lock-out. Rizzo argued that self-help is irrelevant for purposes of the eviction action, and based on the lease language, the judge agreed. However, the judge had to adjourn the proceeding because of a personal matter, and it will again be taken up at 11am on Tuesday.

As I waited to see if anyone would talk to me (unlikely as they’re all represented by counsel), Ms. Brocuglio approached me. She said, “hi, Alan”, adding, “I’m glad that now you’ve heard more of the story.” She told me that much of what people have left in comments here at Artvoice Daily are lies, and that this is all “from a divorce”. She refused to be interviewed on camera, and was whisked away to talk with her lawyer and supporters.

Before the proceeding, Budwey provided me with this document, which he says shows that even if Valenti’s was allowed to re-open, he’d still owe various creditors thousands.

Budwey told me that, when he went away to Jamaica, he offered to give Terry Valenti a second chance – a blank slate – all he had to do was keep Lori Brocuglio off the premises. Terry told Budwey that he would, but when Budwey left, Brocuglio was present at the restaurant every day. Before going COD with Tarantino and SYSCO, Valenti’s stocked up on over $10,000 of food, and supplemented that with Curtze, the last purveyor who would work with them. When the electric was shut off last week, all that food is now rotting, and the foam flame retardant system was deliberately activated by someone. Mr. Budwey clearly likes Terry Valenti and was willing to work with him, but he reserves a special hatred and disgust for Ms. Brocuglio; whenever he mentioned her name he used exquisitely colorful expletives.

If you pass by Valenti’s Restaurant now – a place that Janice Okun awarded 2 1/2 stars just 5 short week ago – a place supposedly run by an Iron Chef winner and CIA graduate, it now looks like this:

And had they not lied to Brian Kahle, Channel 7, and Janice Okun, no one would be paying them any attention.

http://swfs.bimvid.com/bimvid_player-3_2_7.swf?x-bim-callletters=WKBW

 


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Email me here.

Valenti's Goes to Court

If you’re wondering why we’re still following the Valenti’s saga (begun here, with an innocuous takedown of a Janice Okun “review”, updated here, here, herehere, here, and here), it’s because the commentariat has weighed in well over 2,500 times. It’s generally the same 10 – 15 commenters adding details, accusations, and trading barbs, but I’ve received lots of positive feedback from people who remain riveted by how a mediocre red sauce joint could generate so much interest and hatred.

Terry Valenti and Lori Brocuglio took possession of the restaurant property in late September pursuant to a lease that commenced on October 1st. Their landlord, Frank Budwey, agreed to give them two free months’ rent, and also to pay deposits to National Fuel and National Grid to enable Valenti’s to turn those utilities on – they didn’t have the capital to do it.

The restaurant, however, wasn’t in Terry Valenti’s name. Instead, the property was co-owned by Brocuglio and an acquaintance of theirs named Melissa Janiszewski, who has since become estranged from them. There have been allegations made that Janiszewski’s credit and identity were deceitfully misappropriated. In North Tonawanda City Court yesterday, Ms. Janiszewski sat with Mr. Budwey.

Terry Valenti sat in the front row, with three people who were set to testify on the restaurant’s behalf. He was wearing a black button-down shirt, his head was uncovered, and he had shaven off his facial hair, leaving him almost unrecognizable. Ms. Brocuglio arrived soon thereafter, wearing a black specked suit and a red suede fringe jacket. When she sat down, she briefly spoke with their attorney, Mark Carney, and held up some sort of CD-ROM to one of their supporters and seemed proud of it for some reason.

Frank Budwey approached Carney and asked him if he had been paid. Carney replied that it was, “none of [his] business”, and Mr. Budwey retorted that he didn’t want Mr. Carney to waste his time. Under normal circumstances, a lawyer is not permitted to talk with a party opponent in any way, and had I been in Mr. Carney’s shoes I would have simply replied that I was not permitted to speak with Mr. Budwey, remained silent, or advised Budwey’s counsel of the approach.

