Staying or Leaving Silber-Dale for Bartlett…

Judge Catherine Bartlett has scheduled a decision Monday at the County Courthouse in New City on whether she’ll remain or recuse herself from a trial accusing former Ramapo Police Officer Andrew Dale and millionaire Monsey businessman Zalman Silber of sexual abuse.

Bartlett told prosecutors and defense lawyers earlier this month that she had been speaking to a woman who all of a sudden began talking about Silber’s divorce. They are accused of performing gynocological medical exams on a woman once married to Silber.

Bartlett told the lawyers she immediately cut the unnamed woman off, but the woman created a potential conflict in the judge’s estimation.

Bartlett’s decision has not been without controversy.

The District Attorney’s Office has maintained she recused herself and reversing that decision would create appellate issues. The office has asked the court administration to name a new judge.

Defense lawyers countered that Bartlett did her duty by informing both sides of the limited conversation and they want her to remain on the case.

Bartlett originally scheduled her decision for Thursday, but told the lawyers and prosecutors to come back to her courtroom on Monday morning.

Bartlett, an appointed Court of Claims judge from Orange County, has had a volatile relationship at times with prosecutors during her tenure in Rockland. She’s has questioned the quality of their tactics, ethics, and conduct during trials and before grand juries.

In the Dale-Silber case, Bartlett tossed two official misconduct charges against Dale, contending the grand jury charges were not appropriate and lacked evidence. That decision automatically dismissed 24 misdemeanor sexual abuse charges as beyond the statute of limitations.

Dale’s lawyer, David Goldstein, filed motions to dismiss eight remaining felony counts. Silber’s lawyer, William Aronwald, contends there is no case against Silber, who also faces separate criminal charges of performing medical exams on woman in Manhattan.

A day before the grand jury indictment, Ramapo Town Board members fired Dale based after a civil service hearing, though the hearing officer who heard the evidence recommended a year’s suspension without pay. Dale has filed a multiple million dollar lawsuit in federal court against the town for the firing.

Manhattan DA Not Seeking Another Term

Manhattan Districit Attorney Robert Morganthau announced his plans to retire when his term ends in December, ending a 35-year reign as the top prosecutor for one of the country’s most prestigious law enforcement offices.

Morganthau, 89, brought many high profile prosecutions since taking office in 1975 that included international crimes, rivaling the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan for prestige.  

Like President John F. Kennedy, a contemporary who appointed him U.S. attorney in Manhattan in 1961, Morganthau came from political progressive family.

His father, Henry Morganthau Jr.  served as treasury secretary under President Franklin D. Roosevelt and was a aggressive advocate of rescuing Europeran Jews from the Nazi Holocaust during World War II. His grandfather, Henry Morganthau Sr., served as ambassador to the Ottoman Empire under President Woodrow Wilson.

Morganthau became the prototype for the character Adam Schiff in the television show “Law and Order.”

Morganthau inspired hundreds of prosecutors, including former Rockland District Attorney Michael Bongiorno, who worked for Morganthau from 1981 to 1995, serving as a deputy bureau chief.
Bongiorno, now with the state Attorney General’s Organized Crime Task Force, said his former boss was a man of integrity.

“It was an honor and privilege to work for and learn from Robert Morgenthau,” Bongiorno said. “Morgenthau’s emphsis on conducting thorough prosecutions while adhering to the highest ethical standards is an approach prosecutors should follow.”

Cold case homicide trial coming to a close

The prosecution rested yesterday in the double-murder trial of Kenneth West, accused of killing Josephine O’Keefe, a 53-year-old Pelham grandmother in 1983, and June Roberts, a 23-year-old Yonkers woman in 1986, shown in an undated photo here.

Click here to read all about the West case.

West’s attorney, Allan Focarile, put no witnesses on the stand. He will try to convince the jury that the prosecution didn’t prove its DNA-based case and that reasonable doubt demands an acquittal.

Today, the lawyers held a charge conference with Westchester County Judge Barbara Zambelli in her chambers. O’Keefe’s daughter, Sue Huppelsberg, and her brother, Steve O’Keefe, still came to the county courthouse to keep tabs on the case. Huppelsberg, who lives in Florida, has been in the courtroom every day. She’ll fly back to the Sunshine State this weekend and come back to New York on Monday. Sue is on the right in this photo; that’s her mom on the left.

The jury will hear closing arguments Monday morning and start deliberations immediately afterwards. Zambelli plans to sequester the jury if they can’t reach a verdict by the end of the day.

3rd delay in sentencing prostitute rapist

Tyrone Haywood of New Rochelle won’t be going to state prison quite yet. His new court-appointed attorney asked the judge for a few weeks to find a witness he claims will recant testimony against Haywood, who was convicted last year of raping two prostitutes, one in May 2007 and the other in January 2008.

Click here to read more about the case.

