NYCLU talks about Rockefeller reform

The planned changes to the state’s Rockefeller Drug Laws will be the main topic of a panel discussion by members of the New York Civil Liberties Union tonight at 7. Three panelists will talk about what programs exist now and what makes drug rehabilitation work, now that mandatory minimum sentences will be a thing of the past, giving judges more discretion in sentencing drug criminals.

The speakers will be Dr. Rudy Cypser of CURE, or Citizens United for the Rehabilitation of Errants, Westchester defense lawyer Mayo Bartlett and Robert Maccarone, New York State’s Director of Probation and Correctional Alternatives. Maccarone is the former director of the Westchester County Office of Criminal Justice.

The meeting will be at the Ethical Culture Society at 7 Saxon Wood Road in White Plains. For more information about the event and the NYCLU, click here.

Logo courtesy of the NYCLU

Teen “lawyers” compete tonight

High school students from New Rochelle and Yonkers will try to out-litigate each other tonight at a “mock trial” competition at the Westchester County Courthouse. Two teams from New Rochelle High School and one team each from Yonkers High School and Lincoln High School in Yonkers have made it to the “final four” and will argue their cases in a semi-final round starting at 5 p.m.

According to the District Attorney’s office, the trials are structured like real court trials, and students must follow the rules of evidence that apply in actual trials. Tonight’s competition is the result of six weeks of coaching by 16 assistant district attorneys from the Westchester County District Attorneys Office, faculty advisors and six judges who preside over state and county court cases.

Judge Francis Nicolai, the administrative judge for the 9th Judicial District, will preside over the final round starting at 6 p.m. Nicolai and Westchester District Attorney Janet DiFiore will then award the winners and acknowledge all of the students from New Rochelle, Yonkers, Mount Vernon and Peekskill who participated in the earlier rounds.

UPDATE: Yonkers High School won the competition.

Logo courtesy of Chatarpaul Law Offices PC, Hoboken NJ

Rate your judge on “Robe Probe”

There’s a website called Robeprobe.com, and if enough attorneys and their clients in the Lower Hudson Valley find out about this, things could get very interesting.

Basically, it’s a rating system for judges at all levels, from U.S. Supreme down to municipal judges. Even judges from other countries are listed.  Billing itself as “the world’s most trusted judge rating site” (like there are so many others), the site’s search engine asks you to choose the jurisdiction (state, county, municipal, appellate, etc.) then type in the name of the judge and give them one to 5 stars. If your judge isn’t listed, you can add him/her to the list.

I typed in a few names of judges from Westchester County. The only ones who were listed were State Supreme Court Justices Lester Adler and Richard Molea, and county Judge Barbara Zambelli. Judge Francis Nicolai, the court administrator for the 9th Judicial District, was listed, as was Court of Appeals Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman – the top judge in New York state.

No one has rated them yet, so if you’re so inclined, you know where to find them.

Logo courtesy of RobeProbe.com

No Bartlett decision on Silber-Dale case

Rockland-assigned Judge Catherine Bartlett has again delayed a decision on whether she will oversee the sexual abuse trial of fired Ramapo Police Officer Andrew Dale and Monsey businessman Zalman Silber.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because Bartlett has put off such a decision for the third time. On Monday, the acting state Supreme Court judge reset decision day for March 30.

Bartlett raised the issue of recusal last month. She told the attorneys that a woman started talking to her at a luncheon and then brought up a divorce case. It so happens, the divorce case involved Silber.

Dale and Silber are accused of performing gynocological medical exams on a woman once married to Silber. The Ramapo fired Dale over the accusations, but he’s fired a lawsuit seeking monetary damages. Silber faces similar charges of performing medical exams on women in Manhattan.

Rockland prosecutors  James Mellion and Kevin Gilleece believe Bartlett recused herself and taking it back creates potential appeal issues. They  believe another judge should be appointed.

Dale’s lawyer, David Goldstein,  and attorney William Aronwald for Silber disagree, saying the judge correctly made public the issue and can handle the case.

The case likely has added to the frosty relations between the judge and District Attorney’s Office. Not only has Bartlett tossed out 24 misdemeanor sexual charges and two official misconduct  charges against Dale in this case, she and prosecutors have clashed on legal issues – such as what’s allowable evidence for a jury to hear and what prosecutors and police should turn over to the defense.

The clashes started with the former administration of Michael Bongiorno and the current office led by Thomas Zugibe.

Judge Cohen and St. Patrick

The spirit of St. Patrick’s Day was in full force in the courtroom of Westchester County Judge Jeffrey A. Cohen today. Not only were most of the prosecutors and defense lawyers wearing green shirts or ties (one even had shamrocks on it), but the judge mentioned the Irish holiday as soon as he took the bench — 40 minutes late thanks to a conference in chambers.

“I know it’s St. Patrick’s Day,” he said, peering over his glasses. “But I don’t want you to think I was in the back ‘celebrating.'”

Cohen also couldn’t resist commenting on the emerald-green file folders tucked under the arm of one defense lawyer, who smiled sheepishly as the judge singled him out between proceedings.

