County Exec’s Office Calls Cops on ABC Reporter

In a good old-fashion media-politician confrontation, County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef’s office called the police on an ABC-TV reporter and cameraman after an interview got out of hand.

Here’s the tale based on a Rockland County Sheriff’s Department incident report and an ABC news report broadcast on Friday evening under “Nursing Home Bill Controversy”

The incident started after 4 p.m. Friday with ABC reporter James Hoffer and cameraman Byran White waiting outisde the County Office Building in New City to talk to Vanderhoef about why the county filed a notice of claim seeking money from the estate of a nun, who died when an unbolted closet toppled on her in the county-run Summit Park nursing home. Rockland is seeking more than $200,000 to reimburse Medicaid for the care of Mary Murray, also known as Sister Mary Daniel at St. Zita’s Villa in Monsey.

The ABC report showed that Vanderhoef led Hoffer and White into the county office building through the back door, which is locked for security reasons. Vanderhoef responded to questions from Hoffer as they walked.

Vanderhoef said he could not discuss the nun’s death because the family has filed a lawsuit and called her death a tragedy. He also said the county’s filing of a Medicaid claim probably was automatic, but he wasn’t aware of the details.

At one point, Vanderhoef walked into this private sanctum, turning his back on Hoffer. Hoffer persisted by saying Vanderhoef had the discretion to stop the Medicaid filing, asking from the doorway, “Why are you walking away from me.” To which Vanderhoef replied, “Because I am not talking to you.”

CJ Miller, the executive’s spokeswoman, then appeared and began escorting Hoffer and cameraman out of the office. Miller said, “This is not acceptable… You will have to leave the office right now,” as she held out her arm and then closed the door. She then put her hand in front of the camera lens pointed at her.

Outside the building, according to a police report, a sheriff’s officer detained Hoffer and White in their car as they were about to drive off, based on a complaint of an unwanted person in the County Executive’s Office.

The officer was told that Vanderhoef “finished answering their (ABC News crew) questions and told them to leave when they continued to follow him.” Miller told the officer the crew “became disruptive and (James Hoffer) put a hand on her and lightly pushed her causing her to feel alarmed and threatened,” according to the police report.

The officer then went to speak with Hoffer and White. They told the police that Vanderhoef invited them inside and “upon being told to leave were doing so,” according to the police report. They also stated, “They were being pushed out; someone put their hand over the lens of the camera,” according to the police report.

When the officer went back to County Executive’s Office, Vanderhoef said he didn’t want Hoffer to return without a scheduled interview. Miller didn’t want to file any charges, but had called Hoffer’s bosses.

Hoffer and White then left and filed their report for the 6 o’clock news on Friday.

Sully can’t stop the ‘suits

Apparently, a safe landing and $5,000 isn’t enough of a miracle for some people.

Some of the passengers on Flight 1549, the one that landed in the Hudson River two weeks ago, are thinking about filing emotional distress lawsuits to get more money for their troubles, according to this story in USA Today.

The airline already has given each passenger $5,000 for their lost luggage. Five. Grand. That’s how much the TV show “What Not to Wear” gives women to replace their entire wardrobe. What are the chances that anyone on that place packed diamonds, a fur coat or rare heirloom in their suitcase?

Walking away from a plane crash alive: priceless.

(Full disclosure alert: USA Today is the flagship of Gannett, the media company that owns The Journal News/LoHud.com.)

You are cordially invited …

To attend the swearing-in ceremony for Westchester County Judge Susan Capeci at 4 p.m. Thursday in Courtroom 200 at the county courthouse in White Plains. It’s open to the public.

Capeci was elected to a full 10-year term in November. She had been appointed to the bench in April by Gov. David Paterson to fill a vacancy left by Judge Francis Nicolai, who was elected to the state Supreme Court.

Capeci was a lawyer for the Mount Vernon Water Department and a defense lawyer for more than 20 years. She is on the board of the Legal Aid Society of Westchester and was campaign manager for county Judge Susan Cacace, a former Westchester prosecutor, in 2005.

County Court judges generally preside over felony criminal cases. The annual salary for county and state judges is $136,700.

Today’s SCOTUS decisions: important stuff

With all the bizarre political news and bad economic forecasts dominating today’s headlines, a series of really important U.S. Supreme Court rulings have gotten little notice.

They include decisions on issues as varied as:

• Police stop-and-frisk measures (Arizona v. Johnson: 07-1122)
• Workplace sexual harassment protections (Crawford v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville: 06-1595)
• Pension benefits for divorcing couples (Kennedy v. Plan Administrators for Dupont Savings: 07-636)
• Disclosure responsibilities for district attorneys (Van de Kamp v. Goldstein: 07-854)
• Uranium dumping contracts (US v. Eurodif: 07-1059)

The SCOTUS blog has great summaries of the cases and links to the court’s full decisions. Check it out here.

