Irvington woman joins state task force on poverty law

We’re back after a brief break with more news from local courts and the legal community in the Lower Hudson Valley ….

Barbara Finkelstein, head of the White Plains-based group Legal Services of the Hudson Valley, will join a statewide task force to expand legal services to low-income New Yorkers in civil cases such as foreclosures, food stamps, unemployment benefits, orders of protection, child support and other civil cases. Finkelstein, an Irvington resident, has been spearheading such efforts for the past 15 years in Westchester and six other counties north of New York City.

According to a news release, Finkelstein will work with judges, law firm partners, union officials, heads of legal services groups and managers of corporate legal departments to raise money for struggling New Yorkers so they can get legal assistance at a time when the demand for such help is on the rise and government funding is dropping.

For more information, go to www.lshv.org.

Robbery Trial Starts in Rockland County Court

Opening statements and testimony were scheduled this morning in the County Court trial of Kevin Lindsey on first-degree robbery charge.
Lindsey, 41, who had lived in Spring Valley, faces a minimum of 20 years to life if convicted because of previous felony convictions, including knife-point robberies.
Jury selection started June 9 before County Court Judge William Nelson, who sentenced Lindsey was sentenced to 7 1/2 years in state prison in 1994 for three robbing cab drivers at knife point in Spring Valley.
Lindsey is bring prosecuted by Senior Assistant District Attorney Richard Kennison Moran during the trial at the Rockland County Courthouse in New City. Barry Weiss is defending Lindsey.

Lau’s Prosecution Adjourned Again In Killing Of Gymn Teacher Until July 28

The prosecution of Eric Lau on charges of murdering his Clarkstown neighbor —  gym teacher Jami Erlich — was adjourned again this morning in state Supreme Court in the Rockland Courthouse in New City.
Lau, 33, must appear again in court before Justice William Kelly on July 28.
The defense and prosecution are awaiting the judge’s decisions on pretrial motions. A trial date could be set on July 28.
Lau is charged with murdering Erlich on Nov. 29 inside her home at Lake Road Condominiums in Valley Cottage.
Erlich was talking with a boyfriend on the telephone when she was attacked. She was found with her throat slashed and her skull fractured.
Lau has pleaded not guilty to three counts of second-degree murder and two counts of first-degree burglary. The Rockland District Attorney’s Office has offered Lau the maximum sentence of 25 years to life to plead guilty. Lau’s being held in the county jail in lieu of $2.5 million bail. He also faces assault charges on accusations of attacking a correction officer.
Erlich, a popular gym teacher at Richard P. Connor Elementary School in Suffern, was talking to her boyfriend on her cell phone when she was attacked.
Erlich’s friends told The Journal News that she called Lau her “creepy neighbor” and that he had persistently called her to ask her out on dates. She moved into the complex in July, a few months before her divorce became final, and lived alone. Lau had lived there for more than a decade.
Authorities said they found some of Erlich’s belongings in his apartment.
Lau is contemplating a psychiatric defense.
He has a history of violence.
At age 16, Lau was placed through the state in David Hall, a 14-bed special residential treatment facility for teenage boys with psychiatric illnesses at Green Chimneys in Putnam County. At some point, Lau, then 18, was expelled from Clarkstown South High School for assaulting a 16-year-old student in November 1996.
Lau, at age 19, was convicted of the attempted robbery of three Albertus Magnus students. He punched one of the victims in the face.
He is being represented by attorney Bruce Klein from the Bronx. The prosecutor is Executive Assistant District Attorney Stephen Moore.

Upper Right Photo: Eric Lau
Upper Left Photo: Jami Erlich

High-priced testimony at grand larceny trial

During trials, defense lawyers often pay expert witnesses to testify when they can offer evidence to counter the prosecution’s claims of guilt. Prosecution witnesses typically don’t get paid.

But today, during the grand larceny trial of Todd Newman, a certified fraud examiner named James Lynch was paid to be on the witness stand at the Westchester County Courthouse. To read today’s article about Lynch’s testimony, click here.

Lynch, a forensic accountant, charged $400 an hour (!!!) to Newman’s former employer, B. Schoenberg & Co., a plastics recycler in Yorktown Heights. That bill will be on top of the $350 an hour he got to investigate Newman’s alleged misdeeds, namely the embezzlement of nearly $2 million while he was company treasurer.

Of course, the defense made a point of bringing up these figures during Lynch’s testimony. I watched jurors’ eyes widen and jaws drop when they heard the numbers. Newman lawyer, Merril Rubin, suggested that Lynch was saying what his sponsors told him to say, but Assistant District Attorney Nicole Gamble, during re-direct, asked Lynch if he was ever coached. Lynch said no.

