Women’s Justice Center turns 20

The Women’s Justice Center at Pace Law School in White Plains will celebrate its 20th anniversary this October, which happens to be National Domestic Violence Awareness Month with a benefit dinner and silent auction on Wednesday, Oct. 19.

The Justice Center is a nonprofit legal center in the law school with a mission to help end domestic violence and elder abuse through legal representation, training, community education and outreach. It has become one of the largest civil legal services providers in Westchester County, with 13 staff attorneys and pro bono lawyers who have donated more than 7,200 hours to about 2,800 clients.

The Justice Center also has walk-in courthouse offices in White Plains and Yonkers that offer frontline, often life-saving emergency legal services for domestic violence survivors. The center also runs elder law clinics, a legal helpline and a “moderate means matrimonial panel” that matches middle-income clients with low-fee or sliding scale attorneys.

This year’s benefit dinner, “Celebrating 20 Years of Justice for Women,” will start at 6 p.m. at Abigail Kirsch at Tappan Hill in Tarrytown. Deadline to RSVP is October 5. For more information on the event or the Pace Women’s Justice Center, visit www.law.pace.edu/wjc or call Woodrina Harris at (914) 422-4069.

Former Dobbs Ferry mayor, county judge dies at 80

Rolon William Reed, a former Westchester County judge who was mayor of Dobbs Ferry from 1979 to 1984, died Sunday near his Florida home from pneumonia and related complications, according to a family obituary. He was 80.

Reed, who was born in Pittsburgh and graduated from Yale Law School, moved to Dobbs Ferry in 1963, eight years after joining the Manhattan law firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett. He ran for village trustee  in 1974 as a Democrat in what was then a traditionally Republican village. Elected mayor in 1979, his efforts helped to transform Willow Point from a semi-industrial eyesore into a public park.

Reed, who retired as his firm’s partner in 1984, served as mayor until former Gov. Mario Cuomo appointed him to a judgeship that year. He left the bench in 1989 when he and his wife, Diana, moved to the Lake Jem area, outside Mount Dora, Fla.

When he moved to Florida, he once again got involved in local politics, becoming an interim county attorney. He also was public advocate battling overzealous real estate developers, helping local leaders to develop plans that guided growth to cities and kept urban sprawl out of rural areas.

Reed left his last public position to become a “retired country gentleman” at Sweetwater Farm with his dog, cattle, gardens and fishing pond.

Reed is survived by his wife, his three children from his first marriage, Rolon A. Reed, III, Hilary Yeo and Jennifer Simon, and four grandchildren, Jordan Yeo, Samuel Reed, Molly Yeo and Ella Simon, as well as his sister, Marilyn Reed Mellor.

Family members and colleagues described Reed as a charismatic contrarian, who was never afraid to fight for a position others opposed or did not understand.

Photo: Rolon Reed in 1988.

Public hearing to focus on legal services for low-income families

The growing need — and shrinking budget — for civil legal services will be the topic of a four-hour hearing tomorrow in Westchester County court.

The hearings are being spearheaded by the state’s top judge, Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, who has been a vocal advocate for greater funding to offer low-income residents legal representation in non-criminal cases of mortgage foreclosures, eviction proceedings and medical benefit denials. The hearings in Westchester will be the first of four held across the state.

Here is the schedule of speakers and topics:

10 a.m. Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore will address the “Importance of Civil Representation in the Criminal Context.”
10:20 a.m. Attorney David Boies, a managing partner in Boies Schiller & Flexner, will discuss “Equal Access to Justice Today.”
10:55 a.m. A panel of legal services clients will discuss their experiences with the legal system. Panelists include Justin Rosario, a student, and his mother Alina Saez, in a special education case.
11:35 a.m. A discussion about foreclosures with panelists including John Lindstrom, Orange County Supreme Court Referee; Faith Piatt, Executive Director of the Orange County Rural Advisory Corp.; attorney Barbara Strauss, the former president of the Orange County Bar Association and an Orange County resident who fought a foreclosure case.
12:20 p.m. A judicial panel with Westchester County Surrogate Judge Anthony Scarpino, Orange County Family Court Judge Lori Currier Woods and Yonkers Family Court Judge Janet C. Malone.

Mount Vernon convict indicted for stabbing of ex-girlfriend

An “infatuated” ex-boyfriend with a criminal record has been indicted on attempted murder and three other felonies in the stabbing of a woman outside of her Mount Vernon church last month.

