Who’s Not Next?

So, let’s see, the outgoing U.S. attorney, Michael Garcia, lives in Westchester. The last person appointed to the post, James Comey, was born in Yonkers and lived in Westchester during his tenure from 2002 to 2003. (David Kelley, who was the acting U.S. attorney after Comey and before Garcia, was never appointed.) The person considered by many to be a frontrunner at this point to be appointed by President-elect Barrack Obama is Mark Pomerantz, who’s from Irvington.
All three with Westchester connections, all three accomplished, respected former assistant U.S. attorneys.
But it’s safe to say there are a couple of accomplished, respected former assistant U.S. attorneys with Westchester connections whose names will not be floated for the position:

First up is Andrew McCarthy.
The pro: former head of the U.S. Attorney’s office in White Plains, led the 1995 prosecution of the “Blind Sheikh” Omar Abdel Rahman and 11 others in connection with the 1993 World Trade Center bombing.
The con: McCarthy, who left the U.S. attorney’s office in 2003 to work for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a conservative think tank, blasted Obama in interviews and in his writings. In a CNN interview he accused Obama of being “comfortable with people who hate America.”

Next is Ed O’Callaghan
The pro: former co-chief of the Terrorism and National Security Unit of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York who also led high-profile organized crime investigations, including the one that nailed Gregory DePalma, the Scarsdale man and admitted Gambino Crime Family capo, and the one that got Pasquale “Patsy” Parrello, the Bronxville man who federal authorities say is a Genovese Crime Family capo. He was also recently given the Attorney General’s Distinguished Service Award for his work investigating the U.N Oil for Food scandal.
The con: O’Callaghan left the office in July to join the McCain campaign. He was sent to Alaska to shut down the “Troopergate” investigation of Gov. Sarah Palin, according to Newsweek .

Big judge

Looks like Justice Francis Nicolai will be sticking around as the Administrative Judge for the 9th Judicial District. The 9th covers Westchester, Rockland, Putnam, Orange and Dutchess counties; i.e. the Lower Hudson Valley.

Nicolai, a state Supreme Court justice in civil court, is 69, and he acknowledged that most administrative judges are asked to step down when they turn 70. So he wasn’t sure if he was going to be invited back when he met with the state’s most senior judges in Manhattan recently.

Apparently the meeting went well, because when I asked if he was staying, he replied, “Every indication is that I will be.” He noted he can’t make any definitive statements until he gets an official letter in January.

A brief explanation about what Nicolai does. Administrative judges assign other judges to civil or criminal courts and can appoint city judges as acting county court judges — giving them a leg up if they want to run for that office later on. He also handles judges’ vacation schedules and approves higher-level hiring of clerks and other top court personnel.

At the meeting in Manhattan, Nicolai gave his annual report about the 9th district abnd his plans for the upcoming year. While acknowledging the horibly economy and New York’s budget crunch, he said he would like a few more Family Court judges to handle the heavy caseload in the 9th. Right now, he has a Mount Vernon city court judge and a Surrogate Court judge in Rockland overseeing Family Court cases.

Guess we’ll have to see if his wish escapes or falls under the governor’s budget ax.

Applause, applause

As I sat in Judge Molea’s courtroom this morning, I heard something I had never heard in court before.

Clapping.

The happy noise was for a few young men who are in a drug-treatment program called DTAP-Road to Recovery. They were in court today so the judge could make sure they were all clean and sober and following the rules to remain in the program.

“You’ve been drug-free for five weeks,” Molea said, handing one of the young man a paper certificate. “Congratulations.” And the whole courtroom applauded.

Next case. “You’ve been drug free for 43 weeks. Congratulations.” Bigger applause.

I never saw that many people smiling in a courtroom at once. I was one of them, but not for the exact same reason. It’s not that I wasn’t happy to see these guys getting their lives back together, but to watch a black-robed state Supreme Court justice lead a round of applause for them just surprised me.

Outside in the hallway, I was stopped by defense lawyer Barry Warhit, who was apparently as bemused with the bravos as I was. He pondered how differently his job would be if all of his cases got the Road to Recovery treatment:

“Yes, your honor, my client was in prison, but he completed his parole!” *Applause*

Seriously, though, I hope all the guys in this program make it through.