For the record, Lynch makes as much per hour on the witness stand as I make in 2 days. Makes me wish I had studied harder in math class.

Pileggi case going to trial

It was a bit tense in Courtroom 301 today, where a former Eastchester police officer accused of accidentally shooting an acquaintance to death had a pre-trial court appearance before acting state Supreme Court Justice William A. Wetzel.

Supporters of ex-officer James Pileggi and victim Andre Everett showed up, and court officers were talking afterward about the tense stares exchanged by both sides. Eastchester Police Chief Timothy Bonci also came to watch the brief proceedings. No angry words were exchanged, but court officers say they will make sure things continue to stay calm. The case is expected to go to trial in a couple of months.

Everett, a 27-year-old real estate agent, was killed in his driveway in New Rochelle on Nov. 3. He walked out of his house when Pileggi’s white Infiniti pulled up with Pileggi inside. As Pileggi showed off the laser feature of the 9 mm Glock, the gun went off, shooting Everett in the throat as he stood by the rear driver’s-side door.

Pileggi, a 29-year-old Eastchester resident, was charged with second-degree manslaughter. He faces up to 15 years in state prison if convicted. He insists the shooting was a tragic accident, not a crime.

Pileggi, who is free on $50,000 bail, will appear again at the Westchester County Courthouse on June 17 in the Trial Assignment Part.

Photo: James Pileggi

Quinoy hearing postponed

Oral arguments on indicted Sleepy Hollow cop Jose Quinoy’s bid to have charges against him thrown out due to accusations of misconduct by an FBI agent have been pushed back from tomorrow to Friday at 2:15 p.m. in front of U. S. District Judge Kenneth Karas. Quinoy (at left with his wife after his arraignment last year) is charged with brutalizing two men already in police custody and tampering with a witness. Jury selection is still scheduled in White Plains for next Wednesday. Of course, that could change if Quinoy’s lawyer Andrew Quinn is successful in his arguments Friday that FBI Agent Catherine Pena’s actions – Quinn charges she swapped in a blank disc for one that was secretly recorded by a cooperating witnes – have so damaged the prosecution’s case that the charges have to be tossed out. Federal prosecutors, who didn’t exactly rush to Pena’s defense in their court papers opposing Quinn’s motion, say no matter what happened with the discs, it doesn’t have anything to do with the charges that put Quinoy in the defendant’s seat to begin with, namely the beatings of two men two months apart in 2006, a year and a half before any secret recordings were made by Sleepy Hollow cop Michael Hayes.

Kelly Won’t Sentence Drug Suspect Who Pleaded Guilty, But Then Professed His Innocence in Pre-Sentence Report

State Supreme Court Justice William Kelly doesn’t believe in sentencing people to jail who say they are innocent, even if they have pleaded guilty to a felony charge.
This morning, Kelly noted Marco Vaquero-Jiminez told the Rockland Probation Department that he didn’t possess cocaine and the police coerced him into making a statement. The judge read from Vaquero-Jiminez’s pre-sentence report, apparently having done so in preparation for court.
Kelly noted that in April that Vaquero-Jiminez pleaded guilty to third-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance, admitting to possessing 26.7 grams of cocaine.
“He allocuted here under oath and told the Probation Department something completely different,” Kelly told the prosecutor Christopher Waters and defense attorney Mitchell P. Schecter.
Vaquero-Jiminez drove Nolberto Lopez-Gonzalez, but claims he didn’t sell drugs and didn’t benefit from what happened. Lopez-Gonzalez, 26, of Haverstraw was sentenced in May to a year on his guilty plea to third-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance. He admitted selling 27 grams of cocaine for $1,500 in Spring Valley.
Kelly asked Vaquero-Jiminez if he was guilty.
Through a Spanish-speaking interpretor, Vaquero-Jiminez voiced his innocence. Kelly then told him he can withdraw his guilty plea and go to trial.
Schecter said client was not interested in withdrawing his guilty plea.
Kelly asked Schecter if he had not heard what his client said. “He says he’s innocent,” Kelly said. ” I don’t intend to sentence him.”
Kelly said he will hold a trial on the charges, but gave the prosecution and defense until June 23.
Vaquero-Jiminez faces a year in jail on his plea. Kelly told him if he failed to show up in court on June 23, he would sentence him to five years in state prison in abstenia.
Waters said after the court session that he would re-allocute Vaquero-Jiminez on the facts to hopefully show his guilt — and satisfy Kelly.

