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Gotham Gazette

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Citizens Union

Public Safety

The Case of The Youthful Offender And The Bawdy House Law


 

What happens when two laws that are both intended to protect people come into conflict with one another? Two such laws -- one, protecting young people who have made a mistake; the other, protecting tenants of public housing –- collided in the Bronx.

Under New York State law, eligible persons under 19 who are found culpable of criminal conduct, may, in the discretion of the court, be adjudicated “youthful offenders” or Y.O.'s. Their records are sealed to spare young adults who have violated the criminal laws from the stigma and detrimental consequences of a criminal conviction.

Criminal convictions resulting from drug activity on residential properties by people living there, must be reported to the landlords, who must then commence eviction proceedings in Housing Court, under the so-called Bawdy House Law, part of New York's Real Property Actions and Proceedings Laws.

Acting Supreme Court Justice Laura Safer Espinoza, the judge in charge of the Bronx Drug Court has criticized the office of D.A. Robert Johnson, for what she described as the "not uncommon" practice of violating the confidentiality of sealed records by supplying them to landlords.

Manauri R., as the youth was identified, had entered a guilty plea, establishing that the drug violation was at the location where he lived. Despite the sealing of the court records of Manauri R., a youthful offender, prosecutors had, without a court order permitting the unsealing, sent them to the landlord of the apartment in which he was living, with notice that due to a drug case, the landlord was obligated to evict the tenant. The landlord did, in fact, commence eviction proceedings, naming both Manauri R. who lived in the apartment, and the actual tenant, Ms. Qualquirys Tavarez. She had not been convicted or even accused of any drug related activity, but the issue came to light in Housing Court when Tavarez's Legal Services attorney learned the reason for the eviction proceeding against her.

The D.A. argued that it was in the interests of justice to evict persons who use or allow the use of residential or retail premises as narcotics warehouses and factories. Such premises should be inhabited by law-abiding persons. The judge did not agree with the prosecution that every allegation of drug possession in a residential apartment, while prohibited by the penal law, rises to the level of an illegal trade or manufacture or other illegal business, prohibited by the Bawdy House law. It must appear that the premises have been used for the unlawful purposes not in an isolated act, but with some measure of continuity.

While the D.A.'s office acknowledged that releasing sealed records without a court order is unlawful, the prosecution lawyers made arguments rejected by Justice Espinoza that either the records were not sealed or were part of an investigation or were transmitted to the landlord inadvertently. The prosecutors argued that they are not prohibited from providing the landlord with copies of documents from their files, analysis and property clerk vouchers, investigatory or business records. But in her decision, the judge pointed out that, "[s]ealing also includes evidence developed during the investigation that preceded the action, if related to the arrest for its prosecution or to the prosecution itself."

It is unavailing, the judge wrote, "in that disclosure of the records did not contravene the purpose or spirit of the Youthful Offender statute. Rather, [the prosecutors] are asserting that publishing the records does not stigmatize the defendant because the focus is not on the juvenile [but rather] on the adult tenant of record and the misuse and illegal use of the tenant's apartment."

"The People published the confidential records to evict him (Manauri R. the youth) as well as Ms. Tavarez.," who was not accused of drug activity. Still, even after Manauri R. left the apartment, the eviction proceeding continued.

"Violation of sealing statutes has been strongly condemned," said Justice Espinoza. "Use of confidential information regarding a youthful offender adjudication, if improperly obtained, is not permitted. [S]ince disclosure is the exception rather than the rule, one seeking disclosure first must demonstrate a compelling and particularized need for access. However, just any demonstration will not suffice. For it and the countervailing policy ground it reflects must be strong enough to overcome the presumption of confidentiality. In short, without the initial showing of a compelling and particularized need, the question of discretion need not be reached, for then there simply would be no policies to balance."

"The People have failed to offer a 'compelling and particularized showing as to how the sealed records in the instant case are necessary and essential to protecting the public from the evils which the Bawdy House Laws address,'" Justice Espinoza concluded.

Since the eviction proceeding was founded on the improperly released youthful offender record, there was no legal basis for it and it was discontinued.

Emily Jane Goodman is a New York State Supreme Court Justice

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Home Invasion Robberies


The perfect crime may be the one that goes unreported. In January, police arrested leaders of a Harlem gang that, policesay, terrorized drug dealers with a series of over 100 home-invasion robberies. The leaders were also allegedly involved in three murders.

The arrest served to spotlight home-invasion robberies, which, according to federal crime statistics, have been increasing nationwide.

Home invasion robberies, which involve either using force or a ruse to enter someone’s home, are not uncommon in the drug trade, in part because the robbers can be confident that the victims will be reluctant to call the police. In December, 2003, the Drug Enforcement Administration and local police arrested drug dealers who, according to DEA"obtained a large amount of their cocaine and heroin by committing violent home invasion robberies of other drug dealers, often in large apartment buildings, endangering the public." And police notedthat the Bronx gang would sometimes target the wrong apartment, robbing people who had nothing to do with the drug trade. The elderly are also frequent targets of such crimes.

Overall, home invasion and push-in robberies (where entrance is gained by following someone to their door or through a ruse) can be traumatizing and can easily escalate into violence.

