SCOTUS: DAs not liable for evidence-withholding prosecutors

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that District Attorneys cannot be held liable for failing to train their prosecutors about their obligation to turn over evidence that favors the defense.

The Supreme Court case was brought by a Maryland man convicted for attempted armed robbery after prosecutors withheld a crime lab report exonerating him. When he was later on trial for murder, he chose not to testify because of the robbery conviction, and was found guilty of murder. The lab report was uncovered a month before he was to be executed. Both convictions were thrown out, and he was acquitted of murder at a second trial.

The man sued the DA’s office, claiming that his convictions were the result of the DA’s “deliberate indifference” to prosecutors’ lack of training on what are called Brady violations. But in a 5-4 decision, written by Judge Clarence Thomas, the Supreme Court found that “a district attorney’s office may not be held liable for failure to train its prosecutors based on a single Brady violation.”

“Prosecutors not only are equipped but are ethically bound to know what Brady entails and to perform legal research when they are uncertain,” Thomas wrote. “Thus, recurring constitutional violations are not the “obvious consequence” of failing to provide prosecutors with formal in-house training.”

Here in Westchester, the last two district attorneys have come under fire over allegations that their prosecutors withheld evidence.

This past January, a judge overturned the 1992 manslaughter conviction of Louis Hairston, finding that the prosecutor in the case withheld evidence that could have exonerated him in a fatal shooting. Hairston was prosecuted under late District Attorney Carl Vergari, and the prosecutor in the case, George Bolen, retired. Hairston is due back in court for a pre-trial conference on May 5.

Former District Attorney Jeanine Pirro was sharply criticized for withholding evidence in the Anthony DiSimone case.  DiSimone’s murder conviction was overturned in 2007 when it was discovered that boxes of evidence pointing to the possibility that another man killed Louis Balancio were never turned over to the defense. DiSimone, who served seven years in prison before getting his conviction thrown out, pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to time served.

NY Chief Judge: expect “a lot of layoffs” under new state budget

The state spending plan that was settled over the weekend will bring deep cuts to many areas of state government, not the least of which will be the courts.

The plan slashes $170 million from the Office of Court Administration, which oversees and funds all courts — from village justice courts to the Court of Appeals — and has court officials reeling over how to absorb the cuts. The reduction is roughly 6.3 percent of the court’s current budget.

State lawmakers originally wanted to cut $270 million, or 10 percent. The state’s top judge, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman (pictured, above), volunteered to cut $100 million by eliminating, among other services, courthouse child care centers, grants for town and village courts and a program that pays retired judges to work part time as judicial hearing officers.

Now Lippman and other administrative judges around the state must find ways to cut an additional $70 million in spending.

“What is clear is this will be painful by any standards,” he said. “There will be more more spending cuts, layoffs and hardship that anticipated. It will have a tremendous impact on the system.”

It’s too early, Lippman said, to know the number of court employees will lose their jobs, but he said that every kind of court employee will be be targeted for reductions.

“There will absolutely be a workforce reduction with a lot of layoffs,” he said. “There will be very significant cuts. It is a night and day difference between $100 and $170 million.”

Lippman, who lives in Rye Brook, said he didn’t yet know how the cuts statewide would affect the 9th Judicial District, which covers Westchester, Rockland, Putnam, Dutchess and Orange counties. Different areas of the state would be affected differently, he said.

“We’re going to prioritize and figure out where to go from here,” he said. “I’m an optimist and I’ll do everything I can to keep the judiciary viable and strong. But this is certainly going to test us. This is tough stuff.”

Lawrence Taylor gives views on prostitution after sentencing

When Lawrence Taylor had a chance to speak at his sentencing this week for paying a 16-year-old runaway girl $300 for sex, the retired NFL great had little to say.

“Thanks, judge, I am fine,” Taylor answered when Supreme Court Justice William A. Kelly told him it was his time to speak before sentencing.

Taylor had less to the say to the media surrounding him as he and his wife walked to their car in the parrking lot of the Rockland County Courthouse in New City.

The retired New York Giants linebacker didn’t stay quiet too long about his views and the time he spent with the young Bronx girl he had sex with at the Holiday Inn in Montebello in May 2010.

A few hours after sentencing, Taylor essentially told TV reporter Shepard Smith he had no problem with prostitution on Studio B  when he talked about his arrest last year. (Click video with link)

Speaking to Smith, Taylor said, “I didn’t pick her up at no playground. She wasn’t hiding behind the school bus or getting off a school bus. That’s not my M.O. I’ve been around kids and people all my life.”

His comments came after Rockland District Attorney Thomas Zugibe skewed him for providing a market for human sex trafficking industry that exploits women and young girls like the Bronx runaway who was brought to Taylor’s bedside.

The young girl also told the media Taylor should have gotten jail time for what he did to her and that she wasn’t a prostitute but a victim. Taylor’s lawyer, Arthur Aidala, countered she’s tailored her story to attack Taylor under the script provided by celebrity attorney Gloria Allred.

Taylor’s agent Mark Lepselter wished his client said should have remained silent.

Taylor gets another chance to remain silent or talk on April 12 when he returns to Kelly’s courtroom for a sex registration hearing. He faces being a level 2 moderate offender and his name on the sex registries in New York and Florida or a level one low-level offender and anonymity on the registry.

The Bronx man who provided the young slim woman for Taylor faces federal prison time for sex trafficking and using violence – beating the young woman and plying her with drugs and alcohol.

