Lippman on Top of the Roc

tjndc5-5nzg18v3eqffndcf3wu_layoutChief Judge Jonathan Lippman, the head of the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, will be the guest speaker at a New Rochelle Bar Association dinner on Monday, April 12.

The dinner will be at 6 p.m. at the Top of the Roc on Memorial Highway in New Rochelle. New York State Court of Appeals Judges Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick and Theodore T. Jones also will be guests at the dinner.

If you want to go, pay $45 to the New Ro Bar by April 7.

Maybe rum punch, too?

Acting state Supreme Court Justice Richard A. Molea had a fantastic suggestion for beating the heat in his courtroom today, even if he was only kidding. I’m not talking about beating the heat of criminal prosecution here, but about it being 81 degrees (!) in his third-floor courtroom this morning.

“We’re going to serve pina coladas,” Molea said, causing a few lawyers to chuckle. But I thought … frozen drinks certainly would lubricate the wheels of justice, wouldn’t it? It would give new meaning to “passing the bar.”  And it certainly would make those long court calendar days a much more pleasant experience.

While it was roasting in the courtroom, there was no fire, even though dozens of members of the Yonkers Fire Department were present, They came en mass to stare down Rafael Roldan, who is charged with setting a revenge fire in a multi-family house that killed Yonkers firefighter Patrick Joyce. Roldan, 33, faces a six-count felony indictment that includes second-degree murder, second-degree arson, first-degree assault, second-degree burglary and second-degree criminal mischief.

Roldan is due back in court April 22. And that’s no joking matter.

Village judge in trouble over traffic tickets

An Ossining village justice faces admonishment by the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct for delaying traffic cases.

Village Justice Raymond R. Barlaam, on the Ossining bench since 1983, failed “to dispose of judicial matters promptly, efficiently and fairly” by scheduling traffic cases solely on the availability of police officers to appear in court between 2003 and 2008, according to a commission “determination” dated March 15.

Click here to read the complete story my my colleague Leslie Korngold.

Or click here to read the details from the Commission on Judicial Conduct

Top-ranked law firm opens White Plains office

Harris Beach, a law firm with offices all over New York state, is opening a second Westchester office in White Plains. They already have an office in Yonkers.

I’ll let them tell you about it in their own words:

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“The law firm Harris Beach PLLC has expanded its state-wide practice with the opening of a White Plains office and the addition of attorneys Darius P. Chafizadeh as partner and Kristen Kelley Wilson as senior counsel to that office at 445 Hamilton Avenue. They will provide clients in the area with access to the full-service resources of Harris Beach, which now has 10 offices in New York state and one in Newark, New Jersey.

“James A. Spitz, Jr., Harris Beach CEO, said: “The White Plains office meets our strategic initiative to provide clients in this geographic area with efficient access to the state-wide resources of Harris Beach. It also meets our objective to expand our New York State municipal law, public finance, and commercial litigation practices in the region. We welcome our new colleagues Darius Chafizadeh and Kristen Kelley Wilson. They are well-respected in Westchester and surrounding counties.”

“Darius Chafizadeh represents both private and public sector clients, has tried numerous civil and criminal cases to verdict in both state and federal courts and has argued countless cases before state and federal appellate courts. He represents municipalities in administrative proceedings, SEQRA proceedings, Article 78 proceedings, civil rights matters, tort matters, and other civil litigation matters. He also represents municipalities in claims brought under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 by religious property owners and the United States Department of Justice. Mr. Chafizadeh also serves as counsel to public utilities. Mr. Chafizadeh began his legal career in the Bronx County District Attorney’s Office where he served for three years as an assistant district attorney in the Felony Trial Bureau. He received his JD from Touro College, Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center and degrees from Fordham University and Providence College.

“Kristen Kelley Wilson represents municipal clients in state and federal litigation focusing on Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, land use, environmental, and civil rights matters. She also represents corporate clients on contractual, property, and business litigation matters. Ms. Wilson received her JD and Environmental Law Certificate from Pace University School of Law and undergraduate degree from the College of the Holy Cross.

