Westchester judge denies special prosecutor in child rape, murder case

Westchester County Judge Barry Warhit (left) was called up to Putnam County this week to make a ruling on a 15-year-old case in Carmel involving the rape and murder of a 12-year-old Carmel girl.

Warhit, a relatively new judge who has been praised by both prosecutors and defense lawyers in Westchester for his fair judgements and balanced rulings, denied the defense’s request to appoint a special prosecutor, give immunity to a Sing Sing inmate who may testify and have the court interview every potential witness to check for possible coersion in the upcoming retrial of accused killer Anthony DiPippo.

DiPippo and another man, Andrew Krivak, were convicted of killing Josette Wright, a seventh-grader who disappeared in October 1994. Her body was found in the Patterson woods the following year. DiPippo was granted a new trial last year after a state appeals court found that his lawyer had a conflict of interest in the case.

Landscaper awarded $11.2M for lost leg, injuries

Robert Loja (middle, in photo) was living the American Dream, his lawyers said. After emigrating from Ecuador at 17 and getting his U.S. citizenship, Loja and his wife, Maria, owned a home in Peekskill where they lived with their 5-year-old son. He had a steady job with a landscaping company for eight years and was making enough so his wife could go to school to be a nurse.

That all changed on Oct. 24, 2008, when a 23-year-old paralegal, blinded by sun glare on her way to work, slammed into Loja as he was unloading a landscaping trailer on Benedict Avenue in Tarrytown. The collision pinned him against the trailer, crushing his legs and nearly killing him. He has been unable to work since.

Loja’s luck took a turn for the better on Friday, when a Westchester County jury awarded him $11.2 million in his suit against Sleepy Hollow Landscaping and the woman who hit him.

His lawyers, Jonathan Rice and Steven Grant, (left and right, respectively, in photo) said the judgment breaks down like this: $3 million for future medical expenses, about $1.4 million for future lost income, $300,000 for past medical expenses and past lost wages, $2.5 million for past pain and suffering, $3 million for future pain and suffering, and $1 million for his wife for past and future pain and suffering.

But that amount instantly is reduced by $3.36 million because the jury found Loja 30% liable for not parking the landscaping trailer in a safer spot. And his lawyers said there is little chance he would collect anywhere close to the remaining $7.84 million from the landscaping company and driver.

His lawyers hope they can negotiate enough money from the defendants to save Loja’s house from foreclosure and to buy a new, better-fitting prosthesis for his left leg, which they said would allow him to get the surgery he needs on his right leg.

Desk of the DA: Put down the cell phone while driving!

Westchester County District Attorney Janet DiFiore’s monthly message for November (edited for length) centers on the dangers of texting while driving:

As Westchester County’s chief law enforcement officer, I am concerned with all aspects of public safety, including safe driving, and I would like to focus drivers, especially young drivers and their parents, on safety issues and changes in the law with respect to driving while using cell phones and other hand-held portable electronic devices.

It is illegal in New York State for a driver to use a hand-held portable electronic device while driving. The new law allows a police officer to stop a vehicle whose driver is using a hand-held portable electronic device and issue the driver a ticket.  The new law defines “using” broadly, to include “holding a portable electronic device while viewing, taking or transmitting images, playing games, or composing, sending, reading, viewing, accessing, browsing, transmitting, saving or retrieving email, text messages or other electronic data.”  The new law also increases the penalty, from two to three points on the driver’s license, and allows for a maximum fine of $150.

Police in Westchester County have issued summonses to approximately 165 drivers for texting while driving as of mid-September, as compared to approximately 100 summonses for texting while driving in all of 2010. In that same July through mid-September period of this year, there were approximately 1,459 summonses issued to drivers in Westchester County for talking on their cell phones while driving.

We know based on research conducted in this area that using a cell phone or other hand-held electronic device is a dangerous distraction to a driver.  A Clemson University study carried out using a simulator found that text messaging and using iPods caused drivers to leave their lanes 10 percent more often than drivers who were not distracted. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that 20% of injury crashes in 2009 involved reports of distracted driving.

