American Bar Association calls for reforms to death penalty litigation

This just in from the ABA. What do you think about this?

House Testimony Lists Three Top Priorities for Congress and Administration

A full copy of the testimony is posted HERE

Emphasizing that “we know with certainty that defendants have been, and will be, wrongfully convicted of capital crimes,” and that “states have failed to ensure that capital defendants are provided with competent legal representation and fair trials,” the American Bar Association called for reforms of the federal capital litigation system.

In yesterday’s testimony before the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, the ABA reinforced that “a dedicated, institutionalized federal commitment to effective capital representation is more important than ever,” and emphasized the importance of “all assurances of effective and fully funded legal representation, appropriate judicial review  and necessary procedures to protect the innocent.”

The testimony was given by ABA Death Penalty Moratorium Project Committee Chair Steven F. Hanlon. In his statement, Hanlon cited three broad reforms for Congress and the administration to quickly undertake:

  • Suspend all federal executions pending a thorough data collection and analysis of racial and geographic disparities and the adequacy of legal representation in the death penalty system;
  • Create an institutionalized federal commitment to fund defender organizations that provide state trial and post-conviction representation and are independent of the judiciary in every capital jurisdiction; and
  • Amend the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 so that prisoners have better access to federal court review, eliminate the requirement of federal courts to defer to state court decisions, and eliminate or revise the USA PATRIOT Act amendments to restore the appropriate role of federal courts in the opt-in certification process.

Court officer toy drive

It’s that time of year again … and the New York State court officers in the Westchester County Courthouse are collecting toys for needy tots for the holiday season.

The officers are asking not only for toys, but also for child-size hats, scarves, gloves and mittens. You can stop by the courthouse at 111 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. in White Plains anytime from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Rockland Grand Jury Indicts in Gym Teacher’s Murder

A Rockland grand jury today indicted Eric Lau, 32, with two counts of second-degree murder and two counts of first-degree burglary.

He’s accuse of the brutal murder of Jami Erlich on Nov. 29 inside her condo in Valley Cottage. She died from being stabbed and bludgeoned, according to the Rockland Medical Examiner’s Office.

Lau, whom Erlich’s friends said was obssessed with the gym teacher, lived next door to her at Lake Road Condominiums. For more, click.

Rockland Family Treatment Court Graduation

The Rockland County Family Treatment Court will hold its 15th graduation Wednesday at the ceremonial courtroom off the fourth floor in the older section of the Rockland Courthouse in New City.

The 10:30 a.m. graduation is for defendants who have completed treatment after being in the position of losing their children because of substance abuse and other issues.  The program  demands that parents enter drug rehabilitation, get tested regularly, take parenting classes and receive counseling for their addiction. If they complete the three-phase program, which can last up to 18 months, their children will be allowed to live with them.

The scheduled keynote speaker for Wednesday’s graduation is Assemblywoman Ellen Jaffee, D-Suffern.

Nicholson Taking A Plea in Ponzi Case

Accused Ponzi schemer James Nicholson is taking the same road as New City accountant David Friehling – a guilty plea in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.

Nicholson, 42,  is accused of scamming $160 million from more than 400 investors through his hedge funds. He was arrested in February and has agreed to plead guilty to federal charges onFriday, according to a legal document filed in federal court.

Nicholson, who grew up in Haverstraw and lived in a multi-million-dollar mansion in Saddle River, N.J., has  been charged in a four-count federal indictment with one count each of securities fraud, investment advisor fraud, mail fraud, and structuring. Details concerning his guilty plea won’t be available until he appears in U.S. District Court on Friday. His attorney didn’t return a call seeking comment.

Nicholson, a father of three young sons who had lived in Stony Point, is accused of soliciting millions of dollars from investors through deceit, hyping the value of his hedge funds and using their money for himself.  Many of his investors – including friends and family – have said they invested their life-savings, college funds, trust funds and retirement funds in the Ponzi scheme orchestrated by the smooth-talking Nicholson, who was known to swear on his children that his clients would make money and their investments were safe.

Friehling, 49, of New City didn’t run an investment portfolio. He was an accountant who was paid close to $15,000 a month to audit the financial books of Bernard Madoff. Friehling’s late father-in-law had been friends with Madoff.

Early last month, Friehling  took a plea last month nine counts of  security fraud, investor advisory fruad and other charges for falsely certifying that Madoff’s financial statements were valid for 17 years. Friehling never condicted an independent audit as required, thus facilitating the cover up of Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. He’s scheduled for sentencing in January, but that could be adjourned since he is cooperating with federal officials.

Nicholson faces a maximum of 65 years in prison if convicted of all the charges, though he could receive far less under sentencing guidelines. He also faces fines topping $6 million. The indictment also seeks to seize more than $150 million in assets and five properties from Nicholson, who ran investment offices in Pearl River and midtown Manhattan.

While hundreds of investors lost hundreds of thousands of dollars, Nicholson invested in an airplane, and bought  a $27 million oceanfront house in Southampton, a $4.75 million condo in Palm Beach, Fla., an $8.5 million cono in Manhattan and rented luxury business offices in Pearl River and Manhattan.

The real “death panel”

tjndc5-5b4d814pxie11dks5eo0_layoutWith the trial for alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and others accused in the terror attacks being held in New York City, the unenviable task of defending him will go to one of about 20 veteran defense lawyers experienced in death penalty and other complicated federal cases. These lawyers are on what some call “the death list.”

Click here to read more about this story.

Photo from The Associated Press, 2003

Honors and kudos for Westchester program for kids

The National Children’s Alliance (NCA), a professional membership organization dedicated to helping local communities respond to allegations of child abuse, has awarded accreditation to The Children’s Advocacy Center (CAC), a program of the Westchester Institute for Human Development (WIHD).

The NCA works side-by-side with programs and professionals throughout the Country to minimize trauma for abused children, break the cycle of abuse, and enhance prosecutors’ abilities to charge perpetrators in both the criminal and family courts.

Westchester’s CAC is one of only 22 programs in the 62 counties of New York State which has earned NCA accreditation.  Westchester’s CAC offers child victims of physical and sexual abuse the opportunity to receive all necessary medical, emotional, and victim advocacy services at a single child friendly location.  This model allows for coordinated investigations by law enforcement and Child Protective Services and ensures that children are not further victimized by systems intended to protect them.

To obtain accreditation Westchester’s CAC demonstrated a multi-disciplinary response to child abuse as well as the provision of medical, mental health and victim advocacy services in a culturally competent manner.  The CAC also met the criteria of conducting sound forensic interviews of children, holding meaningful interdisciplinary case reviews, having organizational support and the ability to track cases.  Accreditation is subject to review every five years.

Westchester County’s formation of an approved multi-disciplinary investigative team (MDT) was an essential component in the CAC’s receipt of NCA accreditation.  In addition to the CAC, the MDT’s partner agencies work in cooperation to minimize trauma to abused children.  The MDT is comprised of the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office, the Westchester County Attorney’s Office, the Westchester County Department of Social Services, the local investigating police agency and several victim advocacy groups and mental health providers.

Gotti jury deadlocked again

tjndc5-5gqvc5k5b8g7cp6bhoz_thumbnailIt’s official: there’s another hung jury in the case of reputed mobster “Junior” Gotti. Click here to read more about the story.

This makes 4 deadlocked juries. Four. It just begs questions: How many more times will be be tried? How many more times will the same witnesses have to take the stand? I’m not advocating that he be let go, but at what point does the U.S. Attorney’s office give up trying Gotti with the same evidence?

What do you think the feds should do?

Photo: John Gotti Jr. leaving the federal courthouse in White Plains in 2007