NY Senate passes DNA testing expansion bill

The DNA Databank Expansion Bill cleared its first hurdle today when the state Senate approved legislation that would require all those convicted on Penal Law crimes, including misdemeanors, to submit their DNA to the state databank. Currently, convicted felons and those convicted of about three dozen specific misdemeanors must give a DNA sample to authorities, typically a cheek swab. The bill would cover convictions of all charges, expect for misdemeanor counts of driving while intoxicated and other traffic misdemeanors.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in a written statement, called the bill “an important step in protecting New Yorkers and modernizing the state’s criminal justice system. This critical crime fighting resource embraces technology to help protect the innocent and convict the guilty.”

Cuomo urged the state Assembly to pass the bill so he could sign it into law immediately.

Landscaper awarded $11.2M for lost leg, injuries

Robert Loja (middle, in photo) was living the American Dream, his lawyers said. After emigrating from Ecuador at 17 and getting his U.S. citizenship, Loja and his wife, Maria, owned a home in Peekskill where they lived with their 5-year-old son. He had a steady job with a landscaping company for eight years and was making enough so his wife could go to school to be a nurse.

That all changed on Oct. 24, 2008, when a 23-year-old paralegal, blinded by sun glare on her way to work, slammed into Loja as he was unloading a landscaping trailer on Benedict Avenue in Tarrytown. The collision pinned him against the trailer, crushing his legs and nearly killing him. He has been unable to work since.

Loja’s luck took a turn for the better on Friday, when a Westchester County jury awarded him $11.2 million in his suit against Sleepy Hollow Landscaping and the woman who hit him.

His lawyers, Jonathan Rice and Steven Grant, (left and right, respectively, in photo) said the judgment breaks down like this: $3 million for future medical expenses, about $1.4 million for future lost income, $300,000 for past medical expenses and past lost wages, $2.5 million for past pain and suffering, $3 million for future pain and suffering, and $1 million for his wife for past and future pain and suffering.

But that amount instantly is reduced by $3.36 million because the jury found Loja 30% liable for not parking the landscaping trailer in a safer spot. And his lawyers said there is little chance he would collect anywhere close to the remaining $7.84 million from the landscaping company and driver.

His lawyers hope they can negotiate enough money from the defendants to save Loja’s house from foreclosure and to buy a new, better-fitting prosthesis for his left leg, which they said would allow him to get the surgery he needs on his right leg.

Court funding to be focus of state Bar meeting

Court funding cuts and the effect those cuts have had on New York’s justice system will be among the key topics for discussion at the New York State Bar Association’s 135th Annual Meeting in Manhattan, which starts on Monday.

The week-long conference will include forums on immigration, court funding, representation of veterans, diversity in the legal community and the impact of the Bernie Madoff fraud case on international litigation. More than 5,000 lawyers are expected.

Among those scheduled to address the conference are William Robinson III, president of the American Bar Association; Jack Rives, executive director of the American Bar Association; state Chief Judge Jonathan Lipmann; state Chief Administrative Judge A. Gail Prudenti; former state Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye and former Governor David Paterson. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder will be presented with the Gold Medal, the Bar Association’s highest award, for lifelong excellence in the legal profession and his civic contributions.

On Wednesday, the conference will feature a panel on the crisis in state court funding across the United States. The Bar Association this week released a report that identified problems with the court system in the wake of state budget cuts, including long delays and postponements in civil and criminal cases, overcrowded court calendars, problems with jury selection and jury service, limited citizen access to legal services and overworked court employees, among other issues. Former state Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye (now of counsel with Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher, & Flom), will moderate a panel of state and national experts on the topic. American Bar Association President William T. Robinson’s keynote address also will focus on court funding.

For a complete listing of speakers, program and events, go to www.nysba.org/am2012. Founded in 1876, the 77,000-member New York State Bar Association is the largest state bar association in the country.

Man convicted of raping woman, beating her son

A 30-year-old Mount Vernon man was convicted today of raping his live-in ex-girlfriend and beating her 6-year-old son at least twice last year.