The New York Police Department declined to release statistics on these types of robberies. However, nationwide statistics released by the FBI show that, while robberies have been decreasing overall, robberies occurring at a residence increased every year from 1999 through 2003, the most recent year statistics are available.

By 2003, residence robberies had increased by 18 percent from 1999. (In contrast, the total number of robberies rose by 1 percent over the same time period.) Most robberies in the United States still happen on the street, but about 14 percent of all robberies took place at a residence in 2003. In the northeast, that number drops to about 9 percent.

New York police, in the past, have held special seminars in neighborhoods where push-in robberies are a problem, warning residents not to fall for the ruses sometimes used by robbers. For example, a robber might knock on the door and claim to be a building inspector or a deliveryperson.

The elderly can be particularly vulnerable to these ruses, as well as to being followed into their homes by a stranger. In 2001, then-Assemblymember Jeffery Klein noticed a sharp spike in push-in robberies in the Pelham Parkway section of the Bronx, about 20 robberies in a two-month span accounting for a surge of about 60 percent. Most targeted the elderly, Klein recalled. Now a state senator, Klein said police found that many apartment doors did not have functioning peepholes and that that lead to many of the crimes. With support from a state grant, police and community organizations, and a local company, about 750 peepholes were installed, leading to a sharp reduction in push-in robberies, Klein said.

Robbers sometimes claim to be police in order to get people to open their doors, perhaps especially troubling to the actual police. But such an impersonation, while involving a separate criminal charge, does not typically lead to a stiffer sentence upon conviction, according to James Evangelou, chief of the Career Criminal Major Crime Bureau for the Queens County district attorney’s office. Neither does the law do much to distinguish between home invasions and street robberies, said Evangelou.

Several years ago, accordin g to the New York Times, some Manhattan residents worried that a strong police presence was keeping criminals off the streets but leading to an increase in push-in robberies. With Operation Impact, the a police effort to increase patrols in high-crime neighborhoods, dramatically increasing the police presence in some neighborhoods, the same concern might arise today. Police though point to statistics that show overall robberies have declined by about 26 percent in neighborhoods where Operation Impact has been in effect.

Terry Rodie, district manager for Brooklyn Community Board 14, which includes Flatbush and Midwood, expressed doubt about whether such a link between police and push-in robberies could exist in her neighborhood. But, she added, "that doesn't mean it couldn't be true. The same theory could be said for a snowstorm."“I think that’s more some kind of a [folk] tale…but I don’t mean to say it could not be true,” said Rodie. “The same theory could be said for a big snowstorm.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rockefeller Drug Law Reform and Drug Courts


When Governor George Pataki focused on crime in his 11th State of the State address, he talked about his plans to handle crime in the future -- creating a "New York's 100 Most Wanted" Web site; pushing an "aggressive anti-crime package, dealing with issues ranging from deadly drivers and gun trafficking to strengthening Megan's Law, and yes - ensuring that our state has a strong death penalty law." And he boasted of his decade-long track record in handling crime -- "108 new laws that toughened penalties or closed criminal-friendly loopholes."

But in his entire speech, he made no mention whatsoever of New York's so-called Rockefeller drug laws.

These laws, which include strict penalties for first-time drug offenders, have been criticized as unfair and unnecessary, and activists have lobbied state officials to revoke them. Finally, in December, after about a decade of trying, and just a couple of weeks before Pataki's speech, the legislature passed a measure to reform the laws. Now, more than 400 prisoners can apply for their freedom, and felons guilty of less serious crimes will get reduced sentences.

But the underlying problems remain - how to stop drug-related crime; what to do about drug-induced criminals. Nearly two-thirds of all prisoners in jail for drug-related offenses are repeat offenders.

Within the criminal justice system, there is an option being viewed more and more favorably, one that does not include prison time, and that many advocates hope to expand. That option is drug court - something else that Pataki did not mention in his speech.

The Rockefeller Law Reform

The Rockefeller drug laws were passed in the 1970s (under then-Governor Nelson Rockefeller), but the drug problem became even worse in the 1980s, spurring a second wave of tough drug laws that ensnared even more drug users and sellers.

Activists who criticized the lock-em-up approach focused on the sad stories of young people seemingly tripped up by their own personal problems more than any calculated plans to make an illicit profit, sentenced to more than 15 years.

Those tragedies may happen but "the lion's share of drug arrests are buy-and-bust operations that target $10 and $20 drug sales," said Valerie Raine, director of drug treatment programs for the Center for Court Innovation, the research group that advises the New York State Court System.

There are 15,600 drug felons in New York State prisons, according to the state Department of Correctional Services. Only about 2,600 of them are guilty of the most serious felonies, called Class A felonies.

Of the remaining 13,000, most (more than 9,800) are repeat offenders guilty of lesser crimes (so-called Class B, C and D crimes).

What the new reforms passed in December will do is reduce the sentences for certain non-violent offenders guilty of a Class B felony, from the current sentences of up nine years to as little as three years.

Drug Courts

Mike Magnani remembers what it was like before there were drug courts in New York City. First-time offenders guilty of small-time drug dealing did, pled or said whatever they had to do in order "to get out the door" and get back to the street, where they could feed their drug habit. Not too surprisingly, most would soon be back. Their second conviction would lead to serious jail time.