Both women testified against him at trial and a jury didn’t take long to convict him of first-degree rape and a host of other charges. He’s facing 25 years in prison on each of the rape counts.

Haywood was supposed to be sentenced today. His sentencing was postponed twice before because he booted his trial lawyer and his new public defender had to get up to speed on his case.

He’ll be back before state Supreme Court justice Lester Adler on March 19. The judge told Haywood and his lawyer that if they can’t find the woman and don’t have the right paperwork by that date, he’ll hand Haywood his prison sentence.

Plea Offers Made in Spring Valley Gang Assault

Six young men accused of gang assault earlier this month face stiff prison sentences if they plead guilty or are convicted at trial.

In what prosecutors and police described as a fight between rival gang members,  a young men was beatened, slashed and stabbed during a fight inside 150 Liberty Parkway apartment building. The victim needed 103 stitches to the face.

The fight was spurred by the victim’s friend apparently making disparaging remarks about the Bloods street gang or affiliates, leading purported Bloods to go after him and his associates with  a machete, BB-gun, pipe, brass knuckles and knives, prosecutors said.

Several of the defense attorneys tried to mitigate their clients involvement in the fight, contending there clients weren’t seen doing anything on video, watching or defending themselves.  All six gave statements to the police that prosecutors claimed implicated themselves.

Judge Catherine Barlett pulled no punches during a discussion yesterday on pleas and potential sentences for first-degree gang assault – which carries a prison term of 5 to 25 years. Those defendants with prior felony convictions would face a stiffer sentence.

Based on what the prosecution presented to her, Bartlett said, “I don’t see any of these people worthy of the minimum sentence, if true.”

Indicted were Spring Valley residents Victor Dempsey, 23, of 35 Rose Ave.; Jaieem Webb, 18, of 254 Route 59; Christopher Pettiford, 22, of 117 Bethune Blvd.; Antoine Dufrene, 22, of 12 Gesner Drive; and Anwar Flores, 18, of 47A Summit Ave.  A seventh suspect, Samir Jose Flores, 16, of 47A Summit Ave., was not in court yesterday. Jose-Flores was arrested again on Tuesday night on a felony robbery charge after a cab driver was robbed in Spring Valley.

The gang assault charge accuses all seven with acting together. Prosecutor Dominick Crispino told Bartlett that the seven men were caught on video entering and leaving the building. Other cameras inside the building caught several of them during the fight. And six men gave Spring Valley police statements.

During plea discussion between Bartlett, Crispino and defense lawyers, the judge agreed to the following plea offers:

• Dempsey – 12 years in prison as a second felony offender with five years post release supervision. He is accused of possessing the BB-gun during the fight.
• Webb – 8 years in prison on allegations of hitting the victim with a pipe. He also has a pending third-degree robbery charge in a separate case, Crispino said.
• Pettiford – 8 years, plus a violation probation charge. He had a previous conviction for second-degree assault.
• DuFrene – 8 years and is accused possessing a knife. He has previous convictions for third-degree assault and bail jumping.
• Anwar Flores – 12 years. He is accused of cutting and slashing  the victim with a machete. He is on probation for attempted burglary conviction.
• Wifong – 8 years. He is accused of possessing a knife. He has previous misdemeanor convictions.
Bartlett set a March 10 deadline for the suspects to decide whether to take the plea offers or challenge the charges at trial.

Cell Phone Calls a No-No on the Witness Stand

Sometimes, a judge’s duties go beyond rulings on legal issues and deciding objections during a trial.

Sometimes, they must enforce court decorum.

Yesterday, Ernesto Santana sat in the witness chair during a rape trial when his cell phone went off – it was on silent or vibrate.

The judge and lawyers were out of the room discussing a legal issue away from the jury .The case involves a rape charge against Rony Veras and Santana was a prosecution witness.

Santana asked the court officer if he could return the call to his wife. The court officer seems rather non-plussed and spoke to Judge William Kelly.

Kelly returned courtroom and spoke with Santana. He  told Santana he couldn’t use his phone on the witness stand and he shouldn’t even have his phone with him. Santana told the judge he needed to call his wife about picking her up or their two kids up.

Kelly, figuring Santana should be concentrating on his testimony, then took Santana’s cell phone and gave it to the court officer. The judge told Santana he could have his phone back after his testimony.

Alessandros in trouble

We’re talking BIG trouble here for the Alessandro brothers, Judge Joseph of Orange County and Judge Francis of the Bronx. The state Commission on Judicial Conduct wants both Alessandros to be kicked off the bench and has recommended as much to the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, which will have the final say on the matter.

Click here for a summary of the Alessandros’ problems.

The commission’s beef with the brothers involves a $250,000 loan to Joseph Alessandro’s cash-strapped 2003 campaign for Westchester County Court. It also involves the brothers not being completely forthright with their financial disclosures to the court’s ethics board. Click here to read more about the commission’s ruling.

