Citizens' Issues
When under investigation Judge returns to bench
Barry Kamins, a senior New York judge under investigation for ethical misconduct, is back on the bench while his case is handled in secret 
 
The hall is cavernous on the fourth floor of the Queens Supreme Court building. Whispers feel magnified as they echo amid the marble floors and vaulted ceiling. The whispers are of lawyers and clients, their lives in one kind of legal limbo or another, figuring out the next bit of strategy.
 
The newest judge on the court's fourth floor is Barry Kamins, a man with as prestigious a resume as any in the New York state court system. But his future is also uncertain: Kamins is currently being investigated by the state Commission on Judicial conduct for a range of possible ethical violations.
 
A recent New York City Department of Investigation report that examined Charles J. Hynes's campaign spending and other conduct during his failed bid for a seventh term as Brooklyn District Attorney found that Kamins had been providing legal and political advice to Hynes over many months. The report revealed that Kamins, then the supervising judge for all of Brooklyn, recommended staff, prepped Hynes for debates and even provided extra legal advice dealing with active cases being handled by Hynes' office.
 
Following the June 3 DOI report, Kamins was removed from his senior position. But 10 weeks later, he is back on the bench hearing disputes over property values and deciding foreclosure cases.
 
David Bookstaver, the spokesman for the New York State Court system, said that, by law, a judge can only be removed or otherwise disciplined by the Commission on Judicial Conduct.
 
"Right now there is no mechanism to keep him from the bench. This isn't subjective, it's the constitution," Bookstaver said. "There is a process."
 
ProPublica has spent much of the last two years examining the troubled oversight system for prosecutors who abuse their power. That examination has found that prosecutors, even those who engage in flagrant misconduct, are almost never punished. And in the rare cases in which state disciplinary panels do undertake a review of complaints of misconduct, those proceedings are conducted in secret, and word of any discipline typically remains unknown to the public.
 
Much of the work of the Commission on Judicial Conduct also takes place in secret, and in Queens Supreme Court there is no obvious way for anyone to know that Kamins may be facing serious discipline.
 
Robert Tembeckjian, the administrator of the commission, said investigations can take anywhere from six months to two years to complete, "depending on the complexity of the case and the volume of complaints."
 
"It is a lengthy process, not an easy thing to do," Tembeckjian said. "It shouldn't be easy. Like anybody accused of wrongdoing, a judge should have the ability to confront the charges."
 
Kamins has not spoken publicly since the report was issued. His lawyer, Paul Shechtman, said shortly after the report's release that Kamins would never abuse his judicial position. Efforts to reach Shechtman on Monday were not successful.
 
Tembeckjian, in an interview, said his commission has advocated for more power for decades — seeking state legislative approval for its hearings to be public and for the authority to suspend a judge temporarily.
 
"The commission does already have significant authority, but our experience over 40 years is that there are other tools we should have to render the appropriate discipline," Tembeckjian said.
 
Lawrence Goldman, a lawyer who served on the judicial conduct commission from 1990 to 2006, said "for years the commission has said in its annual report that the cases should be made public."
 
Tembeckjian agrees.
 
"It would help educate the public and help the proceedings," he said.
 
New York's is one of 15 state commissions that conduct their investigations in secret.
"I think it is not a high priority in the state legislature. Sometimes a bill pops up in the state senate, sometimes in the assembly. In the past 30 years it has maybe come to a vote four or five times," Tembeckjian said.
 
According to the commission, only 23 New York judges were disciplined in the 100 years prior to the commission's creation in 1974. Previously, discipline was handed down by a loose network of ad hoc courts with no permanent employees. The Commission currently has 46 full time employees and offices in New York, Albany and Rochester.
 
There are currently 10 commissioners and one vacancy awaiting appointment from the governor. The leader of the State Assembly and the Chief Judge on the Court of Appeals also appoint commissioners. Eight members need to agree before a decision is made. The discipline is then recommended to the Court of Appeals.
 
In its history, the commission has recommended that 168 judges be removed from their positions. The vast majority of the cases involved judges sitting in the state's more local courts, including town and village courts.
 