The first drug court, the Brooklyn Treatment Court, began in 1996, and it took a different approach -- treating people addicted to drugs before they became repeat offenders facing mandatory time in state prison. Drug users and sellers received supervised treatment instead of jail time. To be eligible for treatment in drug court, however, the defendants had to be found clinically addicted through a screening process, and had to plead guilty. Not every offender is eligible.

Drug courts have now expanded beyond Brooklyn to all five boroughs. Treatment typically lasts more than a year, with frequent trips to the judge to monitor progress. Judges use punishment as a motivator for offenders to complete the treatment program. A first slip-up might mean a weekend in jail; another slip-up three or four days. Positive reinforcement is also part of the program. "The judge becomes more than just the authority figure in court, if he says you're doing a good job, that means a lot to these people," said Magnani, who worked to help expand the Brooklyn Treatment Court, and continues to be involved in drug courts as the director of grants and program development for the New York State Court System.

A three-year study by the Center for Court Innovation found that New York drug courts sharply reduced recidivism rates. While treatment programs do exist within New York prisons, Raine said research has been done that shows treatment done outside of prison has a better success rate. Some research suggests that two thirds of drug felons are rearrested within three years after being released from prison.

Non-Adversarial; Not Perfect

Drug courts have grown in popularity, and in 2000 New York became the first state to announce a program that would greatly expand drug court to include nearly all non-violent criminals addicted to drugs.

A drug court is now operating in every New York county. About 7,000 New Yorkers have participated in drug court since its inception. There were 3,384 referrals to New York City drug courts in 2003, with 1030 pleas taken. If drug courts could theoretically now handle as many as 10,000 non-violent criminals a year statewide, drug courts have not handled nearly as much, said Raine.

Some see the next step as expanding drug court beyond drug cases. In New York, a new program began last year in Brooklyn called STEP, an acronym for Screening and Treatment Enhancement Part. The program expanded the criteria for drug court eligibility to include people accused of non-drug crimes. Magnani said that a similar program is scheduled to begin in the Bronx.

Robert Gangi, executive director of the Correctional Association of New York, has for years spoken out against the Rockefeller drug laws. He said that he hadn't studied New York drug courts closely, but "we have a generally favorable impression. The problem with the drug courts is that the decision about who is eligible…is controlled by the prosecutors."

Raine said that New York City offered a more formalized screening process to decide who should be eligible for drug court, but "at the end of the day, [the decision] lies with prosecutors." And prosecutors differ in their willingness to partner with drug courts. "In Brooklyn, [District Attorey Charles] Hynes has been a great partner and believer of treatment,"said Magnani. Hynes introduced a separate program apart from drug court called Drug Treatment Alternative to Prison in 1990, which gave repeat offenders facing mandatory prison time an option of residential treatment instead of prison.

Magnani said an important part of a successful drug court is that prosecutors, defense attorneys, judges and defendants must all agree on what the best course of action is. "We try to make the courtroom non-adversarial…we don't want lawyers arguing…If an addict hears that type of stuff, they think there's a crack that they can get through."

But it can be difficult to get all the players to buy in to the drug court concept. "If there is a first-time offender with a misdemeanor, there is no way a defense attorney is going to say, 'You need a year of treatment,'" said Raine.

Nevertheless, misdemeanor drug courts exist in New York City (treatment might typically last 90 days, said Magnani). Another type of drug court would work with youthful offenders. But Magnani cautioned that the typical drug court candidate was in their late 20s, and that the graduated punishment and reward system that works for adults might not be the best way to treat a younger population.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Battling Gun Violence In The Streets And In The Courts


Melissa Gayle, 10th grader at Washington Irving High School who spent her spare time doing charity work with a religious group in the Bronx, was on her way to get a snack near her home in East Harlem one evening in October, when she was shot deadby a single, stray bullet.

It is difficult to call her random murder commonplace in New York City. One could almost be comforted by the recent improvement in the statistics – shootings in the city decreased from 2,030 in 1999 to 1,837 in 2003. And while nationwide, almost three-quarters of all murders were committed with a gun, in New York City, it is a little bit more than half – some 325 people shot dead in 2002, according to the Department of Health, not including those deaths caused by the police.

But even one such horror story makes it clear that the battle to stop gun violence has not been won. Now, while police continue with strategies designed specifically to get guns off the street, the frontline in the battle is as much in the courtroom, thanks to the new Gun Courts, and ongoing gun lawsuits.

Police Strategies

Police continue to attack the gun problem on a variety of fronts outlined in a Vera Institute of Justice report(in pdf format). Operation Gun Stop, an anonymous tip program that offers a $1000 reward for information leading to the arrest of anyone for felony gun possession, resulted in the recovery of 455 illegal guns and 757 arrests from April 2002 through last December.

The Firearms Investigation Unit continues to work undercover, as the case against the men involved in the shooting deaths of two undercover officers last year continues. The case highlights the dangers of trying to crack down on illegal gun traffickers, dangers that might have increased since the expiration of the federal ban on assault weapons.

Gun Courts

The idea behind gun courts is at least partly grounded in psychology. Before gun courts, cases where illegal gun possession is the most serious charge were mixed in with other cases, sometimes murder or rape cases, that had the effect of making gun possession seem minor in comparison. Mandatory sentences might seem to solve that problem, but while New York has stiff penalties of a year for even first-time offenders guilty of illegal gun possession, judges are able to set aside the minimum if they feel it is unduly harsh.

