March 31, 2014

Another Reason Why it's Good to be Rich

Robert H. Richards, IV
When most people are convicted of rape, they go to jail. This is especially true when the victim is the rapist's three year-old daughter. However, when you are a scion of a wealthy family, prison may be too harsh. Delaware Judge Jan Jurden recently sentenced wealthy du Pont heir, kiddie rapist, and father of the year candidate Robert H. Richards IV to probation, eschewing any jail time, because she was worried that Richards would "not fare well" in prison. It's good to be an old money white guy.

(Delaware Online)

March 29, 2014

The Return of the General Warrant

I am not a fan of, but a good piece there by Andrew Napolitano on the NSA's ongoing attempt to eviscerate the Fourth Amendment's prohibition on general warrants, and the Obama Administration's (further) complicity.

(Probable Cause is Too Hard for the NSA? Too Bad, cited in the blog, Fourth Amendment)

March 22, 2014

Can We Talk About Race?

As a white civil rights lawyer whose clients are predominantly people of color, I find myself confronting a complex web of race and class based issues and realities on a daily basis. Some of these appear obvious to me, while I am surely oblivious to others. However much I find myself thinking about race, class, and our respective places in and views about society, I rarely venture into concrete discussions about them. Sometimes because I am not certain it is my place, and other times to avoid an argument or being misunderstood. I have come to believe that these difficult conversations are not merely helpful, but are necessary.

Bryan Stevenson, the founder at the Equal Justice Institute advocates strenuously that we must seriously examine and confront our racial history. He explains that our refusal, or perhaps our inability, to acknowledge the true nature of slavery, and its aftermath of Jim Crow laws, segregation, and institutional racism, inhibit our ability to overcome existing prejudice and social injustice. In his speech at TED, on EJI's website and Facebook page, and even on the Colbert Report, Stevenson convincingly returns to the theme that our society is fundamentally out of balance, and that we are a fractured society where the less fortunate or disenfranchised are seen as a foreign entity rather than a part of us. This alienation facilitates social divisions and frustrates the reconciliation necessary to eliminate longstanding harmful and divisive viewpoints and unjust policies. In short, we cannot move forward until we admit to where we are and how we came to be here. That our own families may not have arrived here until the 20th century does not relieve us of our duty to inquire or to seek a deeper understanding.

March 17, 2014

Kerik v. Tacopina: Serious Charges and Counterclaims

Kerik and Tacopina
One of my favorite Monday morning reads, Leonard Levitt's NYPD Confidential, takes a look today at the disgraced former NYPD Commissioner Bernie Kerik's pending lawsuit against his former attorney, Joseph Tacopina.

As Levitt explains, Kerik blames Tacopina (whom Levitt describes as Kerik's former business partner and good friend) for his federal felony conviction in 2009 on charges that range from filing false tax returns to lying to the government during his 2005 Homeland Security nomination process. The conviction netted Kerik four years in a federal prison.

By way of a brief history, Kerik says that Tacopina convinced him to plead guilty in 2006 in a Bronx criminal case to accepting $165,000 worth of free renovations to his apartment. Kerik was the Commissioner of the Department of Corrections at the time of the renovations and the company that provided the services was looking for a city contract. Apparently, Kerik was told that the guilty plea would close out his legal liability. In fact, the opposite was true.

March 13, 2014

Police Officers See Black Kids Differently Than White Kids

A study published in late February 2014 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, considered whether black children (boys, in particular), were generally seen as less “childlike” than white boys, if they were dehumanized along racial lines, and viewed as more appropriate targets for police violence. Starting with the presumption that society views children as innocent and deserving of protection, the researchers asked college students and police officers to guess the ages of young children who had committed crime. Both sets of respondents were considerably more likely to overestimate the ages of young black boys than the white children. In sum, the police officers were more inclined to see the black boys as less human, less childlike, and less innocent than their white counterparts.

March 11, 2014

The Perils of Documenting Your Intent to Defraud

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance recently announced that three senior members of the now-bankrupt law firm Dewey & LeBoeuf LLP had been indicted on a series of charges alleging, in essence, that they defrauded and stole from the firm's lenders, investors, and others. It also appears that they thought it was prudent and wise to write each other confirmatory emails as their scheme progressed.

The three are Steven Davis, Stephen DiCarmine, and Joel Sanders, who were the Chairman, Executive Director, and CFO at Dewey. Also named is Zachary Warren, who was a firm Client Relations Manager. The indictment charges that the three senior lawyers committed Grand Larceny in the First Degree, Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree, Martin Act Securities Fraud, Falsifying Business Records in the First Degree, and Conspiracy in the Fifth Degree. Warren is charged in some, but not all, of the above counts.

