Thursday, July 3, 2008
The Court Report
By Richard Blassberg
Judge Candidate’s Startling Allegations
About Westchester Courthouse
Editor’s Note: The following ‘White Paper’ statement by Court Attorney/Referee James Montagnino, candidate for Saratoga City Court Judge, originally forwarded to the Saratogian newspaper and published as a Reader’s View feature, is produced here with the author’s consent for the relevance of its claims with regard to the Westchester Courthouse.
By James Montagnino
I worked my way through law school as a mechanic and a truck driver. My legal career began 22 years ago in the Bronx D.A.’s Office, after which I served as an assistant D.A. in Westchester County. I prosecuted cases that ranged from DWI to the murder of a Yonkers police officer. Later, doing public defense work, I had the opportunity to see the other side of the justice system.
In 1995, I began my judicial career as principal law clerk to a county judge. Then, in 1999, I was asked to serve as a court attorney and referee in the matrimonial part in Westchester County. I presided over contested divorce cases for seven years from commencement to final judgment. I learned how difficult and challenging it is to make decisions that impact upon people’s lives. I also learned that with every ruling, a judge makes one temporary friend and one permanent enemy.
I saw the dark side of the downstate court system. Litigants with the right connections were able to get cases transferred away from judges who didn’t see things their way. On more than one occasion, a judge was even directed to change rulings that he had made because one of the parties had secretly contacted that judge’s superior to ask for a favor. With great reluctance, I did what I saw as my duty and reported this misconduct to the authorities in the court system.
“Litigants with the right connections were able to get cases transferred away from judges who didn’t see things their way. On more than one occasion, a judge was even directed to change rulings that he had made because one of the parties had secretly contacted that judge’s superior to ask for a favor.”
Within days of my complaint, some of the people involved in this “steering” and “fixing” of cases dug up a handful of litigants who were unhappy with rulings I had made. In retaliation for my having reported their wrongdoing, they tried to discredit me with claims of bias. After a full investigation, however, I was exonerated. As to my complaints of misconduct, they led to sweeping changes made in the way in which matrimonial cases were to be assigned and handled in the future.
I now work as a Court Attorney/Referee in the Supreme Court in the Capital District. My wife Nancy, whom I met and married in law school 22 years ago, is also an attorney. She now works with the mentally ill in the Adirondack Region. Our daughter Alexandra, 14, and our son Max, 11, are enjoying school here. Alex just completed a series of performances in a play at Caffe Lena, while Max is a patrol leader and first class scout in Troop 24.
My campaign committee will not seek or accept contributions from lawyers who practice in Saratoga. Instead, I am grateful for the support of people like former Mayor Valerie Keehn and the Skidmore Democrats, who have given this campaign their heartfelt endorsement.
I want to bring my years of judicial experience into service for our community. I believe that there’s no “small claim” when it’s your claim, there’s no “simple assault” when it’s your nose, and there’s no “petit larceny” when it’s your property.
Feds: “Enough Is Enough” With Yonkers Police Brutality
MICHAEL J. GARCIA, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and MARK J. MERSHON, the Assistant Director in Charge of the New York Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, announced today that WAYNE SIMOES, a police officer with the Yonkers Police Department, was charged in a criminal Complaint with violating the civil rights of Irma Marquez by using excessive force against her, resulting in bodily injury According to the Complaint filed in White Plains federal court:
On the early morning of March 3, 2007, SIMOES and several other police officers responded to a radio call to assist an injured person at a restaurant in Yonkers, New York. When Marquez leaned over the injured person, one of the officers moved her out of the way to the other side of the room. SIMOES then walked over to Marquez, grabbed her around the waist from behind, lifted her into the air, and threw her to the floor, face down, before handcuffing her. Marquez was hospitalized and suffered a broken jaw as well as lacerations and contusions to her face and body as a result of SIMOES’ use of force. SIMOES’ conduct was captured on videotape and witnessed by other officers.
The Complaint charges SIMOES with violation of federal civil rights laws, which make it a crime to willfully deprive a person of rights secured and protected by the Constitution of the United States, in this case the right to be free from the use of excessive force by a law enforcement officer in the course of an arrest, stop, or seizure.
SIMOES was presented today before United States Magistrate Judge GEORGE A. YANTHIS in White Plains federal court and released on a $300,000 personal recognizance bond. A preliminary hearing in the case was set for July 23, 2008, at 9a.m. SIMOES, 38, lives in Yonkers, New York. If convicted, SIMOES faces a maximum penalty of 10years in prison and a fine of $250,000. Mr. GARCIA praised the investigative efforts of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in this case. Assistant United States Attorneys JASON P.W. HALPERIN, ANNA M. SKOTKO, and BENJAMIN H. TORRANCE are in charge of the prosecution. The charges contained in the Complaint are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
Analysis:Yonkers Police Officer Wayne Simoes, 38, accused by the United States Attorney’s Office of violating the Civil Rights of Irma Marquez in the early morning hours of March 3, 2007, is represented by Attorney Andrew Quinn, of White Plains. If convicted, he faces up to 10 years imprisonment and a fine of $250,000.
Upon posting $300,000 bail bond, Simoes surrendered his firearms and passport. The Yonkers Police Department, as of Friday, indicated that he had been placed on modified duty, pending further review of the incident. Ms. Marquez’ lawyer, Gary T. Certain, of Certain and Zilberg, P.L.L.C., who also represented Marquez in the criminal case brought against her by the Westchester District Attorney following the incident, was quoted as stating, “This case suggests that Janet DiFiore’s Office may not be capable of honestly prosecuting egregious police misconduct.”
In light of the facts surrounding this case, and numerous other cases of police brutality in the City of Yonkers and elsewhere in the County of Westchester that have gone uninvestigated and unprosecuted by Westchester District Attorney DiFiore despite receipt of ample and credible evidence, we must concur with Attorney Certain’s assertion.