Business With the Court: A Look at Rory Lancman’s Dodgy Donors in Queens DA Race

Theodore Hamm May 30, 2019

“My wife is an immigrant and if she came to this country now, Donald Trump would arrest her,” City Councilmember Rory Lancman frequently says at public events in the race for Queens DA.

The line may be a way to score points, but Mojgan Cohanim Lancman is actually an immigrant success story. She and her family (who are Jewish) fled religious persecution in Iran and arrived in Rego Park when she was nine.

Mojgan Lancman attended Queens College, then went to New York Law School. Since 2015, she has been a judge on the civil bench of Queens County Supreme Court, where she is one of four judges who preside over residential foreclosure cases.

Meanwhile, a review of Rory Lancman’s DA campaign contributions shows that he has taken in over $50,000 from lawyers and firms that regularly handle foreclosure cases in Queens. Some have active cases in the foreclosure division, while several others serve as referees that mediate between lender (plaintiff) and homeowner (defendant).

As Queens’ chief administrative judge Jeremy Weinstein explained to WNYC, “it’s inevitable that some politically connected attorneys will get appointments” as referees. That creates an incentive for lawyers to donate to Rory Lancman’s campaign.

For example, Morton Povman and his son Bruce Povman have given Lancman a combined $7,500. Both Morton, a former city councilman who represented Lancman’s district, and Bruce are active foreclosure referees with auctions coming up in June on Jamaica properties.

As Lancman’s campaign took shape last July, the firm of Vishnick, McGovern and Milizio chipped in $25,000. One of the firm’s attorneys, Joseph Trotti, is the referee for June auctions in Middle Village and Bellerose. Another, Avrohom Gefen, handled a recent Jamaica auction. Like many of Lancman’s donors, the firm also has several active non-foreclosure cases pending in Queens Supreme Court.

A screenshot of a foreclosure listing in Middle Village in which Joseph Trotti is acting as referee.

The Flushing firm of Goldstein and Greenlaw has given Lancman a total of $20,000. The law office hosted a recent auction for an Astoria property. The firm also has two active commercial foreclosure cases in Queens.

The Hon. Mojgan Lancman is president of the Brandeis Association, a network for Jewish legal professionals in Queens. Association members include Lawrence Litwack, who has given $2,000 to Rory Lancman’s campaign. Litwack will serve as a referee at upcoming auctions, including one of a Far Rockaway property. Stephanie Goldstone, also a $2,000 donor to Rory, will do so the same for an Elmhurst auction.

Foreclosures have spiked again this year in Queens and, as in Brooklyn, judges are under pressure from the Office of Court Administration to expedite the resolution of backlogged cases. Judge Lancman has nearly 1,600 active cases in her docket, creating plenty of work for referees.  

Rory Lancman’s fundraising from lawyers active in the civil courts is legal but self-imposed limits would help eliminate any ethical concerns. As he told The Indypendent earlier this year, “As DA, like Cy Vance, I won’t accept contributions from lawyers with pending cases.”

As Tiffany Cabán’s campaign has shown, it’s possible to raise money from donors who don’t have a business relationship with the courthouse.

Photo: Councilmember Rory Lancman. Credit: William Alatriste for the New York City Council.

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