Michael E. Thompson Jr. (right) was found guilty of first-degree rape and three counts of second-degree assault, all felonies, and misdemeanor counts of menacing and child endangerment.

A Westchester County jury acquitted him of two counts of third-degree rape an an additional count of first-degree rape.

Prosecutors say Thompson, who is 6-foot-3 and weighs more than 300 pounds, punched the boy in the mouth, knocking out a tooth. They also allege he beat the boy with an electrical cord, poured rubbing alcohol over the open wounds and dunked his head into scalding water.

Thompson was accused of terrorizing the boy’s mother, who worked in a restaurant, threatening to kill her if she didn’t let him live in her apartment. She said Thompson beat and raped her to keep her under his control.

The woman told no one until Feb. 20, when prosecutors said she finally got the courage to go to the police. The defense claimed the woman’s accusations were revenge for Thompson cheating on her.

Acting state Supreme Court Justice Robert Neary set sentencing for Feb. 29. The rape conviction carries a maximum sentence of 25 years in state prison, while each assault charges is punishable by up to seven years.

Trial opens Friday for Kung Fu master charged with sex abuse

UPDATE: CLICK HERE TO READ THE STORY ABOUT OPENING STATEMENTS

Frank DeMaria (left) taught a move called the “tiger claw” so his martial arts students could defend themselves against attackers. But Westchester County prosecutors say the move, when it involved grabbing DeMaria’s groin, was an excuse to have 8- and 10-year-old girls fondle the 67-year-old kung fu grandmaster at his Croton-on-Hudson studio.

Jury selection began today for DeMaria, an Ossining resident who founded the American Center for Chinese Studies. His felony sex abuse trial will open at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow before county Judge Barbara Zambelli.

He has pleaded not guilty to three counts of second-degree course of sexual conduct against a child and two counts of first-degree sexual abuse, both felonies, and four counts of child endangerment, a misdemeanor.

He is charged with abusing four girls, all under 13 years old. Prosecutors say he would have the girls face away from him, reach around and then repeatedly grab, squeeze and pull his penis. While the girls followed instructions, she said, DeMaria would gyrate his hips. Those actions, they argue, is not a legitimate martial arts move.

DeMaria told Croton detectives that his students were taught to grab the eyes, throat and groin of their attackers. He said he taught students to grab the groin when they were in an arm-lock or choke-hold position. When police told him that some of his students complained that he enjoyed being grabbed in the groin, DeMaria reportedly said, “I can’t control what my groin does. It’s a physical reaction, it’s not on purpose.”

Defense lawyer Andrew Quinn said his client, a retired Westchester County police officer, is the third-highest ranked grandmaster of his type of martial arts in the world. He said DeMaria teaches physical street-fighting moves so people can defend themselves, and has demonstrated “tiger claw” defense moves in videos and booklets. Quinn also said the parents and students who sign up for his martial arts courses sign waivers acknowledging that there will be physical contact in the classes.

DeMaria wrote a book on Chang-style tai chi and was head instructor for self-defense at the Westchester Police Academy. He has also taught courses at the State University of New York at Purchase.

Edward Brims trial on robbery, gun charges continues before Kelly

The prosecution is continuing to provide a jury with evidence and testimony in the robbery case against Edward Brims, charged with one gun-point robbery of the Ramapo convenience store Guzzles in Hillcrest on Oct. 12, 2010.

Prosecutor Richard Kennison Moran has offered the jury a video of the man leaving the business, as well as police testimony.

Today, Moran planned to provide testimony on the recovery of the gun, following up Friday with a DNA expert testifying that Brims’ DNA was supposedly  found on the weapon.

On Monday, the Guzzles clerk is scheduled to testify about being robbed and by whom.