Judge delays sentencing Rose

He didn’t want to do it, but Westchester County Judge James W. Hubert postponed sentencing a second time for convicted bribe-taker Arthur Rose of Mount Vernon today.

Rose, 49, was the purchasing agent for the Mount Vernon school district until he was accused of shaking down companies for money in exchange for school contracts. A jury last year found Rose guilty of bribe receiving, official misconduct and receiving unlawful gratuities.

Sentencing was delayed earlier, when Rose’s family fired trial lawyer Carolyn Minter and hired attorney Barry Agulnick to take the case. Hubert was set to hand down his sentence today, but Agulnick asked the judge for more time to review Rose’s file, saying Minter only recently gave him the paperwork.

“The court is loathe to adjourn sentencing on this matter,” the judge said. “(But) I’m satisfied the delay is not the product of current counsel’s tardiness.”

Barring any other unexpected delays, Rose will be sentenced on Feb. 24 at 2 p.m.

Rose was convicted of taking a $10,000 bribe from Tri-State Supply Co., which sells custodial products, after promising its owner he would steer him business with the district in 2006, which he did. He also was convicted of taking a $3,500 bribe to set up a $1.1 million no-bid contract with Ricoh Americas Corp. for digital copiers, products and services in 2005.

Both bribes were considered “donations” to Rose’s spiritual group called Upon This Rock Ministries.

Judge Kelly and the Athlete

State Supreme Court Justice William Kelly  reminisced a bit between cases on Wednesday morning.

His inspiration was Henry Villejas, who completed nearly two years in a drug rehabilitation program in lieu of jail. Kelly sentenced him to three-years probation on a low drug possession charge as part of the drug rehabilitation program DeTAP.  

Noting Villejas had a DWI charge during rehab and some relapses, Kelly strongly suggesting that  Villejas take this non-prison sentence as a second chance to remain clean and keep his life drug and crime-free. He also spoke to Villejas about his future plans, including getting licensed to cut hair.

After Villejas left the courtroom, Kelly started talking about him as an athlete during his high school years.

Kelly told lawyers and court personnel how  years ago Villejas and his son Michael met in a high school championship wrestling match – a battle of middleweights, the judge said. Villejas represented North Rockland and Kelly’s son Clarkstown.

“My son pinned him,” Kelly said with pride, but with respect for Villejas abilities on the mat. “That was quite a night.”

Kelly also said Villejas “was an outstanding baseball player, all-county shortstop,” on high school.

And then the judge went back to his criminal calendar.

And so it begins: the race for Westchester DA

We’re 22 days into 2009, and Westchester DA hopeful Dan Schorr already is gearing up to take on incumbent Janet DiFiore. He’s been holding fundraisers around White Plains, but he’s taking his campaign to commuters now:

January 22, 2009 – (White Plains, NY)  Dan Schorr, an experienced prosecutor and candidate for Westchester County District Attorney, announced today that he will begin the 2009 campaign for District Attorney with a week-long train station blitz throughout Westchester beginning Monday, January 26.
 
During the week, Schorr and his supporters will be handing out campaign literature and talking with commuters about improving safety in Westchester and his plans for restoring strong, effective management to the District Attorney’s Office.  The Dan Schorr for District Attorney campaign will be out in force during the morning commuting hours at the following train stations: White Plains (Monday), New Rochelle (Tuesday), Scarsdale (Wednesday), Mt. Kisco (Thursday), and Yonkers (Friday).
 
“I look forward to speaking with and hearing from commuters throughout Westchester about how the DA’s Office can repair its relationship with the local police, strengthen its efforts to remove dangerous criminals from our streets, and better protect crime victims, especially victims of domestic violence,” Schorr said.

Adler’s court tomorrow

State Supreme Court Justice Lester Adler will hold conferences with prosecutors and defense lawyers in two major cases on Thursday:

The first is Werner Lippe, the 67-year-old jeweler from Cortlandt accused of killing his wife, Faith, whose remains have yet to be found. The two were getting divorced. Werner ran a jewelry business on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue. Faith was a nutrition consultant for the Ossining school district. They had two children: Andrew, 14, and Stephanie, 12.

The trial, should it go to a jury, could revolve around forensic evidence and statements that Lippe made to police after he was arrested Oct. 30. I’m expecting a trial. I can’t imagine Lippe pleading guilty to anything, let alone Murder 2. Plus he hired top-notch attorney Andrew Rubin to defend him.

The other case is Meghan Wood, a 23-year-old Carmel High School graduate charged with vehicular manslaughter and drunk driving for a June crash that killed her best friend. Rubin is her lawyer as well. I’ll be surprised if this case goes before a jury; they rarely do. But after covering courts for more than a year now, I’ve learned anything is possible.