Scenes from the start of the Sheldene Campbell trial

More than three years after Sheldene Campbell (left) killed one woman and injured another in a hit-and-run rampage in White Plains, her murder and assault trial opened today in Westchester County Court.  County Judge Barbara Zambelli, who is a stickler for starting proceedings at 9:30 a.m. sharp, had to delay opening statements for nearly an hour because of a string of unforeseen circumstances.

First, defense lawyer Allan Laurence Brenner was a half-hour late because did not have an up-to-date attorney’s pass and had to wait in the long, long courthouse security line to enter. Zambelli admonished him but said she would ask court security to accept his expired pass. Then she apologized to Brenner for getting his first name wrong during in previous court proceedings, when she apparently referred to him by his middle name. She chided him and prosecutor Christine O’Connor for never correcting her. Brenner kidded that his name was unimportant to the case.

Then, the appointed jury foreman was dismissed after telling Zambelli that he questioned his own objectivity because two of his family members are retired law enforcement officers. A female juror took his place.

The panel for Campbell’s trial also has an unusual pair of jurors: a husband and wife team. The wife was called in separately and promised — as her husband did previously —that she would follow the judge’s orders to not talk about the case until deliberations began. Zambelli, who oversees a plethora of criminal trials every year, seeemed amazed that a married couple was picked for the same jury: “This is an all-time first for me,” she said.

By the time the jury entered, the courtroom was packed. Family and friends of the victims filled the front row on one side while prosecutors and spectators filled the rows behind them. The other side of the courtroom was packed with teenaged girls from Maria Regina High School in Hartsdale, who were observing the proceedings as an assignment.

Campbell, who has been in jail since Oct. 29. 2008, is facing 25 years to life in prison if convicted of second-degree murder, the top charge. Her trial will continue on Wednesday.

Political intrigue, personal tragedy in Westchester court

The political career of White Plains Mayor Adam Bradley was dealt a blow today when he was found guilty of domestic violence charges, convicted of attempted assault,  criminal contempt and harassment of his wife, Fumiko Bradley. Read more about the case and Bradley’s reaction here.

The courtroom was packed with media, attorneys and many interested onlookers. Bradley walked into court at 9:30 a.m. and sat in the gallery next to his private spokesman, Darren Grubb. Acting state Supreme Court Justice Susan Capeci allowed cameras in the courtroom — a rarity in Westchester County Court. But to avoid a dozen photographers and videographers in the jury box, the judge asked The Journal News to be the pool photographer and WABC7 to be the pool videographer.

The judge walked in at 9:40 a.m. She took about a minute to read her verdict. She convicted the mayor of two misdemeanors and three violations but acquitted him of three misdemeanor counts of assault and one of witness tampering. She offered no explanation of how she reached her decision.

By 9:45 a.m., the courtroom was cleared so Capeci could take other cases.

One floor above the Bradley proceeding, a personal tragedy was unfolding for two families. Westchester County Judge James Hubert sentenced 16-year-old Brain Sabia to seven years in prison for smashing into Irvington Police Officer Luigi Osso in April, nearly killing him with a stolen car. Osso, who requires round-the-clock care, came to court with his wife, personal nurse and a throng of supporters, including several Irvington officers. Sabia, who was prosecuted as an adult, apologized for putting so many people through “hell.” Osso didn’t speak, but his wife’s victim impact statement was heartbreaking. You can read about the court proceeding and case here.

A lighter moment in mayor’s domestic violence trial

At every trial, no matter how grave the allegations, there are moments of levity. It was no different today during the domestic violence trial of White Plains Mayor Adam Bradley (left) in Westchester County Court.

When one witness — a friend and neighbor of the Bradleys — was asked if she could identify the  mayor in the courtroom, she described a man wearing “a dark suit, red tie and light blue shirt.”

One problem — Bradley’s lawyer, Luis Andrew Penichet, was wearing the exact same ensemble.

When Judge Susan Capeci pointed this out, the courtroom filled with laughter and Penichet threw up his arms and said he would stipulate that the witness was describing his client.

The rest of the trial was serious, as Penichet defended the mayor against six misdemeanor charges and three violations that include assault, witness tampering and harassment. Two White Plains police officers and the Bradley’s neighbor took the stand, but their testimony took a back seat to that of Fumiko Bradley, the mayor’s wife, who brought the original charges against her husband in February.

To read more about the trial’s first day, click here.

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.”

White Plains man to serve 10 years for raping girl, 9

A 33-year-old White Plains man was sentenced to 10 years in prison today for sexually molesting a young female relative for more than four years, beginning when she was 9.

Bernabe Rodriguez (left), of 256 S. Lexington Ave., also must serve 15 years of post-release supervision and register as a sex offender after finishing his prison term.

Westchester County prosecutors said Rodriguez “repeatedly sexually abused” and raped the girl between Sept. 21, 2005, and Nov. 23, 2009, including in the presence of three other children. The girl told her mother of the abuse, and when the mother called White Plains police, Rodriguez surrendered and confessed.