So why do we care? The $250,000 helped Joe Alessandro, a Republican, win the county court seat in Westchester, which led him to run for state Supreme Court two years later. He won that seat as well, thanks to a 2005 cross-endorsement deal that tied his candidacy to — wait for it — Judge Jonathan Lippman, who was running for a state court seat as a Democrat.

Lippman, as you may know, continued to rise and this month became Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals. That means Lippman, who lives in Rye Brook, now heads the same court that must decide if Alessandro gets to keep his job. No word yet as to whether Lippman will recuse himself from the matter.

Ulster Pulls Proposed Restrictive Housing Law for Sex Offenders

Some Ulster County legislators took a page from a decision by New York State Supreme Court Justice William Kelly invalidating a Rockland law restricting where sex offenders can live.

Kelly, sitting in New City, ruled in January that the state had taken responsibility for sex offenders and that state law pre-empted local statutes on housing. Kelly wrote state law specifically empowers local probation officers to decide where sex offenders may live. The state law sets specific criteria, and no boundaries are included.

The Ulster County Legislature chairman got the message.

Last week, the chairman blocked an attempt to set a public hearing on a proposed law prohibiting registered sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of a school, church or day-care center, The Daily Freeman reported today.

The chairman said that an almost identical law adopted in Rockland County has been tossed out, the article reported

Another Rockland resident – sex offender Christopher Palma – inspired the proposed law. Legislature Minority Leader Glenn Noonan proposed the residency ban after the Rockland Social Services Department moved Palma to a Kerhonkson motel  in December because the Rockland law made it impossible for Palma to live in Rockland.

Kelly ruled on the state-pre-emption argument raised  by Rockland-based attorney David Goldstein, who represented a sex offender who was living in Monsey for years without causing problems and couldn’t find a place to live. Kelly previously ruled the county law was constitutional.

Kelly’s ruling – which is the state precedent at the moment and could impact 80 laws statewide  – is not likely to be appealed by the administration of Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef, who signed the residency law in March 2007 after the Legislature adopted it. Vanderhoef signed it even after warning with other that the law had problems and probably was not workable.

By Legislator Ed Day, R-New City, urged Vanderhoef to appeal Kelly’s decision to a higher court. Day was the leading proponent of the residency law and critic of those who opposed the law and argued it wouldn’t work. He wrote the law took a year to create and had input from various groups.

Day argued the law had been upheld previously in constitutional grounds, so it was batting .500. Noting sex offenders had found housing within the restricted area, Day also criticized the Rockland Probation Department for not establishing procedures to convey to the probationers about where they could live.

“As the county that crafted what was at the time a relatively cutting edge approached … the fact that this decision could serve as a nullification ofr 80 similar statutes across the state puts us in the unique position of higher responsibility,” Day wrote.

“I believe it is in the best interests of our citizens that we do not simply accept this one decision on its face,” Day said.

McKean’s fate now in jury’s hands

A Westchester jury is now deliberating the case of James McKean, a 41-year-old New Rochelle guy accused of trying to kidnap an 11-year-old girl at an Eastchester horse farm last summer. Click here to read more about the case.

The McKean trial ran into a few delays this week. Courts were closed for President’s Day on Monday, then first thing Tuesday morning, the fire alarm in the Westchester County Courthouse went off — again — and when everyone got back inside, Juror #12 asked to be let go, saying the trial was causing him financial hardship.

Judge Robert DiBella told the cash-strapped juror that he was sorry for the inconvenience, but that he made a sworn commitment to deliberate the case. Money problems, the judge said, does not disqualify you from jury duty, especially when you ask to be let go one day before closing arguments.

Right before closing arguments today, defense attorney Andrew Quinn stopped by and was chatting with McKean’s lawyer about … what I can only assume was lawyerly stuff. Quinn is a crack defense lawyer; I’ve personally witnessed two juries acquit his clients of all charges after different high-profile trials. One was the case of ex-Mount Kisco cop George Bubaris, found not guilty of causing the death of illegal immigrant Rene Perez; the other case of teenager Krystle Fernandez, acquitted of killing another teen girl in a knife fight in Cortlandt. If Quinn was giving him tips, you can bet they were good ones.

Whatever the jury’s decision, I’m predicting an emotional reaction. McKean’s parents have been fixtures in the courtroom, as have the girl’s family and supporters.

UPDATE: The jury split the verdict: acquitted of attempted kidnapping and unlawful imprisonment; convicted of child endangerment and trespassing. Sentencing set for May 15.

With courts closed today …

Here’s something for your viewing pleasure: Dan Schorr, the guy who’s trying to oust Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore, is now on YouTube.

He posted video from the opening of his campaign headquarters on the site, just in case, y’know, you really, really wanted to be there and couldn’t go, or if you didn’t get an invitation and were just dying to know what happened, Schorr is here to oblige.

Click here to see the video.