Prospect Park Residence owner to pay $750,000 in death of ‘kung-fu judge’

Judge John Phillips in front of the Slave Theater.
The Brooklyn Paper / Robin Lester


The embattled owner of a Park Slope assisted-living facility will pay $750,000 to the estate of a beloved Brooklyn judge, known for holding a black belt in karate, thanks to a settlement in a wrongful death lawsuit.

The suit claimed that Prospect Park Residence owner Haysha Deitsch was running a sham facility staffed by unlicensed nurses when Judge John Phillips stayed there, and that severe neglect led to his death at 83 in 2008.

The settlement is a grim victory, according to the lawyer representing Phillips’s nephew, Samuel Boykin.

“No one’s cracking open champagne bottles,” said John O’Hara, a close friend of Phillips who delivered a eulogy at the judge’s funeral.

The out-of-court settlement came a week before the scheduled start of a jury trial in which Boykin was seeking $40 million in damages. In a complaint, Boykin and O’Hara accused the facility of failing to provide Phillips with a diabetic meal plan during his eight-month stay, keeping him in an unheated room in the dead of winter, and preventing friends and family from visiting him by citing a fictional court order, all the while lacking the required license to operate an assisted-living facility.

A 2012 inspection of the facility found that Deitsch was providing services to dependent and memory-impaired patients without the proper license to do so, a crime punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 for every day a facility continues to operate.

According to the lawsuit, Deitsch claimed for years that confining Phillips was justified by a court order, but was never able to produce the order. With no assisted-living license and no court order, Deitsch was nothing more than a landlord illegally isolating an elderly, vulnerable man, O’Hara said.

The settlement closes the long, sad saga of the so-called kung-fu judge, a landlord and popular civil-court judge elected without the support of the Brooklyn Democratic machine. Phillips was famed for demonstrating martial-arts moves from the bench, where he served for 17 years. He owned property in Bedford-Stuyvesant at a time when many — including Phillips — were nervous on the neighborhood’s crime-plagued streets, and he turned his Slave Theater into a hotbed of civil-rights activity in the 1980s.

Phillips was an opponent of former District Attorney Charles Hynes, and O’Hara, another foe of Brooklyn’s erstwhile top lawman, has long accused Hynes of railroading Phillips into state care and allowing court-appointed guardians to loot his estate.

Backing up O’Hara’s claims, a Los Angeles tax firm submitted a letter in court describing the ruinous impact of lost assets and rental revenue from Phillips’s properties, which were auctioned off one by one. According to a preliminary investigation by the firm, the judge’s estate lost between $20 million and $30 million from the time Hynes committed Phillips to guardianship in 2001 until his death in 2008.

In 2008, a state panel disbarred Emani Taylor, Phillips’s guardian from 2003 to 2006, for stealing $328,000 from the judge’s estate.

O’Hara claimed Deitsch agreed to the settlement in order to avoid a trial that would have unearthed unsavory details and political connections.

“Deitsch confined Phillips because Hynes told him to, but they are never going to say that,” he said. “I never got an answer to how he was able to confine him without a court order. We got $750,000 instead.”

A lawyer for Deitsch did not return requests for comment.

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

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