Zehy Jereis: The Good Son

The feds have leveled a lot of charges at former Yonkers GOP honcho Zehy Jereis — bribery, conspiracy, and extortion in connection with two big Yonkers redevelopment projects.

But one things the feds cannot say about Jereis is that he’s not good to his mother.

Jereis’ lawyer, Anthony Siano, has asked a federal judge to expand the areas to which Jereis can travel while he’s out on bail in the case. Siano asked Judge Colleen McMahon to let Jereis travel to New Jeresy in addition to the standard travel restrictions limiting jaunts to the confines of the Southern and Eastern federal districts of New York.

Why does Jereis want to go to Jersey? His elderly, widowed mom likes to shop at Middle Eastern markets in Patterson every week. And his Jordanian mother has been relying on other relatives to take her there since Jereis was indicted Jan. 6 along with former Yonkers Democratic City Councilwoman Sandy Annabi and politically-connected lawyer Anthony Mangone.

But she wants her boy to take her to market.

“Mr. Jereis is being pressed by his mother to resume taking her on these shopping trips,” Siano wrote in a letter to McMahon. The letter noted that assistant U.S. attorneys Perry Carbone and Jason Halperin have agreed to the modification to Jereis’ bail that would allow him to take mom shopping.

The judge agreed, too.

“This will not be a typical State of the Judiciary message”

That’s how New York’s top judge, Jonathan Lippman of Rye Brook, opened his first State of the Judiciary speech.

Why atypical? First, the speech was posted on the Internet rather than given live at the Court of Appeals hall in Albany. Second, it didn’t propose broad reforms and strategic planning, but instead focused on judges’ increased caseloads and the pressures that come from it. Third, it’s coming out nearly three months later than usual.

Click here to read Lippman’s written speech in full.

Court calendar conservation?

Making my daily rounds at the Westchester County Courthouse, I’ve been noticing that fewer and fewer judges are posting their court calendars outside of their courtrooms anymore. For the uninitiated, court calendars are a list of the cases that are scheduled to appear before a particular judge. The list include the defendant’s name, the charges against him/her, what kind of court appearance it is (arraignment, sentencing, etc.), the assistant district attorney’s name and the defense lawyer’s name.

Needless to say, those calendars a pretty good source of information to a reporter.

I called Administrative Judge Alan Scheinkman to complain about the disappearing lists and, to my surprise, he said it was intentional: “It’s an effort to go green,” he said. “We’re really trying to discourage unnecessary paper.”

He noted that the court calendars were now listed on an electronic calendar on the first floor. Trouble is, the scrolling computer screen is hard to read, and it only lists the top charge of the indictment — if it lists any charges at all. I told this to Scheinkman, and he replied that I could always go to the individual court clerks and ask to see a copy of the judge’s daily calendar.

Yes, I can do that, I told him, and when if the court clerks give me a hard time about it, he will be the first to know.

Judicial Conduct Commission’s special request

The state board that investigates and punishes misbehaving judges released its annual report today, and among the statistics were some interesting recommendations for state government.

First, the commission wants the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, to review all of their decisions — not just the ones that disciplined judges want them to review. Here’s the explanation:

“While it may be unusual for a government agency to encourage review of its decisions by a higher authority, the Commission believes this proposal promotes the public policy of checks-and-balances and the independence of the judiciary,” said Robert H. Tembeckjian, the Commission’s administrator.

The commission also restates its long-held request to open judicial disciplinary proceedings to the public. As a professional open government watchdog, three cheers to this request! It would be nice if New York joined 35 other states who already allow the public to attend such hearings. State Sen. John L. Sampson has introduced legislation to make such hearings to be public.

Some of the statistics in the report:

• 1,855 complaints received in 2009 – the second highest number ever, after last year’s 1,923.
• 5,489 complaints received since 2007 – 878 more than in any other 3-year period.
• 471 preliminary inquiries conducted in 2009, the most ever, up from 354 last year.
• 257 new investigations authorized in 2009 — the third highest ever.
25 public decisions rendered in 2009, up from 21 last year:
• 2 Removals from office
• 10 Public Censures
• 9 Public Admonitions
• 4 public stipulations in which judges under investigation or formal charges agreed to leave the bench and not to hold judicial office in the future
• 19 judges resigned while under investigation or while formal charges were
pending.
• 47 confidential cautionary letters were issued, up from 37 last year.
• 243 matters were pending at year’s end.

Warhit on track to be county judge

Indefatigable Greenburgh attorney Barry Warhit has been nominated by Gov. David Patterson to be a Westchester County Court judge.