Teen drivers are of particular safety concern to me because of their relative inexperience as drivers and their high rate of texting. Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death among teens. Nielsen reports that the average teen is sending or receiving 3,339 text messages every month, an astounding number that averages out to six messages per hour when these teens are not asleep. Pew Center researchers found that one in three texting teens, ages 16 to 17, admit to texting behind the wheel – one in three ! Government statistics show that the under-20 age group has the greatest proportion of distracted drivers. Of drivers under age 20 involved in fatal crashes, 16% were reportedly to have been distracted while driving.

Drivers need to put down hand-held device, and parents need to model this behavior for their children, just as they insist on seat belts. Let’s get back to road safety basics: keep your eyes, your hands and your mind on the road.


Former Dobbs Ferry mayor, county judge dies at 80

Rolon William Reed, a former Westchester County judge who was mayor of Dobbs Ferry from 1979 to 1984, died Sunday near his Florida home from pneumonia and related complications, according to a family obituary. He was 80.

Reed, who was born in Pittsburgh and graduated from Yale Law School, moved to Dobbs Ferry in 1963, eight years after joining the Manhattan law firm Simpson Thacher & Bartlett. He ran for village trustee  in 1974 as a Democrat in what was then a traditionally Republican village. Elected mayor in 1979, his efforts helped to transform Willow Point from a semi-industrial eyesore into a public park.

Reed, who retired as his firm’s partner in 1984, served as mayor until former Gov. Mario Cuomo appointed him to a judgeship that year. He left the bench in 1989 when he and his wife, Diana, moved to the Lake Jem area, outside Mount Dora, Fla.

When he moved to Florida, he once again got involved in local politics, becoming an interim county attorney. He also was public advocate battling overzealous real estate developers, helping local leaders to develop plans that guided growth to cities and kept urban sprawl out of rural areas.

Reed left his last public position to become a “retired country gentleman” at Sweetwater Farm with his dog, cattle, gardens and fishing pond.

Reed is survived by his wife, his three children from his first marriage, Rolon A. Reed, III, Hilary Yeo and Jennifer Simon, and four grandchildren, Jordan Yeo, Samuel Reed, Molly Yeo and Ella Simon, as well as his sister, Marilyn Reed Mellor.

Family members and colleagues described Reed as a charismatic contrarian, who was never afraid to fight for a position others opposed or did not understand.

Photo: Rolon Reed in 1988.

Summer Justice Academy for Young Women kicks off third year

The New York Chapter of the National Association of Women Judge and Pace Law School are launching the third annual Summer Justice Academy for Young Women with a fundraiser tomorrow for the program, which will take place on July 11-15.

The Justice Academy is a one-week program that introduces 40 minority and disadvantaged high school students from Westchester County and New York City to the law, to inspire them to pursue careers in the legal field. Students are taught primarily by women judges, law professors and practicing lawyers who volunteer their time. Pace faculty also serve as professional and academic role models.

The girls typically tour the Westchester County Courthouse to meet judges and prosecutors This year, for the first time, the girls are going to Washington, D.C. to tour the U.S. Supreme Court, the Capitol and possibly the White House.

“In its two years of operation, the Justice Academy has already motivated students who have gone on to college, and who now credit the Justice Academy with exposing them to the tremendous opportunities of a legal education and giving them the confidence and inspiration to pursue careers in law,” organizers said in a written statement.

The fundraising reception will be held from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, June 29, at Shenorock Shore Club in Rye. To RSVP or to inquire about making a donation, call Judy Jaeger at Pace Law School at (914) 422-4407.

Longtime director of Westchester Legal Aid to retire

Talk about an end of an era.

Attorney Steven J. Pittari, whose name has become synonymous with the Westchester Legal Aid Society, will retire after more than 20 years as its director.

