NEW YORK (Legal Newsline) – The judge who oversaw New York City’s asbestos litigation docket while it became one of the most controversial courts in the nation has reportedly been replaced.

On Monday, the New York Post reported that Justice Sherry Heitler is out as the New York City Asbestos Litigation docket’s chief judge. In her place will be Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Peter H. Moulton.

Heitler’s decision to reintroduce punitive damages in asbestos cases drew criticism from groups like the American Tort Reform Association, which named NYCAL the No. 1 Judicial Hellhole in its annual report in December.

Heitler’s punitive damages order came in response to a request from the asbestos plaintiffs firm Weitz & Luxenberg, which has since generated headlines over its employment of former state Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver.

Silver resigned from the Assembly after being indicted on charges he received millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks masked as legitimate income.

He is accused of a scheme to find asbestos plaintiffs by using his position in the state government. He referred those plaintiffs to Weitz & Luxenberg.

The complaint says Weitz & Luxenberg credited Silver with referring more than 100 asbestos clients to the firm and paid him more than $3.2 million in fees, in addition to his $120,000 salary.

The complaint alleges that a doctor referred mesothelioma patients to Silver, and that the doctor's hospital received state grants for research. Weitz & Luxenberg says it had no knowledge of the alleged scheme.

Heitler’s court is also under federal investigation over its ties to Silver, sources have told The Post.

It adds that Heitler’s term expired Dec. 31 after she turned 70 years old, which is the mandatory retirement age. A temporary order allowed her to remain on the bench.

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