So, Brooklyn Gun Court was born in April of last year, to keep gun cases from “fall[ing] between the cracks of the criminal courts,” explained Justice Jonathan Lippman, the state’s chief administrative judge. The court began by hearing cases from five Brooklyn neighborhoods known by police to be centers of gun violence. The concept has since expanded to include parts of the Bronx and Queens. In each gun court, one judge and a handful of prosecutors handle all gun cases.

New York is not the first city to adopt the gun court strategy in an effort to speed up gun cases and enforce sentences more in line with mandatory minimums. But it may be one of the toughest, at least compared with the nation’s first gun court in Providence, Rhode Island.

Rhode Island, like New York, has long had lengthy mandatory sentences for those convicted of illegal gun possession. In Providence, however, before the creation of gun court, sentences—including probation—were only imposed in 67 percent of cases, and jail time imposed in only about 25 percent of cases. During the first four years of gun court, sentences were enforced in 82 percent of cases.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg happily trumpeted the drastic change after the first few months of gun court. Of the first 97 cases resolved by the gun court, 98 percent resulted in jail or prison for offenders, and median jail time increased from 90 days to a year. Statistics in the current issue of Legal Affairs magazinereveal that about 75 percent of the first 300 cases resulted in sentences of at least one year in jail, compared to about 50 percent of gun cases in the rest of the borough that don’t go through gun court.

Clearly gun courts are specialized courts that, unlike drug courts, which offer counseling, mainly exist to make sure criminals are punished for illegal gun possession. Whether or not such sentences will reduce gun violence in the city remains to be seen.

Gun Lawsuits

Stopping the flow of illegal guns before they reach New York remains the top priority of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, an advocacy group which is once again pushing for city legislation that they hope would make it easier for gunmakers to be held liable in court when guns are used in crimes Various efforts against gun manufacturers remain ongoing, including a lawsuit by the city.

City council legislation that would set out the criteria that would make gun manufacturers liable has been languishing since last year, but Andy Pelosi, executive director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence, remains focused on passing the legislation, the Gun Industry Responsibility Act. Sponsored by Councilmember David Yassky, it is currently before the City Council.

“About 85 to 95 percent of guns used in crime come from out of state,” Pelosi said. Statistics from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (in pdf format) back up Pelosi’s assertion. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Murdering Women


The stories would be more shocking if they didn’t all sound so similar: a woman killed -- shot or stabbed or strangled -- at the hands of a current or former lover. From 1995 through 2002, more than 300 New York women were killed by someone with whom they were in a romantic relationship, according to a new study released by city health officials last month. And while overall the murder rate in New York declined dramatically over the same time period, the study concluded that there was very little decline in the number of women killed by an intimate partner.

“This problem is not going to be fixed by ways you normally think of to reduce crime,” said Dr. Susan Wilt, author of the study and assistant commissioner for the Health Department's Bureau of Injury Epidemiology. She noted that police can’t be expected to patrol inside people’s homes.

Part of the problem is convincing more women to get help. While a national study has reported that the majority of intimate partner homicides involve physical abusebefore turning deadly, in New York, over 70 percent of family-related homicides -- a police category that includes homicides committed by an intimate partner -- had no prior police contact, according to the Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence.

Murder Rate Of Intimate Partners Stays Steady

The report, entitled “Femicide in New York City: 1995-2002"(in pdf format), is based on data gathered from the Chief Medical Examiner of New York City, which classified the deaths of 1,030 women aged twelve and older as homicides from 1995 through 2002. After studying this data, which included police records, researchers concluded that 369 of the deaths were non-intimate homicides, 339 were intimate homicides and 322 had an unknown motive (In most of these deaths, along with several in the other two categories, the perpetrator remains unknown. While not meant to be an official police clearance rate, the study notes that the perpetrator’s name was able to be determined by researchers in only 54.5 percent of cases.)

While the motives and identities of perpetrators can be hazy, the single most common, or at least clearly identifiable, motive for killing women was related to their having an intimate partner. Separate from that category, about 10 percent of women killed were killed as part of a sex crime or a drug-related crime, while about six percent were killed due to family violence.

Far fewer women have been killed by non-intimate partners in years after 1995, but the rate of women killed by intimate partners, while fluctuating yearly, was only 20 percent less in 2002 than in 1995. In 1995, 1.54 out of every 100,000 New York women were killed by intimate partners, while in 2002 the rate was 1.23 per 100,000 women. Contrast those numbers with the decline in the numbers of women killed by people with whom they were not romantically involved: 2.35 per 100,000 in 1995, down to 1.04 per 100,000 in 2002, a decline of 56 percent.

Who The Victims Are -- Mostly Immigrants

The study also identifies characteristics of female victims of homicide. Black women made up about 50 percent of all women killed, while Hispanic women accounted for 27 percent of homicides and white women 18 percent.

Researchers found that 51 percent of women killed by an intimate partner were foreign born. (Wilt noted that 47 percent of women aged 12 and older in New York are foreign born).

Yolanda B. Jimenez, commissioner of the Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence, noted that focus groups of immigrant women have pointed to the language barrier as the number one reason why they are reluctant to call police. Jimenez noted that not only is it difficult for non-English speakers to make themselves understood, but it might mean that a neighbor will have to become involved when the police come. And if the woman’s partner speaks English and she doesn’t, it can leave the woman who needs help left out of a conversation with police when they arrive.