Pittari, only the second director in the agency’s history, has been a Legal Aid lawyer for more than 40 years. Legal Aid represents indigent clients charged of felonies.

Pittari’s last day will be June 30. Legal Aid’s Deputy Chief Counsel, John F. Ryan, who recently had the challenge of representing double murderer Darrell Evans, will take Pittari’s place as executive director and chief counsel.

No more night classes at Pace Law School

For anyone who’s ever wanted to keep a full-time job and go to Pace Law School at night, you better start looking somewhere else.

Westchester County’s only law school is cutting its part-time evening classes. Those in the program this year will be the last ones accepted. Here’s the explanation from Pace officials:

“In personal letters to current students and alumni, Dean (Michelle S.) Simon cited a confluence of demographic and economic factors necessitating the decision, made after ‘much research and internal discussion’ at the law school and Pace University. The viability and vitality of part-time evening programs has been an issue nationwide. Demand is down, with employer-subsidized law degrees a thing of the past, and employees reluctant to jeopardize their primary jobs by pursuing a part-time advanced degree.

“‘Phasing out what has become a costly program with steadily declining enrollment will allow the law school to reallocate resources to innovative, new programs designed to preserve flexibility and reduce the expense of a legal education,’ explained Dean Simon. These initiatives include a January admit program, the part-time day program, a continuation of evening courses year-round, and the summer skills semester.

“The part-time evening program has been a division of the law school since its inception in 1976. While Dean Simon conceded that ‘this is an emotional issue,’ she is confident that ‘the benefits far outweigh any losses.’

“The fall 2010 incoming class will be the last to enter the evening division. Students will be fully supported and retained until each member graduates over the next four years.”

‘Judge Judy’ mentoring program returns to Westchester

They may have never seen her show, but ‘Judge Judy’ (left) is helping 40 girls from Westchester County with their future careers.

The program, called “Her Honor,” matches promising young women with professional women who provide hands-on work experience, advice and guidance about how to succeed in the workplace, according to the county executive’s office.

This year, the 40 girls come from Mamaroneck High School, White Plains High School, Mount Vernon High School, Nelson Mandela High School in Mount Vernon and Saunders Trades and Technical High School in Yonkers.

The program is funded by Judge Judith “Judy” Sheindlin, and Patricia Lanza of the Lanza Family Foundation and administered by the Westchester County Office for Women and the Women’s Research and Education Fund.

The girls will meet their mentors this Thursday at an 11:30 a.m. reception hosted by Judge Judy herself at the Bonnie Briar Country Club in Larchmont.

And now … a mouse in Yonkers Family Court

Back in July, we wrote about the lousy conditions in Yonkers Family Court, which state court officials called one of the worst family courts in New York because of the overcrowding, security problems and accessibility violations in the downtown building.

Well, apparently the problems reached a new level today — a mouse (not necessarily this one) ran across the waiting room floor at about 10:30 this morning.

“You can’t make this stuff up,” Administrative Judge Alan Scheinkman said.

While this may be the first time a rodent was spotted during business hours, Scheinkman said, the building at 53 S. Broadway that houses Family Court has had vermin problems for a while. He said an exterminator came about six months ago to clean house, but evidence of the long-tailed critters remains.

“We’ve had their droppings. We’ve had their odors,” he said.

Still no word from Westchester County officials if they’ll move Yonkers Family Court into a newer, better facility. Scheinkman said he has exchanged ideas with county administrations, but that nothing has been decided.

White Plains court celebrates drug rehab graduation

We’re back from vacation here at Completely Legal with some news out of local courts in Westchester:

The City Court of White Plains will host a graduation party on Tuesday, Aug. 26 for people who have successfully completed the rehabilitation program offered through the White Plains Treatment Court. The guest speaker will be William Marshall, the executive director of Hawthorne House, a halfway house in White Plains for men in recovery.

The event will begin at 12:30 p.m. at the city court at 77 South Lexington Ave. and will “celebrate the sobriety and the accomplishments of our participants,” according to the invitation.