What Brims lacks in a legal degree, he makes up with street legal training and self-confidence. At one point in January 2011, Brims told Kelly, a former Bronx prosecutor and veteran jurist, “Bring it on

Brims is representing himself in the robbery and faces a potential life sentence in prison if convicted, based upon his previous felony convictions. Ramapo police arrested Brims following a string of store robberies, but he was charged with just one.

Brims, 53, is charged with  first-degree attempted robbery, criminal possession of a weapon and assault. Attorney Martin Gotkin is  his adviser during the trial before state Supreme Court Justice William A. Kelly at the Rockland Courthouse in New City.

What Brims lacks in a legal degree, he’s made up for with  street legal knowledge from the streets and prison. He filed a legal papers in federal court concerning his arrest,  but the judge denied his motion.

He doesn’t lack confidence in the courtroom.

Last January, Brims told Kelly, “Bring it on, judge”  after arguing for nearly an hour that he is qualified and able to mount his own defense. Kelly attempted to convince him that as a career criminal with at least 20 arrests – including seven felony convictions – in New York he would be better off with a lawyer.

Brims responded he understood the seriousness of the charges, but added, “If I’m going to go down, I’m going to go down defending myself.”

He told the judge that the charges were as “phony as phony can get,” and “I spent 23 years up in the mountains in jail.”

Brims also told  the judge the legal system is against him because he’s black and his cousin is Belton Lee Brims, who was convicted of the double murder of Arnold and Elaine Sohn in December 1980.  He’s also related to Jerry Lee Brims, convicted of killing Jerry Reed in a 2000 gunfight in Spring Valley.

When Moran asked for $500,000 bail, Brims responded. “That’s not bail, that’s a ransom.”

Photo upper right of Edward Brims

 

Thiells contractor gets jailed for five months

A Thiells home improvement contractor who ripped off a Nyack homeowner for $5,000 received a five-month jail sentenced and a $1,000 fine during an appearance in state Supreme Court in New City.

A jury convicted Jerry Cioffi in October  of stealing the money after not fulfilling his contract in April 2010 to contruct a sewer line at the Nyack home of his customer. Cioffi never applied for permits and didn’t do any work for the $5,000 downpayment on the $10,000 job.

The jury convicted Cioffi and his corporation, Cioffi Services, Inc., of a felony count each of third-degree grand larceny. The jury deliberated for two hours before returning a guilty pleas in October following the trial.

Justice William A. Kelly also sentenced Cioffi to five years probation on Wednesday.

Rockland District Attorney Thomas Zugibe said his office prosecuted Cioffi for grand larceny the New York State Lien Law. Zugibe’s office has used the law to crack down on fraudulent home improvement and other types of contractors.

The law mandates that contractors can only use the money for a home improvement or property contract on that specific project and must maintain separate ledgers for each job. By failing to provide an accounting of how the money had been used and by not returning the money upon the demand of the consumer, the contractor violated the laws, Zugibe said.

Read more on this case Friday at www.lohud.com

NY State Bar President: court funding cuts are bad for business

The New York State Bar Association’s report about the failing conditions of state courts in the wake of budget cuts is meant to be a wake-up call for state lawmakers who may be considering slashing the Office of Court Administration’s budget even further, Bar President Vincent E. Doyle III (right) told Completely Legal.

“Courts are doing more work with less resources,” he said, noting not only the 12 percent increase in overall caseloads from 2001 but also that foreclosure filings have nearly doubled. “There were years of budget constraints and years of stagnation before the funding cut.”

Doyle said he wants state lawmakers to realize that businesses look at the efficiency of a state’s court system when deciding if it will move to New York or expand its existing operations. If the court system appear overwrought and chaotic, he argued, businesses will leave New York.

“The legal climate in this state is just as important as the economic climate,” he said. “(State lawmakers) need to look at courts as something more than a line item on a budget sheet.”

Flowing tears in Judge Zambelli’s court

It was the day of tear-filled emotional sentencings in the Westchester County courtroom of Judge Barbara Zambelli.

