Written by Jennifer Media and Originally Published in the New York Times on August 31st, 2004.
As Nissim Elmann tells it, he could control much of what went on in the matrimonial section of the Brooklyn State Supreme Court. Arranging favorable custody and property rights for his clients was simple.
Mr. Elmann is not a judge or even a lawyer. He was a Brooklyn electronics salesman. His only experience in court came when he was a divorce litigant appearing in front of Judge Gerald P. Garson in 2000.
But in transcripts read to jurors yesterday, Mr. Elmann claimed he had everyone -- including Judge Garson -- ''in his pocket,'' and could make deals ''nicely and quietly'' with lawyers.
As Frieda Hanimov, the woman who first told the Brooklyn district attorney about alleged wrongdoing in Judge Garson's courtroom, took the stand yesterday, jurors heard more about what prosecutors say is a complicated web of corruption in which the divorce lawyer Paul Siminovsky's cases would be steered to Judge Garson. Mr. Garson, who is charged with accepting cash, cigars and meals from Mr. Siminovsky, would then coach the lawyer and rule in favor of his clients, according to prosecutors.
Prosecutors say that Mr. Elmann, who is accused of paying bribes, was an intermediary between Mr. Siminovsky, the lawyer's clients and court employees.
''I'm fighting for you,'' Mr. Elmann says in a telephone conversation with a divorce client that was read in court yesterday. ''I'm killing myself. I have a judge participate, I have attorneys participate.'' He also says, ''People are standing in line for me to do what I have done for you.''
In October 2002, Ms. Hanimov went to Mr. Elmann to see if he could help her, but he told her she was too late because her ex-husband had already made payments to receive a favorable ruling, Ms. Hanimov said. She then complained to the district attorney. Investigators asked her to record her conversations with Mr. Elmann, which were in Hebrew. Mr. Hanimov does not face any charges.
''Your husband paid money, a lot of money,'' Mr. Elmann tells Ms. Hanimov in an October 18, 2002, conversation at his electronics warehouse that was read in court yesterday. ''And he has the upper hand.''
None of the tape transcripts read yesterday referred to the defendants in the case: Paul Sarnell, a clerk for Judge Garson; and Louis Salerno, a court officer. Their lawyers voiced frustration that only a small part of the evidence presented so far focused on their clients.
Mr. Elmann is to face trial later this year. Prosecutors read transcripts of the conversations between Ms. Hanimov and Mr. Elmann.
Judge Garson heard the case between Ms. Hanimov and her ex-husband, Yuri Hanimov, four years ago, and Ms. Hanimov says the judge unfairly favored Mr. Hanimov when Mr. Siminovsky was representing his case. The judge would yell at Ms. Hanimov in court and tell her to settle the case in order to keep custody of their three children, she has said.
Mr. Hanimov later took Ms. Hanimov back to court in a custody dispute, after she was arrested on charges that she beat their 14-year-old son. Those charges were later dropped, but the couple is still in a custody battle over the son, now 16.
Ms. Hanimov, who immigrated from Israel in 1987, has said she could not afford a lawyer in 2002 and was confused by the legal system.
In one recorded conversation, Ms. Hanimov asks Mr. Elmann what the judge has said about her case. ''I don't need for him to tell me,'' he responds. ''It depends on me. It doesn't depend on him. I'll tell him. He will -- he'll do.''
Regarding the outcome of one client's case, Mr. Elmann says, ''I have to speak with Garson.'' There is no evidence that Mr. Elmann did, in fact, speak with the judge directly. An investigator in the case testified last week that Mr. Elmann would be lying if he said he knew Judge Garson. But Mr. Elmann repeatedly tells Ms. Hanimov that he communicates with the judge regularly.
That claim, defense lawyers contend, undermines Mr. Elmann's credibility and shows that references he makes in other tapes, on which Mr. Salerno and Mr. Sarnell are heard, may not be true.