Gang talk

With courts in recess (and reporters on vacation) for the holidays, things have been a bit slow here at Completely Legal. But I found out about this event today and I’d thought I’d share ….

Andrew Grascia, an investigator in the Westchester District Attorney’s office, is giving a lunchtime talk on January 7 at Pace University School of Law called “Understanding Gang Activity in the Family Court Setting.” It’s from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the New York State Judicial Institute, 84 N. Broadway, White Plains.

Grascia is the president of the New York Gang Investigators Association and should give an interesting talk. I hope the talk includes a Q&A session. I’d like his take on the Christmas Eve barbershop shooting in Yonkers, as well as the Yonkers leg shootings.

NYC Bar Association Rates Chief Justice candidate

The New York City Bar Association just released its evaluations for candidates to succeed New York State Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye, who is retiring on Dec. 31 as head judge for the state’s highest court, Court of Appeals.

Here is the news release:

The New York City Bar announced today its ratings of candidates recommended by the New York State Commission on Judicial Nomination for appointment as Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals.  The term of current Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye will expire on December 31, 2008.

The evaluations of the seven candidates nominated by the Commission are:

• George Carpinello: Not Well Qualified
• Evan Davis: Exceptionally Well Qualified
• Steven Fisher: Well Qualified
• Theodore Jones, Jr. (from Rockland County): Well Qualified
• Jonathan Lippman: Exceptionally Well Qualified
• Eugene Pigott, Jr.: Well Qualified
• Peter Zimroth: Well Qualified

The Association’s Executive Committee extensively reviewed the background and qualifications of the candidates. Representatives of the Association’s Executive, Judiciary and State Courts of Superior Jurisdiction Committees interviewed each candidate and for all candidates, reviewed their writings, investigated their background, and interviewed judges and lawyers familiar with the candidates.

The full Executive Committee then considered whether to rate each candidate “well qualified” or “not well qualified” or “exceptionally well qualified” for the position of Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals after considering the candidate’s intellectual ability, knowledge of the law, integrity, impartiality, judicial demeanor and temperament.

In addition, in evaluating a candidate for Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals, the Executive Committee considers that the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals is also Chief Judge of the State of New York, and the oversight and administrative powers and responsibilities that accompany this position.

This three-tiered rating was adopted by the Executive Committee in May, 2007, and is being utilized for the first time for the chief judge  position.

The criteria for each rating are as follows:

• “Well Qualified”: Consistent with the term “well qualified” as it is set forth in describing the Commission’s mandate in Judiciary Law Section 63(1) and in Article 6, Section 2 of the Constitution: candidates “who by their character, temperament, professional aptitude and experience are well qualified to hold such
judicial office.”

• “Not Well Qualified”:  Candidates who may be a competent  lawyer or judge but, in the judgment of the Executive Committee, does not meet the requisite standard for “Well Qualified” in one or more of the constitutional and statutory criteria of  “character, temperament, professional aptitude and experience.”

•  “Exceptionally Well Qualified”: A candidate who is  exceptional to the degree that he or she is superior to
others who are “well qualified.”  This rating should be given as an exception and not the norm.

While the Lillo Brancato jury deliberates …

Here are two lighter moments from the defense’s closing arguments yesterday at the Bronx County Courthouse.

First, attorney Joseph Tacopina kept getting interrupted by a building safety official who repeatedly used the courthouse intercom system to warn us about a potential safety problem, then to tell us — at least twice — that there was no problem at all. “Glad to know we’re all safe,” an eye-rolling Tacopina said after the third or fourth interruption.

The second moment was a joke Tacopina used to question police testimony about statements allegedly made by Brancato, who is facing second-degree murder as an accomplice to cop-killer Steven Armento. When Brancato was first interviewed, he was in the hospital recovering from bullet wounds incurred during the Dec. 10, 2005 gunfight between Armento and off-duty NYPD Officer Daniel Enchautegui. Detectives say that Brancato admitted that he and Armento, while in a car together, planned to burglarize a house to score drugs that night.

Anyway, the joke goes like this: In a small village, a dog runs out in front of a horse-drawn cart. The horse gets startled and bucks back, upsetting the cart. The cart driver is thrown to the ground and the cart falls on the horse, who then falls on the dog.

Later, at a negligence trial against the cart driver, the prosecutor asks the first police officer at the scene, “What did driver say to you?”

“He said, ‘I’m OK,'” the officer answers.

Then the defense lawyer asks for a full description of what happened at the scene. The cop says that it was chaos. The dog was howling in pain, so the cop took his gun and shot it dead. The horse was hurt and unable to get up, so the cop shot and killed it as well.

The cop then walks over to the cart driver, who instantly exclaims, “I’m OK! I’m OK!”

We’ll see if Brancato is OK after the jury returns its verdict. Click here to read about Brancato taking the stand in his own defense.

Playing Hurt

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones raised some hackles in Big D last week when he questioned the toughness of his starting running back Marion Barber by expressing surprise that Barber didn’t play against the Pittsburgh Steelers due to a foot injury.