Grading Garcia

With Mike Garcia announcing yesterday that he’s leaving his post as U.S. attorney effective Dec. 1, it might seem a good opportunity to give him his final evaluation for three years as the top federal prosecutor in the region. But that would be premature. As Pace law Professor Bennett Gershman told me yesterday, “There could be things percolating now that could come to fruition under his successor.”
That could well include the Wall Street meltdown investigation. In the northern suburbs, it could refer to the several public corruption probes launched as a result of Garcia’s focus on alleged wrongdoing by public officials, a signature of his tenure.
The investigation into the Yonkers City Council’s handling of the Ridge Hill development is continuing. The prosecutor handling the case, Perry Carbone, has left the office. But another veteran assistant U.S. attorney, Jason P.W. Halperin has picked up the case.
And while one Yonkers cop, Wayne Simoes, has been indicted in connection with the office’s probe into allegations of police brutality by the Yonkers police, that investigation isn’t over either.
Same thing in Mount Vernon, where former city Planning Commissioner Constance “Geri” Post and businessman Wayne Charles have been indicted on charges that she steered big-bucks contracts to him. That probe, too, is ongoing.
And the feds’ investigation of the Sleepy Hollow police department also continues. No indictments have been handed up in that probe.
So, the jury remains out on those cases and Garcia. Or, more accurately, the grand jury remains out, since even the cases I mentioned that haven’t yielded indictments yet have had some evidence put before grand juries sitting in the Brieant Courthouse in White Plains.

U.S. Attorney exits

Michael Garcia, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, has just resigned his position to enter private practice. The departure of Garcia, 47, from the highest profile federal prosecutor’s job in the country was not unexpected. A new presidential administration usually brings changes in the leadership of U.S. attorneys’ offices across the country – moreso when the new administration is from a different political party. His announcement comes just hours after Christopher Christie, the U.S. attorney for New Jersey, handed in his resignation. Garcia, who lives in Westchester with his wife and three kids, has been on the job for three years. His resignation is effective Dec. 1. Deputy U.S. Attorney Lev Dassin will run the office until a successor is appointed by Barack Obama after he is sworn in as president.
We’ll have more about Garcia’s exit and a look at possible successors in a story that’ll run tomorrow in the Journal News and on Lohud.com

A grandmother’s love

What would you do if your son or grandson was convicted of sexually abusing a little girl? Would you — or could you — choose to keep loving him?

Sandra Jones of Yonkers was faced with that question.

Jones is a church-going woman and the self-described rock of her family. She is a “Gold Star Mother” — a title bestowed on women whose children lost their lives serving their country. Her son was killed in 1983 while stationed with the U.S. Marines in Beirut, Lebanon.

Today, she watched her 27-year-old grandson go to prison for having sex with a 10-year-old girl. Authorities say he raped the girl in his grandmother’s apartment. The man, Jamall Cherry, pleaded guilty to felony sex abuse and agreed to spend 5 1/2 years behind bars. The plea bargain spared the traumatized girl, now, 11, from testifying at trial.

I sat a few feet away from Ms. Jones in the courtroom and watched her blow a kiss to her handcuffed grandson as he stood next to his court-appointed attorney. He was expressionless as the prosecutor read a heartbreaking statement from the little girl’s mother detailing how many problems the young victim has had since the Feb. 5 incident. The words may have been too much to hear — Ms. Jones left the courtroom.

Afterwards, Ms. Jones stopped me in the courthouse hallway. She told me how she was mentoring the “young lady” and how upset she was that her grandson hurt the girl. She is praying the girl will get the professional help she needs to live a normal life. She also realizes the next few years of her grandson’s life likely will be the worst he has ever experienced, and said she will support him.

“We’re going to look for him to get help,” she said. “We’re going to stick with him and keep him looking toward the right track.”

She chose love.

Ain’t it grand?

It was that time again today at the federal courthouse in White Plains.
Stunned citizens clutching paperbacks or magazines, wandering around in a daze, muttering “18 months, 18 months.” Others lined up to use the pay phone (no cells allowed in the fed courthouse) to call loved ones or employers and tell them the dread news, “It’s 18 months. Yes, 18 months.”
Ahh, that all can mean only one thing.
We’re picking a new grand jury today!
No doubt the least known – and probably most important – detail about serving on a federal grand jury is that it’s not just for a few weeks as it is in the state system.
Nope.
Make the final cut for the panel of 16 to 23 on a federal grand jury and you’re looking at 18 months of trekking to White Plains one or two days a week.
But it could be worse. There’s always the possibility the grand jury’s term could be extended by six months. Making it two full years.
Or you could get seated on a special grand jury (impaneled for organized crime investigations.)
Those jurors are subject to a possible additional 18 months on top of the year and a half term. That’s three years.
You can familiarize yourself with federal grand jury service here.

Homeless sex offenders

This is a problem.

I was talking to Michelle Lopez, a Westchester County prosecutor who works in the DA’s sex crimes division, and learned some disturbing facts.

