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Civil Court, City of New York,


L & T Index No. 805364/18

Decided: May 08, 2020

New York City Housing Authority, Blondine Mathews, Esq., Attorneys for Petitioner, 90 Church Street, New York, NY 10007 Joseph Jackson, Respondent

 Procedural History

This licensee holdover proceeding commenced in May 2018.

In September 2018, petitioner filed a motion for summary judgment seeking to obtain a judgment of possession and a warrant of eviction. The motion was ultimately withdrawn in December 2018.

On January 8, 2019, petitioner obtained a final judgment of possession with a warrant of eviction to issue forthwith.

Thereafter, petitioner requested a warrant of eviction from the warrant clerk. On or about February 15, 2019, the warrant was rejected by the warrant clerk because the petition was missing necessary information.

On or about March 18, 2019, petitioner requested another warrant of eviction from the warrant clerk. The warrant clerk, in review of the file, noticed that sometime between February 15, 2019 and March 18, 2019, the original petition in the file was altered. The warrant clerk noticed that new information was handwritten into the document, so she notified the Court.

The Court reviewed the file. The September 2018 motion for summary judgement includes a true copy of the petition and notice of petition as it was filed in May 2018. The motion papers are part of the court file. The true copies of the petition and notice of petition submitted as part of the motion are missing the required information in the petition. In the “original” petition filed with the Court, the information is filled in with a similar ink.

The Court, sua sponte, restored the case for a hearing to determine how the original petition was altered and whether the imposition of sanctions is appropriate under the circumstances. The Court directed that someone with knowledge of the situation appear on the hearing date. The Order further stated that failure to provide a witness with knowledge of the situation may be deemed a violation of a court order and may be subject to appropriate penalties. Tampering with public records in a court file is a felony under the New York Penal Law § 175.25 and it is a clear violation of court rules that may be subject to sanctions.

Hearing February 5, 2020

The hearing was held on February 5, 2020 at 2:15 PM. Petitioner appeared by counsel. The manager, Wendy Anderson, and the Housing Assistant, Jamie Hacker, appeared. The witnesses were sworn in. Respondent did not appear.

Ms. Anderson testified that she asked Ms. Hacker about this situation. Ms. Anderson did not have any relevant testimony to this inquiry.

Ms. Hacker testified that she is familiar with the case.

Ms. Hacker was asked if she was familiar with the motion for summary judgment that was filed by the petitioner. She examined the papers attached to the motion and read the part of the original petition. The copy of the petition attached to the motion is a true copy of the petition as was filed with the court. The petition now in the file is clearly different from the petition that was filed with the court.

Ms. Hacker testified that when petitioner was unable to obtain the warrant of eviction, she asked one of the attorneys what to do. She alleged that the attorney explained that the petition was missing “all rooms” and the “5th Floor” in the description of the premises and that this information is necessary to obtain a warrant of eviction. The witness testified that she proceeded to enter the missing data. She added the missing information to the petition in the presence of an attorney. Ms. Hacker claimed that she does not remember who was the attorney that she consulted on the day that she made the changes to the petition but her testimony indicated that this happened while they were in the courthouse.

Ms. Hacker admitted that she added the missing information on the petition by writing onto the document with a writing instrument of comparable hue. The petition, as it appears now, is not the same document that was filed with the court or served upon the respondent.


Adding information to any pleading without leave of court is problematic on numerous levels and simply inappropriate. Foremost, adding information to a document that has been signed and notarized, effectively cancels the notarization and signature. Secondly, adding information to a petition that has already been filed and served upon the respondent, can create an improper and unjust outcome. The petition was notarized on April 13, 2018 and altered sometime between February 20th, 2019 and March 12, 2019. Tampering with a public record, such as filed pleadings can create uncertainties that even the Penal Law addresses.

Pursuant to New York Penal Law, § 175.25:

A person is guilty of tampering with public records in the first degree when, knowing that he does not have the authority of anyone entitled to grant it, and with intent to defraud, he knowingly removes, mutilates, destroys, conceals, makes a false entry in or falsely alters any record or other written instrument filed with, deposited in, or otherwise constituting a record of a public office or public servant.