Warhit, a longtime criminal defense lawyer who began his career as a young prosecutor in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, would replace Judge Jeffrey Cohen, who moved up to Orange County when he was elected to the state Supreme Court last year.

Warhit has to be confirmed by the New York State Senate before he dons the black robe. He’s been a part-time acting judge in local courts, including White Plains City Court, where I once appeared before him with an expired vehicle inspection ticket. The look he gave me can only be described as “What are YOU doing here?!” But in all fairness, I received no special treatment. My ticket was dismissed with several others once we showed proof of inspection.

If approved, Warhit would have to run for judge in the next election to keep the job permanently. And he may already have competition. A Mount Vernon lawyer named Doug Martino is campaigning to get on the Republican and Conservative ballot lines. Whoever wins, I hope they give me good quotes at sentencings.

UPDATE: Irvington Village Justice Lawrence Ecker also has been nominated to serve as a state Supreme Court Justice, according to the governor’s office. He would replaced Joseph Alessandro, who was removed from the bench last year for alleged misconduct relating to a loan to his 2003 campaign. Ecker is a partner in in his own law firm.

Are these prison sentences fair?

Eight years for gun possession. 20 to life for a home break-in.

These are decisions handed down by two judges today in separate cases against two unlucky defendants from Yonkers.

dante thatcherThe gun case first. In January, a jury convicted a 20-year-old Dante Thatcher of second-degree and third-degree criminal possession of a weapon. Authorities say he was acting suspiciously one night on Riverdale Avenue back in 2008, and when the cops approached him, he threw a loaded gun to the ground and ran off.  Police caught him two weeks later.

Thatcher has no felony convictions as an adult. And yet acting state Supreme Court Justice William A. Wetzel is sending him upstate for eight years. I’ve seen drunk drivers who have killed people in Westchester not get this kind of prison time. Granted, under the law, second-degree gun possession requires a 3 1/2 year sentence no matter what, and as a “C” felony, carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison. So it’s not as bad as it could have been. But still.

The other case involves a man who robbed a little old lady in her home on McLean Avenue in Yonkers last year. He went to trial and was convicted of third-degree robbery, burglary and having stolen property. showimg.aspThe defendant, Robert E. Whittle, has been in and out of prison for the past 30 years on convictions for robbery, burglary and stolen property and drug possession.

Westchester prosecutors wanted him sentenced as a persistent violent felon, and today county Judge Barbara Zambelli granted their wish. Whittle, 48, will now be in prison for at least another 20 years and could die there. I’ve seen killers get 10 to 15 years on plea bargains. He’s a crook and he’s getting 20.

And people wonder why so many cases are pleaded out.

Scenes from the Maddox conviction

tjndc5-5nj0xqg5ocl1jmld03jz_thumbnailWalter Maddox has been convicted of first-degree murder, second-degree murder, and a slew of other sex crimes for three rapes in south Yonkers in 2008, one of them ending fatally.

Click here to read the story about the verdict. Now here’s the extra scoop:

The verdict came down at 2:15 p.m. One side of the courtroom was nearly filled with members of the Westchester District Attorney’s office, which is typical when verdicts are read in homicide trials. No one was there for Maddox, except the dozen or so court officers surrounding Maddox and guarding the door in case he tried to make a run for it.

Acting state Supreme Court Justice William A. Wetzel told everyone in the courtroom to remain seated and not react while the verdicts were read on all 13 counts. Everyone, including Maddox, complied.

After the courtroom emptied out, I waited around to interview jurors. And I waited. And waited. They must have been escorted out through the back passageways, because I didn’t even see them leave the third floor. I was hoping one of them would go to LoHud.com and comment on the online story (which some jurors have done in past cases) but no such luck.

I’d still like to talk to some jurors, so if you’re one of the 12 people who found Maddox guilty, please leave a comment here. Thanks!

Judge rejects suppression request for Selwyn Days

tjndc5-5b3dn4w4bjklloe86jt_thumbnail A jury will get to hear Selwyn Days’ incriminating statements when he is re-tried for a third time in the brutal 1996 slayings of an Eastchester millionaire and the man’s home health aide, a judge ruled last week.

Acting State Supreme Court Justice William A. Wetzel denied motions by Days’ defense lawyers to suppress statements that Days made to police on Feb. 15-16, 2001. The judge said Days had a “full and fair opportunity” to litigate all the issues at a suppression hearing in 2002 and that the defense’s argument of newly-discovered evidence was “without merit.”

Days’ defense team also lost their request to have an expert testify about false confessions. The judge wrote: “(S)uch testimony has been held to be inadmissible by New York courts. New York courts have held that false confessions and circumstances surrounding such confessions are within the understanding of the average juror.

