State AG candidate comes to White Plains

Staten island District Attorney Dan Donovan, who is seeking the GOP nod for New York Attorney General, paid a visit to White Plains this morning to pick up an endorsement from former Gov. George Pataki in front of the Westchester County Courthouse.

“I can tell ya,” Pataki said, “that Dan Donovan as state attorney general is not going to tolerate legislative corruption. He’s not going to tolerate politicians who think they’re above the law.”

Donovan welcomed the endorsement of Pataki, the former Peekskill mayor who served 12 years as governor, saying that both he and Pataki believe New Yorkers deserve better government, one that is “free from the choke hold of special interests.”

“The last four years have been a disaster,” he said. “It’s time for a change.”

Onondaga County Comptroller Robert Antonacci said Monday that he also plans to run for attorney general on the Republican line.

Both men are running in a race that is expected to be vacated at year’s end by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, who is expected to announce he is running for governor.

On the Democratic side, at least five candidates are running for Cuomo’s seat: Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice; former state Insurance Superintendent Eric Dinallo; lawyer Sean Coffey; Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, D-Greenburgh; and Sen. Eric Schneiderman, D-Manhattan. The parties will nominate their candidates for statewide offices in late May and early June.

Photo: Pataki, at podium, with Donovan

Elderly wife-killing suspect appears in court

For the first time in months, Paul Weinstein appeared in Westchester County Court on charges that he fatally shot his sickly wife last year.

Weinstein, a 78-year-old pharmacist, shuffled into the courtroom using a walker with wheels.  He had missed his last few court appearances due to medical problems. He has been incarcerated since his arrest on Sept. 23 — the day his wife was shot.

The diminutive Weinstein sat in a chair as his court-appointed lawyer, Allan Focarile of the Legal Aid Society, and prosecutor Christine O’Connor had a bench conference with acting state Supreme Court Justice Richard Molea.  Weinstein is due back in court on June 10, at which time the case will be assigned a trial judge or be resolved with a plea bargain.

According to court papers, Weinstein told police that an argument with his wife “set him off” and that he shot her dead in their New Rochelle home after he failed to suffocate her with a pillow.

He used a World War II-era Walther handgun to shoot his wife as she lay in bed in their 12th-floor apartment at a senior citizen housing complex at 35 Maple Ave. He then called 911 to report what had happened and, after a brief standoff with police, surrendered.

Weinstein insisted his wife’s slaying was a mercy killing.

Westchester DA to have scholarship in her name

Janet DiFiore, the Westchester District Attorney, is one of three top lawyers who will have scholarships created in their names by the Sisters of Mercy Mid-Atlantic Community, which operates two all-girls high schools.

DiFiore will be honored tonight at the Sisters of Mercy’s headquarters in Hartsdale with the late William F. Harrington, an attorney for Bleakley Platt & Schmidt, and Jane Sullivan Roberts, the wife of U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts and a 1972 graduate of St. Catherine Academy in the Bronx. St. Catherine’s and Our Lady of Victory in Dobbs Ferry are run by the Sisters of Mercy.

Sister Patricia Wolf explained that the Sisters of Mercy wanted to do something to offering financial aid to struggling families who, as a result of the economic downturn, cannot afford to send their daughters to St. Catherine or Our Lady of Victory. She said the Sisters of Mercy had help from state Supreme Court Justice La Tia Martin of the Bronx to find candidates for the scholarship recognition.

DiFiore was selected for her years of public service and committment to women’s issues, particularly domestic violence, Sister Wood said. Roberts, a managing partner in a D.C. law firm, is being honored as an alumna and for her long, respected career. Harrington, who died in January, made “tremendous contributions” to the Catholic community, she said.

The $5,000 scholarships will cover 80 percent of tuition at the all-girls schools. The Sister of Mercy have started raising money to start handing out the scholarships either this September or in September 2011.

Photo: Janet DiFiore

Indicted White Plains dentist has Gotti lawyer


White Plains dentist indicted for fraud will be represented at trial by one of the lawyers who successfully defended alleged Gambino Crime Family leader John Gotti Jr.

Attorney Charles Carnesi, who won acquittals at Gotti’s third and fourth federal trials, was hired by Dr. Joanne Baker to fight insurance fraud charges against her. Jury selection in Baker’s trial started this morning in Westchester County Court.

Baker, a 51-year-old Scarsdale resident, is accused of bilking Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. out of $15,000 from her office at 1 Bryant Crescent and then trying to cover it up. She is alleged to have billed MetLife for dental work that she never performed. Prosecutors say she created phony patient medical records and sent copies to the insurance firm, starting in September 2006.

About 18 patients came forward in 2008 to say Baker had billed MetLife for dental work she never provided. The National Insurance Crime Bureau, the MetLife Auto and Home Fraud Unit and the District Attorney’s Office investigated the claims, and Baker was arrested Sept. 23, 2008.

She has pleaded not guilty to the entite 13-count indictment charging her with grand larceny, insurance fraud, scheme to defraud and falsifying business records, all felonies. She is free on $10,000 bail.

Carnesi and Assistant District Attorney Brian Fitzgerald are expected to give opening statments at the dentist’s felony trial on Thursday, May 20 in front of Judge Barbara Zambelli.

Photo: Joanne Baker

Yankees tix to help Westchester court officer

Westchester County court officers are raffling off 4 New York Yankees tickets to raise money for court officer Mike Felleman, who is battling leukemia.

