Eric Adams Insider on Harvey Weinstein Legal Team Got Advance Word of Judge’s Lost Reappointment
A friend of Frank Carone got wind of the secret decision made by a judicial advisory panel.
A lawyer with close ties to one of Mayor Eric Adams’ top aides got advance notice that a judge he’d been warring with would not be reappointed by the mayor, an associate of the lawyer told THE CITY.
Attorney Arthur Aidala represented disgraced entertainment producer Harvey Weinstein in his Manhattan sexual assault trial before Judge James Burke, and tried unsuccessfully to get Burke thrown off the case.
Aidala is a close friend and longtime associate of Adams’ chief of staff, Frank Carone, who is also involved in the mayor’s decisions on the appointments of criminal and family court judges based on the recommendation of the Mayor’s Advisory Committee on the Judiciary (MACJ). One of MACJ’s members is a partner in Abrams Fensterman, Carone’s law firm before he became chief of staff.
Burke’s term was up at year’s end and he applied for reappointment, but in mid-October MACJ privately notified him that he had not made the cut. That decision was not made public.
Burke’s non-reappointment was highly unusual. Burke and another judge, Charlotte Davidson, were the only two criminal court judges MACJ did not recommend for reappointment of the 15 whose terms expire this year.
The indication that Aidala got advance notice that Burke’s days on the bench were numbered comes from Craig Rothfeld, a “prison consultant” who is advising Weinstein on how to navigate life behind bars as Weinstein serves time for his New York conviction and faces an ongoing trial in Los Angeles.
Rothfeld says he was brought into the Weinstein case by Aidala, with whom he recently issued a joint statement when reports surfaced that Weinstein had tested positive for COVID-19. Last week when a reporter for THE CITY mentioned the public disclosure of MACJ’s decision not to recommend Burke for reappointment, Rothfeld responded, “I knew it was coming.”
Asked how he knew, he replied. “Because of my relationship with Arthur and his firm. They knew it was coming.” Asked how Aidala knew, he responded, “How do you think he knew? Carone told him.”
Rothfeld made clear he and Aidala knew of the decision before it was publicly reported, first by the New York Law Journal — which made no mention of Aidala or his ties to Carone — or by THE CITY, which spelled out the behind-the-scenes connections.
Through a spokesman for Adams, Carone denied passing any information about MACJ’s decision to Aidala.
“No one at the mayor’s office, nor at MACJ, gave either a direct or indirect indication to any external party prior to MACJ’s recommendation being reported by the New York Law Journal,” said mayoral spokesperson Jonah Allon. Further, as previously stated, no one from the mayor’s office provided any feedback on Judge Burke, nor otherwise had any role in or influence on MACJ’s process with respect to Judge Burke’s potential reappointment.”
Aidala has not responded to multiple requests for comment by THE CITY, and the mayor has refused to release the letter from MACJ to Burke, with Adams’ spokesman Maxwell Young saying the document is “not public.”
Burke did not respond to multiple requests by THE CITY for comment last week. Davidson declined to comment through a spokesperson for the courts.
On Monday, Adams announced the appointment of a new executive director for his judiciary advisory board, Ayanna Sorett, a former Manhattan prosecutor and more recently a senior fellow at Columbia University’s Center for Justice.
Adams noted a backlog of appointments he said was caused by the pandemic. Court officials say there are 10 open vacancies on Family Court — including four new positions — and three on Criminal Court.
“Appointing qualified judges to our courts is key to reducing the backlog of cases that built up during the COVID-19 pandemic and damming one of the rivers that feeds the sea of crime,” Adams said in prepared remarks.
UPDATE: After the story was published, Rothfeld retracted his statement, now asserting, “I have no memory of saying any of the comments in your article this morning that you attributed to me.” He reversed what he’d said earlier, stating, “I have no knowledge of any conversations between Frank Carone and Arthur Aidala.”
Aidala — after not responding to THE CITY’s questions for nine days — sent a statement denying speaking with Carone about Burke’s reappointment, but declining to answer whether he spoke to any other member of Adams’ team about it.
“Mr. Carone never told me about Judge Burke’s not being re-appointed,” Aidala wrote. “To this day we haven’t spoken about it. I don’t believe I have spoken with Mr. Carone in the past 30 days. Lastly, I never told anyone Mr Carone told me anything about Judge Burke because it never happened. Therefore Mr. Rothfeld’s statement is also inaccurate.”
Adams spokesperson Jonah Allon attacked Rothfeld’s statement, asserting: “The claims made by Mr. Rothfeld reported in this story are completely false, and we deny them in the strongest possible terms.”
Allon added that “no one at the mayor’s office, including Mr. Carone, provided any feedback to MACJ regarding Judge Burke’s potential reappointment.” And he said that Carone couldn’t have notified Aidala of Burke’s non-reappointment because “he wasn’t privy to MACJ’s confidential internal process before they sent the letter to Judge Burke.”
And MACJ’s chair, George Silver, stated, “The Mayor’s Advisory Committee on the Judiciary is composed of lawyers of the highest integrity, whose only goal is to select the strongest judges. Let me be clear — the panel’s decision making process was in no way influenced by anyone from City Hall.”
THE CITY stands by our reporting.