However, Wetzel did order a “limited purpose” hearing to determine if two of Days’ fellow inmates were acting as agents of law enforcement when Days allegedly made incriminating statements to them while behind bars. The defense claims the inmates elicited information from Days to get their own sentences reduced.

Days, now 45, has been incarcerated for nine years, since he was arrested in the killings of Archie Harris and Betty Ramcharan. He was convicted of both murders in 2004 after his first trial ended with a hung jury.

That conviction was overturned last year, when four defense witnesses, including a magistrate judge and a police officer, testified that they saw Days in Goldsboro, N.C., between Nov. 19 and 21, 1996, when it is believed the victims were killed. Following the hearings, Judge Jeffrey Cohen ruled that Days’ trial lawyer had not done enough to investigate an alibi: that he was in North Carolina when the crime was committed. He also granted Days’ claim of ineffective counsel, finding that defense lawyer Christopher Chan had failed to take advantage of DNA evidence to raise reasonable doubt.

The bodies of Harris, 79, and Ramcharan, 35, were discovered in Harris’ Berkley Circle home Nov. 21, 1996. Harris was on a blood-soaked carpet next to a bloody baseball bat in his bedroom; Ramcharan was in a bathroom, next to a kitchen knife, a plastic bag over her head and an electric cord around her neck.

Days’ mother, Stella, used to work for Harris and accused him of sexually abusing her several months before the killings. Her son, who had a lengthy criminal record, was not arrested until February 2001, after he violated a protection order by going to his ex-girlfriend’s home. After hours of questioning by detectives, Days acknowledged going to Harris’ home to confront him about the sexual abuse allegations. He said Harris hit him with a baseball bat and that he took the bat from the man after pretending to be unconscious. He said he hit Harris with it and stabbed him, and then slashed Ramcharan in the throat when she walked into the room.

No forensic evidence linked Days to the bloody scene; prosecutors relied on the videotaped confession. Assistant Westchester County District Attorneys Perry Perrone and Christine O’Connor will prosecute Days in his third trial. Days will be defneded by a team of lawyers led by the Manhattan-based Exoneration Initiative.

He is due back in court on May 21.

Selection delayed for Lippe jury #2

werner lippeAccused wife-killer Werner Lippe will have to wait a while to return to the courtroom of Westchester County Judge Barbara Zambelli. Jury selection for Lippe’s second trial was supposed to start today but was pushed back in part because the judge is in pre-trial hearings for another case. He is scheduled for an appearance before acting state Supreme Court Justice Richard A. Molea tomorrow.

Lippe is charged with second-degree murder in the disappearance of his wife, Faith Lippe, in October 2008. He confessed to knocking his wife unconscious in their Cortlandt home and then incinerating her body in a backyard burn barrel. He later argued that the confession was false, and that he made up that story out of fear and paranoia.

The first trial ended with a hung jury; a second trial was ordered by prosecutors.

Meanwhile, Judge Zambelli is dealing with another homicide case, this one involving a 22-year-old Mount Vernon man accused of shooting a younger man to death during the summer of 2008. Leroi Bouche is charged with second-degree murder in the Aug. 13, 2008 slaying of Shomari Knox, 19.

Knox was found dead in his maroon van at South Ninth Avenue and West Third Street by police, who were called there on a report of shots fired. He was shot in the back and the side of the neck.tjndc5-5ni1onr3ehx117u962ks_thumbnail-1

Bouche, who has a criminal history that includes drug possession, was shot in the abdomen two weeks later in a playground at Seventh Avenue and West Fourth Street, near Levister Towers – about a block from where police said he shot Knox.

Photo of Leroi Bouche, left. Photo of Werner Lippe, upper left.

Daughter-killer case delayed

tjndc5-5te65r151na1ltewe241_thumbnailThe lawyers in the Stacey Pagli daughter-slaying case were back in Westchester County Court today to figure out scheduling for her trial (if there is one).

Pagli, 38, is charged with murder for strangling her 19-year-old daughter, Marissa, to death in their apartment on the Manhattanville College campus in Harrison. Stacey’s husband and Marissa’s father, John Pagli, worked at the college and found his daughter dead and his wife tied to the doorknob in a failed suicide attempt.

Pagli told investigators that her daughter’s disrespectful attitude “pissed me off for the last time.”

Legal Aid lawyer Allan Focarile got his wish for a three-week extension to file defense paperwork, despite objections from prosecutor Timothy Ward. Pagli was not in the courtroom, but she will return when the case reconvenes on June 16 before acting state Supreme Court Justice Albert Lorenzo.