White Plains lawyer to testify at hearing on Family Court challenges

Mary Grace Ferone, a managing attorney at the Legal Services of the Hudson Valley in White Plains, will be among the speakers this Thursday at a New York State Bar Association hearing about how New York’s Family Court system impacts children and families.

The hearings, held around the state, were convened to address the rising workloads in the family courts during the past decade, particularly child custody, visitation and child support cases.

“The growing burden placed on our Family Court system is having a direct impact on our most vulnerable population — our children,” said State Bar President Vincent E. Doyle III. “With these hearings, we are collecting information from a variety of experts that we hope will lead to improved conditions for children and the courts.”

The latest hearing will take place at the Nassau County Bar Association in Mineola. The task force previously held hearings in Albany and New York City. The final hearing is scheduled for March 29 in Buffalo.

Among those expected to testify on Thursday are family court judges and others affiliated with the courts, local bar associations, legal service groups and organizations that serve children, families and battered women.

The 35-member Task Force on Family Court, created in 2010, will issue a preliminary report in June and a final report in November. That report will be presented to the state chief administrative judge and others for consideration.

According to the state Office of Court Administration, family courts handled 720,850 court filings in 2010, compared to 683,390 in 2001. In New York City, the caseload was 246,266 in 2010, up from 226,544 in 2001. Despite rising caseloads — including a record 742,365 statewide in 2009 — only four new Family Court judgeships have been created statewide since 1999 and none in New York City since 1991.

Gov. Cuomo signs DNA expansion bill, now law

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed legislation requiring anyone convicted of a felony or penal law misdemeanor to give their DNA to New York state.

The law makes New York the first state in the country with what’s called an “all crimes” DNA database.

Before today, people convicted of a felony and one of 36 misdemeanors – about half the crimes in the state — had to give a sample of their DNA for the DNA Databank. While civil liberties groups have questioned the measure, law-enforcement groups from around the state have championed it.

“This is a great step forward for all New Yorkers,” Westchester County Janet DiFiore said in a statement today. “The all-crimes DNA Database will enhance public safety for every New Yorker across the State. By requiring virtually every person convicted of a felony and a penal law misdemeanor to provide a DNA sample upon conviction, we will use science to convict the guilty as well as exonerate the innocent.”

People convicted of drunken driving misdemeanors, which are covered by the state’s traffic law, would not have to give their DNA to the state. The legislation also includes an exception for marijuana possession, a Class B misdemeanor, as long as there were no prior convictions.

The compromise bill also expands defendants’ access to DNA testing and comparison before and after conviction in appropriate circumstances, and for post-conviction discovery to prove innocence.

New York launched its DNA Databank in 1996. It has been used for more than 2,900 convictions, according to the governor’s office. DNA samples have exonerated 27 people and helped clear many others early on in investigations.

The New York Civil Liberties Union denounced the legislation in a statement last week.

“It will have a negligible impact on enhancing public safety but increase significantly the likelihood for inefficiency, error and abuse in the collection and handling of forensic DNA,” said Robert Perry, NYCLU’s legislative director. “This unprecedented expansion once again does nothing to address the increasingly apparent inadequacies of the state’s regulatory oversight of police crime labs, nor does it establish rigorous statewide standards regarding collection, handling and analysis of DNA evidence to catch or prevent error and ensure the integrity of the databank.

The law takes effect Oct. 12.

Cara Matthews of Gannett’s Albany Bureau contributed to this post.

Deliveryman killer to be sentenced tomorrow


The man who gunned down a 25-year-old deliveryman in a downtown Yonkers apartment building will be sentenced on Tuesday, and his sister, who became a Yonkers councilwoman after her brother’s slaying, is expected to give a victim’s impact statement in court.

The victim, Martin Antonio Perez (left), was working as for the now-closed Emerald Diner when he was called to make an $18 food delivery to 50 Hawthorne Ave. on Dec. 17, 2007. Police said he might have been lured to the 18th floor for a fake order before he was confronted by attackers who wanted to rob him.

Perez’s body was found in a 12th floor stairwell. His daughter, Kayla, was just 7 months old when he was killed.

The senseless slaying led to an outpouring of community outrage and numerous donations to Kayla Perez’s college fund. It also turned the victim’s sister, Virginia Perez (right), into an anti-violence activist. She was elected to the City Council in November.

Two days after the fatal shooting, police arrested 18-year-old Xavier Goodwine and charged him with murder. But police suspected that Goodwine wasn’t the lone attacker and placed billboards around the city offering a $12,000 reward for information leading to additional arrests.