While the charged conduct is interesting, and the downfall of Dewey makes an engrossing tale, I was most struck by revelations in the New York Times about how these lawyers thought it a good idea to memorialize their schemes.

March 7, 2014

New York City Minutes: Crime Rates Fall, A Lawsuit is Dropped, and Rikers Island Is Still Not The Place to Be

A common refrain from self-styled law and order types leading into Bill de Blasio's electoral romp last fall was that his mayoralty would usher in a crime wave of epic proportions. Unfortunately, for those eagerly hoping to be proven right by a large resurgence of violent crime, crime figures in the city since de Blasio's taken office have actually dropped. Over the past two months, serious crime has dropped to a rate below that of 2013 (a banner year, by the way) in almost every category. It's far too early to know how the de Blasio/Bratton regime will fare, or how Bratton's continuation of his "broken windows" approach to policing will affect the overall statistics. But, so far, New York City is doing just fine.

Attorney Advert of the day: Did I mention I'm Jewish?

Saul Goodman lives! And apparently he lives in Pittsburgh. Local criminal defense attorney Daniel Muessig has an ad running on YouTube that ought to bring in beaucoup bucks. His basic pitch: my friends are criminals, I think like a criminal, I won't lie to you, I'll take your calls, and you will be back out on the street committing more crimes before you know it.

Pushing all the buttons, Muessig opens with endorsements from satisfied clients, each of whom is kind enough to pause mid-criminal reenactment to thank Dan, he moves on to a list of his positive attributes, and closes with the assurance that he is indeed a Jewish lawyer. Fun stuff.

March 6, 2014

More Proof of NYPD Quotas

Yet more evidence has emerged that the NYPD has an established quota system in place, further undermining one of the worst kept secrets in New York City. According to today's Daily News, Police Officer Bryan Rothwell testified at a NYPD hearing that, in his unit, "your goal is to get about 20 criminal summonses and at least — I believe at that time it was, I think, two arrests per month.”  These 20 and 2 figures are in line with statements from other officers who have testified to the NYPD's unwritten quotas.

For instance, police officer Adrian Schoolcraft, whose lawsuit is currently pending in federal court in Manhattan, recorded supervisors in his Brooklyn precinct demanding at least 20 summonses every month, and threatening reprisals against those who came up short. Similarly, Craig Matthews brought actions based on being disciplined for failing to meet quotas and to have the quota program declared unlawful, and officers Pedro Serrano and Adhyl Polanco have testified that quotas were in place in their Bronx station house.

March 3, 2014

An Easier Road to Recovery for the Wrongly Convicted

Fernando Bermudez spent 18 years
in prison for a crime he did not commit.
New York's Attorney General Eric Schneiderman recently published an op-ed piece in the Daily News touting new legislation designed to help the wrongly convicted collect compensation from New York State. According to Schneiderman, the Unjust Imprisonment Act would eliminate restrictions in state law that foreclose by people who were coerced into false confessions or who pleaded guilty to crimes they not commit. It would also increase the statute of limitations (the time to file an action) from the current two years to three.

March 1, 2014

The New and Improved Stop and Frisk

Anthony Delmundo/New York Daily News

Contrary to popular belief, the NYPD's Stop and Frisk program was not found to be facially unconstitutional. The problem was the way the NYPD elected to employ it. By deliberately stopping and frisking people solely because they are black males, or happen to live in certain areas, and so forth, all without a proper legal basis for the stop/frisk, the NYPD was engaging in racial profiling, and that is unconstitutional. It was also highly inefficient. But the numbers for the last quarter of 2013 indicate that the NYPD has revised its use of Stop and Frisk, and it is now much more effective. That is good news.

This Week's Greediest Lawyers Are . . .

Ira Bordow.
This is a story that has nothing to do with civil rights, criminal defense, or anything remotely connected to my practice of law. But it's one of those "that's why everyone hates lawyers" stories that's begs to be passed on.

The facts as reported are simple: Ira Bordow, a lawyer in Milwaukee, recently killed himself. Prior to his death, he took on a case under a fee-sharing agreement with the law firm Styles & Pumpian. Bordow negotiated a $250,000 settlement in a motor vehicle case, exchanged all the necessary paperwork, and collected the settlement check. Then he killed himself. A tragedy to be sure, but perhaps also an opportunity for some intellectually creative lawyers, unrestrained by antiquated moral qualms or basic decency, to make new law, and, best of all, to pocket a dead man's money.

When Should Your Clients Use the CCRB?

A simple question on which New York area civil rights lawyers hold differing views is whether or when to send clients to the Civilian Complaint Review Board. I have always been skeptical of the CCRB, and generally avoid the agency when I can, since the downsides almost always overwhelm the meager potential positives. It seemed like an easy call to me, so I was more than a little surprised to find myself in the minority in a debate on a popular listserv.