Queens Development Group (“QDG”) is pulling out all the legal stops to defend its outrageous plan to use 40+ acres of Queens park land to construct a 1.4 million square foot mega-mall called “Willets West” – going as far as to hire judicial juggernaut Judith Kaye, the former Chief Judge of the New York State Court of Appeals, the highest court in New York state, to advocate for the mega-mall in court proceedings.
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As readers may recall, QDG’s plan to construct Willets West on Queens park land next to Citi Field was dictated by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg in a closed process that totally circumvented the promised involvement of the Willets Point Advisory Committee, chaired at the time by Queens Borough President Helen Marshall. Willets West never directly underwent any other public approval process. A lawsuit filed this year by City Club of New York, State Senator Tony Avella, Queens Civic Congress, several members of Willets Point United Inc., New York City Park Advocates and nearby residents/business owners asserts that Willets West cannot proceed and is illegal, because it lacks approval from the New York State legislature that is required when park land is appropriated for non-park use, and because Willets West also lacks approval through the City’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure. In essence, the lawsuit challenges the give-away of Queens park land to developers as dictated by Michael Bloomberg.
Developer QDG claims that authorizations granted in 1961 relating to the construction of Shea Stadium are all that is necessary now to build the Willets West mega-mall on adjacent Queens park land.
Queens Development Group is a joint venture of The Related Companies and Sterling Equities (whose owners Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz also own the New York Mets).
The court case, Sen. Tony Avella v. City of New York, is pending before Justice Manuel Mendez in New York State Supreme Court. Oral argument will take place on July 30, 2014 at 2:15PM at 71 Thomas Street, Room 210.
QDG must be so nervous about the prospect of an adverse court decision, that it has resorted to bringing in the ultimate New York judicial juggernaut – former Chief Judge Judith Kaye – to attempt to persuade the court to see things QDG’s way. Frankly, we think this is also a not-so-subtle attempt to intimidate Justice Mendez into siding with QDG, and to make it uncomfortable for him to do otherwise. After all, the legal issues raised by this case are clear-cut, and could be very well presented by any competent attorney who doesn’t happen to be a former Chief Judge of the New York State Court of Appeals. What, then, does QDG gain by retaining former Chief Judge Judith Kaye for this case?
Well, for Justice Mendez to rule in favor of Plaintiffs/Petitioners (against QDG and Willets West), he would have to disagree with not just any QDG lawyer, but with Judith Kaye, former Chief Judge of the New York State Court of Appeals. It is as if the former Chief Judge is telling Justice Mendez on behalf of QDG: “I find that this mega-mall is legal and may proceed. Who are you to disagree with me, the former Chief Judge at this state’s highest court, two levels above yours?”
With all due respect, it should be noted that Justice Mendez is at the Supreme Court – the lowest level of trial court in New York State. Above that is the Appellate Division. And above that is the Court of Appeals, where Judith Kaye was an Associate Judge from 1983 through 1993, and then Chief Judge for 15 years from 1993 through 2008, when she retired because of age restrictions. She is now of counsel, and apparently for hire, at the law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom LLP.
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We also note that Judith Kaye was first appointed to the Court of Appeals, and later designated its Chief Judge, by then-Governor Mario Cuomo – the same Mario Cuomo who, in 2012, brokered settlement talks on behalf of Mets owners including Fred Wilpon who were involved in Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. Bankruptcy trustee Irving Picard had sued the Wilpons to recover $386 million in swindle profits. Cuomo not only reduced the amount the Wilpons owe to $162 million, but also got Picard to drop his claim that the Wilpons were willfully blind to Madoff’s fraud. Now, Cuomo friend Judith Kaye is assisting the Wilpons’ Sterling Equities to lay claim to 40+ acres of Queens park land, to supplant it with a mega-mall.
We pray that Justice Manuel Mendez sees right through QDG’s attempt to strong-arm his decision in the Willets West matter by inserting former Chief Judge Judith Kaye into the case – and that Justice Mendez will have the fortitude to disregard undue pressure and render a decision that is based, as it should be, on the relevant facts and law.
We also wonder how Judith Kaye sleeps at night, knowing that she has made herself and her symbolic influence available in service of development on park land that is opposed by, among others, the Queens Civic Congress as well as the community board located closest to the proposed site – development that has been foisted upon the people of Queens by a former Mayor who even abrogated written promises to involve the Willets Point Advisory Committee in developer selection.
The proposed Willets Point development has already had much more than its fair share of scandal, including illegal lobbying for the project by Claire Shulman’s local development corporation (“LDC”) and the New York City Economic Development Corporation (“NYCEDC”), as determined by Attorney General Schneiderman, which required the complete corporate re-structuring of NYCEDC so that it may comply with the law in the future; the provision of City funds to Shulman’s LDC in support of illegal lobbying activities; the leveraging of eminent domain to coerce sales of private property, and initiating eminent domain not for any essential public purpose, but to facilitate private development; the gifting by then-Mayor Bloomberg of 23 acres of Willets Point Phase One property, acquired at a cost to City taxpayers in excess of $250 million, to QDG for the price of $1 (one dollar), contrary to the administration’s promise to recoup the high cost of property acquisition via the eventual sale of the property to the developer; provision of a grant of taxpayer funds totaling $99 million to QDG to pay its development costs; provision of a tax credit in the amount of $43 million to QDG; appraising the Willets West site to have a value of “negative $35.4 million,” even though the site consists of virgin land that QDG insists is clean and uncontaminated; QDG’s filing of its brownfield application with New York State without informing Queens Community Board 7 (“CB7”), contrary to QDG’s agreement with CB7; to name a few. To that sorry list we now add QDG’s hiring of judicial juggernaut Judith Kaye for the purpose of ensuring the undemocratic give-away of Queens park land.
We give the last word to public sentiment concerning the proposed Willets West mega-mall: