Defendant Arrested Again After Leaving Rockland Courtroom

Judge Catherine Bartlett just finished listening to attorney Anthony C. Emengo make his arguments and reached for her next case when the lawyer rushed back into her courtroom this morning, yelling that his client had just been arrested.

Barlett looked up as Emango said, “They just picked him up now. They pushed me away. They are just harassing him.”

Bartlett told the attorney that she didn’t see what happened and there was nothing she could do about it anyway.

“I can’t help you,” she said, adding that Emengo could file a complaint against the Rockland District Attorney’s Office. “I assume they had probable cause.”

Emengo then  left and took the elevator from the fourth floor criminal sector to the fifth floor offices of the District Attorney’s Office in the County Courthouse in New City. He waited.

His client, Emmanuel Odigie, was charged with perjury based on false financial and personal information he filed with a state Supreme Court justice, prosecutor Gary Lee Heavner said.

The filing involved his attempt to unfreeze his bank accounts and other assets that were frozen when prosecutors charged him with underpaying security guards working at the Clarkstown garbage facility – the reason he was before Bartlett. Heavner also said Odigie had been warned that his records were not in order and should refile them. Heavner said Odigie underreported his bank accounts and other assets, as well as filed different birth certifictates.

Emengo said prosecutors had confused his client with another worker with the same name.

Odigie owns Northeast Security Guard Services and is accused of underpaying three guard by $291,573 from September 2004 until July 2008. He paid them $5,50 an hour when the state prevailing wage is $12 an hour, leading Heavner to say Odigie treated his workers, who hail from Africa,  like “indentured servants.”

Odigie was being held on $100,000 bail in the county jail on the perjury count pending a hearing Monday in Clarkstown Justice Court.

Free legal advice!

Well, this looks like something worth attending. Courtesy of Westchester County (edited for length):


Registration required by Oct. 9

Legal and financial experts will give free advice during 13 workshops on topics ranging from elder law to wills vs. trusts,  smart gifting to children and grandchildren, and age discrimination in the workplace at the 10th annual Senior Law Day in Westchester on Oct. 15.

The program will take place at the Westchester County Center in White Plains from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. and is open to seniors, adult children, caregivers and professionals who work with mature adults.

The workshops – including two sessions in Spanish – will be led by elder law attorneys, certified financial planners and professionals from agencies that serve seniors and their families.

New this year will be a workshop on “What Happens If I Can’t Manage My Own Financial Affairs,” which includes discussion of the consumer-protective changes in New York State’s new power of attorney law, which took effect Sept. 1.

The power of attorney document enables someone to act for a person who becomes incapacitated and unable to act for them themselves. It was enacted, in large part, to stop financial abuse of the elderly.  In some cases, seniors have lost most or all of  their money to unscrupulous agents.

Other workshop topics will be on “What Happens If I Can’t Make Medical Decisions,” “Estate Planning/Elder Law 101,” “Floating Your Retirement Boat: How to Keep You and Your Investments on an Even Keel,” “How Do I Pay for Long-term Care” and “Planning for the Care of a Loved One Suffering from Memory Loss, Alzheimer’s or Other Dementia.”

There will also be a workshop on “Senior Crime Busters,” which the county initiated in 2008. It is a proactive elder fraud and crime prevention program that provides tips to seniors on how to stay safe and avoid financial exploitation and other scams.

The program will also offer two workshops in Spanish.  One will focus on how to select health insurance and prescription drug plans approved by Medicare; the other, services for seniors who are victims of crime or abuse.

A continental breakfast and parking will be free.

In addition, from noon to 1 p.m., lawyers and certified financial planners will offer free, one-on-one, 15-minute consultations.  These appointments are on a first-come, first-served basis.  Pre-registration is required for the workshops and pro bono sessions by Oct. 9.  Call (914) 813-6400 to sign up.  Individuals who enroll in the pro bono sessions must also confirm their reservations on the day of the event.

Westchester divorce court shakeup

There’s another round of big changes coming to Westchester’s matrimonial courts.

Administrative Judge Alan Scheinkman tells me that he is the midst of reorganizing the court, which handles divorce cases. The court is losing one of its four judges to the Bronx, he said, leaving three to take on an overwhelming caseload.

Right now, the four matrimonial judges handle 150 to 200 cases. Each. It’s causing divorces to drag on for years and years, Scheinkman said, and that has to stop. He wants to speed up the process by eliminating unnecessary motions filed by lawyers and keeping discovery deadlines firm. Not only would this save time, he said, but would reduce the financial and emotional costs for litigants.

