Tag Archive | "court"

Bodega Robbery Suspects Charged with Murder in Cuevas Shooting

Christopher Dorsey's aunt said her 17-year-old nephew was pressured by the older suspects in the robbery and ultimate death of a bodega worker in the Bronx.  (SADEF A. KULLY/ Bronx Ink)

Three Bronx men arrested for robbing the bodega where worker Reynaldo Cuevas ended up shot and killed by a police officer were arraigned Friday in Bronx Criminal Court on charges of both armed robbery and murder. Defendants Ernesto Delgado, 28, Orlando Ramos, 31, and Christopher Dorsey, 17, appeared before Judge Villages yesterday.  Family members of the suspects argued outside the courtroom that the murder charge was not fair. “Honestly, I feel like he shouldn’t be charged – he was committing a crime but he didn’t shoot him,” said Antonio Rodriquez, 21, brother of Orlando Ramos, about the death of Cuevas. “I think this is a way for the state to clean their hands – that cop shot him.” The Bronx District Attorney’s office has no comment on the case. Police said an officer accidentally shot Reynaldo Cuevas, after the 20-year-0ld Morrisania bodega worker stumbled out of the armed robbery scene on September 7.  Cuevas's family members dispute the claim that the officer's gun discharged accidentally and have called for an investigation. The youngest of those charged in the incident, Christopher Dorsey, 17, looked anxious and emotional in court. “He was the first one that came out," said his grandmother, Anna Cabrera. "He surrendered. He was so scared that day. He is not doing well inside.” "He is actually a good kid, he gets good grades, and he was definitely peer pressured into this. He has never held a gun.” Dorsey’s aunt. Jadeira Cruz, 39, said that her nephew had been diagnosed as emotionally disturbed. “I think the older men took advantage of his mental status,” said Cruz. “He has the mind of a 13-year old.” Dorsey’s lawyer. Cesar Gonzalez said that it was his first appearance in court with the defendant and that he would have to review all the material before making an official statement on the case. Maria Tobia, lawyer for Orlando Ramos, did not give any comments on the case. All three defendants are scheduled to be back on court on Sept 20th.

Posted in Bronx Neighborhoods, Crime, FeaturedComments (0)

Budget cuts hit pro bono legal services

Legal services providers rallied last month for state funding for foreclosure prevention services. (CELIA LLOPIS-JEPSEN/Bronx Ink)