Jonathan Green of Mount Vernon (left) was arraigned in Westchester County Court today on charges of second-degree attempted murder, second degree assault, third-degree criminal possession of a weapon and first-degree stalking, according to the Westchester County District Attorney’s office. He pleaded not guilty.

Green, 38, is accused of attacking a 53-year-old White Plains woman on Aug. 3 as she walked out of Greater Centennial AME Zion Church on South Eighth Avenue in Mount Vernon.

Prosecutors allege Green stabbed the woman multiple times and ran off, leaving the knife blade in her back near the shoulder. She was treated at Jacobi Medical Center for her injuries.

Police found Green two days later and took him into custody without a struggle. He was charged, police said, after he made statements incriminating himself in the attack.

Green and the woman used to date, police said, but she broke off the relationship in June. In the days before and following the attack, prosecutors said, Green left threatening phone messages on her cell phone. Mount Vernon police said the woman had reported domestic violence incidents about Green before the attack.

Detective Lt. Vincent Manzione said Green “was definitely infatuated with her.”

Green, a porter for a Mount Vernon business, has an extensive criminal history, which included six convictions, two for felonies, one a violent felony, and three misdemeanor charges from 1993 to 2008, Mount Vernon police said. The violent felony conviction was for second-degree assault with intent to cause physical injury with a weapon.

He is being held without bail at the county jail in Valhalla. He is due back in court on Oct. 11 and faces up to 25 years in state prison if convicted.

Staff writer Will David contributed to this report.

Paroled ex-con pleads guilty to carjacking

A paroled convicted felon from the Bronx man admitted in court today that he carjacked a woman in Pelham Manor last year, the Westchester County District Attorney’s office said.

David Piparo, 48, (left) pleaded guilty to first-degree robbery for the gunpoint theft on Nov. 24, 2010. He will be sentenced Nov. 17 to serve 20 years to life in prison. The lengthy prison term was based on his prior criminal record, which includes a 1996 robbery conviction in the Bronx and a 1985 robbery conviction in Westchester.

Police and prosecutors said Piparo pushed a black handgun into the side of a 55-year-old Pelham Manor woman, just as she got into her BMW near CVS Pharmacy in the Four Corners area of the village. He could not start the car and had the woman get it going before taking off without her, police said.

Pelham Manor police and the New York City Police Department, which was investigating two armed robberies in the Bronx, worked together to identify Piparo as the suspect. Information developed by Pelham Manor led authorities to the Bronx apartment where he was arrested on Dec.  3. The stolen car was located nearby.

Piparo also is facing federal charges in three additional armed robberies, including the two in the Bronx and one at Tes Oros Jewelry Store in Pelham Manor on Nov. 30, 2010.

Yonkers man to serve 15 years in prison for killing teen, cat

A 20-year-old Yonkers man was sentenced today to serve 15 years to life in prison for shooting a former friend to death two years ago.

Shaman Irvin (left) apologized in court for killing 18-year-old Tyrone Stone, saying that he would give anything to take back his actions the afternoon of Sept. 30, 2009.

“I messed up my life,” he said.

Irvin shot Stone multiple times as he walked near 41 Morris St., just around the corner from his home. Stone was en route to see a friend, who had been shot hours earlier, police said.

At the time Stone was killed, Irvin had been charged with throwing his mother’s cat 14 floors to its death. Irvin told police he hated cats and had tossed his mother’s cat from her Warburton Avenue apartment window because it had sprayed urine on the floor and had scratched him, Yonkers police said. Kenneth Ross, chief of the Humane Law Enforcement Division of Westchester’s Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, had said Irvin showed no remorse when he was arrested for the cat killing.

Irvin pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, a felony, in exchange for the 15-year-to-life sentence. He was facing 25 years to life if convicted at trial.
He also will serve 22 months in prison on a conviction of felony animal cruelty. That sentence will run concurrently, or at the same time, as the murder sentence.

Tyrone’s mother, Keiwanna Stone, said Irvin may have gotten “a taste of murder” after killing his mother’s cat, but she her son was shot because he refused to join a local gang.

“Shaman was pushed to do what he did,” she said. “It was a control thing.”

Keiwanna Stone gave a victim’s impact statement in court in which she asked Irvin why he killed her son and if he realized how much he hurt not only her and her family, but his own family and his chances for a good future.

“Your life is ruined now — ruined,” she told him.

Irvin said in court that he and Stone “were going through some rought times and things got out of hand,” but offered no further explanation.