Scheinkman, who oversees the 9th Judicial District, which includes Westchester, Rockland, Putnam, Orange and Dutchess counties, said he would have a better idea in a week or two of how the changes would work for matrimonial judges Linda Jamieson, Bruce Tolbert and Sam Walker.

The last shake-up for the matrimonial courts was in 2006, when the state court system replaced three judges following complaints of mishandled divorce cases.

It began in the wake of a feud between Francis Nicolai, then the administrative judge of the 9th Judicial District, and special referee James Montagnino. Montagnino, a former county prosecutor and longtime court system employee, was accused by several litigants of treating them unfairly. Several female plaintiffs took particular offense at a lecture he gave at Pace Law School two years ago in which he discussed the “10583 Syndrome,” a reference to Scarsdale’s zip code. He was talking about the mentality of stay-at-home mothers in upscale communities having a sense of entitlement to huge divorce settlements from their wealthy husbands.

Montagnino insisted that the comment was taken out of context from a discussion of the distribution of assets and that he was not biased against women and treated all litigants appropriately. He questioned the timing of the investigation, saying it was in response to his own criticism of Nicolai.

Whatever the reasons, Surrogate Anthony Scarpino was named supervising judge of the divorce courts and several judges handling matrimonial cases were reassigned. The role of special referees who mediate divorces also was curtailed; they can mediate custody cases or financial cases, but not both for the same litigants.

Montagnino was transferred to the 3rd Judicial District in Albany. Nicolai stepped down as administrative judge this year and became the presiding justice of the state Supreme Court’s Appellate Term for the 9th and 10th districts.

Dale’s Lawyer Opts For Non-Jury Trial In Sex Case

Ramapo defense attorney David Goldstein decided today to have Justice Catherine Bartlett decide whether  fired Ramapo Police Officer Andrew Dale is guilty of sexual abuse.

Dale is accused of performing medical examinations of the gynecological type on the former wife of a Monsey businessman, Zalman Silber, who will be tried separately.

Dale and Silber are accused of performing exams on Silber’s former wife, Sarah,  under the pretense of insurance coverage. Silber faces similar accusations in Manhattan of giving gynecological exams to women in an office he rented.

Goldstein’s strategy in seeking a non-jury trial could be betting he’s gaining an advantage because of Bartlett’s contentuous relationship with the Rockland District Attorney’s Office.

She already has tossed 26 charges against Dale – two official misconduct counts and 24 misdemeanor sexual abuse counts. She found four felony counts each of fourth-degree aggravated sexual abuse counts and  unauthorized practice of a profession.

However, Bartlett last week denied Goldstein’s motions accusing prosecutors and Ramapo police of collusion. They claimed prosecutors used Dale’s confidential statement to police and video-tapped statement to build a criminal case. Those statements were only admissible in the disciplinary case. The hearing officer recommended a year suspension for Dale, but the Town Board voted to fire him.

Bartlett ruled Goldstein and Dale didn’t provide any evidence to support their contentions.

Sarah Silber will be the prosecution’s chief witness, along with taped recording conversations with Dale. Dale and Zalman Silber have claimed she has lied to get more money from her ex-husband during their divorce.

Opening statements by prosecutors James Meilion or Kevin Gilleece starts today, with Goldstein to follow.

Bernie Kerik: Pirro’s still on the air?

Former NYPD commish Bernie Kerik has, for the most part, ignored the coterie of reporters who have attended his appearances in federal court in White Plains. Queries are met with a polite “no comment” and the same non-plussed look that Kerik has carried since his first appearance on Nov. 9, 2007, after he was indicted on charges of public corruption, tax fraud, and lying to White House officials.

But today as his lawyers and federal prosecutors talked with a federal judge in the judge’s chambers about a separate federal grand jury investigation, Kerik ambled over to the rail between the defense table and the gallery rows and struck up a conversation with me that went from weather, to terrorism, to Jeanine Pirro’s TV show, “Judge Jeanine Pirro.”

Talking about the case of  Najibullah Zazi, the Afghan immigrant accused of being an al-Qaida operative who plotted to carry out terrorist attacks in New York City, Kerik wondered if al-Qaida might not be aping the tactics of the notorious Cali drug cartel. Kerik said the Cali cartel used to send their hit squad operatives in teams where each team would have no idea of the others’ existence or the mission until until their overseas handler told them to meet up. Kerik said if Zazi had been successful in carrying out any attacks the effect would be greater than 9/11 regardless of whether the attacks approached the scale of  9/11.

“It would shut us down,” he said.