Jimenez pointed to a pilot program begun in the 115th Police Precinct that equips police with cell phone access to interpreters in various languages. Jimenez called the project a success, and said the program was going to expand to the 109th Police Precinct.

Wilt noted that the community has to be aware of their influence in preventing homicides. “They have a role, a really important role…Community organizations have to realize that."

Ways To Help

Police may not be the only group that can help prevent femicide. Wilt noted that an 11-city study published last year cited specific risk factors for women. The study recommended that health-care professionals take an active role in identifying potentially life-threatening situations. The study suggested doctors ask domestic violence victims if the abuser has a gun (about 40 percent of intimate partner femicides in New York involved the use of a gun, compared to about 32 percent of non-intimate partner femicides).

 

Jimenez said the city was “in the process” of responding to some of the risk factors cited in the report. “One-third of all women who present at emergency rooms are there because their injuries are caused by an intimate partner,” Jimenez said. In New York, Jimenez said that every hospital has a domestic violence coordinator, along with digital cameras and link-ups to a database so information about domestic violence assaults can be recorded quickly and easily.

The city has distributed manuals to all health-care professionals related to being culturally sensitive when trying to spot domestic abuse. As far as guns, however, those questions are asked by social workers, not doctors.

 

 

 

 

Former Senator Guy Velella: Convicted Felon, $80,000-A-Year Public Pensioner


 There are political scandals that last no more than a day in New York, and then there are those select few stories that simply refuse to die, because they have grown out of the public’s overwhelming dissatisfaction with the dysfunctional system of government which they have been forced to endure.

Such a scandal is the early release from Riker’s Island of convicted felon Guy Velella.

Velella was a high-ranking, popular Bronx Republican State Senator, and throughout his thirty years in elected office he exercised his powerful influence to win massive contracts for his political cronies while bringing home the bacon for his district. Velella held a safe Senate seat for 18 years, and he had garnered a reputation around the state as a shrewd politician. But it all came crashing down when Velella and two of his associates -- former state housing official Hector Del Toro and Bronx social service consultant Manuel Gonzalez -- were charged in 2002 with a 25-count indictment that alleged the Senator had accepted at least $137,000 —- and allegedly solicited $250,000 -— in return for steering public-works contracts to those who paid bribes from 1995 to 2000.

Velella faced up to 15 years in jail on the indictment, yet he was allowed to plead guilty to only one count of bribery. Velella agreed to serve one year in jail; the other two men agreed to eight months. None of the three served anything close to their full sentences. After less than twelve weeks, the virtually unknown Local Conditional Release Commission abruptly ordered their releases. Only four other people have been released under similar circumstances since 2000. In the wake of their early release, much has been written about the special access to the Commission the convicts were afforded and the fact that Velella will receive an $80,000-a-year pension. During the ensuing furor, Mayor Bloomberg has forced the resignations of the entire board, which may have acted illegally, as well as its $135,000-a-year executive director. City investigators and the office of District Attorney Robert Morgenthau are probing the decision as well.

To borrow a quote from Henry Kissinger: “Corrupt politicians make the other ten percent look bad.” The public uproar being driven by the overwhelming press coverage of the Velella scandal would have you actually believe that 90 percent of elected officials are corrupt individuals! This could not be further from the truth. The fact is that most elected officials that I have come across on the local, state and federal levels (in both parties) are decent, civic-minded people with the best interests of their constituents in mind. Of course, you have your occasional corrupt, power-hungry individual, but that is part of the nature of politics. The successful elected official must balance the power of his or her office with the responsibility of that office. As James Freeman Clark wrote in Sermon, “A politician thinks of the next election; a statesman thinks of the next generation.”

Let's not forget, though, that running for elected office is a choice. Nobody put a gun to my head and demanded that I run for office. I chose to run and as such, I believe that I should be held to a higher standard of accountability. When I campaign and I ask people for their votes, I am actually asking people to put their trust in me. I do not take this lightly and most of my colleagues take their oaths of office very seriously. The fact is that those who do violate their oaths of office, such as Guy Velella, should be punished.

When the Velella story broke and the shady circumstances under which he was released were brought to the public, I decided it was time to bring attention to the fact that elected officials who commit felonies are still eligible to receive their pensions -— in Velella’s case, an $80,000-a-year pension. I have since introduced legislation that would close this loophole and prevent City and State elected officials convicted of felonies relating to their official duties -— that is, when they use the powers of their offices to engage in criminal activity —- from collecting their government pensions. Specifically, those who would be affected by this proposal would only forfeit the portion of their pensions that come from the taxpayers.

There are those who believe that jail time is a sufficient penalty for the crime that Velella committed. After all, Velella is a disgraced man; he not only lost his Senate seat, he was also disbarred. Yet, this is not about the crime committed, and it is not about the penalty. This is about making a simple statement to present and future New York elected officials. It is simply unconscionable for elected officials who violate their oaths of office by committing felonies to receive pensions that are funded by tax-paying New Yorkers. You forfeited that right. You broke the law. You violated the people's trust.