Westchester County Judge Barbara Zambellli marvelled at Keiwanna Stone demeanor, saying she was “amazed and moved” at Stone’s willingness to forgive the man who murdered her son.

“She’s not a vengeful person,” Zambelli told Irvin. “She really cared about you.”

Keiwanna Stone said Irvin was living in a shelter after being thrown out of his home and fell in with a “bad crowd.” She said Irvin had visited her home and was even wearing her son’s clothes when Irvin shot him dead.

Tyrone became afraid of Irvin and his new group of friends, his mother said, recalling how he would look out of the window before leaving the house to make sure they weren’t there.

9/11 film explores legal questions of human worth

A Westchester County woman has helped to produce a documentary focusing on the legal, moral, and ethical issues surrounding the 9/11 Victim’s Compensation Fund and its impact on the civil justice system.

Judy Wacht, a Purchase resident who worked for years as a guidance counselor at Blind Brook High School, is the associate producer of “Out of the Ashes 9/11.” The public is invited to a free screening of the film at 5:30 p.m on Monday, Sept. 12 at the New York County Lawyers Association, 14 Vesey Street, between Broadway and Church Street, one block from Ground Zero ( St. Paul’s Chapel is across the street).

The federal government created the Victim Compensation Fund 11 days after the attacks, making it one of the largest public entitlement programs ever. The film will explore questions such as: Was justice delivered? Were the methods for calculating the value of a human life, an appropriate model? Did the Fund undermine our legal system, hide the facts about 9/11, or offer 9/11 families a way to avoid the cost, complexity, and slow pace of a lawsuit?

Following the film will be discussion by the Co-director/Executive Producer of the film, Seattle University Law School Professor Professor Marilyn J. Berger and invited guests. The documentary will be shown again on Sept. 13 at 5 p.m. at the Quinnipac University School of Law and on Sept. 14 at the Yale School of Law.

In related news, this week’s edition of the New York Law Journal is featuring essays written by top judges and lawyers around the state about the impact 9/11 has had on the law and how it’s practiced. One of the essayists was Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore. Others include Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, Chief Administrative Judge Ann Pfau, state Bar Association President Vincent E. Doyle III and former U.S. Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey.

Desk of the DA: Public Integrity prosecutors

Westchester County Janet DiFiore discusses the importance of prosecuting crimes by public servants and government employees:

As District Attorney and chief law enforcement officer in Westchester County, I believe that public servants must be held to the highest level of accountability, acting honestly and ethically when carrying out their duties, and should not use their position for personal financial gain. Corruption at any level erodes the confidence and trust that the public is entitled to have in its government. A dishonest public official or employee undermines our government’s ability to protect its citizens and one individual can taint an entire group or department of hard-working, honest public servants. That is why the investigations and prosecutions being carried out by the Public Integrity Bureau of my office are so vitally important.

The assistant district attorneys assigned to the Public Integrity Bureau in my office investigate and prosecute all types of crimes committed by public employees, elected officials, candidates for public office, and others who hold the public trust. As part of the Office’s Investigations Division, the Bureau investigates public corruption in government at all levels by any employee, including acts of larceny, bribery, perjury, election fraud, and other fraud-related crimes.

Government employees who serve in capacities that involve handling public funds have a fiduciary responsibility to correctly report financial transactions they oversee, a special duty because that money belongs to the public. My office aggressively pursues investigations into the theft and misuse of public funds and other crimes by utilizing the skills of experienced public integrity prosecutors, a squad of seasoned computer forensic investigators, and certified public accountants who forensically examine public and financial records for such criminal activity.

I have worked hard to create an atmosphere of public trust and confidence in the work of our Public Integrity Bureau. In 2010 alone, the Bureau opened 84 investigations. We successfully prosecuted cases that involved a county corrections officer who submitted fraudulent health insurance claims, an attorney who stole from his escrow fund, a postal worker who pilfered items instead of delivering them in the mail to the intended recipient, a local government worker who gave false testimony in a civil hearing to cover up his illegal receipt of monies from a elderly citizen, and a man who, on behalf of a husband, forged documents for an uncontested divorce without the wife’s knowledge.