Dante Thatcher of Yonkers was arrested last year as the gunman and was indicted on murder, attempted robbery and weapons charges. He pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, the top count of the indictment, on Jan. 30.

Goodwine pleaded guilty in October to first-degree attempted robbery. His sentencing date was set for April 19.


Closing arguments in shooting ambush of Yonkers family

UPDATE: Shooting suspects Charles Parsley and Kasaun White have been convicted of all charges in the case.

Someone wanted Sandra Hackley-Cornielle dead, but no one is saying who, or why.

What Westchester County prosecutors did say today in their closing arguments was that Charles Parsley and Kasaun White worked together with a third man on a mission to kill the 36-year-old mother of two, and in the process shot her husband and their 12-year-old daughter two years ago.

Prosecutors suggested the men were acting on the behest of someone who put a hit on Hackley-Cornielle (left). They mentioned a suspicious visit she had weeks earlier when two men, posing as police, came to her home asking about her husband’s ex-wife. She did not let them in.

The encounter led to the repair of the apartment building’s security camera, which prosecutors said filmed White and Parsley entering the building and leaving in a hurry. White’s lawyer, Mayo Bartlett, said the man on the tape was not their clients, and Parsley’s lawyer said his client may have been in Yonkers that day but had nothing to do with the shootings.

Parsley and White, cousins from Long Island, are alleged to have staked out the family’s apartment at 1159 Yonkers Ave. on April 21, 2010, waiting for Hackley-Cornielle to come home from her marketing job in New Hyde Park, Long Island.

That evening, a man wearing what looked like a UPS uniform buzzed their apartment, saying he said he had a package that Sandra had to sign for. When Rafael Cornielle opened the door, he was ambushed. His wife was shot five times and died almost instantly. He was shot three times and lived. Their elder daughter was shot once in the leg, while their younger daughter was unharmed.

A motive for the slaying was never discussed during the trial; in fact, the defense for each man argued that the lack of a motive was one reason why their clients were innocent.

The jury will be charged and begin deliberations today. Westchester County Judge Barbara Zambelli told them they would have lunch brought to them and may have to stay as late as 6 p.m.

White (above, left) and Parsley (right) face up to 25 years in prison if convicted of second-degree murder.

A third defendant, English Thomas, who allegedly drove the two friends to and from the crime scene and provided the box that the shooter used as a prop, is due to be tried at a later date.

Rockland’s human trafficking trial: a look back

If you haven’t been reading Journal News reporter Hema Easley’s stories about a Rockland County family charged with keeping their son’s wife as a slave, check out her exclusive interview with the victim in the case that ran in Sunday’s editions. Two of the woman’s female relatives (pictured, left) were convicted of labor trafficking and her husband (pictured, left) was found guilty of third degree assault, but her father-in-law was acquitted of all charges that centered on her allegations that she was deceived by an arranged marriage and abused while being forced to serve her husband’s family for five years.

Some highlights of the trial coverage can be found here and here.

Judicial conduct investigations lead 15 NY judges to leave bench in 2011

The New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct released its annual report for 2011 today, and while there were fewer investigations conducted this year, the ones that were done prompted 15 judges to resign from office.

The resignations made up less than one-half of 1 percent of the roughly 3,500 judges and justices in the New York State courts. Last year, 14 judges resigned from offices after becoming targets of the commission’s investigators.

The commission reported that it processed 1,818 new complaints in 2011, which is fewer than the record number of 2,025 in 2010 but still the fourth highest in its 34-year history. Every one of the 1,818 complaints was reviewed by staff members, but only 172 investigations were launched — the lowest number of new investigations in the past 10 years. Those 172 cases were added to the 195 investigations that rolled into 2011 from the previous year.

Of the 15 judges that left the bench, 10 of them resigned while complaints were pending, and the others left while under formal charges. Only two upstate town justices were recommended for removal by the commission. Others were publicly censured.

None of the judges who resigned were from Westchester, Rockland or Putnam counties. How many judges in the tri-county area were investigated is unknown, because the Judicial Conduct Commission does not reveal the names of those judges unless they are censured or recommended for dismissal.

To read the full report, go to www.cjc.ny.gov


Desk of the DA: beware the phone scam

This month’s message from Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore focuses on some recent phone scams targeting senior citizens:

Police in Mount Pleasant and New Castle have recently received reports of a series of calls to elderly residents with urgent requests for money. In one instance, a caller told a grandfather that his grandson had been in an accident in Mexico and needed $2500 wired immediately. The grandfather sent the money, and then sent another $2500 when he received a second call, but it was all a hoax. In another case, a caller claimed a grandchild was in jail in Bolivia and urgently needed $4500 for bail. The grandfather got in touch with his grandson and realized this was a scam before sending the money.