Room 607 at Bronx County Courthouse isn’t a typical courtroom. The judge’s bench is empty, and the jury box, too. A fax machine stands where a court reporter might otherwise sit, and filing cabinets line one of the walls. A dozen homeowners and bank lawyers are waiting for their cases to come up. When they do, they walk to one of two desks set up at opposite ends of the cavernous room to talk not to a judge but to a court attorney. These are foreclosure conferences. Last year alone, banks filed more than 2,500 foreclosures in the Bronx, which has the lowest home ownership rate in the city, but the highest foreclosure rate. While the banks have lawyers to make their case at court, most of the homeowners don’t. “Foreclosure is all about power dynamics,” said Justin Haines, sitting in a spartan office in a converted courtroom adjacent to Room 607. Haines heads this office — Legal Services NYC’s foreclosure unit — which offers free legal counsel to homeowners who risk losing their homes. “When I first switched over to foreclosures, it was hard for me to decipher some of the exotic loans these banks are offering,” said Haines, who previously represented tenants in Housing Court cases. As the economy has worsened, demand has soared for services offered by nonprofits like Legal Services NYC, which provide legal counsel to low-income Americans in civil matters like foreclosure. But the same struggling economy has also hit these nonprofits hard, squeezing their main funding sources: federal and state budgets and special lawyers’ accounts that pay interest toward civil legal aid. In the latest blow, on Nov. 17, Congress slashed $56 million in funding for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC), the congressionally-mandated agency that doles out grants to 136 nonprofits nationwide to address the “justice gap” — the US population that cannot afford counsel for civil legal matters. Among those nonprofits is Legal Services NYC. “These cuts are devastating,” says Jill Siegel, the deputy project director of Legal Services’ Bronx division. Legal Services already suffered a 4 percent budget cut this year and will lose another $800,000 in the next, Siegel said. Worse yet, it will lose 20 percent of its LSC funding for 2013 to 2014 under changes to the federal formula for distributing the funds, which currently pay for about 44 percent of pro bono legal services nationwide. The 15 percent cutback in LSC grant money last month comes on top of this. All of these cuts will reverberate in the Bronx, where demand for civil legal aid in the Bronx is growing, said Siegel, whose organization handles everything from wrongful cancellation of public assistance to custody battles in domestic violence cases. Navigating civil courts without legal assistance is like running an “obstacle course,” she said. Haines’ foreclosure unit is fighting for refunding of a state grant. Last year, Governor Andrew Cuomo cut a special budget for legal services combatting foreclosures. Late last month, Haines and others from Legal Services NYC and other housing counseling and legal service providers held a rally on the steps of Manhattan Supreme Court to ask the state assembly and governor to put foreclosure prevention back in the budget. At the Bronx courthouse, Haines’ foreclosure office is quiet. On a morning in November, a middle-aged couple sat huddled over papers, waiting their turn for a consultation. Fliers on the wall warned homeowners behind on their mortgages against loan modification scams — agencies that promise they can stop foreclosure on a home in return for steep fees. Though there were only a few walk-ins, the office’s three attorneys and two paralegals had full caseloads. “I wish I had three times as much staff,” said Haines, who worked through lunch. The couple waited two hours before he was able to see them. Haines believes providing legal counsel for families facing foreclosure pays off for the government and community. “If you talk about economic recovery, it erodes the tax base when houses are empty,” he said. While most of New York’s homeless population — currently at record-high levels — have been evicted from apartments rather than houses, in the Bronx, about 10 percent come from foreclosures, he said. Many are homeowners who’ve lost their jobs. Others fall behind when tenants they rent rooms to lose their jobs and start missing their monthly payments. Often Haines represents homeowners in their absence. “In foreclosure, people are often dealing with underemployment,” he said. “There are so many court appearances, and if they miss work that often, they could really get into trouble.” At the same time that funding cuts pummel Legal Services, other providers in New York are suffering, too — even those not dependent on congressional allocations. Legal Aid Services, which does not receive LSC funding, lost millions in state funding in recent years and hundreds of thousands in city funding. To cope with the cuts, it shed dozens of staff positions from its already overtaxed civil division. For every person the civil practice helps, another eight are turned away. That reflects a nationwide phenomenon. Legal services providers across the country trimmed their payrolls in recent years as government and IOLTA funding shrank. IOLTA (interest on lawyer trust account) funds, or, in New York, IOLA (interest on lawyers’ accounts), are funds that collect interest from escrow accounts where lawyers hold clients’ money. Back in the heady days of the real estate boom, these funds were raking in money. Trust accounts seemed an ideal solution to fund civil legal services without costing taxpayers a dime. “I started in 2005,” Haines said, referring to his previous job at the Legal Aid Society. “And in 2007, we were all dreaming, finding the holes in our work. We could actually design what we needed.” Then the bubble burst, and legal service providers found themselves struggling just to maintain the same level of services. At the foreclosure unit, the understaffed team allocates its time carefully. “People come in, sign in, give us information about their case,” Haines said. “We help them prepare pro se papers” to defend themselves. Often their help stops there. “We really only get involved if there are significant defenses.” The situation is similar at Housing Court and for public assistance cases. In public assistance cases, having an advocate can make all the difference. In May, the Urban Justice Center, another New York provider of pro bono legal services, found that 86 percent of decisions to cut off public assistance are cancelled when challenged in hearings. Many of the cancellations can be traced to simple clerical errors at the Human Resources Administration, yet resolving them can be tricky. Still, few nonprofits have units dedicated to handling public assistance cases, and those that do can’t meet the demand. “We have to decide which cases would be more difficult for an unrepresented person,” said Maryanne Joyce, who works at Bronx Legal Services’ public benefits unit. Joyce represents appellants who have had their public assistance revoked. One problem for Joyce’s unit is that many legal services programs are paid for by targeted funds — a mixed blessing. An example is the New York State Assembly’s budget for helping homeowners stave off foreclosures. While Legal Services is grateful for such injections, targeted funding tends to cluster around a few popular causes. Public assistance isn’t one of them. “It’s not an area that people find compelling,” said Joyce, whose unit has just two staff lawyers and one paralegal. “So it’s not easy to fundraise.” That’s where LSC funds become all the more precious. The LSC funds are unrestricted. That means Legal Services NYC can apply the money where it’s needed most, as long as it serves the population that qualifies for legal services. Clients must fall below the income threshold of 125 percent of the national poverty line, or about $28,000 per year for a family of four. In its most recent report on the state of the nation’s justice gap in 2009, the LSC cited studies indicating, not surprisingly, that litigants with legal counsel fare better than those without. Yet on average, LSC-funded programs turn away one client for every client they accept nationwide. And legal services programs as a whole — including those not funded by the LSC — serve only about one-fifth of the needs of low-income Americans. The consequences of this are visible at Bronx Housing Court. On a typical day, the courtrooms and halls alike are packed with tenants waiting their turn before a judge. Sometimes the line to enter the courthouse winds out the door and along the front of the building. While the vast majority of the tenants do not have legal counsel, the opposite holds true for the landlords. “The landlords pay $150 an hour for a lawyer,” said Wanda Salaman, director of Mothers on the Move, a local nonprofit in Hunts Point. “The tenants can’t afford that.” Tenants in the area often turn to Salaman’s group for advice on eviction cases, and Salaman refers them to legal services providers for help. But the options in the Bronx fall far short of meeting the community’s needs, and with the impending LSC cuts and funding redistribution, that is unlikely to improve. At the rally outside Supreme Court last month, state senators who opposed cutting the foreclosure prevention budget pleaded for refunding the services.
Compared to the losses in tax revenue and property value that foreclosures represent, “$25 million is a drop in the bucket,” said Adriano Espaillat, who represents Manhattan. Senator Jeffrey Klein of the Bronx and Westchester said skimping on foreclosure prevention services “makes no economic sense.” A protestor in the crowd behind him held up a sign that read simply: “Every home saved = a stronger economy.” In the Bronx, banks have moved to foreclose on another 260 homes in the past three months, Klein’s office said. Citywide, the figure is 1,800. “We’re not out of the woods yet,” Klein told the crowd.  

