‘Kung-fu judge’ nephew gets his day in court

Slave Theater could be sold to pay judge’s ‘debts’
The Brooklyn Paper / Robin Lester

The trial in the lawsuit alleging medical malpractice in the old-folks-home death of civil court Judge John Phillips begins today.

The trial comes four years after the judge’s nephew, Samuel Boykin, first sued over Phillips’s 2008 demise at the embattled Prospect Park Residence, which Boykin says was a sham facility staffed by unlicensed nurses. The jurist and self-made millionaire suffered severe neglect in the days leading up to his death at 83, and his family’s day in court could prevent a similar fate from befalling other seniors, Boykin said.

“I’m looking forward to expressing the issues and hopefully bringing attention to others still stranded in similar circumstances,” said Boykin, who lives in Akron, Ohio and is the executor of Phillips’s estate. “I can’t bring my uncle back, but maybe we can stop the death toll.”

Boykin is seeking $40 million in damages from the tony Prospect Park Residence, where Phillips was confined for eight months leading up to his death. The facility failed to accommodate Phillips with a diabetic-friendly meal plan, prevented friends, family, and attorneys from visiting, and even housed him in an unheated room in the middle of the winter, according to Boykin and his lawyer, in statements and court documents. And management was doing it all without the required licensing, said John O’Hara, a longtime friend of Phillips’s and Boykin’s lawyer.

“Can you imagine operating cranes without a permit?”O’Hara said. “You can call yourself an FBI agent, but it’s a crime.”

Operating an assisted living facility in the state of New York without a license is a misdemeanor offense and is punishable by a civil fine of up to $1,000 per day the facility continues to operate. A 2012 inspection of Prospect Park Residence found the facility was providing services to dependent and memory-impaired patients without the proper license to do so.

Despite its prime address on Grand Army Plaza at 1 Prospect Park West, Prospect Park Residence at the time was like a prisoner-of-war camp inside, O’Hara said.

“This was a Confederate prison operating in plain sight,” he said. “It was like something out of Dickens.”

A politically independent and ambitious man, Phillips was elected civil court judge without the support of the traditional political machine. He was a well-known figure in Bedford-Stuyvesant and was known as the “kung-fu judge” because of his martial-arts prowess.

Phillips made a fortune buying up real estate in Bedford-Stuyvesant in the 1980s, a time when many in the city — even Phillips, by his own admission — were scared to walk around the neighborhood. His most notable property was the Slave Theater on Fulton Street, which he turned into a hotbed of civil-rights activity during the 1980s.

O’Hara painted a grim picture of the final years of Phillips’s life, accusing former District Attorney Charles Hynes of strong-arming Phillips into involuntary commitment when the judge attempted to unseat Hynes in 2001.

Phillips’s death was the end of a long saga that saw the former judge locked away in a series of old folks homes as court-appointed guardians looted his sizeable estate and failed to pay property taxes on the buildings he still owned.

A tax firm in Los Angeles submitted a letter in court describing the impact of lost assets and rental revenue from Phillips’s properties. According to the firm’s preliminary investigation, the estate lost between $20 million and $30 million from when the state committed Phillips to guardianship in 2001 until his death in 2008.

In 2008 a state judicial panel suspended the legal license of Emani Taylor, who served as Phillips’s guardian between 2003 and 2006, for stealing $328,000 from Phillips’s account.

Boykin is seeking $40 million based on what he says Phillips’s properties would be worth today had his guardians not mismanaged and embezzled them into nonexistence.

“My uncle’s death cost the estate millions of dollars,” Boykin said.

The lawsuit is not the only legal trouble facing Prospect Park Residence. Residents of the facility are suing its operator and its owner to stop the facility’s planned closure, which was abruptly announced in March and scheduled for June. Most of the residents of the facility have found other lodgings and some have died in the months since, including one plaintiff in the lawsuit, but nine patients remain and their families are suing to force the facility to keep providing services, arguing the residents are too frail to be moved.

Reach reporter Noah Hurowitz at nhuro‌witz@‌cnglo‌cal.com or by calling (718) 260–4505. Follow him on Twitter @noahhurowitz