Judge William Lewis presided over the rather informal eviction trial. Budwey’s attorney, James Rizzo, elicited testimony from Mr. Budwey about the non-payment of rent, now alleged to be $5,200. At one time, Brocuglio wrote Budwey a bad check for $3,000, a crime that is being contemporaneously prosecuted in North Tonawanda Court, and paid Budwey what he says was $500 cash in early January. However, the receipt for that cash shows $1,500 was received – Budwey claims that Brocuglio added the “1”. Judge for yourself:

$500 or $1,500?

Budwey testified that Valenti’s paid utilities for October and November, but not since. He testified that they have never been current on owed rent. On January 13th, Budwey terminated the lease by serving a 3-day notice to quit, and he filed the eviction action a week later.

However, Budwey claims that he crafts his leases to enable him to take self-help measures to secure the property and payment of rent if the tenant is 10 days in arrears. Under that provision, Budwey gives himself the right to enter and secure payment without the lease needing first to be terminated, and without any notice.

That’s exactly what Budwey did on January 11th – 11 days after the January rent was unpaid – he shut off the gas, blocked the doors, politely asked patrons to leave and offered to pay them cash, and wanted to prevent Valenti and Brocuglio the ability to destroy or loot the premises. The police were called, and Budwey relented. On cross-examination by Mr. Carney, Mr. Budwey acknowledged that he had recently changed the locks and the alarm codes. Mr. Carney’s questioning and demeanor were often argumentative (not that he was being rude, but that he was improperly making an argument during questioning), and at one point Carney and Rizzo got into a shouting match that was ended when Judge Lewis did a bit of yelling himself.

Carney made the point to the judge that he intended to remove the case to Supreme Court to pursue a claim against Budwey for self-help, seeking treble damages. Since that hadn’t been accomplished or applied for, Judge Lewis continued with the eviction proceeding.

The eviction is a simple action for Budwey to re-take possession of the unit, terminating the lease. There aren’t many defenses available to a commercial tenant in this situation – either the rent is paid, or it’s not. Valenti and Brocuglio’s claims about Budwey’s alleged illegal self-help are not defenses to the eviction, but a separate action for money damages. It is entirely possible that Budwey wins possession, but that he loses a subsequent trial for money damages in another venue. In speaking with Mr. Budwey, he indicates that he’d gladly pay to be forever rid of Valenti and Brocuglio, and he isn’t concerned about their threats of ongoing litigation.

At one point, I observed Mr. Budwey getting rather animated, requiring his attorney to shush him. I observed Mr. Budwey look directly at the seated Mr. Valenti, and ask him to “come on, speak up!” By contrast, Ms. Brocuglio was standing next to Mr. Carney the entire time, at one point looking back at Ms. Janiszewski and shaking her head at her. When Carney asked Budwey if the Valentis had abandoned the premises, Terry Valenti audibly said, “no”, and Ms. Brocuglio turned around and shushed him.

As Mr. Carney’s cross-examination was briefly halted, the judge sustained Mr. Rizzo’s objection over the line of questioning having to do with the lock-out. Rizzo argued that self-help is irrelevant for purposes of the eviction action, and based on the lease language, the judge agreed. However, the judge had to adjourn the proceeding because of a personal matter, and it will again be taken up at 11am on Tuesday.

As I waited to see if anyone would talk to me (unlikely as they’re all represented by counsel), Ms. Brocuglio approached me. She said, “hi, Alan”, adding, “I’m glad that now you’ve heard more of the story.” She told me that much of what people have left in comments here at Artvoice Daily are lies, and that this is all “from a divorce”. She refused to be interviewed on camera, and was whisked away to talk with her lawyer and supporters.

Before the proceeding, Budwey provided me with this document, which he says shows that even if Valenti’s was allowed to re-open, he’d still owe various creditors thousands.

