By Paul Dalnoky
Long before the guardianship of Ruth Berk and the canonization of her attorney, Arthur Schwartz, there was a newbie East Village lawyer named Paul Dalnoky who worked, mostly, out of his rent-stabilized apartment.
Dalnoky long ago gave up on the practice of law and discovering intelligent life (save a precious few) on the New York bench. Presently, he writes and teaches in Atlantic City. He lives in a tiny, beachfront condo. There’s a comfortable Murphy bed and a pullout couch. But the apartment is so small that the couch may only be folded out when the bed is in the raised position. However, the apartment does give Dalnoky, a former New York City bike messenger, the ability to ride on the boardwalk at any time, day or night. This he lustily does. Even tonight.
Two years after representing Ruth Berk, he repped John Weisser, a San Franciscan man who was entrapped and arrested in an internet sting prosecution as he was planning his company’s holiday party. This tri-agency (FBI, Secret Service, and NYPD) prosecution was a disgrace: Weisser posed no threat to the community. The case earned Dalnoky unprecedented praise from the Second Circuit Court of Appeals along with a whopping $5,000 fee.
Weisser’s middle-aged partner was integral to his fantasy defense: that he was merely role-playing, was attracted to adults and not children, and, without the able assistance of the feds, would never have acted out his fantasies. However the partner could not afford the week’s stay at a hotel. So Dalnoky cleared out a room in his apartment, put down a mattress, and allowed him to stay with him.
Berk 1, as it came to be called, was a nuisance case. It was tried before Hon. Arlene Hahn (Atilla the Hahn), a woman so evil to tenants that the pro-landlord New York Post named this “one-woman eviction machine” one of New York’s ten worst judges. Dalnoky would later learn that she was particularly bad with tenants charged with nuisance.
In trials of nuisance cases it is expected that the landlord and its agents will testify against the tenant, however in Berk 1 three tenants testified against the Berks, and no tenants were slated to testify on their behalf.
That’s 3-0, landlord, if you’re keeping score at home.
Dalnoky made some headway impeaching the landlord’s tenant-witnesses; but he was not nearly effective enough to swing the Vegas betting line in favor the Berks. What he did manage to accomplish was to carry this relatively-simple holdover case through four long days of trial. On the fifth day, the landlord’s Chappaqua-based attorney, “Little” Lawrence Wolf, was late in arriving to court. His associate Eric Baum, the only lawyer smaller in physique than he was, blamed the late-running train.
No dice, said Hon. Hahn. You’re out of court.
Hahn, it turned out, was also hell on defaulting parties.
Dalnoky defended a motion to restore which was denied. The landlord took no appeal of the denial, and the Berks lived at 95 Christopher Street for 20 more years. As we all know, in Berk 2 they were given 18 months to move out in a dignified manner and received a tidy sum upon leaving.
Jessica had planned to live with her fancy show business friends in Los Angeles. She would live on their couches until she figured out what was next on the agenda. In an odd coincidence, when she made her entreaties to them, none of them owned a couch.
Where could Jessica live? Who owned a couch?
As of this writing, Jessica Berk is living in and loving the salt air of Atlantic City, New Jersey.