For one, it’s virtually impossible to track Level 1 and 2 sex offenders who are homeless. If they’re not on parole, probation or some sort of post-release supervision, she said, “you’ve got nothing.”

Level 3 sex offenders — the ones most likely to commit another sexual crime — have to report their whereabouts to law enforcement every 90 days, even if “home” is a park bench, and they have to tell police if or when they are leaving the state to visit friends or family. But they don’t always do that, and recently, one Level 3 sex offender decided to fight this requirement in court.

His name is Marvin Smith. He’s a 55-year-old Westchester guy, and in 1981 he was convicted for raping and sodomizing a woman with another man, Lopez said. He was paroled in 1998 and was living in a homeless shelter at 85 Court Street in White Plains, but he broke his curfew — a parole violation — and went back to prison. He got out again in 2005, but Lopez said he had “maxed out” the total years on his original prison sentence and could not be monitored by parole. In other words, he was free man.

The only way to keep tabs on Smith was through the sex offender registry and the 90-day reporting policy. Smith claimed his homelessness prevented him from meeting the law’s requirements, and the case went to trial before Westchester County Judge Jeffrey Cohen. The jury found Smith guilty of violating the sex offender registry, an “E” felony that carries a prison sentence of 18 months to four years in state prison.

“They try to find a loophole,” Lopez said. “But the statute is clear.”

Smith will be sentenced Jan. 6.

The judge and the psychic

No gathering in honor of the late Judge Charles Brieant is complete without someone re-counting the judge’s famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) interaction with a psychic during the high-profile Bedford School District trial in 1999 where a group of Catholic families accused the district of promoting New Age religions and the occult to elementary school students.
The federal courthouse in White Plains was re-named yesterday in honor of Brieant. (Read the story here. ) At the ceremony, Rep. Nita Lowey took up the telling of the story.
The lawyer for the families called a purported psychic to testify about what she discussed with students during a 1996 visit to Pound Ridge Elementary. The psychic testified, was cross-examined and then stepped down. But before she exited the stand, Brieant had a question.
“If you’re truly clairvoyant, can you tell me when we’re going to finish this case?”
The psychic did not reply.

Getting an early start

The election is a year away, but the guy running against Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore is sending out promotional press material already. This is what I found in my e-mailbox:

CANDIDATE FOR WESTCHESTER COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY
CALLS FOR CREATION OF FAMILY JUSTICE CENTER IN WESTCHESTER

November 11, 2008 – (White Plains, NY) Dan Schorr, an experienced domestic violence prosecutor and candidate for Westchester County District Attorney, called today for the creation of a Family Justice Center in Westchester County in order to better serve and protect victims of domestic violence.

“The Westchester DA’s Office must do much more to minimize obstacles faced by domestic violence victims seeking help,” Schorr said. “New York City and other jurisdictions have established Family Justice Centers that give domestic violence victims easy access to comprehensive services by placing dedicated domestic violence prosecutors, government agency, and community services staff under one roof. The Westchester DA’s office has failed to give our citizens the same support and access to resources that domestic violence victims in other venues now receive.”

Family Justice Centers utilize both public and private support to help domestic violence victims break the cycle of violence by providing essential safety planning, case management, and civil legal assistance in the same visit – all in their native language while their children play safely in a specially designed children’s room. This model of working with multiple government agencies, civil lawyers, criminal prosecutors, and community partners has become the cornerstone of coordinated service delivery for domestic violence victims in New York City and elsewhere, but has not been realized in Westchester.

“As a prosecutor in Westchester’s Integrated Domestic Violence Court, I saw first-hand that many resources needed by domestic violence victims were difficult to seek out and not easily accessible,” Schorr said. “I visited the Family Justice Center in Queens County and spoke extensively with many of the professionals and former colleagues there. I am incredibly impressed by the variety and strength of resources available in one location to assist victims with the many problems associated with domestic violence. As District Attorney, I will create a Family Justice Center in Westchester so that our residents can also gain from these innovations.”

Schorr has successfully prosecuted some of the most dangerous criminal defendants in Westchester and Queens Counties as an Assistant District Attorney specializing in the prosecution of domestic violence, sex crimes, child abuse, and homicides. He has secured numerous convictions in Westchester’s Integrated Domestic Violence Court and has extensive successful jury trial experience.

Schorr is also an Adjunct Professor of Criminal Law and Legal Writing at Pace University Law School. In addition, he has taught in Beijing, China, instructing Chinese judges and lawyers about principles of U.S. criminal justice and trial advocacy as an Adjunct Professor at Tsinghua University. Schorr earned his J.D. from Harvard Law School and his M.A. and B.A. degrees from the University of Pennsylvania.