Clarkstown Justice Court Clerk Retires

After 22-plus years of sitting at the right-side of one Clarkstown judge or another, Joann Geary has packed up memories and momentos and taken them into retirement.

The chief clerk for the county’s busiest town court retired on Dec. 31, 2008, ending a career of serving the public with respect – even if that service always meant taking money for parking or traffic tickets or advising people on when to appear in court.

All told, Geary worked 25 years with the court system, including time in White Plains.

During her career, Geary has witnesses numerous criminal case. The cases have run from the “Night Court” comical to the bizarre and the sad. The cases range from drunken driving and assaults to rapes and murders. Justice courts handle arraignments and hearing on felony cases before a grand jury decision.

“It’s been extremely interesting,” Geary said before her retirement day. “I am going to miss the flow of it all.”

Referring generally to people and cases before the court, she said, “You can’t make stuff up that some people do.”

She has clerked for numerous justices over the years, many of whom were different in personality and approached to the law. Her final year ended on the a sad note with the death of Justice Joel Flick.

“He was a good man,” Geary said. “One sentence that defined him and one he always told defendants. ‘You have the keys to your future in your pocket. How you use them is up to you.”

Now, Geary will use her keys to drive into retirement, spending time with her family.

Appeals Panel Upholds Spring Valley Man’s drug Conviction

A state appeals panel last month upheld the drug and weapon possession convictions of a Spring Valley man sentenced during 2006  to seven years as a repeat felony offender.

Horace Shackleford, now 27, will remain in Oneida Correctional Facility until December 2011 at the earliest.

The Appellate Division ruled acting State Supreme Court Justice Catherine Bartlett had wide discretion to determine the testimony of the Spring Valley police officers Frances Brooke and Joseph Brown was credibility, along with other evidence, to convict Shackleford of third-degree criminal possession of a controlled substance and third-degree criminal possession of a weapon.

Bartlett has not always looked favorably at Spring Valley police investigations in other cases, including those involving drug arrests and investigation into possible corruption.

“Contrary to the defendant’s contention, the record in this case amply supports the hearing court’s determination to credit police testimony, as well as the court’s factual findings that the vehicle in which the defendant was riding as a passenger was lawfully stopped for a traffic infraction,” the panel wrote in a decision released Dec. 3.

Following the car stop,  Brown ended up patting down Shackleford and finding a bag inside his jacket. Brown felt the bag contained a heavy metal object. The officer  testified that the object in the bag did not feel like a gun, “but you can’t determine what it feels like.”

The panel ruled the officers took reasonable action to remove Shackleford from the car and pat him down based on his hand movements and refusal to follow police directions.

The panel also ruled that since  Brown could not rule out the possibility that the object was a weapon, he was justified in seizing the bag.

Brown and Brooke subsequently inspected the contents of the bag and found a metal scale and a large white rock substance that appeared to be crack cocaine. The officers’ search of the bag within the defendant’s grabbable reach was a proper safety precaution under the circumstances, the panel ruled.

Shackleford previously served 1 to 3 years in prison for a drug possession conviction in Ulster County, being released in 2005.

NYC Bar Association Rates Chief Justice candidate

The New York City Bar Association just released its evaluations for candidates to succeed New York State Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye, who is retiring on Dec. 31 as head judge for the state’s highest court, Court of Appeals.

Here is the news release:

The New York City Bar announced today its ratings of candidates recommended by the New York State Commission on Judicial Nomination for appointment as Chief Judge of the New York Court of Appeals.  The term of current Chief Judge Judith S. Kaye will expire on December 31, 2008.

The evaluations of the seven candidates nominated by the Commission are:

• George Carpinello: Not Well Qualified
• Evan Davis: Exceptionally Well Qualified
• Steven Fisher: Well Qualified
• Theodore Jones, Jr. (from Rockland County): Well Qualified
• Jonathan Lippman: Exceptionally Well Qualified
• Eugene Pigott, Jr.: Well Qualified
• Peter Zimroth: Well Qualified

The Association’s Executive Committee extensively reviewed the background and qualifications of the candidates. Representatives of the Association’s Executive, Judiciary and State Courts of Superior Jurisdiction Committees interviewed each candidate and for all candidates, reviewed their writings, investigated their background, and interviewed judges and lawyers familiar with the candidates.

The full Executive Committee then considered whether to rate each candidate “well qualified” or “not well qualified” or “exceptionally well qualified” for the position of Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals after considering the candidate’s intellectual ability, knowledge of the law, integrity, impartiality, judicial demeanor and temperament.

In addition, in evaluating a candidate for Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals, the Executive Committee considers that the Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals is also Chief Judge of the State of New York, and the oversight and administrative powers and responsibilities that accompany this position.

This three-tiered rating was adopted by the Executive Committee in May, 2007, and is being utilized for the first time for the chief judge  position.

The criteria for each rating are as follows:

• “Well Qualified”: Consistent with the term “well qualified” as it is set forth in describing the Commission’s mandate in Judiciary Law Section 63(1) and in Article 6, Section 2 of the Constitution: candidates “who by their character, temperament, professional aptitude and experience are well qualified to hold such
judicial office.”

• “Not Well Qualified”:  Candidates who may be a competent  lawyer or judge but, in the judgment of the Executive Committee, does not meet the requisite standard for “Well Qualified” in one or more of the constitutional and statutory criteria of  “character, temperament, professional aptitude and experience.”