The commission can also admonish or censure judges, two levels of public discipline short of removal. Judges can also be pressed to resign. But to some, the commission's powers still feel limited.
 
Goldman said there has long been support for the idea of allowing the commission to suspend or otherwise limit a judge's powers during any investigation into their conduct.
This year the commission has taken action against seven judges, all from upstate or Long Island. Four agreed to resign, two were censured and one judge was admonished. None were as prominent as Kamins, but Tembeckjian said the commission is not afraid to act against any judge.
 
"The commission's approach is to examine the behavior regardless of how powerful the judge is," Tembeckjian said.
 
The Department of Investigation report on Kamins shocked many in the New York legal community.
 
Kamins has advised the New York City Justice Task force, served on the New York Law Journal Board of Editors and has taught at Fordham and Brooklyn Law schools. He is the author of numerous law articles, and in recent years had won a number of appointments to positions of great influence and authority within the state court system.
 
"This is a guy who was president of the New York City Bar. A guy who could have made a big living with a private firm, but instead stayed in the criminal courts," Goldman said.
The DOI report focused on hundreds of email exchanges Kamins had with Hynes. On a near daily basis, Kamins instructed the district attorney — on how to get re-elected, on how to deal with his own legal problems, and, perhaps most damningly, on how to manage any damage from an investigation into possibly wrongful convictions involving the district attorney's office over the years.
 
"I don't charge much for political consulting," Kamins joked to Hynes in an email dated June 3, 2012.
 
"You are the new David Garth," Hynes responded.
 
Garth was a man described by the New York Times in 1989 as the "grandfather of modern political advertising."
 
Bookstaver, the spokesman for the court system, indicated that, in assigning Kamins to a Queens courthouse, there was some value seen in keeping Kamins out of the Brooklyn courts, where he had spent his career as a prosecutor, defense lawyer and powerful judge.
It is in that Queens courthouse, then, that until the commission rules — perhaps soon, perhaps in 18 months — Kamins will be deciding people's legal fates.
 
Courtesy: ProPublica.org 

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What is the outcome of Narendra Modi's Japan visit?
During FY14, Indo-Japanese bilateral trade stood at $16.29 billion or barely 1% of trade of Japan or about 2.13% of Indian trade. The new developments, which are now taking place, would push these figures to a higher plane
 
After his spiritual visit to the heritage city and the former imperial capital of Kyoto, Narendra Modi  spent the last couple of days actively espousing the cause of Japanese investments into India in Tokyo.
 
On his return to India, he would ensure the establishment of an independent direct investment cell to handle all the Japanese business so that the super fast Shinkansen can makes its way to build smart cities.
 
The first bilateral summit between Shinzo Abe and Narendra Modi took place in most cordial atmosphere.  At the end of the day, in the first major move came in the Japanese promise of investing $35 billion in Indian infrastructure developments, spread over the next five years. And to facilitate such things to happen and to ensure that Japanese investors do not have to go from pillar to post, Modi has committed to spread the red carpet, eliminate the red tape, and set up a Japan fast track channel.  
 
The bullet train, or Shinkansen, is expected to run from Ahmedabad to Mumbai. Estimated to cost about $10 billion, this project will involve both technical support and the required funds. This train will be covering 524 kms. It will involve transfer of technology for the indigenous manufacture of rolling stocks, such as coaches and wagons.
 
The Indo-Japanese bilateral trade stood at $16.29 billion in 2013-14, which amount to barely 1% of trade of Japan or about 2.13% of Indian trade. The new developments, which are now taking place, would push these figures to a higher plane. As reported in the press, so far, between April 2000 and February 2014, Japanese companies cumulatively invested about $16 billion accounting for just about 7.46% of total foreign direct investment (FDI) flows into India. This is now bound to increase, once the Indo-Japanese cell comes into operation.
 