“Harris Beach has 200 lawyers and is one of the country’s Top 250 law firms as ranked by the National Law Journal and has offices throughout New York state in Albany, Buffalo, Ithaca, New York City, Niagara Falls, Rochester, Saratoga Springs, Syracuse, and Yonkers, as well as Newark, New Jersey. The White Plains office at 445 Hamilton Avenue complements the Yonkers Harris Beach presence in Westchester County and gives the firm a platform to expand services throughout the tri-state region.

“Founded in 1856, Harris Beach and its affiliates provide a full range of legal and professional services for clients across New York state as well as nationally. Clients include Fortune 500 corporations, health care providers, privately-held companies, emerging technology businesses, financial institutions, not-for-profit organizations, foundations, state and local governments and authorities, and individuals.”

Garnerville Woman Going To Prison For Embezzling Money From New City Bank

UPDATE on Tuesday, March 23, 2010: Milagros Rodriguez, 41, of Garnerville turned herself on Monday to federal authorities to begin her 33-month prison term for embezzling $700,000 from customer accounts at the Hudson City Savings Bank in New City.
As of today, Tuesday, Rodriguez is listed as “in-transit” to a federal prison on the U.S. Bureau of Prisons’ website

Today (Monday) at 2 p.m., Milagros Rodriguez of Garnerville has been ordered to turn herself to federal authorities to begin her 33-month prison term for embezzling $700,000 from customer accounts at the Hudson City Savings Bank in New City.
Rodriguez, once a manager of the New City branch, plead guilty to making about 80 unauthorized transactions, periodically from April 2002 to March of 2009, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in White Plains. She pleaded guilty in December to one count of embezzlement.
U.S. District Court Judge Cathy Seidel sentenced Rodriguez on Feb. 19 to 33 months on federal prison, 60 months of supervised released. Seidel also ordered Rodriguez to pay restitution of $907,622.88 to the bank.
The criminal investigation began when two customers became concerned after learning their bank accounts had been closed and funds withdrawn in February 2009, leading the Hudson City Savings Bank to conduct an audit and bring in the FBI.
Based on the criminal investigation by the FBI and the Rockland District Attorney’s Office, Rodriguez was charged with one count of embezzling bank funds from the bank branch, located inside DeDeCicco Supermarket, 180 S. Main St., New City.

Kelly McElroy Appears In Stony Point Court on DWI, Vehicular Assault Charges In Husband’s Death

Kelly McElroy walked into the Stony Point Courthouse this afternoon with her head down, trying to avoid a photographer and television camera. She dressed in black – from her leather jacket and skirt to her boots and sunglasses.
She made it through the metal detector, without a hitch.
Judge William Franks called her case first – likely since she was the draw that brought out the media and about 40 people wearing buttons with a photo of her dead husband, Glenn, 27. They had two young children.
She stood silently next to her lawyer, Eric Adler of Monticello, on charges of drunken driving and vehicular assault. Adler has declined to comment.
Kelly McElroy is accused of being drunk when she ran over her husband, Glenn, 27, after they had left the FIreside Steak Pub in Stony Point on Jan. 24. When arrested, Kelly McElroy had a blood-alcohol level of 0.16 percent — double the legal limit for DWI, Stony Point police said. She is free on $25,000 bail. A previous court date had been adjourned while she spent time taking care of health issues.
She is likely to face a vehicular manslaughter charge since her husband died of severe head injuries, District Attorney Thomas Zugibe has said. A Rockland grand jury has not yet heard the case. Assistant District Attorney Kevin Dunlap asked for an additional month for a felony investigation.
The judge scheduled her next court appearance in Stony Point for May 6, though a felony indictment would change the venue to the Rockland County Courthouse in New City.

On this date….

As I cover the federal courts and the FBI, I would be remiss to let the day pass without noting that today, March 15, marks the 38th anniversary of the opening of the iconic mob movie “The Godfather.”01_800x600 The film opened in six theaters and took in a little more than $300,000 its first weekend, according to boxofficemojo.com. It opened wide nine days later and went on to haul in more than $130 million at the box office and three Oscar wins.

But numbers don’t begin to tell the story of the cultural impact of the movie. Every wiseguy and FBI agent, it seems,  knows the movie by heart and can recite lines and scenes — especially if they bear any resemblance to real life events. Granted, movies like “Goodfellas” and “Donnie Brasco” provided a more accurate depiction of mob life — the scene in Brasco where brokesters are busting into parking meters for quarters was called to mind by certain of the lesser capers pulled by Greg DePalma’s crew in the last major mob takedown in our area.