Government reform has become the buzzword in New York State politics this month. Calls from Senate Democrats, Assembly Democrats, and surprisingly, even Senate Republicans have reached a critical mass where there is a real possibility of achieving at least some reform by changing the legislative rules. This represents a huge step forward, compared to the attitudes of the Legislature when I first published reform proposals in 2002. Polls show that the electorate is dissatisfied with the State Legislature, and that the people of New York yearn for a transparent and deliberative system of governance.

The fact that a convicted felon can still collect his or her full pension is a perfect example of the institutional failings of the culture of Albany. When we do pass this legislation, I hope that New Yorkers will start to feel some small inkling that integrity and honesty are returning to the State Legislature. I promise, we are getting there, step by step, election by election.

State Senator Liz Krueger represents the Upper East Side of Manhattan

A Victim Of Domestic Violence Gets Fired


 New York City's Human Rights Law makes it unlawful to discriminate against an employee based on her being a victim of domestic violence. The first case brought under this 2001 amendment to local law, involving a former Department of Correction probationary officer, has just been decided.

When Gina Reynolds, 39, a victim of repeated spousal abuse, left her violent, drug-addicted husband, she and her two children stayed with relatives, friends, at shelters and hotels; they even slept in a car. In March 2002, the Department of Correction granted Reynolds sick leave in order to have time to look for an apartment (and later for a surgical procedure), but informed her that she could not remain employed while homeless. Rather than lose her job, Reynolds supplied her husband's address. An investigation by the Department of Correction, under its sick leave policy, which required that an employee on sick leave remain at home, revealed that Reynolds was not "at home." In fact, she had made two attempts to return to the marital home but was assaulted by her husband and called police both times.

Reynolds and her children moved into Safe Horizon, a domestic violence shelter,in May 2002. In order to protect residents from the abusers who forced them into the shelter, it is standard practice to require that the shelter's address not be revealed. Therefore, Reynolds supplied the department with the address of Safe Horizon's headquarters rather than the shelter itself. While an agent of the Department of Corrections contacted Safe Horizon, the department did not sign an agreement to keep the address confidential at that point, and therefore Reynolds's location could not be provided. Her employment was then terminated for being away from her residence while on sick leave. Her shield and ID were taken; she had already surrendered her department-issued revolver.

Reynolds, with the support of her union, sued, claiming, among other things, that although the Department of Corrections eventually signed Safe Horizon's confidentiality agreement, the failure to do so promptly was what kept her exact location from the department. Moreover, her attorney, Mercedes Maldanado, argued that Reynolds was unreachable because she was a victim of domestic violence and that the firing was in violation of the amended Human Rights Law (Local Law 1 of 2001 sec. 1) which makes it unlawful "to discharge from employment . . . because of the actual or perceived status of an individual as a victim of domestic violence."

The department's position was that since she was a probationary employee, no reason was needed to terminate her, and that there were other unrelated reasons for firing her. The department also relied on its sick leave policy requiring a specific address and requiring that the employee must be at that address.

Justice Lewis B. York of New York State Supreme Court in deciding Reynolds v. Fraser wrote that if there were other reasons Reynolds was an undesirable probationary employee, the Department of Corrections should have acted on those reasons earlier, but never did. He ruled that Reynolds be reinstated to her Riker's Island job with back pay.

The decision, which is expected to have considerable future impact, distinguishes between "no reason" being required for termination of a probationary and an illegal, discriminatory reason. Justice York wrote, "The Council enacted an amendment to the City's Human Rights Law to prevent employers from discriminating against victims of domestic violence [Admin Code §8-107.1]. The stated purpose of this amendment was 'to protect the economic viability of victims of domestic violence and to support their efforts to gain independence from their abusers' by 'enabl[ing] victims of domestic violence to speak with their employers without fear of reprisal, about a domestic violence incident or about possible steps that will enhance their ability to perform their job without causing undue hardship to the employer [Local Law 1 of 2001, §[1]."

"Respondents may not have intentionally acted in bad faith, as petitioner contends, but they did act in contravention of Local Law 1 in that they failed to make reasonable accommodations for petitioner's status as a homeless victim of domestic violence. The end result here, petitioner's loss of a job at the point when she was finally getting her living situation under control, is exactly the kind of fallout that Local Law 1 was enacted to prevent." In a lengthy discussion of violence in the home, Justice York underscored the necessity for the victim to escape the abuser, and for Reynolds and her children to leave the home. (The decision does not discuss why the violent spouse was not removed from home instead of the wife and children having to leave.) "The ability to hold on to a job," Judge York wrote, "is one of a victim's most valuable weapons in the war for survival, since gainful employment is the key to independence from the batterer."

The petitioner was represented by Koehler & Isaacs, LLP. The Department of Correction was represented by Corporation Counsel. There will be no appeal.

Emily Jane Goodman is a New York State Supreme Court Justice

Police Killed With Their Own Guns


New York City Police Detectives Robert Parker and Patrick Rafferty were shot and killedin East Flatbush on September 10th, allegedly after a suspect, Marlon Legere, 28, grabbed Parker’s gun and used it to shoot both detectives several times at close range.

It is a scenario that, while not commonplace, happens with enough frequency to alarm law enforcement professionals nationwide. Last year, 10 police officers were shot and killed in the United States after a suspect managed to get control of an officer’s weapon. Nearly one in five officers killed as part of a crime last year were shot with their own (or a partner’s) weapon, according to the National Center for Law Enforcement Technology - the highest number of such deaths in 18 years.

