NY high court rules on 2 local cases

The Court of Appeals, New York state’s highest court, has issued rulings on a pair of cases based in the Lower Hudson Valley.

The first is the case of Somers dentist Robert and his wife, Emilia Alonso, who were accused in 2006 of scamming Medicaid out of more than $2 million. They were later accused of trying to hide more than $800,000 from investigators by putting the money into an overseas bank account and claiming they had given it to charity.

Several months into the criminal trial, a judge threw out the case, saying prosecutors failed to disclose exculpatory evidence that pointed to the Alonsos’ innocence. The court found that the prosecutorial violation was so severe that the only remedy was to dismiss the indictments against the couple.

The Westchester County District Attorney’s office appealed, but the Appellate Division denied their request. In its decision this week, the Court of Appeals overturned that ruling and will allow the DA’s office to appeal the dismissal of the indictments.

The other case came from Southeast,where a driver named Peter Rivera was convicted in November 2007 of driving while intoxicated, a misdemeanor, following a state police arrest on Route 6.  Rivera had his license revoked for six months, but s a first-time offender, he could join a DMV rehabilitation programs and drive with a conditional license.

In February 2008, he was arrested again for drunken driving. He was charged with first-degree aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle, which a judge threw out before his trial. The Appellate Division upheld the judge’s ruling, and the Court of Appeals affirmed it, ruling that a driver whose license was revoked, and who violated the terms of a conditional driver’s license, could be prosecuted only for the infraction of driving for a use not authorized by his license.

Fundraiser to help disabled, abused kids

The Legal Services of the Hudson Valley is inviting the public to a cocktail reception Thursday evening to raise money for at-risk kids.

The fundraiser will help to “provide free legal support to low-income disabled children, child victims of domestic violence, and children whose families are facing homelessness due to unlawful foreclosures.”

The event will take place from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Mamaroneck Beach and Yacht Club, where LSHV will honor James R. Marsh, a White Plains-based attorney who founded the Children’s Law Center in Washington D.C. and is a nationally-recognized children’s advocate.

All proceeds will benefit the Legal Services of the Hudson Valley Children’s Advocacy Fund. To reserve a $150 ticket for the event, or to contribute to the fund, call 914-949-1305, ext. 119. For more information, go to www.lshv.org.

Pace law student to become child advocate

Pace Law School sent me an interesting story about a former New York City schoolteacher (left) who went to law school to help children and their families navigate the legal system. He will be doing just that, thanks to a flelowship that pays for him to work at an Elmsford-based child services agency:

Darren Guild, Pace Law School Class of 2011, was recently awarded the Westchester County Bar Foundation’s Public Interest Law Fellowship. The Fellowship provides two years of funding for Darren to serve as an attorney at Student Advocacy, a Westchester non-profit organization that assists parents in obtaining the most comprehensive response to a child’s educational needs allowable under the law. Darren was selected for the Fellowship from a pool of highly-qualified applicants at numerous competitive area law schools, including NYU and Cornell.

Before law school, Darren, who lives in the Bronx, was a special education teacher in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. There, he encountered many cases of inadequate treatment and support of students on the part of the New York City public school system, including mislabeling, mistreatment and misplacement. This fueled his desire to educate families about their legal rights. Darren decided to attend law school to learn how to advocate effectively for parents and children and help change ingrained practices.

According to Darren, knowledge of the law empowers him to go beyond helping individual students, and work towards solving problems on a systemic level.

“Teachers are probably the most important people in a student’s education, but as a former teacher myself, I know there are lots of times when teachers’ hands are tied,” he said. “My goal as a lawyer is to help parents understand their children’s educational rights, and help them solve problems in an effective, systemic way.”

Darren’s job at Student Advocacy, an Elmsford-based organization that serves families in Westchester and Putnam Counties, will be to advocate for families of students with special needs, including representing them at mandated yearly meetings with their children’s teachers and school administrators. He explained the importance of having an advocate: “Sometimes parents feel like it’s them against the school district. So having an advocate can really help them not only understand the types of services that are available, but also bolster their confidence about speaking up to advocate for programs and services they see as appropriate for their children.”

At Student Advocacy, Darren will also advocate for students who have received suspensions of more than five days long. Under New York law, students given extended suspensions are guaranteed the right to a hearing, where they may challenge the allegations against them and/or the threatened punishment. “Many times, regardless of the student’s underlying guilt, the school will call for an extended suspension. It can be very harmful to the student’s future if he or she is out of school for a week, a month or a year,” Darren said. “By representing students at these suspension hearings, I will ensure that the charges against them are warranted, and that the punishment is proportionate.”

Long term, Darren intends to work in education law, particularly to attain equal educational opportunities for low-income and minority students, who are traditionally underserved.