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New York - A Gift of Popcorn Lands a Judge in Trouble

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New York - City watchdogs took pains Tuesday to remind city officials that they are prohibited from accepting any improper gifts like bribes and gratuities – even if the payoff is as trifling as a bag of popcorn.

The city’s Conflicts of Interest Board issued a release announcing that it had fined a former administrative law judge a stiff $2,500 for accepting a “gratuity from a person whose parking tickets he had dismissed.”

The administrative law judge whose hankering for salty snacks got him in trouble is Alan Rubin, a per-diem employee of the finance department assigned to the Parking Violations Bureau from 2004 to 2009.

While the headline in the press release simply referred to an unspecific “gratuity,” the settlement agreement contained the odd elements of Judge Rubin’s misdeeds.

According to paragraph 7 of the agreement, signed by Judge Rubin, his lawyer and the board, he acknowledged adjudicating multiple parking tickets back in early 2008, which had been issued to a driver for a specialty popcorn company.

To challenge the tickets, the deliveryman submitted business invoices to the parking bureau to document that he was making his rounds when he got ticketed.

“After adjudicating the Delivery Driver’s parking tickets, I told the Delivery Driver that the invoice named a brand of popcorn that I liked,” Judge Rubin is quoted as saying in the settlement agreement. “The Delivery Driver then offered to give me popcorn for free in appreciation of my having dismissed the Delivery Driver’s parking tickets. I gave the Delivery Driver my home address, and a few days later approximately six to eight bags of the popcorn were delivered to my home.”

According to the judge’s statement, he gave two bags to his grandson and “brought the rest to my office at Parking Violations Bureau to share with my colleagues.” The judge noted that he was “unaware at the time” that he was violating the city charter by accepting the freebie.

Owen Stone, a spokesman for the city’s finance department, said that Judge Rubin earned $39.47 an hour on a per-diem basis to work in the parking bureau, and that his association with the bureau came to an end once the investigation was opened into the judge’s conduct. “Subsequent to the investigation, we decided to no longer offer him hours,’’ Mr. Stone said.

According to the settlement agreement, Judge Rubin also admitted asking the owner of an audio-video installation company, whose parking tickets he had also adjudicated, to come to his home to install a flat-screen television and DVD player. He said the owner charged “the regular rate for his services, which amounted to $55, and I paid him $60 in cash.”

NY Times
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