But “The Godfather” and its sequel remain the gold standard for mob movies. As a friend of mine (not a friend of ours) says about the third Godfather flick, “It didn’t happen.”

Speaking of DePalma and mob movies, Benicio Del Toro has signed on to play former FBI agent Joaquin “Big Jack” Garcia in the movie version of his autobiographical tome “Making Jack Falcone,” which recounts how Garcia infiltrated and then took down DePalma’s crew and the entire hierarchy of the Gambino Crime Family by posing as a Florida jewel thief, Jack Falcone. I spoke with Jack recently and he said he’d like to see Anthony Hopkins play DePalma.

Anyway, tanti auguri di buon compleanno to “The Godfather.”

Ex-New Square Clerk Pleads Guilty In Massive Federal Fraud Case From 1997

Avrum David Friesel, 57, a son of the New Square’s only mayor and the former village clerk, pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court this morning to a federal conspiracy count involving the theft of tens of millions of dollars from federal education and anti-poverty programs.
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Friesel fled prosecution for 11 years following a 64-count indictment in 1997 against himself, five other New Square residents and a New York City man. Friesel spent years in Israel before moving to Great Britain, where he was arrested in London in 2008 and extradicted in 2009 back to the United States.
Friesel faces a maximum of five years in prison when sentenced June 15 in U.S. District Court in Manhattan on his guilty plea to conspiracy, a minimum fine of $250,000 and an order to pay $11.6 million in restitution under the plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan.
Four other New Square residents and a New York City man were convicted in the massive fraud case  and served prison times. President Bill Clinton commuted the sentences of four of them.
One man, Nathan Adler, remains a fugitive.
More details at lohud.com

Avrum David Friesel in above photo.

State Supreme Court Justice William Kelly Holding Court In The Bronx

With the Bronx courts backlogged on murder and other felony cases, who does the administrative judge call for assistance: more judges from upstate communities.

One of those judges is state Supreme Court Justice William A. Kelly, the long time Rockland jurist and former prosecutor in the Bronx.  He’s been sent down to the Bronx by Administrative Judge Alan Scheinkman for the 9th Judicial District, which includes Rockland, Westchester, Putnam, Dutchess and Orange counties.judge_scheinkmantjndc5-5b5h8ut3eavsd7phezi_thumbnail

Kelly is spending four of his five working days since last Monday overseeing cases in the Bronx courthouse – near Yankee Stadium in the Bronx (a perk for baseball fans aside from the governor).
Kelly will hold court in Rockland County Courthouse on Wednesday, taking pleas, issuing sentences, and monitoring his case load. Holding trials would be difficult as long as Kelly sits in the Bronx.
This is not the first time Kelly has been ordered to sit in the Bronx.
Back in 2008, Kelly did a stint in the New York City borough.

Photo on above left is Judge William Kelly. Photo on the above right is Judge Alan Scheinkman

Lau Now Faces Assault Charge In Attack On Jail Officer, Along With Murder Counts

A Rockland grand jury today added an assault charged against Eric Lau, who faces murder charges for the brutally killing of his neighbor, Jamie Erlich, a Suffern gymn teacher in November.
While being held in the county jail, Lau, 26, of Valley Cottage is accused of attacking a correction officer from behind, scratching and biting him during the subsequent fight. The officer was doing his job, counting inmates on Christmas Eve.tjndc5-5s3zvkgfltt1doztrk1u_thumbnail
A grand jury charged Lau with second-degree assault. The officer was treated and has returned to work.
An assault conviction would pale in comparison to being found guilty of three second-degree murder counts. Erlich was found with her skull fractured and her throat cut inside her apartment at Lake Road Condominiums on Nov. 29. He’s also charged with first-degree burglary on the theory he illegally entered Erlich’s condo unit.
The murder counts each bring a maximum sentence of 25 years to life. Lau is being held on $2.5 million cash bail or $5 million bond.
Lau’s next court appearance on the murder charges is April 14 before state Supreme Court Justice William Kelly.

In above photo, Eric Lau is being watched in Clarkstown Justice Court during his arraignment on murder charge.