Budwey told me that, when he went away to Jamaica, he offered to give Terry Valenti a second chance – a blank slate – all he had to do was keep Lori Brocuglio off the premises. Terry told Budwey that he would, but when Budwey left, Brocuglio was present at the restaurant every day. Before going COD with Tarantino and SYSCO, Valenti’s stocked up on over $10,000 of food, and supplemented that with Curtze, the last purveyor who would work with them. When the electric was shut off last week, all that food is now rotting, and the foam flame retardant system was deliberately activated by someone. Mr. Budwey clearly likes Terry Valenti and was willing to work with him, but he reserves a special hatred and disgust for Ms. Brocuglio; whenever he mentioned her name he used exquisitely colorful expletives.

If you pass by Valenti’s Restaurant now – a place that Janice Okun awarded 2 1/2 stars just 5 short week ago – a place supposedly run by an Iron Chef winner and CIA graduate, it now looks like this:

And had they not lied to Brian Kahle, Channel 7, and Janice Okun, no one would be paying them any attention.

 



Email me here.

Valenti’s: How the Story Has Changed (UPDATE & BUMP)

 

UPDATE & BUMP: Terry Valenti called the Shredd & Ragan show on 103.3-FM the Edge, and the recording of that conversation will be played on air around 7:45am on Thursday the 19th. I’ll be on the phone with them right afterwards.

It’s become the Valenti’s Restaurant Massacree. Arlo Guthrie could do a 30 minute monologue about it in talking blues style, if there was an underlying anti-war theme to be had.

If you missed it, I spoke with Shredd and Ragan from WEDG 103.3-FM on Tuesday morning to talk about Janice Okun, restaurant reviews, the Buffalo News, Valenti’s, and how all of it ties in together. The audio of the full interview is here.

For those of you who are checking this out to find out more, here is the compendium of Valenti’s posts so far:

1. “Two and a Half WTFs” is the original post from December 19th, now boasting over 650 comments, which have caused a very sordid and criminal tale to unfold about the purported owner(s) of Valenti’s, including a “secret” third partner, allegations of restraining orders, fraud, check kiting, violations of law and statute, battery, and a place that is apparently poorly run by some allegedly shady characters.  It was here that we first learned that Valenti never appeared on Iron Chef, never worked at Mamma Leone’s, and never attended, much less graduated from, the Culinary Institute of America – a claim that I uncovered from a Florida publication.

2. “Valenti’s Coda“, also from December 19th and headlined far too soon, pokes fun at the Buffalo News’ hasty and clumsy correction of Janice Okun’s original review of Valenti’s, which contained the false statements about Iron Chef battle parsnips. Andrew Galarneau, the Buffalo News’ food editor, assured me on Facebook that my Artvoice posts and comments at the Buffalo News’ own site played absolutely no part in the non-transparent corrections process, and that Jeff Levine from the CIA contacted him about Mr. Valenti’s claim to be a graduate of that institution, although that never appeared in Ms. Okun’s review.

3. “Valenti’s: Still Going” is a January 9th piece referencing MetroWNY’s work speaking to the producers of Iron Chef to verify that Valenti never appeared on that program.

4. “How Not to Run a Business” links to a Tonawanda News article that first uncovered Mr. Valenti’s landlord/tenant dispute with Frank Budwey, and references a Chowhound thread about the matter.

All of the foregoing articles served as a sort of informal assignment editor for this Buffalo News piece that appeared on Saturday.

So far today, I’ve learned more about the third partner, I’ve learned that there is no hearing scheduled yet on any eviction proceeding, that Mr. Budwey is out of the country at the moment, and I found out some other details I’m not at liberty to discuss at this time.

But suffice it to say that this has swiftly turned from a criticism of a poorly researched restaurant review, into civil eviction litigation, and now into bona fide criminal reporting.  We’ve turned a corner into hoping that these two people can no longer victimize another unsuspecting, naively trusting ambitious person.

Valenti's: How the Story Has Changed (UPDATE & BUMP)

 

UPDATE & BUMP: Terry Valenti called the Shredd & Ragan show on 103.3-FM the Edge, and the recording of that conversation will be played on air around 7:45am on Thursday the 19th. I’ll be on the phone with them right afterwards.