There have been other significant changes due to the summit meetings that are still taking place between Shinzo Abe and Narendra Modi.  Both continued to expedite the discussions relating to the modalities for the sale of Japanese US-2 Amphibian aircraft.  Abe promised to remove six of India's space and defence entities from its "foreign end-user list". This would open up the possibilities for ventures in defence with Japanese know-how and investments in the near future. Both agreed that their defence and strategic cooperation will be enhanced, besides speeding up their negotiation on the nuclear deal.
 
Unfortunately, both could not finalise any deal on civil nuclear matters. But the dialogue continues.
 
Japan and India decided to elevate their ties to a special strategic global partnership.
 
While in Tokyo, Narendra Modi inaugurated the TCS Japan Technology and Cultural Academy Soukoukei.  And when he spoke at a seminar organized by JETRO - Japan External Trade Organization and Nikkei, PM Modi stated that India was attractive to the Japanese on account of its 3-Ds: democracy, demography and demand!
 
The Shinkansen effect of super fast trains would facilitate the growth of super smart cities, which are likely to be the new destinations for the Japanese investors to flock to, in due course!  
 
(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce. He was also associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts; and later to the US.)

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MLF seminar on can social media offer an alternative?: A Mirror to the Mainstream Media
A lively session on the way mainstream media has evolved to peddle deceptions and lies
 
We are all aware of issues around paid news in print, branded content on TV, influence-peddling and trading favours that have become a fixture of our mainstream media landscape. Meanwhile, social media has come to occupy an important part of our lives, offering checks on the mainstream media’s spin-doctoring of news and events.
 
To discuss all these issues, Moneylife Foundation brought together three journalists, Chitra Subramaniam, Sucheta Dalal and Debashis Basu as well as Ravi Nar, famous as @Mediacrooks on Twitter, to share their thoughts on the problems with mainstream media today and how social media can shape the future of news. In this context, can social media offer an alternative?
 
Chitra Subramaniam, whose investigation into the Bofors scandal and dispatches from Geneva shook the Rajiv Gandhi government in the 1980s, highlighted how middlemen, public relations practitioners and fixers have a far greater say in reports today because nobody wants to do any legwork. She also deplored the tendency of TV journalists to be crass and intrusive, all for the sake of improving their TRPs. Ms Subramaniam has also coined the interesting term G-37 which represents the select group of experts who are called to speak by different channels. She has actually counted these people across various TV channels to arrive at this number.
 
 
Ravi Nar (or @Mediacrooks) began by talking about how mainstream media controls the public discourse in the country. Instead of reporting, there is direction and misdirection, he said. He showed how news is slanted and packaged to deliver both overt and subliminal cues to the audience, based on the stance of the channel. “Media is the first line of defence against corruption. Unfortunately, the same media, especially TV channels, do not provide fact and truth. All these TV news channels give you predetermined perception and opinion,” he added. They, thereby, add to the various misconceptions that are already formed through the textbooks. He listed how the mainstream media spreads disinformation through unconfirmed sources, calculated omissions, distraction or dishonest debate tactics. 
 
Sucheta Dalal picked up from where Ravi Nar left off. Ms Dalal explained to the audience how the powers that be go on about gaming public discourse, how corporates decide in their own self-interest which media company to support and also which journalists and commentators need to stay in the public eye—most visibly on television. She discussed the tactics used to coerce journalists and muffle civil society’s voices, and the use of the State and judicial machinery to clamp down on journalists and writers. This is why, she appealed, independent voices like Moneylife need to be supported.
 
Debashis Basu then focused on the business of journalism itself. He explained that a lot of compromises flow from the fact that media is not a successful industry; it lacks a revenue model to sustain so many media companies, leading to a serious mismatch between demand and supply. This is why the largest names in the media are making losses—NDTV, TV18, Living Media, Outlook, etc. But they are not shutting down, which leads to compromises.
 
What is the future? Mr Basu, discussed how the American media landscape was changing and being reshaped by new media outlets like Buzzfeed and FirstLook Media, both funded by tech billionaires. Unfortunately, Indian billionaires have no such interest and are happy with the status quo. The evening ended with a question & answer session from a packed audience.

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