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Adventures in the Law: Wrestling with Legal Problems

Norm Tabler


  • The New York City Board of Elections' General Counsel, Steven Richman, faced legal trouble for purportedly promising interns assistance in obtaining a security guard position in exchange for passing his "physical fitness assessment," which involved unconventional wrestling holds and measurements of body parts.
  • Despite the interns passing the assessments, no job materialized.
  • An investigation revealed that Steven's actions were driven by personal interests, leading to criminal charges.
  • In a plea agreement, he pleaded guilty to two counts of Official Misconduct, resulting in termination from his position.
Adventures in the Law: Wrestling with Legal Problems Khommai

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It’s not surprising that the New York City Board of Elections (BOE) has some tough legal problems to wrestle with. Nor is it unusual that the burden of wrestling with those issues would fall primarily on the broad shoulders of the BOE’s general counsel, Steven Richman. Who better to do the wrestling than the chief legal officer?

Still, observers were surprised to learn just how far Steven had gone in wrestling with the issues of his office. But you be the judge.

Steven had been general counsel of the BOE since 1999. As general counsel, he was responsible for the hiring, supervision and discipline of legal interns and other BOE staff. It is undisputed that he provided his interns with close personal attention and hands-on experience˗˗maybe a little too hands-on.

According to the New York City Department of Investigation, in the summer of 2017 Steven convinced a legal intern that he could help him land a position as a security guard at political events. All the intern had to do, Steven explained, was pass Steven’s patented “physical fitness assessment.” Naturally, this required Steven to measure the intern’s various body parts, as well as place him in a variety of wrestling holds. Fair is fair, so Steven had the intern place him in wrestling holds, as well. The assessment was performed at the BOE offices, during BOE business hours.

The assessment went so well that Steven assessed the intern over and over. Strangely, although the intern repeatedly passed the assessment, no security guard position ever materialized.

Fast forward to summer 2020. Steven persuaded another legal intern that he could assist him in landing a security guard job at political events. As before, Steven explained that he could provide such assistance only if the intern could pass Steven’s rigorous fitness evaluation, involving the measurement of intern body parts, and of course, the requisite wrestling assessment, with Steven and the intern alternately placing each other in various wrestling holds. The intern agreed to the assessment.

Steven was so dedicated to assisting the intern that the two met for the assessment at the BOE offices on a Sunday. Steven was careful to document the event with a series of photographs.

We know some of the details of that 2020 assessment because the intern, a Columbia University student, filed a civil suit over the matter. According to the intern, the assessment lasted for hours, and he was required to perform pushups with Steven lying on top of him˗˗yes, with Steven lying on top of him. At one point Steven choked the intern into unconsciousness.

Strangely, as in 2017, despite apparently scoring well on the assessment, the intern was never offered a security guard position.

In 2020 the New York City Department of Investigation (DOI) received an anonymous complaint suggesting that Steven had perhaps engaged in inappropriate activity with interns. The DOI enlisted the assistance of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office to grapple with the allegations.

Alas, the investigation revealed that in neither 2017 nor 2020 did Steven intend to assist the interns in securing a security guard position. Nor did he take any steps to that end. In the words of the DOI, his intention was “to gratify his own personal interests,” and his conduct was “outrageous, shameful, and criminal.” 

Steven was charged with two counts of Official Misconduct, a class A misdemeanor. He pleaded guilty in a plea agreement that included termination of his position with the BOE.

Asked for a comment, Steven acknowledged a “lapse of judgment.” You be the judge, what do you think?