The tickets are in Section 210, row 6, for the 1:15 p.m. game on Saturday, July 3. Attorney Christopher Meagher, a founding member and partner of the White Plains firm Meagher & Meagher, P.C., donated the tickets.

To enter the $10 raffle, which ends June 28, call court officer Tom Jones at 845-304-1657.

Family Justice Center opens in White Plains

Starting today, victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking in Westchester County will have a centralized place to get legal advice, counseling, shelter, child care and other services — all for free.

The county’s Office for Women opened its highly-touted Family Justice Center this afternoon in the “low-rise” building in the Westchester County Courthouse. With a $1 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women, the justice center replaces the intake unit in Family Court with a “one-stop shop” for victims’ needs. By merging such services under one roof, victims no longer will have to bounce from agency to agency repeating their story of abuse.

The family justice center will have victim advocates — including those who are bilingual — who specialize in stalking, elder abuse, disabled victims and immigration. The Pace Women’s Justice Center, Legal Services of the Hudson Valley, Empire Justice Center, My Sisters’ Place, Hope’s Door, Victims Assistance Services and the Department of Social Services will have staff on-site, along with volunteers from the Interfaith Caring Community of Greenburgh.

District Attorney Janet DiFiore said putting these services under one roof — a concept she has championed since 2006 — will make it easier for victims afraid to report abuse. She said the center will help prosecutors “protect victims and give them the support, services and guidance necessary to assist them in the criminal justice process.”

The center will be open Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Victims will be seen by appointment only and should call 914-995-3100 to make an appointment.  Eventually the center will take walk-ins. Retired Ossining town police chief Kenneth Donato is the center’s director.

Photo: Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, left, and U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey at the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the Family Justice Center. Photo courtesy of the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office.

SCOTUS decision: Don’t lock up teens for life

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that teenagers may not be sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole if they haven’t killed anyone, according to the Associated Press and other news outlets.

In a 5-4 vote Monday, the court said the Eighth Amendment of the Constitution barring cruel and unusual punishment requires that young people serving life sentences must at least be considered for release. Justices Anthony M. Kennedy, John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer and Sonia Sotomayor voted in the affirmative. Justices Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia and Samuel A. Alito Jr. opposed the majority. Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. voted with the majority in the specific case but not with the overall opinion as it applies to all young offenders who are serving life sentences for crimes other than murder.

To read the AP’s story on the decision, click here. To read The New York Times’ version, click here.

Warhit takes the bench, with a prosecutor’s help

It’s official: Greenburgh defense lawyer Barry Warhit is a judge. And his chief law clerk will be a seasoned Westchester prosecutor.

Melissa Benjamin is leaving the District Attorney’s office after four years to work for Warhit, helping him research the law and write decisions. Benjamin, a mother of two, has been the lead prosecutor for child abuse cases and was a county attorney for nine years before joining the DA’s office in 2006.

They will start their new jobs today in Yonkers Family Court and eventually will return to the Westchester County Courthouse, where they’re expected to take the third-floor courtroom now occupied by acting State Supreme Court Justice William Wetzel, who is retiring.

Appeals Panel Cuts Trojan’s Attempted Murder Sentence For Slashing Clarkstown Inspector

Russell Trojan got a five-year break from a state Appellate Divison panel.

The four-judge panel sliced his state prison sentence from 25 years to 20 years on the top felony count of second-degree attempted murder.

A Rockland jury had convicted Trojan of stabbing a Clarkstown code enforcement officer Jeffery Meara, who was photographing abandoned, rundown cars on Trojan’s property at 12 Jerrys Ave. as part of issuing Trojan violation summonses in April 2007. Trojan, then 51, a former Nanuet Civic Association activist, attacked the code enforcement officer, stabbing him multiple times in the arms, hand and chest.

The Appellate Division panel cut the sentence given to Trojan by Judge Catherine Bartlett in July 2008 “as a matter of discretion in the interest of justice.” The jury also convicted Trojan of first-degree assault and fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon.

Trojan faced a sentence of five to 25 years. Prosecutor Stephen Moore asked for the maximum, citing the crime’s brutality. Moore said if not for a neighbor’s heroics in pulling Trojan off Meara, it was likely Meara would have been killed. The panel rejected Trojan’s contention that the Rockland District Attorney’s Office failed to prove his guilt by legally sufficient evidence because he was not responsible by reason of mental disease or defect.

“Upon reviewing the record here, we are satisfied that the verdict of guilt was not against the weight of the evidence ….” panel ruled. “The People offered expert testimony to rebut the testimony of the defense expert that the defendant suffered from a mental disease or defect of severity sufficient to interfere with his ability to form the intent to commit the crime.”

Lois Cappelletti of the Rockland Public Defender’s Office filed the appeal on Trojan’s behalf. In opposition, the Rockland District Attorney’s Office was represented by its appeals attorney Itamar J. Yeger and Nava Naftaly.

Read the decision.

Law & Order cancelled

It’s official: the 20-year-old legal drama “Law & Order” will prosecute its last case this year.

The cancellation is not only distressing to New York City actors, whose guest appearances covered their rent and food bills, but also to prosecutors all over who could only watch and dream of getting away with the courtroom antics by ADA Jack McCoy (now by ADA Mike Cutter). Badgering witnesses, confessional breakdowns on the stand and a 99% conviction rate — all in a day’s work in the fictional Manhattan courtroom.

Farewell L&O. I’ll miss ya. To read more about the cancellation, click here.

Photo courtesy of NBC