It’s become the Valenti’s Restaurant Massacree. Arlo Guthrie could do a 30 minute monologue about it in talking blues style, if there was an underlying anti-war theme to be had.

If you missed it, I spoke with Shredd and Ragan from WEDG 103.3-FM on Tuesday morning to talk about Janice Okun, restaurant reviews, the Buffalo News, Valenti’s, and how all of it ties in together. The audio of the full interview is here.

For those of you who are checking this out to find out more, here is the compendium of Valenti’s posts so far:

1. “Two and a Half WTFs” is the original post from December 19th, now boasting over 650 comments, which have caused a very sordid and criminal tale to unfold about the purported owner(s) of Valenti’s, including a “secret” third partner, allegations of restraining orders, fraud, check kiting, violations of law and statute, battery, and a place that is apparently poorly run by some allegedly shady characters.  It was here that we first learned that Valenti never appeared on Iron Chef, never worked at Mamma Leone’s, and never attended, much less graduated from, the Culinary Institute of America – a claim that I uncovered from a Florida publication.

2. “Valenti’s Coda“, also from December 19th and headlined far too soon, pokes fun at the Buffalo News’ hasty and clumsy correction of Janice Okun’s original review of Valenti’s, which contained the false statements about Iron Chef battle parsnips. Andrew Galarneau, the Buffalo News’ food editor, assured me on Facebook that my Artvoice posts and comments at the Buffalo News’ own site played absolutely no part in the non-transparent corrections process, and that Jeff Levine from the CIA contacted him about Mr. Valenti’s claim to be a graduate of that institution, although that never appeared in Ms. Okun’s review.

3. “Valenti’s: Still Going” is a January 9th piece referencing MetroWNY’s work speaking to the producers of Iron Chef to verify that Valenti never appeared on that program.

4. “How Not to Run a Business” links to a Tonawanda News article that first uncovered Mr. Valenti’s landlord/tenant dispute with Frank Budwey, and references a Chowhound thread about the matter.

All of the foregoing articles served as a sort of informal assignment editor for this Buffalo News piece that appeared on Saturday.

So far today, I’ve learned more about the third partner, I’ve learned that there is no hearing scheduled yet on any eviction proceeding, that Mr. Budwey is out of the country at the moment, and I found out some other details I’m not at liberty to discuss at this time.

But suffice it to say that this has swiftly turned from a criticism of a poorly researched restaurant review, into civil eviction litigation, and now into bona fide criminal reporting.  We’ve turned a corner into hoping that these two people can no longer victimize another unsuspecting, naively trusting ambitious person.

Collins and His Car

The best thing about being rid of Chris Collins in elected office is that his daily fits of pique are now just comical. Collins is a millionaire – he can very well pay to remove county equipment from his personal car, but he amazingly demands the county pay for it. The equipment – lights and a radio that Collins had installed because he chose to do so – belongs to the county, and Collins can either have the county remove it for him or he can remove it himself. But because emergency services is now run by a guy he fired, he doesn’t want them touching his car.

The county never should have, however, withheld Collins’ paycheck – it’s against the law to do that, and it’s right that this was undone. So, the ball is in Collins’ court. He can take his car to a mechanic, park in a handicapped spot, and have it removed himself at his own expense. He can ask the county to pay for the removal, or he can perhaps write it off as a business expense, like he does the mileage he so proudly proclaims he never asked the county to reimburse.

Baum: You’ve Been Served

I actually interviewed at the Steven Baum foreclosure mill last year. I knew they did foreclosure and collections work, but didn’t know the full nature of what they did. I answered an ad for a litigation attorney, dressed up for it, and met with two women who were dressed in sweatshirts and jeans.

They asked what I liked about being a lawyer. I replied that I enjoy representing and helping a diverse roster of clients through a difficult time.  I like using my mind, my research and writing skills, and the fact that every day is different – some days you’re in court, some you’re in depositions, and on other days you’re just pushing papers around. As far as trying cases, it’s simply a fun thing to do, to direct your half of that production for a jury.