•  “Exceptionally Well Qualified”: A candidate who is  exceptional to the degree that he or she is superior to
others who are “well qualified.”  This rating should be given as an exception and not the norm.

Teens who killed Haverstraw man convicted

In December 2007, former Haverstraw resident Gary Secone was beaten to death at his home in Cincinnati, Ohio. Secone was living with his girlfriend, Linda Wagner,  of 20 years. She was home at the time.

He died from internal injuries to this chest and spleen and had sneaker marks embedded in his chest from being stomped.

Two teenagers –  Tor Hardy, 15, and Jullian Douglas, 17 – were arrested by the Cincinnati police.

The were  accused of becoming enraged over text messages he thought the 53-year-old maintenance man sent him. Police said Secone didn’t text anyone.

Douglas was charged as an adult with felony murder and aggravated robbery. He eventually was convicted of  involuntary  manslaughter on June 17 and sentenced the same day to three years in prison, according to Julie Wilson, a spokeswoman for the Hamilton County Prosecutor’s office.

Hardy was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to 10 years in prison, Wilson said. He was sentenced June 18, the day after his conviction.

Secone grew up on Railroad Avenue and was the baby of the family – the youngest of five born to Anthony and Irene Secone and raised in Haverstraw. He played pool professionally, learning the game at Gokey’s Pool Room, owned by his uncle, on Broadway in Haverstraw village.

His family held a memorial service for him at Mount Repose Cemetary. The family includes his Elizabeth Zachmann, two other two sisters and a brother.

Jury Finds Lebron Not guilty

 

Update:

Less than two hours after starting deliberations tonight, a Rockland jury found suspended Spring Valley Police Officer David Lebron not guilty of two counts of sixth-degree conspiracy.

The jury started considering whether the prosecution proved that suspended Spring Valley Police Officer David Lebron tipped off bars to police raids at 6:20 p.m. The verdict came just after 8 p.m., Executive Assistant District Attorney Gary Lee Heavner said.

Lebron, who has testified strongly and confidently in his own defense, argued the police set him up with false charges in retaliation for his civil rights lawsuit against the village and for questioning the department’s use of police officers whom he called non-certified translators for Spanish-speaking suspects and witness. The village has denied the accusations.

Lebron, hired from New York City Police Department off a Spanish-speaking officer list a decade ago, now faces misdemeanor conspiracy counts – which wouldn’t amount to much, if any, jail time if he’s convicted.

Acting New York State Supreme Court Justice Catherine Bartlett dismissed the two felony charges (with the prosecution’s support)  and two other misdemeanor counts. She ruled the prosecution failed to prove Lebron filed false reports and committed acts of official misconduct. Regardless of the outcome of the trial, Lebron still faces dismissal from the police force on disciplinary charges brought by the village.

Bartlett ruled the jury should determine if Lebron entered into a conspiracy with bar manager Joseph Houston, though Lebron’s lawyer contended no agreement existed and those charges should be tossed, as well. Houston’s inability to remember specific dates and his criminal record became a major issue for the defense.

Bartlett said today that she will instruct the jury not to consider at act alleged by Houston before September 2004 because that’s when the supposed conspiracy formalized.

The  trial – contentious from the beginning – ended with another explosion today.

Bartlett again chastised Heavner and again raised questions about the integrity of the police investigation and prosecution. She said Heavner misled the court during the trial and wrongly attempted to introduce evidence through improper questions. She restricted testimony of some prosecution witnesses as irrelevant and inflammatory.

Today’s firestorm kicked off  on whether Heavner was within his rights to ask Lebron during his cross-examination on Friday if he was aware the FBI had investigated the officer before he filed his lawsuit and came under scrutiny from his own department. Heavner never raised the issue during the trial or called any witnesses to support his question.

Heavner told the judge today that she inaccurately told the jury that the FBI investigation found nothing. He argued that the FBI – which investigatges federal crimes – referred the case to the Spring Valley police and Lebron opened the door to the issue by contending the criminal charges came in retaliation to his lawsuit

Bartlett said she would not amend any comment she made to the jury. Citing a sidebar conference on Friday, she said the FBI looked into it and took no action. “You didn’t present any evidence before this court about the investigation before that,” Bartlett told Heavner.

She then criticized Heavner for asking Lebron if he failed to show up for a hearing on a rape case. She stopped that questioning, yelling at Heavner for testifying and raising an without any foundation. She noted the defendant was found not guilty of rape and claimed Heavner misled the court at a sidebar conference outside the earshot of the jury.

Bartlett, now angry, then criticized Heavner for telling the court that the police had destroyed daily officer activity logs from 2003 and 2004 – which Lebron sought for his defense. He claimed his hand-written logs would let the jury see what he was doing on the nights he is accused of hanging out in bars watching strippers. At some point, however, a daily log of Officer John Vespucci from 2004 was found with his deposition, leading Bartlett to question the veracity of the prosecution.

Heavner responded to a subpoeana for Lebron’s logs and was told that the logs for Lebron and other officers had been destroyed. He said one box from 2004 was not destroyed – which he just learned.  He wanted to have the police records clerk testify as a rebuttal witness about the process of destroying records, but Bartlett rejected that requested.

Bartlett also didn’t want to hear Police Chief Police Paul Modica explain the time-frame of the federal investigation. She said Heavner had his chance to call Modica when presenting his case before the jury.

“I am done,” Bartlett told Heavner. “You are not getting rebuttal witnesses. Maybe you don’t understand. I’m the judge here and have made my decision.”