Completely Legal

A closer look at the courts and cases in the Lower Hudson Valley.


Oil dumper: Castro’s out, Quinn is in08.06.09

Accused oil spilling contractor Anthony Castrella has hired a big gun to help him stay out of jail.

Acclaimed Westchester defense lawyer Andrew Quinn is now representing Castrella and his company, Cast Construction, which spilled hundreds of gallons of heating oil in Harrison in 2007. Quinn, a seasoned trial lawyer, appeared with Casterella today before state Supreme Court Justice Robert Neary.

Castrella was being represented by the firm of Gallo, Feinstein and Naishtut, who assigned Tony Castro to be of counsel to the case. Castro, as you may know, is running for Westchester County District Attorney in a Democratic primary against DA Janet DiFiore. When asked about the switch, Castro said he was “only covering” Casterella’s defense on behalf of the firm and that the firm, not him personally, was relieved of the case.

Quinn has the unenviable task of arguing the case before a judge who recently gave Casterella an ultimatum: go to jail for six months or go to trial on criminal environmental charges.

Neary was unhappy that after many months, Casterella had yet to pay the full $75,000 fine that was part of his plea of guilty to felony endangering public health or the environment. If he had paid the fine in full, he would be out on five years’ probation.

Now, he’s paying Quinn instead and facing up to four years in prison.

Casterella is accused of rupturing an oil line during a property renovation at 57 Kenilworth Road in December 2007. The rip caused more than 200 gallons of heating oil to seep into a neighbor’s property, the groundwater and a quarter-acre of town wetlands. Prosecutors said Casterella made no effort to clean up the mess.

Casterella is facing the felony environmental charge as well as misdemeanor charges of falsifying business records and criminal mischief. He could be fined $150,000 if convicted.

Quinn is well-known around these parts as a legal eagle, having gotten two cops off the hook in high-profile cases. One was ex-Mount Kisco officer George Bubaris, who was charged with manslaughter in the 2007 death of drunken immigrant Rene Javier Perez. The other was Yonkers officer Wayne Simoes, who was facing federal civil rights charges for allegedly body-slamming Irma Marquez at a bar. Currently, he is defending a Sleepy Hollow police officer accused of violating the rights of two civilians during separate incidents.

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Simoes gets a jury05.18.09

Eight men and four women will decide the fate of Yonkers cop Wayne Simoes in the federal criminal trial where he’s accused of slamming Irma Marquez to the floor of a Yonkers restaurant in March 2007.

Jury selection just ended about an hour ago in the Brieant Courthouse. 

The trial is expected to last about a week. A bespectacled Simoes joined his lawyers for every sidebar at Judge Kenneth Karas’ bench today. His wife, Julia, sat in the front row behind the defense table.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Benjamin Torrance is expected to deliver the prosecution’s opening remarks a little after 9:30 tomorrow morning.

Unlike the last trial in front of Karas which lasted five weeks, testimony in this case is expected to take five days.

Prosecutors will call just a handful of witnesses, including cops who were at the scene with Simoes, paramedics,  Marquez’s niece, and an emergency room doctor who treated Marquez for her injuries – which included a badly bruised face, a broken jaw, and a concussion. Their most important piece of evidence might be the videotape from inside La Fonda Restaurant that appears to show Simoes assaulting Marquez.

But they don’t intend to call Marquez and have declined to say why, citing a policy against discussing trial strategy.

Simoes’ star witness is expected to be a video expert who has broken the infamous security tape down frame by frame.

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Tweet goes the trial05.18.09

Time was all a judge had to do to remind jurors to avoid media coverage of a trial was warn them not to read the newspaper or watch the nightly news until the case was over.

But the explosion of all-points information via instantaneously updated social networking sites and the web in general is forcing judges to adjust their usual admonitions. The Times carried a story a couple of months back about jurors researching cases on the Internet and updating their friends about the trial via Twitter and other sites.

Today, for the first time, Judge Kenneth Karas expanded his pre-trial media warning to include the swelling universe of potential problems in keeping jurors pure. He told them to avoid media coverage of the case, as usual. But then defined media in a sort of “Jury Instruction 2.0” way.

“When I say media I mean newspapers and television news,” he said, “and Twitter and YouTube, MySpace, the whole gamut.”

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TMI, jury style05.18.09

So Judge Kenneth Karas is running potential jurors through the questionnaire for prospective membership on the  Wayne Simoes panel in the Brieant Courthouse a couple of hours ago. Standard questions about relatives who are cops, whether the juror or a relative was ever the victim of a crime or convicted of a crime, whether they knew any of the potential witnesses, the lawyers, or Simoes. 

All was going fine until Karas asked one man, a 62-year-old plumber from Westchester about his family. Three kids, all in school, he replied. What grade level, the judge asked the 62-year-old. Ninth, eighth “and one in kindergarten,” the proud papa replied.

“Wow, you really do have your hands full,” the judge said.

“And this was before Viagra,” the plumber replied, eliciting howls from the 49 other potential jurors as well as observers in the court.

“Now, were there any questions on the questionnaire about that?” the judge asked.

 

UPDATE: The plumber didn’t make the jury cut.

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Simoes case reaches jury selection05.18.09

Jury selection has begun in the federal criminal trial of Yonkers cop Wayne Simoes. The eight-year veteran of the YPD is accused of body-slamming 44-year-old Irma Marquez face-first to the ground of LaFonda Restaurant in March 3, 2007. The selection of the 12 member panel plus four alternates expected to last at least the rest of the day. Judge Kenneth Karas indicated he was looking at tomorrow morning for opening arguments. Assistant U.S. Attorney Anna Skotko said she expects to call between six and nine witnesses in the trial that should last about a week. Simoes’ defense contends that he did not slam Marquez to the floor but that he dropped her.

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