The women explained that they don’t try cases there, “litigation attorney” ad notwithstanding. Every day consisted of a lawyer drafting identical boilerplate documents and managing a huge roster of foreclosure actions, mostly from the comfort of their own office. You don’t meet your clients – you just deal with banks and roll the cases through the system, one by one.

Having indirectly expressed the fact that I hated that sort of daily sameness, I didn’t expect a call back, nor did I receive one.

With the news yesterday that the now-embattled Baum firm is closing in the wake of scandals involving not only a tasteless and hateful Halloween party, but an allegedly predatory way of doing business, the awkward failure of that job interview was retrospectively awesome.  The Baum firm appeared to be a bad actor, and its way of doing business was coming back to haunt it. A lawyer friend of mine sent this to me:

Several years ago, I had my first case with the Baum firm. The residents in a three or four unit apartment complex had found a notice of petition and petition for a post-foreclosure eviction on the foyer stairs in their building.  None of them were served with the pleadings, nor did they receive the 10-day notice of the pending action. All of the papers were made out as against the pre-foreclosure owner/landlord, naming him as a resident of the property, along with his wife, a neighbor and any number of “John Doe” respondents.

When I called the Baum firm, the lawyer I spoke with (I forget the name) was adamant that service was proper and wanted to focus solely on how we could get my people out with a minimum of fuss. They had affidavits of service showing someone served the property owner (who had moved to South Carolina about three years ago), his wife (ditto) and the woman who lived at a next door address for (I believe) at least a decade, all as residents of the subject property.

I objected to this purported service, in our conversation, stating that none of my people had received papers and none of the named people resided in the property. The attorney I spoke with stated, basically, that he had affidavits of service so the action was going forward.

It wasn’t, per se, improper. He did have the proof of his case and it was on me to make the objection. If we had gone to court, I would have, and I wonder how it might have worked out. Instead, all of my people ended up leaving for new housing as the landlord was letting utility service lapse prior to the scheduled court date.

As a lawyer, though, I feel that I can’t just plow ahead. My clients sometimes lie and sometimes they don’t know the truth. If someone brings up a major issue in the case I’m working on, I feel it’s my professional and ethical duty to react appropriately. That might include being noncommittal to opposing counsel but researching behind the scenes. But it shouldn’t mean disregarding what I’m told and turning a blind eye to alleged abuse of process service or improperly commenced proceedings. The willingness of this Baum attorney to base a case on clearly fraudulent affidavits of service gave me an initial impression of this firm that I feel is only proven by all the news stories I keep seeing about their ongoing conduct.

If you take a look at the images that accompany the linked-to stories about the now-infamous Halloween party, you’ll note that the Baum employees were specifically mocking foreclosure defendants who claimed not to have received service of process – a key issue in any such case.

However, I’m torn on this one. I’d rather have seen Baum enter into a deal with Attorney General Schneiderman to pay a fine and reform the way it does business – to work to modify notes to keep people in their homes, with the understanding that abandoned homes, bank-owned foreclosures, and homelessness are to be avoided if possible. Because ninety people are losing reasonably well-paying white-collar jobs here in western New York, I’m not cheering the demise of this firm – yes, there’s a poetic justice with respect to the heartless and unfunny people who mocked the homeless and the victims of the foreclosure crisis, but that wasn’t representative of all the Baum employees who work there now.

I guess I wish those individuals the best, and hope they learned something from the experience.

Baum: You've Been Served

I actually interviewed at the Steven Baum foreclosure mill last year. I knew they did foreclosure and collections work, but didn’t know the full nature of what they did. I answered an ad for a litigation attorney, dressed up for it, and met with two women who were dressed in sweatshirts and jeans.

They asked what I liked about being a lawyer. I replied that I enjoy representing and helping a diverse roster of clients through a difficult time.  I like using my mind, my research and writing skills, and the fact that every day is different – some days you’re in court, some you’re in depositions, and on other days you’re just pushing papers around. As far as trying cases, it’s simply a fun thing to do, to direct your half of that production for a jury.