But it’s safe to say Assistant U.S. Attorney Rebecca  Krissoff’s bosses won’t soon be lobbing the same accusations at her. The prosecutor just wrapped up a victory in her first federal trial when Renata Kuehl of Patterson was found guilty of bank fraud. A win against the defense team of Seth Ginsberg and Charles Carnesi – the same duo that battled the federal government to a draw in the John Gotti Jr. trials – is impressive enough.

The legal muscle on the other side wasn’t Krissoff’s only obstacle. She had to prosecute through pain. She hobbled from prosecution table to podium and back, her foot encased in an orthopedic boot due to a case of Achilles tendonitis that she got after completing the Chicago Marathon in October.

Court cops collect for kids

If you’re going to the Westchester County Courthouse for any reason this week, you can help some kids with a donation of toys or warm winter wear.

The court officers are collecting unwrapped new toys for the Blythedale Children’s Hospital in Valhalla. They have a nice pile of donations stacked on a table on the first floor, which you can see as you wait in line at the metal detectors. But they can always use more.

The officers also are collecting children’s hats and gloves for the children’s center in Family Court, and have a tree decorated cutely with little mittens and woolen caps.

And while the donation won’t make your wait in the security line any shorter, but it might make you feel better after you go through it.

Cell phone of doom

A lighter moment in the courtroom of Westchester Count Judge Jeffrey Cohen today.

During a court proceeding, a cell phone rang. The ringtone was the “Darth Vader theme” from Star Wars (Dun-dun-dun, dun-da DUN, dun-da dUN) and the phone belonged to Assistant District Attorney Fred Green.

Defense lawyer Diane Webster couldn’t help but crack a smile, and the judge seemed bemused by the unexpected sound. “Your choice of ringtones …” Cohen remarked, shaking his head.

Later on today, Green was embarrassed to talk about the cell phone snafu, possibly because cell phones are not allowed to be on inside Westchester courtrooms. But sometime people, even lawyers and occasionally reporters, forget to turn them off. My cell phone rang once during a murder trial when a witness was on the stand. Boy, did I get yelled at afterwards. Never forgot to turn off the phone since.

I’m sure Green will remember to hit the off key from now on, too, but I wonder if his cell phone rings like that for all callers or just for certain people … like reporters.

Prosecution rests in “Soprano” trial

The Bronx District Attorney’s Office has made their case against “Sopranos” actor Lillo Brancato, who is on trial for murder in the death of an NYPD officer two years ago.

The question now is whether or not Brancato, who hails from Yonkers, will take the stand in his own defense. I put a call into his defense lawyer, Joseph Tacopina, but I haven’t heard back from him yet. Brancato is the alleged accomplice in the fatal shooting of the officer. The guy who actually pulled the trigger, Steven Armento, also from Yonkers, did not testify for the prosecution, as some expected.

Here’s the story on the opening of Brancato’s trial.

Psych tests for Sepe

Accused fiancee killer Robert Sepe had a court appearance today on murder charges in the beating death of Janette Carlucci.

Sepe may be going for an insanity defense. State Supreme Court Justice Richard A. Molea adjourned the case to Jan. 22, when prosecutors are expected to have the final report on the results of a psychiatric exam.

Sepe, the owner of Healthy ‘N Fit International, is accused of fatally bludgeoning his 41-year-old fiancee with a baseball bat on March 22 in the Cortlandt home they shared. State police found Sepe and his white Cadillac Escalade a few hours after the slaying on a Route 17 overpass in Binghamton, N.Y. He kept troopers at bay for five hours while holding a knife and threatening to jump.

Police grabbed Sepe before he could jump, then arrested him. The 53-year-old is being held without bail at the Westchester County jail.

Another Harrison police lawsuit

We’re working on a story here about a federal civil rights lawsuit filed by a woman alleging a Harrison police officer groped her during a traffic stop in November 2006. The woman was arrested on drug charges after the cops say they found marijuana and cocaine on her.

Her lawyer is Jonathan Lovett, who, as some of you may know, is no stranger to suing police departments. He was the defense lawyer for Harrison Officer Ralph Tancredi, whose domestic violence suit was dropped by prosecutors after his ex-girlfriend refused to testify against him.

We’ll be coming to you with the details of the latest Lovett lawsuit later today.

UPDATE: Here’s the story.

Another day, another lawyer

The two people indicted in the Mount Vernon City Hall corruption probe, former Planning Commisioner Constance “Geri” Post and businessman Wayne Charles were in court this afternoon for their third pre-trial conference since they were arraigned in March on a federal indictment that charges Post illegally steered more than $1 million in no-bid city contracts to Charles.

And the third conference in the Brieant Courthouse brought with it Charles’ third lawyer in the case. He was originally represented by Lewis Alperin, who he then replaced with high-profile attorney Gerald Lefcourt. Today, he was in court with his newest lawyer, Richard W. Levitt. 

The change in counsel won’t change the trial schedule. Charles and Post are still on for trial in late February, though it might get pushed back a week due to a civil trial Judge Kenneth Karas has scheduled.

I asked Levitt after court why Charles is now on lawyer number three in the case.

He shrugged and smiled.

“Eh,” was all he said.