The Gaudy Ethicist

Photo: Joshua Lutz/Redux for New York Magazine

It’s now possible to complain to divorce attorney Raoul Felder about injustices in the legal system. He was recently elected chairman of the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, which has the power to remove judges it deems crooked. So Felder, 72, veteran of Giuliani v. Hanover, Minnelli v. Gest, and Tyson v. Givens, seems like the perfect guy to ask to dig through the matrimonial rubble of Bartha v. Bartha, with its denouement of attempted suicide via successful brownstone-icide. Dr. Nicholas Bartha was unusually unhappy with the way that the legal system had treated him, and Felder spoke to Geoffrey Gray about that.

What’s been the reaction to your new gig?
A lot of people are stunned. They have a different image of me. The divorce business is a gaudy business. So it’s a gaudy life I’ve led. But I am basically a very serious person and I work very hard. Your predecessor resigned after only a month.

What happened?
The problem is, we have confidentiality laws, so I can’t really discuss it.

Now that you have this job, do you think these judges you oversee will favor your clients?
Just the opposite. I would imagine there’s some hostility from judges. I don’t really know. What’s the term? Sum-zero?

Say you have a case and years later the judge is found guilty of misconduct. What happens to your case?
For the most part, you’re out of luck. One of the leitmotifs of the law is finality.

What’s wrong with the state’s judges?
Complaints of arrogance, complaints of rudeness towards litigants, a lack of sensitivity—those kinds of things are more pervasive than crooked activities.

Could the Bartha situation have been prevented?
It’s a sad reflection of what does happen in a divorce case. The problem is that people have to pick up on it when you see a guy is really disturbed. This fellow sent out plenty of signals, but nobody seemed to have the antennae hooked up. They say people who threaten suicide never commit suicide. That’s baloney. It never happens out of the blue.

What should you do about it?
You got to get him in professional hands. There’s nothing a lawyer can do for somebody who has suicidal ideations. When that happens, I cut them loose very quickly. Next: Exiled Sox Fans-Turned-Sportcasters Grab the Mike

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The Gaudy Ethicist