The women explained that they don’t try cases there, “litigation attorney” ad notwithstanding. Every day consisted of a lawyer drafting identical boilerplate documents and managing a huge roster of foreclosure actions, mostly from the comfort of their own office. You don’t meet your clients – you just deal with banks and roll the cases through the system, one by one.

Having indirectly expressed the fact that I hated that sort of daily sameness, I didn’t expect a call back, nor did I receive one.

With the news yesterday that the now-embattled Baum firm is closing in the wake of scandals involving not only a tasteless and hateful Halloween party, but an allegedly predatory way of doing business, the awkward failure of that job interview was retrospectively awesome.  The Baum firm appeared to be a bad actor, and its way of doing business was coming back to haunt it. A lawyer friend of mine sent this to me:

Several years ago, I had my first case with the Baum firm. The residents in a three or four unit apartment complex had found a notice of petition and petition for a post-foreclosure eviction on the foyer stairs in their building.  None of them were served with the pleadings, nor did they receive the 10-day notice of the pending action. All of the papers were made out as against the pre-foreclosure owner/landlord, naming him as a resident of the property, along with his wife, a neighbor and any number of “John Doe” respondents.

When I called the Baum firm, the lawyer I spoke with (I forget the name) was adamant that service was proper and wanted to focus solely on how we could get my people out with a minimum of fuss. They had affidavits of service showing someone served the property owner (who had moved to South Carolina about three years ago), his wife (ditto) and the woman who lived at a next door address for (I believe) at least a decade, all as residents of the subject property.

I objected to this purported service, in our conversation, stating that none of my people had received papers and none of the named people resided in the property. The attorney I spoke with stated, basically, that he had affidavits of service so the action was going forward.

It wasn’t, per se, improper. He did have the proof of his case and it was on me to make the objection. If we had gone to court, I would have, and I wonder how it might have worked out. Instead, all of my people ended up leaving for new housing as the landlord was letting utility service lapse prior to the scheduled court date.

As a lawyer, though, I feel that I can’t just plow ahead. My clients sometimes lie and sometimes they don’t know the truth. If someone brings up a major issue in the case I’m working on, I feel it’s my professional and ethical duty to react appropriately. That might include being noncommittal to opposing counsel but researching behind the scenes. But it shouldn’t mean disregarding what I’m told and turning a blind eye to alleged abuse of process service or improperly commenced proceedings. The willingness of this Baum attorney to base a case on clearly fraudulent affidavits of service gave me an initial impression of this firm that I feel is only proven by all the news stories I keep seeing about their ongoing conduct.

If you take a look at the images that accompany the linked-to stories about the now-infamous Halloween party, you’ll note that the Baum employees were specifically mocking foreclosure defendants who claimed not to have received service of process – a key issue in any such case.

However, I’m torn on this one. I’d rather have seen Baum enter into a deal with Attorney General Schneiderman to pay a fine and reform the way it does business – to work to modify notes to keep people in their homes, with the understanding that abandoned homes, bank-owned foreclosures, and homelessness are to be avoided if possible. Because ninety people are losing reasonably well-paying white-collar jobs here in western New York, I’m not cheering the demise of this firm – yes, there’s a poetic justice with respect to the heartless and unfunny people who mocked the homeless and the victims of the foreclosure crisis, but that wasn’t representative of all the Baum employees who work there now.

I guess I wish those individuals the best, and hope they learned something from the experience.

Ostrowski’s Anti-Pork Lawsuit Dismissed

Libertarian activist and attorney Jim Ostrowski had been spearheading a lawsuit brought against several corporations, Empire State Development, and the state of New York, alleging that state business development incentives were violative of the state constitution. The New York State Court of Appeals put an end to that suit in a decision released today.

§8. 1. The money of the state shall not be given or loaned to or in aid of any private corporation or association, or private undertaking; nor shall the credit of the state be given or loaned to or in aid of any individual, or public or private corporation or association, or private undertaking, but the foregoing provisions shall not apply to any fund or property now held or which may hereafter be held by the state for educational, mental health or mental retardation purposes.