News of the federal investigation of Kerik broke when Jeanine Pirro, the former Westchester district attorney, announced ahead of a news story that she was under investigation for allegedly conspiring with Kerik to illegally bug her husband Albert Pirro Jr.’s boat. Jeanine Pirro suspected her husband of carrying on an extramarital affair on the boat. Neither she nor Kerik were ever charged in connection with that incident.

But Kerik apparently has not been keeping tabs on his alleged co-conspirator.

“Is her show still on?” he asked when Pirro’s name was mentioned.

Yes, it is, Commissioner. Channel 5, 4 p.m., Monday thru Friday.

Westchester courthouse to get $1M family center

This just in from U.S. Rep Nita Lowey … a $1 million federal grant for the county courthouse:

WASHINGTON — Congresswoman Nita Lowey (D-Westchester/Rockland) today announced the Westchester County Office for Women (OFW) will receive a $1 million federal grant to establish a Family Justice Center at the White Plains Court Complex.

“The Westchester County OFW has a proven track record of providing critical assistance to victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking,” said Lowey.  “I am thrilled this grant will enable OFW to continue and expand its important work.”

Lowey assisted the Westchester County OFW’s grant application to the U.S. Department of Justice by sending a letter of support in March 2009.

In its first 10 years of existence, the OFW has served more than 8,000 women.  Additionally, 300 law students have been trained to assist women in need of assistance.

The $1 million grant will enable Westchester County to establish a Family Justice Center (FJC) at the White Plains Court Complex to expand and enhance the work of the program and provide training for police officers, prosecutors, the judiciary, advocates, and service providers.

Additionally, the Westchester County OFW will install an automated victim notification of protective orders (VNPO) system to enable victims to access the status of an order of protection 24 hours a day.  These important services will be available to the entire Westchester population of nearly 1 million people.

Castro’s exit from the DA’s race, stage right?

The race for Westchester County District Attorney just got a little more interesting, at least politically.

My colleague, Jon Bandler (who has been doing the heavy lifting on the DA race while I chase killers, thugs and crooks) wrote a great story from a tip I got about Castro’s maneuvering toward a judgeship to escape another election night defeat. Click here to read the story.

Our columnist, Phil Reisman, has an amusing take on the situation. Click here to read his thoughts on the matter.

Inherit the Heat

Justice was super toasty before State Supreme Court Justice Lester Adler. His Westchester County courtroom had no air conditioning, and everyone was hot and bothered. Women fanned themselves, men mopped their foreheads and grumbling was all around.

Adler came in and apologized for the temperature, saying “the powers that be” were aware of the problem. He told the lawyers to feel free to take off their jackets — reminding me of the classic film “Inherit the Wind” where Spencer Tracy and Fredric March shed their jackets in the sweltering courtroom.

Adler decided to lead by example, and took the bench without a jacket OR his robe. Assistant District Attorney Steven Vandervelden slipped off his jacket during a break in the proceedings, but most of the lawyers didn’t follow suit. Once outside, though, the lawyers whipped off the jackets and revealed their soaked shirts.

The defendants, with their short sleeved shirts, seemed a lot cooler.

The judge’s warning

During former NYPD commish Bernard Kerik’s pre-trial conference today, federal Judge Stephen C. Robinson issued what for him has become the standard warning to lawyers about to go before a jury in his courtroom.

Robinson noted in federal prosecutors’ and defense lawyers’ filings leading up to the trial skedded to start Oct. 13 “there tends to be an edge in some of the writing.”

“This is going to be a hotly contested trial, I’m sure,” he said.

That led Robinson to tell defense lawyer Barry Berke and prosecutors Michael Bosworth and Elliott Jacobson to keep things calm and cordial in front of the jury – or else.

The judge gave them his three-step curative for unruly behavior by lawyers. First, he said, he warns them out of ear shot of the jury. Second, he warns them  “with a rising level of anger.” Then there’s the final step, what amounts to the judicial equivalent of a public flogging.

“I’m going to call you out in front of the jury,” he said.

Robinson’s not fooling around about this stuff. It all stems from the first trial the judge oversaw after becoming a federal judge in late 2003. In December that year, while Robinson was still getting used to the fit of the new black robe, he was assigned the criminal trial of  lawyer Donald Roth and private investigator David St. John, accused of witness tampering. The trial was a raucous two-month affair with Robinson engaging in what seemed like almost daily battles with defense lawyers Bill  Aronwald and Larry Hochheiser, two veteran bulldog attorneys who used to be prosecutors. Ever since that case – Roth and St. John were convicted – Robinson has laid down the law to attorneys appearing for trial before him. He makes it clear that he’s the boss and that the jury will be on his side in any conflict with the attorneys.

“My juries like me,” he said today.