These are not rare or isolated cases. One frequently reported version of this scam involves a phone call that begins with a young caller saying “Hi, this is your favorite grandson”. The grandparent naturally responds with the grandson’s name, which the con artist then uses. The caller then tells the grandparent that he is in trouble overseas and needs money immediately, claiming either to have been in an accident, or to have lost his passport and wallet, or to have some other emergency. In these cases, when a caring grandparent wires money overseas, it is picked up immediately by the scammers and is not recoverable.

If you receive an urgent call asking for help for a family member overseas, be suspicious and make every attempt to find out whether the emergency is real before acting. Ask for the caller’s name and contact information. Make some calls and find out whether the story is true. Don’t be pressured by a caller who tells you that you must act immediately. Even if the caller’s account is true, there is no emergency so critical that you cannot take some time to verify the facts. And if you have been the victim of one of these scams, don’t blame yourself. These con artists are professional criminals who take advantage of a grandparent’s natural desire to help a grandchild.

As with all unsolicited phone calls, be cautious and do not provide any personal or financial information to the caller. Do not respond immediately to requests for donations or offers to sell you things. Instead, ask for the caller’s name, firm and contact information, and then decide whether to respond after you have had time to consider the call. Report any phone calls that you consider suspicious to your local police department.

Free legal workshop offered to small biz owners

If you own a small business in the Lower Hudson Valley, mark your calendar for March 26. That’s when the Women’s Enterprise Development Center (WEDC) is sponsoring a free legal workshop and clinic to help local entrepreneurs better understand business structures, intellectual property, employment law and real estate.

Goldman Sachs, Jackson Lewis LLP and the Westchester Women’s Bar Association are co-sponsoring the three-hour program, which starts at 5 p.m. in the lobby board room of 1133 Westchester Ave.  A panel of attorneys will be available, so participants should come with questions in hand.

While the workshop is free, registration is required.

Judges, lawyers honored at Black History Month reception

The Westchester Black Bar Association will honor the lead attorney in the historic Brown v. Board of Education case tonight at Yvonne’s House of Soul Restaurant in Mount Vernon.

Robert L. Carter, (pictured, right) who died January 3 at 94 years old, was lead counsel in the historic desegregation case and a leader in the campaign against Jim Crow Laws across the country. He later became senior  judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

Others being honored at the reception will be Chief Administrative Judge Ann Pfau; Seymour W. James, Jr., a top attorney at the Legal Aid Society in New York City and the incoming president of the New York State Bar Association; attorney Theodore M. Shaw, the former president of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund; attorney Barry A. Cozier, a former associate appellate judge; Deputy Chief Administrative Judge Fern A. Fisher, a former deputy director of Harlem Legal Services; and attorney Theodore V. Wells,  who the National Law Journal named as one of “The Decade’s Most Influential Lawyers” in 2010.

Tickets for tonight’s reception are available at http://wbbablackhistory.eventbrite.com

Lau competency hearing in murder case continues

The prosecution of Eric Lau on charges of murdering his gym teacher-neighbor in November 2009 is going into reruns.

Close to 27 months after gym teacher Jamie Erlich was slashed to death inside her Lake Road condominium in Valley Cottage, the issue of whether her neighbor is competent to stand trial and help in his own defense is continuing before state Supreme Court Justice William A. Kelly at the Rockland County Courthouse in New City.

The possibility exists for a second competency hearing. His next court appearance is Wednesday.

After a hearing last April , Kelly sent Lau to an upstate mental health institution for review. After several months,  two psychiatrists found Lau competent. He was later sent back to another state institution by Rockland County mental health officials at the jail.

Two more state psychiatrists recently found Lau competent and felt he was faking the symptons – a view taken by a pyschiatrist for the prosecution last April even  though a  county psychiatrist and psychologist found him incompetent.

The reports were filed with the court on Wednesday.

Lau’s lawyer, Bruce Klein, must decided whether to challenge the latest findings. A  defense psychiatrist will first review the reports and possibly talk with Lau. in the Rockland County jail in New City.

.A prosecution psychiatrists found Lau competent and faking his symptons. Lau doesn’t talk in court unless asked a direct question, standing or sitting hunched over stiffly and staring down or straight ahead.

Lau, who had a history of violence and mental health issues as a youth. Lau also is charged with twice assaulting jail corrections officers.

At right, photos of Eric Lau and Jami Erlich