UPDATED: TPT Protestors Decry Brooklyn Judicial System & CM Reynoso

James Caldwell & Sherlivia Thomas Murchinson protesting in front of Kings Cunty Supreme Court
Sherlivia Thomas-Murchinson, one of the lead plantiffs in the federal class action lawsuit, recently protesting in front of Kings County Supreme Court. Photo Credit Kelly Mena.

More than a dozen black and brown seniors from Central Brooklyn and South Williamsburg yesterday protested against the Brooklyn judicial system for its role in seizing private properties without any compensation under the city’s Third Party Transfer (TPT) program.

The loud and raucous protest in front of the Kings County Supreme Court Building, at 360 Adams Street, in Downtown Brooklyn was the first of a three-pronged day of protest. Following the courthouse protest, the group boarded a rented bus and then protested in front of City Council Member Antonio Reynoso‘s (D-Williamsburg, Bushwick) office and then finished in front of the offices of a Bedford-Stuyvesant non-profit that has received ownership of several of the properties under the controversial program.

Kings County Supreme Court Protest. Photo Credit Kelly Mena.

As revealed in a a multi-story KCP series last year, the city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) are using the Third Party Transfer (TPT) program to seize properties and scores of units, spanning Central Brooklyn, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Kensington and Flatbush, under the veil of foreclosure and with questionable due process.

The TPT program gives the properties to “qualified” non-profits and for-profit developers to re-develop under sweetheart financing terms. The program, like HPD and many of the non-profits involved, were created when the city had many abandoned and blighted properties in the late 80’s, a time when the City was looking to turn around distressed buildings.  

However, as gentrification has swept through historically black and brown neighborhoods, property assessments in these areas has gone well over $1 million. Morphing the once necessary program into one where it has taken a number of black- and brown-owned properties for questionable back taxes and water bills without giving any equity back to the owners. Many of these properties have been paid off for decades and are owned free and clear, with generational wealth tied up in the buildings.

KCP reported of a 23-page court document, with more than 60 properties bundled together as part of a larger foreclosure judgement presided over by Kings County Supreme Court Judge Mark Partnow on Dec. 14, 2017.

Of the 60 properties, a number were handed back to former owners through negotiations with HPD, but several remain in litigation under questionable circumstances. The protest in front of the courthouse noted that three judges – Partnow, Judge Noach Dear and Judge Lawrence Knipel – handle a large bulk of the foreclosures and change of deed proceedings.

The three judges are also closely connected with the Kings County Democratic Party, which has a large hand in picking judges. Partnow’s wife, for example is Sue Ann Partnow, the female Democratic district leader for the 59th Assembly District in Canarsie. The male district leader there is Kings County Democratic Party Chair Frank Seddio.

Additionally, Frank Carone, a senior partner in Brooklyn’s Abrams Fensterman law firm, is the law secretary of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, and is very close to Seddio.

Carone’s firm is representing one of the property owner litigants in Bedford-Stuyvesant before Partnow, and in whose decision, which is expected within the next month, could play an important role in a number of properties taken under the TPT program.

Sherlivia Thomas-Murchinson, one of the leaders of the protest and who lost her family apartment at 248 Madison Street  under the program in 2012, contends the court is a major player in the issue and are making default judgements blindly.

“These judges are not well-versed in what TPT is and they blanketly give these developers and the City of New York, in-rem foreclosures, default foreclosures without even checking to see if the owners were ever properly served. We need to hold these judges accountable when these scam artists come into the courtrooms. I can understand one or two property owners missing their court dates, but it should raise a red flag for any justice when over 63 people miss a court date,” said Thomas-Murchinson.

James Caldwell, one of the organizer’s of the protest and longtime President of 77th Police Precinct Community Council also took the court system and the Brooklyn Democratic Party to task. 

“This protest is to send a message to the court system that what their doing  to black and brown people is totally wrong. There’s no justice for us. They’re just taking our homes and we don’t get an opportunity to represent ourselves. They always ask for us [blacks and Latinos] to vote for them and we assume they are going to do the right thing, but look at what they are doing. They don’t do this to any other communities,” said Caldwell.

Carone strongly defended the Brooklyn judicial system, the County Democratic Party organization and his law firm.

“Kings County is fortunate to have the most incredibly dedicated and talented judges preside over its cases. I would put them up against anyone anywhere. The Party takes its responsibility serious and as such is very proud of each Judge its has supported to election or re-election over the years,” said Carone in an email.

“As for my law firm, we zealously represents each and every client with every breath we collectively take. We do this without hesitation or reservation. While I sympathize, the protesters position is misguided,” he added.

The protesters then took the march to Councilman Reynoso’s office (D-Williamsburg) at 244 Union Avenue in South Williamsburg.

As KCP reported, there is evidence of Reynoso’s office being directly involved in the taking of a property at 19 Kingsland Avenue in his rapidly gentrifying 34th Council District.

Tenant owners of the building are currently in the middle of litigation to fight back for the deed of their building. Co-op Board President Yudy Ventura, 52, has spent thousands of dollars of her personal savings to a private lawyer in order to fight the city’s seizure.

Protesters in front of City Councilman Antonio Reynoso’s office. Photo courtesy of Yudy Ventura.

“We haven’t seen the judge yet. We are waiting to see what the judge decides, but if they keep the building, we don’t know what is going to happen. I directly met with Reynoso and gave him all of my documentation. After calling and reaching out to him multiple times, his office said they reviewed the documentation and that they didn’t find anything illegal as part of the city’s seizure,” said Ventura.

KCP reached out a number of times to Reynoso’s office when it first reported the story and again for this story. Neither Reynoso nor anybody from his office has yet to explain both the evidence of his office’s involvement in the seizure or why they don’t see anything illegal about the seizure.