“And who says I’m not observant?” Cohen joked.

What a week I missed

I leave on vacation for a few days, and news keeps on happening in the Westchester County courthouse.

We had a split verdict at the Kenneth West double murder trial: guilty of killing Josephine O’Keefe, not guilty of killing June Roberts. I’m sure there will be victim impact statements at the April 21 sentencing.

We had Scott Desimone, the son of Greenburgh fire inspector Larry Desimone, take a plea for running down an Elmsford father of 5 who was walking to work along Saw Mill River Road (Route 9A). He’ll be sentenced April 28.

We had a slew of indictments, including the guys charged with running a violent home invasion ring that left an elderly Harrison couple battered and bruised.

I always pick the wrong week to go away.

Curley’s Federal Trial Opens Monday

James Curley has experienced much success in legal matches against Ramapo for nearly two decades.

He’s been on disability leave from the police department with full pay and benefits for most of the past 19 years, winning a court case to stay hired in the late 1980s following his probationary period and thwarting town efforts to fire him or retire him.

Curley’s legal odessey continues Monday when he stands trial in U.S. District Court in White Plains on Monday morning on federal domestic violence related charges his former wife and her associates.

U.S. District Judge Stephen Robinson scheduled opening statements in Curley’s trial for 9:30 a.m. for the U.S. Attorney’s Office and Curley’s lawyers, Patrick and Michael Burke.

A grand jury indictment include charges that Curley crossed state lines from New York to New Jersey with the intent to either kill, injure or harass another person and stalk that person and place that person under surveillance.

Curley could face a disciplinary hearing after the criminal trial as town officials and ranking police officials look to fire him from the police department. A criminal conviction means automatic dismissal, though he could always file a lawsuit.

Curley has been held in federal custody since June “as a danger to the community and as a “flight risk” on orders from Robinson. The judge’s no-bail decision came after he viewed a DVD provided by federal prosecutors that showed Curley fleeing New Jersey police officers trying to arrest him, with one officer getting hurt.

New Jersey police arrested Curley on warrants based local domestic-related charges that have since been dismissed. Police found several rifles, ammunition, gun scopes, a ski mask and a bulletproof vest in the car.

The Town Board fired Curley last year after ahearing but a state judge rescinded the decision based on technical errors involving notifying Curley of the hearing. Curley, 43, is suspended without pay, which had risen to $115,174 last year.

The pending disciplinary charges involves issues with his wife and violating department policy. He also faces disciplinary charges from his arrest in New Jersey.

Curley went on disability after he injured his ankle when he fell 8 inches off a plank being used as a temporary walkway from the parking lot to the police station in 1990.

Doctors for him and the town have agreed he developed a nerve injury that could effect his ability to do police work. Curley has claimed he could have returned to work at some point in the 1990s but town officials didn’t want him back.

Bartlett Delays Decision on Silber-Dale Case

Judge Catherine Bartlett didn’t publicly disclose today whether she will remain on the Andrew Dale-Zalman Silber sexual abuse case.

But the judge asked Silber and Dale to sign letters from the defense attorneys presented to her that stating she did not have to recuse herself from overseeing the trial. Bartlett then scheduled her decision for March 16, in two weeks.

Bartlett raised the issue of recusal earlier this month. She  told prosecutors and defense lawyers that she had been speaking to a woman who all of a sudden began talking about Silber’s divorce.

Dale and Silber are accused of performing gynocological medical exams on a woman once married to Silber. Dale was fired as a Ramapo police officer over the accusations, while Silber is a Monsey businessman who faces similar charges of performing medical exams on women in Manhattan.

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

Prosecutors believe she recused herself and can’t recant without opening the door on appeal. The District Attorney’s Office already has asked for a successor judge, prosecutor James Mellion said.

Defense lawyers counter she just raised the issue of recusal and properly advised both sides of a potential conflict.

Having Silber and Dale sign the letters stating they want her on the case could mitigate issues on appeal, said David Goldstein, who represents Dale.

Mellion said he and co-prosecutor Kevin Gilleece are ready for trial and await Bartlett’s decision.

Schorr’s spring plans

 Today’s snowstorm had Westchester District Attorney candidate Dan Schorr thinking of nicer weather (and the election) this morning. In an e-mail, he announced his plans for a spring fundraiser in his bid to unseat DA Janet DiFiore.

The event is planned for March 19 at Vintage in White Plains. Minimum entry is $75. Call 914-513-3745 for more information.

Photo/graphic from www.electdanschorr.com

Snow delays closings in West trial

Apparently some jurors in the Kenneth West trial got snowed in and couldn’t make it to the Westchester County Courthouse today. Judge Barbara Zambelli adjourned the case to Wednesday (tomorrow is her calendar day), and the last-minute postponement surprised prosecutors and the defense, who were ready for closing arguments this morning. Also caught by surprise was a certain newspaper reporter who arrived at the courthouse a few minutes late, dashed up the stairs and found a locked, empty courtroom on the second floor.