He pleaded guilty to one count of first-degree course of sexual conduct against a child, a felony. He is under court orders no have no contact whatsoever with the girl or her family until 2043.

White Plains’ mayor due in court for domestic violence case

UPDATE: Mayor opts for bench trial in November. Click here to read more.

A week after White Plains Mayor Adam Bradley and his wife Fumiko filed separate divorce papers, the mayor will be back in court tomorrow as his criminal domestic violence case moves forward.

His lawyers and prosecutors will have a pre-trial conference Thursday morning with Westchester County Judge Susan Capeci, who also is handling the divorce proceedings as part of the county’s integrated domestic violence court.

In signed statements and e-mails to her neighbor, Fumiko Bradley, the mayor’s wife of eight years, outlined a pattern of abuse by her husband, with escalating verbal and physical confrontations over the years, especially during his mayoral run last fall.

She accused him of slamming her fingers in a doorway, throwing hot tea on her, squeezing her arms so hard they bruised and pushing her down a flight of stairs. She also said Bradley pressured her to drop the case or take the blame for the accusations, including pressing her to go to a mental institution and say she was crazy.

The mayor has declined to comment on the allegations, saying he will address them only in court.

Bradley, whose wife has a protective order against him, faces nine misdemeanor and violation charges that include assault, witness tampering and harassment. He is also facing an ethics probe in the city, stemming from his relationship with his new landlord.

The mayor, who divorced his first wife in 1994, has two young daughters with Fumiko Bradley. The couple no longer live together.

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.

Last member of Peekskill drug crew gets 25 years in prison

The last of the members of the infamous Barnes Brothers drug crew that operated out of Peekskill was sentenced today to 25 years in prison for his part in the violent crack cocaine organization.

U.S. District Judge Stephen C. Robinson sentenced Tuere Barnes, 27, in U.S. District Court in White Plains more than a year after a federal jury convicted him of racketeering, narcotics conspiracy, murder conspiracy, kidnapping, and possessing a firearm in connection with a violent crime.

Barnes is the younger brother of kingpin Khalid Barnes who was sentenced to life in prison after a jury spared him the death penalty following his conviction in the cold-blooded killings of two other drug dealers in Manhattan. The crew operated from 1995 to March 2004, federal prosecutors said.

All 11 members of the Barnes crew have been convicted. Another defendant in the case who was not a member of the crew, Anthony “Toast” Paulino, remains on the lam.

State AG candidate comes to White Plains

Staten island District Attorney Dan Donovan, who is seeking the GOP nod for New York Attorney General, paid a visit to White Plains this morning to pick up an endorsement from former Gov. George Pataki in front of the Westchester County Courthouse.

“I can tell ya,” Pataki said, “that Dan Donovan as state attorney general is not going to tolerate legislative corruption. He’s not going to tolerate politicians who think they’re above the law.”

Donovan welcomed the endorsement of Pataki, the former Peekskill mayor who served 12 years as governor, saying that both he and Pataki believe New Yorkers deserve better government, one that is “free from the choke hold of special interests.”

“The last four years have been a disaster,” he said. “It’s time for a change.”

Onondaga County Comptroller Robert Antonacci said Monday that he also plans to run for attorney general on the Republican line.

Both men are running in a race that is expected to be vacated at year’s end by Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, who is expected to announce he is running for governor.

On the Democratic side, at least five candidates are running for Cuomo’s seat: Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice; former state Insurance Superintendent Eric Dinallo; lawyer Sean Coffey; Assemblyman Richard Brodsky, D-Greenburgh; and Sen. Eric Schneiderman, D-Manhattan. The parties will nominate their candidates for statewide offices in late May and early June.

Photo: Pataki, at podium, with Donovan

Indicted White Plains dentist has Gotti lawyer


White Plains dentist indicted for fraud will be represented at trial by one of the lawyers who successfully defended alleged Gambino Crime Family leader John Gotti Jr.

Attorney Charles Carnesi, who won acquittals at Gotti’s third and fourth federal trials, was hired by Dr. Joanne Baker to fight insurance fraud charges against her. Jury selection in Baker’s trial started this morning in Westchester County Court.

Baker, a 51-year-old Scarsdale resident, is accused of bilking Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. out of $15,000 from her office at 1 Bryant Crescent and then trying to cover it up. She is alleged to have billed MetLife for dental work that she never performed. Prosecutors say she created phony patient medical records and sent copies to the insurance firm, starting in September 2006.

About 18 patients came forward in 2008 to say Baker had billed MetLife for dental work she never provided. The National Insurance Crime Bureau, the MetLife Auto and Home Fraud Unit and the District Attorney’s Office investigated the claims, and Baker was arrested Sept. 23, 2008.

She has pleaded not guilty to the entite 13-count indictment charging her with grand larceny, insurance fraud, scheme to defraud and falsifying business records, all felonies. She is free on $10,000 bail.

Carnesi and Assistant District Attorney Brian Fitzgerald are expected to give opening statments at the dentist’s felony trial on Thursday, May 20 in front of Judge Barbara Zambelli.

Photo: Joanne Baker