Ex-Eastchester police officer James Pileggi (right) blubbered as he was sentenced to serve 3 to 9 years in state prison for unintentionally killing his friend in New Rochelle two years ago. Pileggi’s tears followed the sobs of Gail Everett, the mother of victim Andre Everett, who called Pileggi “evil” and swore never to forgive him. The prosecution asked for the maximum semtence: 15 years in prison. The defense asked for the minimum: time served with probation. Zambelli, as I predicted, split it down the middle, allowing Pileggi to apply for parole in a little more than two years.

Three hours later,  Francisco Acevedo (left) was sentenced to life for the cold-case serial killings of three women in south Yonkers.  The daughter of one of the victims, who was three when her mother was killed, and the mother of the second victim sobbed as they railed against Acevedo, calling him a monster, an animal, and other insults.

Danielle Hodges of The Bronx, who is the sister of one of the victims, did not speak at the sentencing. After it was over, she said it brought closure. “My sister is finally free,” she said.

Acevedo’s sentencing was delayed because he had not been brought to the courthouse in time from Green Haven Correctional Facility in Dutchess County, where he is serving a 1 to 3-year stint on a felony drunken driving conviction out of Suffolk County.

There were two other high-profile cases today that were both brief and unemotional. Ex-Mayor Adam Bradley’s ongoing domestic violence case was adjourned to March 5 while the case of Tappan Zee Bridge dangler Michael Davitt was postponed to Feb. 24 in Greenburgh Town Court.

Two killers, a mayor and a dangler: an unusual day in Westchester courts

It’s going to be an interesting morning in the local judicial system on Tuesday: a county judge will hand down sentences in two high-profile homicide cases, while the ex-White Plains mayor will be in a nearby courtroom to answer probation violation charges, at the same time as the Tappan Zee bridge dangler will appear in Greenburgh Town Court.

First, the sentencings:

Francisco Acevedo (left) will be sentenced in the murders of three women in south Yonkers over a seven-year period starting in 1989. Acevedo had sex with each of them before strangling them, posing their nude bodies to face upward and fleeing the scene. Acevedo was caught after he submitted DNA in a bid to get early release from prison on a drunken driving conviction. Westchester Judge Barbara Zambelli, who has a reputation for tough sentences, may give him three consecutive prison terms of 25 to life, for a total of 75 to life.

Whatever the sentence, I expect it will be an emotional closure for the families of the women and for John T. Geiss, the dogged Yonkers detective who pursued the cold case for years.

Zambelli also will be sentencing ex-Eastchester police officer James Pileggi (right), who was convicted of second-degree manslaughter for the unintentional (but criminally reckless) shooting of his friend, Andre Everett. This is a sentencing with wide options: Pileggi could get as little as probation or as much as 15 years in state prison; it’s completely Zambelli’s call. She could rule down the middle: 4 to 7 years or perhaps 7 to 10. Pileggi’s family vowed to launch a massive letter-writing campaign begging the judge for leniency. The question is, did Everett’s family do the same, urging Zambelli to go the other way?

Down the hall from Zambelli’s court, ex-Mayor Adam Bradley (left) will appear before acting state Supreme Court Justice Susan Cacace on charges that he violated a stay-away order by calling his estranged wife, Fumiko, late last year. Bradley swears he repeatedly “pocket dialed” her by accident. Bradley had to post $10,000 bail for his smartphone snafu. We’ll see what, if anything, happens in the latest twist of this ongoing domestic violence case.

 

Finally, disgruntled Rockland County resident Michael Davitt (right) will be in Greenburgh Town Court on charges related to his November publicity stunt in which he dangled mid-span from the Tappan Zee Bridge. Davitt, an ex-county employee, is facing several misdemeanors and violations. He worked for the county for more than 27 years before being was suspended in 2008, and then became a fixture at county Legislature meetings, claiming corruption in government. No word on if or when a plea deal is coming., but I’d be surprised if this case goes to trial. My guess is that he’ll plead guilty to one or more of the charges and get a conditional discharge, with a fine, of course.