Posted in HousingComments (0)

Judge Judy’s husband takes the stage at Bronx Hall of Justice, NY Daily News

Retired Bronx Supreme Court Justice Gerald Sheindlin, the husband of courtroom star justice Judy Sheindlin, aka"Judge Judy," begins a courtroom drama all his own, according to the NY Daily News.  The dramedy, "Erroneous Convictions," co-written by former Bronx Assistant District Attorney Bruce Birns, follows the humorous elements of court life, with Gerald Sheindlin as the leading jurist.

Posted in NewswireComments (0)

Court orders Co-op City to be more handicap-friendly, NY Daily News

In a victory for a handicap man from the Bronx, a New York judge cited Co-op City for discriminating against wheelchair-bound residents, NY Daily News reported Thursday. For the second time in less than a year, John Rose prevailed against the management of the sprawling building complex in North Bronx. State Supreme Court Justice Mary Ann Brigantti-Hughes upheld a November ruling by the New York City Commission on Human Rights. Riverbay argued it obeyed federal law when it made the side doors of Rose's building accessible. But Brigantti-Hughes sided with the commission, finding that Riverbay failed to offer Rose an "unsegregated accommodation," as required by city law.

Posted in NewswireComments (0)

Woman gets slap on the wrist for animal cruelty

Cherika Alvarez leaves the Bronx Supreme Court Wednesday after receiving 20 days of community service for animal cruelty. (RICHARD HARBUS/Daily News)

A Bronx mother who left her pitbull puppy to die a "horrible death" in a vacant apartment received a light sentence yesterday from the Bronx Supreme Court judge after making a tearful plea for forgiveness. Cherika Alvarez, 30, was sentenced on Sept. 28 to 20 days of community service and banned from owning or handling animals for the next three years. Alvarez was found guilty last month of abandoning her year-old pitbull Alizé after she was evicted from her Belmont apartment. The dog was found dead six weeks later, surrounded by a pool of its own blood, its stomach filled with nothing but razor blades, ketchup packets, splintered wood and garbage. Alvarez faced up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine for leaving the dog to suffer. Judge Robert A. Sackett denied the prosecution’s request that the defendant receive at least 30 days in jail for the misdemeanor offense, saying he believed the single mom had learned her lesson. “She failed to nurture and care for the dog," said the judge. "But she has never been arrested before in her life, and she is not a danger to the community." The defense argued that Alvarez had suffered enough for her actions, and that sending her to jail would have negative effects for her eight-year-old son. “She’s afraid to leave the house,” defense attorney Scott Levy said. “She wears sunglasses so people on the street won’t recognize her.” The prosecution emphasized the dog’s suffering, calling Alvarez’s behavior a “case of utter negligence.” During earlier testimony, Alvarez claimed she had arranged for a man she met on the street— and whom she did not know — to pick up the puppy and care for it after she vacated her apartment. The man she called only "Jose," was never called to the witness stand. “Alizé obviously can’t be here today to speak for herself, but she felt hunger, pain, agony,” Assistant District Attorney Megan Mellum said. “And the worst part is that Ms. Alvarez still maintains her innocence.” Dressed in a gray cardigan with her hair pulled back tightly, Alvarez had trouble finding her voice as she begged the judge for leniency. “I’m really, really sorry this happened,” Alvarez said, choking back tears. “I’ve learned my lesson. I won’t hurt another animal again, not even a cockroach." A day earlier, the managers of a Facebook page dedicated to seeking justice for Alizé mobilized activists to fax Sackett’s chambers, asking him to hand down the maximum sentence. Judge Sackett rejected the slippery slope argument offered by the prosecution that a person who abuses an animal might abuse a child. Roxanne Delgado, a visitor to the Facebook page and Bronx resident who said she volunteers for animal rights groups, said after the sentencing that Alvarez posed a danger to society and her own son. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which reported the 2009 incident to the police, said it would have preferred a stiffer sentence, but applauded the conviction. “We are at least gratified," said Stacy Wolf, vice president of the ASPCA, "to know that Ms. Alvarez now has a criminal record.” Additional reporting by BronxInk.org staff

Posted in Bronx Beats, Bronx Neighborhoods, Crime, North Central BronxComments (2)