Ostrowski filed suit, and the defendants won a motion to dismiss, which was then reversed on appeal to the Appellate Division. At issue in the fight was whether state would continue to have a right to grant money and incentives to various private entities in order to help businesses and create jobs – it goes to the very heart of contemporary state business development strategies.

The Court explains how constitutionality is not only presumed, but that a violation must be found “beyond reasonable doubt”, because the Court had found as far back as 1976 that it will uphold “public funding programs essential to addressing the problems of modern life, unless such programs are ‘patently illegal'” The current prohibition was devised throughout the 19th century to prevent the state from being required to bail out and insure businesses who have received public monies, and to “insulate the state from the burden of long-term debt”. This is why the state created public benefit corporations and authorities. Case law has repeatedly found that public benefit corporations operate independently from the state, and that the state can grant money to them for lawful public purposes.

Because public benefit corporations are independent from the state, the Court finds that Article VII Section 8(1) does not apply to them gifting or loaning money the state has provided to them.

The Court also affirmed grants of public money to benefit things like stadiums, which may provide a private entity with a monetary benefit but also serves a public purpose. As such, county subsidies to the Bills and Rich Stadium may continue unimpeded by constitutional uncertainty. Justices Pigott and Smith offer dissenting opinions, arguing that longstanding practice does not magically render the unconstitutional, constitutional, and that the system merely rewards the well-connected at society’s expense.

It’s quite an interesting read (if you’re used to reading legal opinions) and, absent a constitutional convention, the end of the road for this particular argument.

Bordeleau v. Statehttp://www.scribd.com/embeds/73363162/content?start_page=1&view_mode=list&access_key=key-o6ro7p2n4oqko2zn2xe//

Ostrowski's Anti-Pork Lawsuit Dismissed

Libertarian activist and attorney Jim Ostrowski had been spearheading a lawsuit brought against several corporations, Empire State Development, and the state of New York, alleging that state business development incentives were violative of the state constitution. The New York State Court of Appeals put an end to that suit in a decision released today.

§8. 1. The money of the state shall not be given or loaned to or in aid of any private corporation or association, or private undertaking; nor shall the credit of the state be given or loaned to or in aid of any individual, or public or private corporation or association, or private undertaking, but the foregoing provisions shall not apply to any fund or property now held or which may hereafter be held by the state for educational, mental health or mental retardation purposes.

Ostrowski filed suit, and the defendants won a motion to dismiss, which was then reversed on appeal to the Appellate Division. At issue in the fight was whether state would continue to have a right to grant money and incentives to various private entities in order to help businesses and create jobs – it goes to the very heart of contemporary state business development strategies.

The Court explains how constitutionality is not only presumed, but that a violation must be found “beyond reasonable doubt”, because the Court had found as far back as 1976 that it will uphold “public funding programs essential to addressing the problems of modern life, unless such programs are ‘patently illegal'” The current prohibition was devised throughout the 19th century to prevent the state from being required to bail out and insure businesses who have received public monies, and to “insulate the state from the burden of long-term debt”. This is why the state created public benefit corporations and authorities. Case law has repeatedly found that public benefit corporations operate independently from the state, and that the state can grant money to them for lawful public purposes.

Because public benefit corporations are independent from the state, the Court finds that Article VII Section 8(1) does not apply to them gifting or loaning money the state has provided to them.

The Court also affirmed grants of public money to benefit things like stadiums, which may provide a private entity with a monetary benefit but also serves a public purpose. As such, county subsidies to the Bills and Rich Stadium may continue unimpeded by constitutional uncertainty. Justices Pigott and Smith offer dissenting opinions, arguing that longstanding practice does not magically render the unconstitutional, constitutional, and that the system merely rewards the well-connected at society’s expense.

It’s quite an interesting read (if you’re used to reading legal opinions) and, absent a constitutional convention, the end of the road for this particular argument.

Bordeleau v. State

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