Tampering with public records is a class D felony in the first degree.

The events surrounding the altering of the petition show disregard for court protocol and are problematic as it was alleged that is was done under the guidance of petitioner's attorney. The Court hopes that petitioner's attorneys know that amendments to pleadings can be addressed to the court and that any alterations of court documents are inappropriate and illegal. The testimony did not implicate an attorney but instead it revealed poor communication or supervision of the “legal” work done by the Housing Assistants on behalf of the petitioner.

CPLR Rule 3025 provides that a party, on notice to the other side, may seek leave to correct its pleading. Motions to amend the pleadings are common and generally not considered to be complex litigation. Such motions are routinely granted. The act of petitioner's agent, employee and attorney is a deceptive action, shows lack of understanding the basic rules and shows disrespect for the judicial system. Ms. Hacker's testimony that she entered the missing data without supervision lacks credibility. The exact language and location of the missing data was not known to Ms. Hacker thus the reason why she sought advice. To the extent that the data was precisely and accurately entered, the Court is constrained to find that an attorney was involved since Ms. Hacker testified that she did not know why the warrant was rejected.

Moreover, the petition is a verified pleading pursuant to CPLR § 3020(d)(2) and sworn to before a notary public. The signature of the person making the notarized statement applies to the document (here the petition) as it looked at the time it was signed and notarized. The alteration of a notarized document effectively cancels the verification and the sworn to provision acknowledged before the notary. The verification of the altered petition here is no longer valid.

22 NYCRR § 130-1.1a governs the signing of papers

(a) Signature. Every pleading, written motion, and other paper, served on another party or filed or submitted to the court shall be signed by an attorney, or by a party if the party is not represented by an attorney, with the name of the attorney or party clearly printed or typed directly below the signature. Absent good cause shown, the court shall strike any unsigned paper if the omission of the signature is not corrected promptly after being called to the attention of the attorney or party.

Based on the above analysis, the petition in this case is not properly signed and verified. As such, this matter must be dismissed.

The Court is further troubled by the behavior exhibited here. What is the remedy that is appropriate under these circumstances? Sanctions pursuant to Rule 130 are a possible remedy. The witness testified that she asked an unnamed attorney about what to do. Her testimony gives the impression that the document was altered while she was near the attorney or in the same room as the attorney. The Court, however, can only speculate since the witness claims she did not remember who she spoke to and her testimony was vague. The testimony can only be construed to mean that Ms. Hacker was acting under the direction of one of the attorneys for the petitioner. See, PDG Psychological, P.C. v. State Farm Ins. Co. 9 Misc 3d 172 (Queens Civ. Ct. 2005) After a hearing to determine what sanctions are appropriate, the Court imposed sanctions in the amount of $34,000 for submitting altered documents to the Court. “The actions of the attorney “must be held up for opprobrium and not tolerated by the courts.” Supra at 3

The Court finds that even if Ms. Hacker did not remember who she spoke to, she consulted an attorney from the Landlord-Tenant Division of NYCHA's Law Department. When she described, that she entered the missing data, and knew the precise location, the conclusion that an attorney was supervising or overseeing the action is reasonable. The witness should be provided with proper training on how to handle court documents.

It is ordered that pursuant to 22 NYCRR § 130, sanctions are imposed on New York City Housing Authority, Law Department, Landlord and Tenant Division in the amount of $1,000.00, payable to the Lawyers' Fund for Client Protection. A judgment shall be entered in accordance with 22 NYCRR 130.1.2 against New York City Housing Authority, Law Department, Landlord and Tenant Division in that amount and pursuant to COVID19 pandemic protocol regarding the entry of final judgment.

The Court is compelled to dismiss the petition for the reasons stated above.

This constitutes the Decision/Order of the Court.

The Decision/Order will be mailed to both sides.

Enedina Pilar Sanchez, J.

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