Moreover, I created a Mortgage and Fraud Unit within the Public Integrity Bureau in response to the skyrocketing number of real estate related fraud cases, including mortgage fraud by owners, refinancing fraud using straw buyers, deed theft and foreclosure rescue scams. In 2010, a full-time forensic accountant was added to assist the unit with its increasing caseload. As a result of this new initiative, we uncovered a major mortgage fraud scheme involving the victimization of four families who were swindled out of the deeds to their homes which were then used by the defendants to obtain $1.4 million in bogus loans. Six defendants have been convicted to date for these crimes. And recently, we announced the indictment of a local political leader for residential mortgage fraud and a real estate attorney for his role in a scheme to defraud homeowners.

In its relentless pursuit of individuals who have stolen public funds, the Public Integrity Bureau prosecuted three individuals in the theft of Housing and Urban Development funds, as well as Social Security and Welfare benefits. In these cases, we have recovered over $130,000 in court-ordered restitution. These prosecutions are important not only because they hold wrong-doers accountable for their crimes, but because they also serve as a powerful deterrent to anyone who might think about defrauding the government and the taxpayers.

The important and complex work being done by the Public Integrity Bureau could not be accomplished without the willingness on the part of you, the public, and other government agencies to approach my office for assistance and cooperation in the area of public corruption and misconduct. In order to maintain the public trust and protect our tax dollars, we must work together toward our mutual goals. If you know of or suspect misconduct may be taking place, you can contact my office and make a formal complaint by first calling 995-3303 or by downloading a copy of the written complaint form online.

September: the month of retrials

Now that Labor Day has come and gone, the courts are back in full swing with a host of new cases … and some more familiar ones.

Not one, not two, but three defendants are being retried this month in Westchester County courts, and jury selection for all three starts this week. That means the line to get into the courthouse is going to be very, very long, so if you’re called for jury duty or have an appointment at 111 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., arrive early or be prepared to wait.

Here are the three defendants:

1. James Pileggi. The former Eastchester police officer is charged with second-degree manslaughter for the Nov. 3, 2009, shooting death of a friend. Westchester County Judge Barbara Zambelli declared a mistrial after the jury was stuck at 10 to 2 for conviction after four days of delibertation. Jurors never even got to discussing two lesser charges that the judge allowed them to consider: criminally negligent homicide and reckless endangerment. Pileggi, 31, shot and killed his friend, Andre Everett, 27, with the Glock 26 in Everett’s driveway on Albert Place in New Rochelle. He testified that he unintentionally shot Everett while taking the gun apart to show him its laser device. Pileggi said he thought the gun was empty. Prosecutors contend he’d never fully examined the weapon before pulling the trigger and therefore was criminally reckless.

2. Selwyn Days. This is Day’s fourth trial and second retrial in the murders of an Eastchester millionaire and his home health aide. Jurors were stuck at 9-3 in favor of acquittal. Days, 46, has been incarcerated for 10 years, since confessing on video to killing 79-year-old Archie Harris and 35-year-old Betty Ramcharan, who were found stabbed to death in Harris’ home Nov. 21, 1996. Days had said he went to Harris’ home to confront him about sexual abuse allegations made by Days’ mother, who had been Harris’ aide before Ramcharan. Days said that, after Harris cursed, used a racial slur and swung a small bat at him, he grabbed him by the neck and beat him. Days said he then grabbed a kitchen knife and stabbed Harris, then turned on Ramcharan when she stumbled on the scene. Days claims the confession was coerced; no physical evidence linked Days to the slayings, and several alibi witnesses said he was in North Carolina at the time of the killings. Prosecutors insist that the witnesses fabricated their stories at the behest of Days’ mother, Stella, who had worked for Harris before Ramcharan. His first trial ended with a hung jury; he was convicted at a second trial in 2004, but a judge threw out the verdict in 2009 after a wrongful-conviction hearing.

3. Mildred Didio. A Manhattan attorney who was one of eight people charged in a multimillion-dollar mortgage fraud that stripped homes from families in Croton-on-Hudson, Yorktown, Cortlandt and Mount Vernon; and swindled two mortgage lenders out of $1.4 million. According to prosecutors, the group found their victims through notices of public auction or foreclosure. They reached out to the cash-strapped homeowners and gained their trust, saying they could transfer the deed to an investor, who would hold the title for 12 to 24 months so they could save money and reclaim their home. But once the “investor” took title, phony checks were presented to the lenders for much higher amounts than what the straw buyer paid for the home. Those checks allowed the group’s members to get inflated mortgages, which they used to pay off the original mortgage and keep the remainder for themselves. Didio is accused of representing the straw buyers or acting as a settlement agent for the lenders. Six others were convicted for their roles in the scheme; one was acquitted.