Judge McGowan, Accused of Bias in Favor of another Judge In Queens Divorce Case, Recuses Herself

“biased” rulings against her.

Judge McGowan’s signed order dated October 19, 2020, recusing herself 


New York State Supreme Court Judge Margaret Parisi-McGowan recused herself from a contentious divorce case where the defendant accuses her of bias in favor of her husband who is also a judge, Monday. 


The defendant, Dr. Siranush Cholakian, accused Judge McGowan of pressuring her to drop a criminal complaint against her husband, federal immigration judge Frederic Leeds. He’d allegedly broken her arm in a domestic violence incident. Dr. Cholakian said after she refused to drop the charges McGowan made a series of “biased” rulings against her. (Dr. Cholakian believes the pressure from the judge might have even influenced the judge in a later criminal proceeding against her husband to acquit him after he claimed he’d acted in self defense when he pushed his wife and broke her arm). 


After Judge Leeds left the marital home and filed for divorce on Jan. 30, 2018 after nine years of marriage, Dr. Cholakian objected to him having overnight visits with their adopted twin daughters–they are now eight years old–contending that he had anger control issues, given the alleged domestic abuse incident. On June 28, 2018, Judge McGowan ordered the couple to see a neuropsychologist to determine whether Leeds was fit to have overnight visits. 


Yet, on the very same day she issued the order, Judge McGowan granted overnight visits to Judge Leeds. “I was under the impression that the neuro/psych tests would be conducted before the Court issued its access ruling. Otherwise what would be the point of the tests?” a lawyer for Dr. Cholakian, Jeffrey Lebowitz, protested in an e-mail message to McGowan dated June 29, 2018.


Dr. Cholakian contends McGowan “endangered” the children’s welfare and safety. After Judge Leeds’ September 7, 2018 evaluation, the neuropsychologist, Dr. David Layman, concluded in his report, “The examinee will profit from cognitive-behavioral therapy that should help him increase his awareness and management of frustrations, anxieties, upsets, anger…” Even after Dr. Layman’s report, Judge McGowan didn’t reverse her order granting overnight visits. Two years after the report Judge Leeds has yet to get the recommended therapy. 


Black Star News has published several articles about Dr. Cholakian’s case. Some of the articles were deleted from Black Star News’s website, and the media company reported the incident to the FBI. 


Max Di Fabio, another lawyer for Dr. Cholakian at the time she claims Judge McGowan was pressuring her to drop the criminal charges was so alarmed by Judge McGowan’s conduct that he prepared a document dated July 13, 2019, memorializing his concern. In the document addressed to Dr. Cholakian,  and signed by both of them, Di Fabio wrote, in part, that McGowan “voiced her displeasure at you having filed the criminal complaint more than one year after the incident and immediately or attendant to the filing of your divorce action. She requested that I ask you to withdraw the complaint because, in her opinion, you only filed the complaint to destroy your husband’s career. I explained to the Judge that I would take no such action, and while I understood that the Court did not look favorably on your filing the complaint, nonetheless your claim that you are the victim of domestic violence had to be respected and the decision as to whether to withdraw the complaint is entirely yours and yours alone to make.” 


Dr. Cholakian had previously filed a motion on two occasions for Judge McGowan to recuse herself, but each time she declined. 


Dr. Cholakian accuses Judge McGowan of ultimately pressuring her into accepting a settlement. Judge Leeds was granted full sole custody and he also gets to decide on all important matters, including the children’s education and medical and dental care. What’s more, Judge Leeds was granted a five-year stay-away order of protection against Dr. Cholakian.


“I was the one whose arm was broken and he’s the one who gets an order of protection. This was done without a trial or any proceeding,” Dr. Cholakian said, in an earlier article. “Only in Judge McGowan’s court where everything is upside down.”


The case’s caption is “Frederic G. Leeds, plaintiff against Siranush Cholakian, defendant. Index No: 713168-2020 (formerly 767-2018).”


The couple was to appear before Judge McGowan in court today to hear a motion and cross-motion. The hearing was cancelled after Judge McGowan issued an order dated October 19, 2020 stating: “The undersigned is hereby recusing herself from the above action to avoid the appearance of impartiality. This matter and the pending motion defendant’s counsel to be relieved and a motion for contempt is respectfully referred to the Administrative Judge for re-assignment.” 


Maureen Heitner, a court clerk, confirmed that McGowan had recused herself in an e-mail message to Black Star News on Monday stating: “This morning’s appearance was cancelled as the judge assigned recused herself.” Heitner didn’t respond to a message from Black Star News inquiring about when a new judge might be assigned on the case.


Reacting to McGowan’s recusal, Dr. Cholakian on Monday issued the following statement: “When I read that Judge Margaret Parisi-McGowan recused herself from my case after almost three years, I was elated! As the order signed by her says, she removed herself ‘in order to avoid the appearance of impartiality.’ For me, this is an admission of her guilt. It means that I have a chance of getting assigned to a fair judge because from the first day this judge came into my life, it has been decimated and put on hold. My brother and I are both doctors, and the lives of my whole family have been upended. I could not practice, my children and I are anxious and I was always working to fight random, biased decisions made by Judge Parisi-MgGowan. She was working against me. Today, I feel relieved. Today, I feel like a little bit of justice was served.  My family and I see this as a green light for our lives and our children to simply move on. 


I know this is not over yet, but my family who assisted me through all of this, can breathe a little easier and we all look forward to the next steps.  Those next steps include following up on the complaints that I and others have filed against the judge. Indeed there are other litigants and attorneys have witnessed a litany of ethics violations and inappropriate behavior on the bench that seems to be indicative of how this judge manages her courtroom proceedings. We are going to put an end to that.”


Irene Touhey, a pediatric nurse and domestic violence victim whose divorce case was presided over by Judge McGowan said: “Did Judge Parisi-McGowan actually do the right thing today and finally recuse herself,”  from the case? “I still find this all difficult to believe, especially coming from a woman who exhibits such a God complex!”

In a statement, she said: “Not only was she biased, but she violated the Address Confidentiality Program and shared my address. She allowed my son to be taken care of by people that I had Orders of Protection against. Because of her, my son was stopped from the early intervention program and could not receive the medical care he needed. She created chaos, stress and put needless financial pressure on me.”
Black Star News previously covered the case of another medical doctor, Robby Mahadeo, who also accused Judge McGowan and filed a complaint against her with the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct and also wrote a letter to Gov. Andrew Cuomo complaining about the judge’s conduct. 


Readers if you have any well-documented case of biased rulings by any judge please contact the author at [email protected] 

You can also follow the author on Twitter @allimadi 

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