New York has been fortunate to have few of these incidents. Before this month’s shooting, the last incident of an officer being killed with his own weapon occurred in the city in 1998. Still, the recent deaths reinforce the danger of being a cop in New York and raise questions about how to best protect officers in the future.

Training and Equipment

So far this year five officers in the U.S. have been shot and killed with their own weapons, including Parker and Rafferty.

One way to address the issue is through regular training. All New York police officers attend mandatory defensive tactics training sessions twice a year that help officers prepare for a variety of violent encounters with suspects. The sessions, which usually last about a day, focus in part on weapon retention.

Even with substantial training, however, the danger is always present. To further protect officers, safety holsters – gun holders with a variety of mechanisms to help “lock” a gun in place – began to be developed in the 1970s. However there are trade-offs: Features that make it more difficult to disarm an officer can also slow down an officer’s ability to draw.

And while uniformed patrol officers in New York routinely wear such safety holsters, plain-clothes detectives wear holsters that are easier to conceal. Police say Parker was wearing an off-duty hip holster, which typically does not have safety features. Neither Parker nor Rafferty were wearing bulletproof vests when they were shot.

New Gun Technology

Recognizing the need to protect officers from being shot with their own weapons, the federal government has spent millions of dollars in research on personalized weapons that can only be fired by their owner.

Ideas range from a ring worn by the user that unlocks the weapon to sophisticated biometric sensors designed to recognize a gun owner's grip. But the reliable technology still remains years away.

Even if “safer” guns are ever mass-produced and sold, they may not meet the demands of law enforcement. New Jersey passed a law in 2002 that will make user-recognition technology mandatory once it’s developed, but law enforcement officers were specifically excluded from the law. Police are understandably unwilling to carry a weapon they believe may not fire when they need it.

Not A Capital Case

Under New York's death penalty law, anyone who murders a police officer can face the death penalty.

But in June, New York highest court ruledthat the state's death penalty law was flawed and could not be imposed. Until the State Legislature adopts an amended law, prosecutors and defense lawyers argue that there is effectively a moratorium on capital cases.

Police union officials are angered that the death penalty will not be sought for Marlon Legere, who has entered a “not guilty” plea in the shooting of the two officers last week.

In 1989, Jay “Stoney” Harrison, the last person to shoot two officers in New York, also used an officer’s handgun. Harrison took a gun from an unlocked locker at a District Attorney’s office and shot Detectives Richard Guerzon and Keith Williams. The death penalty was not in effect at the time.

Unanswered Questions

The deaths of the two officersParker, 43, and Rafferty, 39, are tragic, and colleagues have been effusive in their praise of the detectives.

In the online tribute pageto fallen law enforcement officers, some colleagues have left poignant and heartfelt tributes for both officers.

“Their reputation preceded them in the area, in the neighborhood,” Michael J. Palladino, the president of the Detectives Endowment Association told The New York Times. “They were well-known, well-respected guys.”

Police say they may never know exactly how the suspect was able to get Parker’s gun; Parker may have even had his gun already drawn and the suspect somehow wrestled it away, or he may have grabbed it from Parker’s holster.

What is known is that Parker showed enough presence of mind after being mortally wounded to call 911 and describe the shooter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2004 New York Judcial Races


 

 

List of Candidates:

SURROGATE COURT
Eve Preminger (Dem)

BRONX - CIVIL COURT - COUNTY Vacancy #1
Marc Whiten (Dem)
John Wilson (Rep/Dem/Con)

BRONX - CIVIL COURT - COUNTY Vacancy #2
Lucianne Locorotondo (Rep/Con)
Nelida Malave (Dem)

BRONX - CIVIL COURT - DIST 2 Vacancy #3
Lizbeth Gonzalez (Dem)
James Walsh (Rep/Con)

BROOKLYN - CIVIL COURT - COUNTY Vacancy #4
Johnny Lee Baynes (Dem)
Joanne Minsky Cohen (Rep/Dem/Con)
April Newbauer (Dem/WF)

BROOKLYN - CIVIL COURT - COUNTY Vacancy #5
Harley Diamond (Dem)
Gerald Dunbar (Dem)
Richard Izzo (Rep/Dem/Con)
Evelyn Laporte (Dem)

BROOKLYN - CIVIL COURT - COUNTY Vacancy #6
Vincent Marusciello (Rep/Con)
Charles Finkelstein (Dem)
Saul Needle (Dem)

BROOKLYN - CIVIL COURT - DIST 1 Vacancy #8
Sarah Krauss (Dem)

BROOKLYN - CIVIL COURT - DIST 2 Vacancy #7
Geraldine Pickett (Dem)
Robin Kelly Sheares (Dem/WF)

BROOKLYN - CIVIL COURT - DIST 6 Vacancy #9
Maxine Archer (Dem)
Pamela Elisofon (Dem/Rep)
Bernard Graham (Dem/WF)
Ingrid Joseph (Dem)

MANHATTAN - CIVIL COURT - COUNTY Vacancy #6
Vincent Matusciello (Dem/Con)
Charles Finkelstein (Dem)
Saul Needle (Dem)