35 Years of the Westchester Women’s Bar

The Westchester Women’s Bar Association is having a dinner next week to celebrate its 35th Anniversary. The details, from the WWBA:

The WWBA will celebrate its 35th anniversary June 9, 2010 at a dinner to be held at the Mamaroneck Beach and Yacht Club in Mamaroneck, New York.  Founded in 1975, WWBA has grown to more than 600 men and women members in all facets of the legal profession supporting WWBA’s mission to promote justice for women in the legal profession and for women, children and families in society.

WWBA is one of the original five local/regional bar associations that formed the Women’s Bar Association of the State of New York to act as a unified voice for its members on issues of statewide, national and international significance to women.  To that end, WBASNY now holds United Nations NGO status in association with the U.N. Department of Public Information and Special Consultative Status in association with the U.N. Economic and Social Counsel (ECOSOC).  WWBA is one of the largest chapters of WBASNY.

During the dinner, officers and directors for the 2010-2011 term will be inducted by the Hon. Sondra Miller, former Justice of the New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, 2nd Department and a founding mother of the WWBA.  The dinner will feature a retrospective of past officers and directors of WWBA as well as the association’s activities benefiting the legal profession as well as the community.  Also, in keeping with the theme of the WWBA’s anniversary celebration, tribute will be paid to a recently re-discovered association of Westchester women attorneys formed in 1913.

For further information please contact WWBA President, Deborah A. Scalise, Esq., at (914) 725-2801.

DiGuglielmo family speaks out about reinstated sentence

The family of Richard DiGuglielmo (pictured), who was sent back to prison today after his conviction for shooting Charles Campbell to death, once overturned, was reinstated last week, issued a written statement following his incarceration:

“Richard DiGuglielmo served 11 years in prison until a judge, after a lengthy hearing and careful consideration, freed him. That decision cited new evidence that eyewitnesses who supported Richie’s version of events were essentially coerced into changing their statements at the original trial.”

“The death of Charles Campbell was a tragedy and there are no winners in this case. While we cant turn back events from that day in 1996, the courts should not compound this tragedy by ignoring all the evidence that shows Richie acted to defend his father’s life.”

We simply do not see how the court can say that the testimony of witnesses supporting Richie’s actions would not haver raised reasonable doubtt among the jurors, had that testimony not been manipulated by the police.”

“We are all devastated by the appellate court’s decision to send Richard back to prison. What measure of justice does it serve to free him and then send him back to prison after 18 months during which time he led an exemplary life with his family and friends? This is a cruel injusice for Richard and his family.”

“We are hopeful that the New York State Court of Appeals will recognize its responsibility to review this very poorly reasoned decision.”

To read more coverage of this story, click here.

Prayer vigil to precede DiGuglielmo court appearance

On Thursday at 9 a.m., friends and family of Charles Campbell, who was shot to death outside a Dobbs Ferry delicatessen in 1996, will hold a prayer vigil in front of the Westchester County Courthouse, where Campbell’s shooter, former NYPD officer Richard DiGuglielmo has been ordered to appear to be sent back to prison.

A state appellate court reinstated DiGuglielmo’s murder conviction last week after a former county judge threw it out. To read about the decision and the case, click here.

The vigil was publicized today by attorneys Randolph McLaughlin and his wife, Debra Cohen, who have been longtime supporters of the Campbell family. Their press release, edited for length, is as follows:

COURTHOUSE PRAYER VIGIL FOR DELI MURDER VICTIM CHARLES CAMPBELL

Campbell’s Family Will Offer Prayer of Gratitude to Appellate Court & Witnesses as DiGuglielmo Returned to Prison

The family and friends of Charles Campbell will gather in front of the Westchester County Courthouse on June 3, 2010 at 9:00 a.m. for a prayer vigil before attending a hearing before Judge Barbara Zambelli where it is expected former off-duty police officer Richard D. DiGuglielmo will be ordered back to prison to complete his 20 years to life prison sentence for Campbell’s murder.

Statement from Charles Campbell’s family:
“On October 3, 1996 Charles was murdered in the parking lot of the Venice Deli in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y.. On that day Richard D. DiGuglielmo pulled the trigger three times and ended Charles’s life. But equally painful for those of us who knew and loved Charles is that the taking of his life has been followed by attempts to assassinate his character by those who either do not know the facts surrounding his murder or have chosen to distort them in an attempt to justify short circuiting the demands of justice.

We are grateful that the judges in the Appellate Court thoroughly reviewed the evidence of what really happened on that tragic day and have ordered Richard D. DiGuglielmo to serve his full sentence. We are grateful to all of the witnesses who came forward and testified truthfully to what they saw. We are grateful for the support we have received from so many people over these past fifteen years, some of whom knew and loved Charles as we did, and others who simply shared our belief that justice must be served so that he can rest in peace.”