SCOTUS: DAs not liable for evidence-withholding prosecutors

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that District Attorneys cannot be held liable for failing to train their prosecutors about their obligation to turn over evidence that favors the defense.

The Supreme Court case was brought by a Maryland man convicted for attempted armed robbery after prosecutors withheld a crime lab report exonerating him. When he was later on trial for murder, he chose not to testify because of the robbery conviction, and was found guilty of murder. The lab report was uncovered a month before he was to be executed. Both convictions were thrown out, and he was acquitted of murder at a second trial.

The man sued the DA’s office, claiming that his convictions were the result of the DA’s “deliberate indifference” to prosecutors’ lack of training on what are called Brady violations. But in a 5-4 decision, written by Judge Clarence Thomas, the Supreme Court found that “a district attorney’s office may not be held liable for failure to train its prosecutors based on a single Brady violation.”

“Prosecutors not only are equipped but are ethically bound to know what Brady entails and to perform legal research when they are uncertain,” Thomas wrote. “Thus, recurring constitutional violations are not the “obvious consequence” of failing to provide prosecutors with formal in-house training.”

Here in Westchester, the last two district attorneys have come under fire over allegations that their prosecutors withheld evidence.

This past January, a judge overturned the 1992 manslaughter conviction of Louis Hairston, finding that the prosecutor in the case withheld evidence that could have exonerated him in a fatal shooting. Hairston was prosecuted under late District Attorney Carl Vergari, and the prosecutor in the case, George Bolen, retired. Hairston is due back in court for a pre-trial conference on May 5.

Former District Attorney Jeanine Pirro was sharply criticized for withholding evidence in the Anthony DiSimone case.  DiSimone’s murder conviction was overturned in 2007 when it was discovered that boxes of evidence pointing to the possibility that another man killed Louis Balancio were never turned over to the defense. DiSimone, who served seven years in prison before getting his conviction thrown out, pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to time served.

Westchester DA fundraising facts

Yesterday, I reported that incumbent District Attorney Janet DiFiore had $420,000 in her campaign war chest. Turns out her opponents are far, far behind. GOP candidate Dan Schorr has about $60,000 in the election piggy bank, while Democratic primary challenger Tony Castro has only $9,200.

DiFiore has some BIG spenders giving money to her campaign. One guy, Dennis S. Hersch of Manhattan (Upper West Side) donated a whopping $26,000 in May — the largest single donation this year. Other five-figure donors included Peter A. Hochfelder of Purchase ($25,000) and Ettore V. Biagioni of Bronxville ($10,000). Many, many people donated between $5,000 and $1,000.

Castro, apparently, isn’t worried about having 2 percent of what DiFiore has to spend. He told my colleague Rich Liebson (who attended his twice-rescheduled press conference today) that he is confident that he’ll have enough money to get his message out before the primary. That could mean some heavy-hitting contributions over the next two months. We’ll see.

Castro had about $80,000 to start the year and raised $22,000. But he spend more than $93,000 — most of that doled out in increments of a few hundred dollars each to more than 90 people who collected signatures for him.

An interesting expense on his campaign finance report: three parking tickets in April from the City of White Plains. Anyone who parks a car in White Plains on a regular basis has gotten the dreaded red ticket on their windshield (myself included). I asked Castro if they were his parking tickets. He said he didn’t know about them. “But I’m sure they were from someone working hard on the campaign,” he added.

Dan Schorr’s numbers are as follows: He started out the year with $118,000, raised nearly $57,000 and spent $115,000. His biggest single expense was a $42,000 loan repayment to Daniel R. Schorr (likely for out-of-pocket expenses paid up front) followed by printing and mailing costs.

An interesting campaign expense from Schorr: $625 on Facebook advertisements. He’s the only candidate of the three who is on Facebook, and he Twitters, too. Funny how none of his ads have ever popped up on my Facebook page. Then again, Schorr isn’t one of my “Facebook friends” — and neither is anyone who I could potentially write about for the newspaper.

DiFiore’s campaign piggy bank

DiFiore has 500,000 reasons to be happy with her campaign fundraising; that’s how many dollars the incumbent Westchester district attorney has raised in her bid for a second term, according to her campaign press office.

She has $420,000 cash on hand to outspend her Democratic opponent, Tony Castro (who postponed his still-mysterious press conference in front of the Board of Elections until tomorrow) and to take on GOP rival Dan Schorr in the fall.

“I am pleased and proud to have broad-based support from so many people throughout Westchester and New York state who appreciate the quality and the integrity of the work I am doing,” DiFiore said in a written statement.  “The list of contributors includes many lawyers and former judges, prosecutors, and police officers who understand the importance of my work.”

We’ll get a list of some of those donors as soon as possible, since today was the deadline to file the mid-year campaign finance report with the New York State Board of Elections.

For Schorr: PBA of Westchester endorsement

This morning, the Police Benevolent Association of Westchester endorsed Republican challenger Dan Schorr in his bid to upset Westchester District Attorney Janet DiFiore,  who was recently endorsed by the Westchester County Chiefs of Police Association.

The PBA of Westchester is a fraternal organization and is not affiliated with the Westchester County PBA, which is the PBA for county police officers. Each police department has its own PBA as well.

This is the statement released by the Schorr campaign:

“The PBA of Westchester endorsement means a great deal to me and I am honored to be running for district attorney with its support,” Mr. Schorr said. “Police officers in Westchester risk their lives to protect the public from dangerous criminals, but their arrests need to be backed up in court with vigorous prosecutions.  Violent felons receive lenient sentences in easy plea-bargain deals way too often in this county.  I am going to change that the day I take office. Public safety requires toughness and vigilance.”

And here’s the statement from the PBA of Westchester:

“The PBA of Westchester endorses Dan Schorr because of his deep prosecutorial experience and his commitment to fully charging violent felons for their crimes,” said Joseph Giustino, Chairman of the PBA of Westchester Endorsement Committee. “The PBA of Westchester is also impressed by Mr. Schorr’s commitment to crack down on sexual predators in Westchester and provide essential services and protections to victims of domestic violence. The PBA of Westchester is confident that Mr. Schorr will back up the police work of our members and make an outstanding DA.”

Schorr’s spring plans

 Today’s snowstorm had Westchester District Attorney candidate Dan Schorr thinking of nicer weather (and the election) this morning. In an e-mail, he announced his plans for a spring fundraiser in his bid to unseat DA Janet DiFiore.

The event is planned for March 19 at Vintage in White Plains. Minimum entry is $75. Call 914-513-3745 for more information.

Photo/graphic from www.electdanschorr.com

With courts closed today …

Here’s something for your viewing pleasure: Dan Schorr, the guy who’s trying to oust Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore, is now on YouTube.

He posted video from the opening of his campaign headquarters on the site, just in case, y’know, you really, really wanted to be there and couldn’t go, or if you didn’t get an invitation and were just dying to know what happened, Schorr is here to oblige.

Click here to see the video.