While Taylor is free to play with his young son and grandchildren in Florida, Rasheed Davis, 37 faces up to nine years in federal prison.

Longtime director of Westchester Legal Aid to retire

Talk about an end of an era.

Attorney Steven J. Pittari, whose name has become synonymous with the Westchester Legal Aid Society, will retire after more than 20 years as its director.

Pittari, only the second director in the agency’s history, has been a Legal Aid lawyer for more than 40 years. Legal Aid represents indigent clients charged of felonies.

Pittari’s last day will be June 30. Legal Aid’s Deputy Chief Counsel, John F. Ryan, who recently had the challenge of representing double murderer Darrell Evans, will take Pittari’s place as executive director and chief counsel.

Phony car buyer to serve 10 years in armed robbery

If Anthony Francis had been able to run as fast as his friend, maybe he wouldn’t be serving a 10-year prison stint for armed robbery.

Francis, a 22-year-old from the Bronx, was caught last year after, authorities say, he posed as a car buyer to rob an auto body shop on South Fourth Avenue in Mount Vernon last year.

Once he and his friend got inside, Francis pulled out a loaded .40mm handgun and pointed it at an employee while his accomplice took $500 to $600 out of the victim’s pockets.

The accomplice got away, but Francis didn’t. He was tackled by the victim and his employees, who called police, according to the Westchester County District Attorney’s office.

Westchester County Judge James Hubert sentenced Francis today to serve 10 years in prison. A jury had convicted him in December of first- and second-degree robbery, as well as second- and third-degree weapon possession.

Lawyers to rally against plans to cap malpractice damages

Trial lawyers are planning to rally tomorrow at the Westchester County Courthouse to oppose a state budget plan that would limit medical malpractice damages to $250,000.

The lawyer want lawmakers to remove the malpractice “cap” because it does not take into consideration the severity of the victim’s injuries.
State lawmakers are set to vote on the budget on April 1.

“This gathering is part of a collected effort by New York State attorneys to protect future victims of medical malpractice,” Scarsdale attorney Anthony Pirrotti, Jr. said in a statement. “Victims who no longer receive fair and equitable compensation from insurance companies will become more dependent on the state for support.”

The rally will be from 1 to 2 p.m.

Legal group to discuss immigration, 14th Amendment

The citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment will be the focus of a panel discussion at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 29 by the New York Civil Liberties Union’s Lower Hudson Valley chapter.

NYCLU Advocacy Director Udi Ofer will be the keynote speaker at community discussion, “Confronting Challenges to the 14th Amendment.” A panel discussion featuring local residents who were born to immigrant parents will follow.

According to the NYCLU, “the citizenship clause of the 14 Amendment is under threat in Congress and several state legislatures. The clause protects core American values of fairness and equality. The Congress and state legislatures cannot pass bills to deliberately circumvent the Constitution and this type of legislation should be rejected outright.”

The 14th Amendment can only be changed by a constitutional amendment, not by state or local statutes. Linda Berns, director of the NYCLU’s Lower Hudson Valley chapter, said citizenship should never be linked to political or discriminatory sentiment.

“In America, our rights are based on fairness and equal treatment under the law, not who your parents are or what they did or whether today’s politicians approve of them,” she said in a statement.

The meeting and panel discussion will be held at the Ethical Culture Society of Westchester, 7 Saxon Wood Road in White Plains. It is free and open to the public.

Called it: Mistrial in the Selwyn Days case

March has officially become mistrial month in the Westchester County courthouse.

This afternoon, a judge declared a mistrial in the Selwyn Days double homicide trial after the jury declared an impasse  for the third time. Jurors were deadlocked 9-3 for acquittal.

The decision comes six days after another judge declared a mistrial in the manslaughter case of former Eastchester police officer James Pileggi.

With both cases going for a retrial, covering the courts beat is going to feel like being a scene from Groundhog Day.

Selwyn Days: another mistrial?

Although this is the second day of deliberations in the Selwyn Days double murder trial, the number and type of readbacks requested by the jury may suggest that the jury is deadlocked.

Yesterday, the jury asked to re-hear Days’ confession to the brutal 1996 slayings of 79-year-old Eastchester millionaire Archie Harris and his 35-year-old home health aide, Betty Ramcharan, as well as the definition of reaonable doubt. They also asked to see a calendar from 1996 (alibi witnesses said Days was in North Carolina in the days before the murders) and to re-hear testimony from a man who said that one of his employees saw Days in New York around the time of the killings.

Today, the jury asked to re-hear testimony from a former Mount Vernon police captain who took the anonymous call in 2001 that suggested Days was responsible for the murders. The call came from Days’ ex-girlfriend, Cherlyn Mayhew.

Days, a former Mount Vernon resident, is on trial for the third time. His first trial in 2003 ended in a mistrial; he was convicted the following year and sentenced to serve 50 years to life in prison. A judge overturned the verdict in 2009 and ordered a new trial. The current trial, before Westchester County Judge Barry Warhit, began Feb. 7.

If the Days’ case has a hung jury, it will be the second mistrial in a homicide case this month in Westchester County Courts. On March 4, a jury deadlocked after 4 1/2 days of deliberations in the manslaughter trial of former Eastchester police officer James Pileggi. The breakdown was 1-2 for conviction. The District Attorney’s office plans to retry the case.