MANHATTAN - CIVIL COURT Vacancy #10
Shirley Kornreich (Dem)

MANHATTAN - CIVIL COURT Vacancy #11
Milagros Matos (Dem)

MANHATTAN - CIVIL COURT Vacancy #12
George Silver (Dem)

MANHATTAN - CIVIL COURT Vacancy #13
Arlene Bluth (Dem)

MANHATTAN - CIVIL COURT - DIST 2 Vacancy #14
Martin Shulman (Dem)

MANHATTAN - CIVIL COURT - DIST 8
Jose Padilla (Dem)

MANHATTAN - CIVIL COURT - DIST 10
Debra James (Dem)

QUEENS - CIVIL COURT - COUNTY Vacancy #17
Peter Lane (Rep/Dem) Lee Mayersohn (Dem)

QUEENS - CIVIL COURT - COUNTY Vacancy #18
Joseph Esposito (Dem/Ind/Con)
Cassandra Mullen (Rep)

 

Security


Three Years of Rebuilding:
Ground Zero
Transportation
Economic Impact
Federal Aid
Security
Health and Environment

New York has been on the front lines of the security debate, both because its security concerns are arguably the nation's greatest , and because many of those most affected by restrictions in civil liberties are immigrants living in cities. This was illustrated last years when large numbers of New York's immigrants - mainly Pakistanis - for fear of a program which required males from 24 Muslim countries and North Korea to register with the federal government.

The federal Department of Homeland Security, created in 2002 as a way to defend against terrorism, has been giving out grant money to states and cities for their own anti-terror efforts. New York officials are now unanimous in saying that the department's grant program has turned into a way for politicians to push pork towards their own districts, leaving New York City without the resources it needs to protect itself.

Currently, much of the funding is given out without regard to the threat level that a certain area is under. A portion of the money is given out evenly to every state; another portion by population. A set amount of money is reserved for high risk areas, but as more areas are deemed high risk, the proportion of this money that New York receives has dropped dramatically. New York has spent large sums on transforming its own police department into a counter-terrorism force, but the state gets less funding per-capita than almost any other.

Local emergency responders, the federal system for allocating anti-terror money, and the national system of intelligence were all criticized by an independent federal panel whose job was to investigate the 9/11 attacks on Washington and New York. The 9/11 Commission, as it was commonly called, operated from 2003 through August 2004, when it released a book-length report on its findings (in pdf format).

The commission found fault with the city's emergency response system largely because it felt that the various rescue agencies are incapable of working together in major emergencies . But it saved its harshest criticism for the federal intelligence agencies. The commission's major recommendation was to create a cabinet level intelligence czar, who would have wide control over the operations and budgets of the various intelligence agencies .

For more, see the Security section in Rebuilding Next Page: Health and Environment

Operation Safe Housing


City officials have announced an interdepartmental effort designed to make public housing safer that would automatically make some accused drug dealers guilty of illegal trespassing if they set foot on any public housing property, even if it's just to visit a friend or relative.

The new effort, called "Operation Safe Housing," also includes measures to keep a closer eye on sex offenders and parolees living in public housing, as well as a speedier process for eviction hearings when the tenant is involved in certain crimes committed on public housing property such as gun felonies, some sex crimes, and the highest-level drug felonies.

"By focusing police resources where they count, we're making it safer for the law-abiding residents of these housing developments," said Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly in a statement. "We're putting out the 'not welcome' mat for criminals."

Anyone arrested on felony charges for dealing drugs on public housing property will now be told that they are banned from all public housing grounds. Police will keep a database of the names and faces of banned drug dealers, and officials say the ban will be aggressively enforced. The trespass policy is scheduled to begin in Queens in the fall before spreading to other boroughs.

Similar trespass policies -- some even broader in the types of people kept off of public housing property than the New York policy -- have been enforced in other parts of the country, and such policies have survived challenges in court. Officials from the New York Civil Liberties Union have said that they are concerned that the policy may violate the rights of the accused.

City officials have defended the fairness of the plan. "If somebody has their case dismissed, they'll be off the list," Criminal Justice Coordinator John Feinblatt told the New York Post. "If somebody does their jail time and lives a law-abiding life for a certain period of time, they'll have a special hearing to see if they should be taken off the list."

Crime in public housing complexes actually decreased by three percent in 2003, but, though only about five percent of New Yorkers live in public housing (420,000 people), city officials stated that 11 percent of murders, 11 percent of rapes, and 16 percent of shootings were committed on property belonging to the New York City Housing Authority. Sixty-five percent of the shootings were classified by police as drug-related, compared to 35 percent of shootings elsewhere in the city.

Registered sex offenders with a public housing address will be visited by police every six months to verify their address. A new pilot program will also be established to look after parolees living in some public housing complexes in Brooklyn and the Bronx. Parole officers with the New York State Division of Parole will be given two on-site offices, one in each borough, with the responsibility of looking after parolees living in certain public housing units.

Earlier, the City Council issued a report (In PDF Format) outlining safety concerns in public housing. That report focused mainly on the lack of security of the buildings themselves. Some buildings simply had doors with broken locks, but often residents themselves propped doors open or let strangers into the buildings. The report called for spending to install more secure doors and locks, but noted that the New York City Housing Authority faces a budget deficit of over $300 million due in part to cutbacks in federal funding.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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