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Chris Smith: Tony Ricco’s Racial Politics

Tony Ricco
It’s textbook defense-lawyer strategy: dirty up the victim. And, yesterday, during opening arguments at the Sean Bell trial, the tactic was on full display, as the man who died in a hail of 50 NYPD bullets took a few more blows, this time to his reputation and character. Totally predictable, cringe-inducing — and entirely necessary if you’re defending the detectives who killed a seemingly defenseless man hours away from his wedding. What makes the argument far more interesting, and potentially more powerful, is the defense lawyer who’s using it. Anthony Ricco is one of the city’s most gifted defense attorneys. He also happens to be black and Muslim, and he favors fedoras and eyeglasses straight from the Malcolm X catalogue. While Ricco’s race helps mute the blue-versus-black story line and regularly draws him taunts from simplistic racial demagogues like councilman Charles Barron, the attitude Ricco deploys on behalf of his vilified clients is fascinatingly complicated.

Death at NYU

• The daughter of two prominent NYU professors was discovered dead in a university-owned apartment in Washington Square Village. If it's a homicide, expect it on Law & Order when the new season starts. [amNY]

Follow the E-mail

• The Post, in another damning Spitzer exclusive (it's almost as if someone well connected in Albany hated the governor!), claims the administration is hiding a trove of private scandal-related e-mails, which Attorney General Cuomo, lacking subpoena power, didn't get. [NYP]

JT LeRoy Stars in the Pomo Trial of the Century

JT Leroy and Laura Albert
As blockbuster cases go, this is going to be like an NPR version of the Lorena Bobbitt trial: a dozen buzzwords united in one court-gasm. Antidote International Films, the company that optioned JT LeRoy's novel Sarah in 2003 (before, ahem, a magazine outed novelist Laura Albert as the real JT) is suing Albert. Their logic is simple: The deal is null because the person they cut it with doesn't exist. The other side is boldly countering that JT has become an organic part of "disturbed" Laura Albert's personality; and the plaintiff seems prepared to respond by rolling out every media clip where someone else is impersonating JT LeRoy (they started with a Fresh Air interview). To add a touch of meta-meta to the proceedings, there's a documentarian hanging around the trial who's pondering a movie of the case itself.

Today in Legal Proceedings: Braunstein and Lidle and Miss America, Oh, My!

In the criminal-justice system, as you know, the people are represented by two separate but equally important groups: the police, who investigate the crimes, and the district attorneys, who prosecute the offenders. Then there are the shyster defense lawyers, who try to convince juries that deranged and confessed torturers should get off; NTSB air-safety boards, who can't quite figure out who was flying the plane that crashed into the buildings; and Miss America, who entraps sexual predators. Yesterday was a busy day for all of them, and these are their stories. Da-dum.

Judge Won't Stand in Ratner's Way

A New York State judge announced this afternoon that she won't stop Bruce Ratner from razing several Brooklyn buildings to start construction on his Atlantic Yards project. Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn appeared in a lower Manhattan courtroom Tuesday to request a temporary restraining order against Forest City Ratner, keeping the developer from starting demolition pending a May 3 hearing on DDDB's lawsuit claiming in inadequate environmental-review process. Justice Joan Madden promised a decision today, and she has now denied the DDDB request. FCR showed Madden a schedule Wednesday outlining the demolition of fifteen buildings between April 18 and the end of June, she wrote. Reasoning that a restraining order "is a drastic remedy which should be sparingly used," she wrote she failed to find "factual support" that the first nine buildings on the block will "affect the nature and character of the area." DDDB chief Daniel Goldstein quickly issued a statement. "The court expressly stated that in making today's TRO decision it was not pre-judging the merits of petitioners claims filed on April 5th," he said in a press release. He has called a protest for Monday at 8 a.m. at 191 Flatbush Avenue, where he expects demolition work to begin. In the Matter of Develop Don't Destroy Brooklyn v. Empire State Development Corporation [PDF]

Three Officers Charged in Sean Bell Shooting

Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown just announced details from the indictment against the police officers accused of shooting and killing Sean Bell on November 25, 2006, outside a Queens strip club. Of the five cops under investigation, two were charged with manslaughter. Detectives Michael Oliver and Gescard Isnora face up to 25 years in prison for charges including manslaughter, assault, and reckless endangerment. Another detective, Marc Cooper, was charged with two counts of reckless endangerment and could be imprisoned for one year. Two other policemen at the scene that night were not charged. Oliver, Isnora, and Cooper will be arraigned later today in the Supreme Court in Kew Gardens. Statement by Queens District Attorney Richard A. Brown [Queens District Attorney's Office]

‘Times’ Prostitute Rescuer Eichenwald, in Testimony, Says He Went ‘Off the Deep End’

Former New York Times reporter Kurt Eichenwald was in an Ann Arbor, Michigan, courtroom this morning, a witness in a child-porn prosecution captioned State of Michigan v. Kenneth Gourlay. But when Eichenwald took the stand, it could have been renamed "$2,000 Check v. Journalism 101" — and Eichenwald's testimony showed he knows he broke the rules. Earlier this week, the Times disclosed in an editors' note that Eichenwald had "loaned" $2,000 to 18-year-old Justin Berry, the subject of a controversial series Eichenwald published in December 2005, which led to a congressional hearing about the danger of Webcams to kids, and to charges against several gay men accused of molesting Berry and helping him manage his porn sites. Eichenwald and the Times had previously disclosed reporting irregularities — that Eichenwald spent several weeks in contact with Berry without disclosing that he was a reporter, that he helped put him in touch with authorities — but news of the loan first appeared in yesterday's paper. He and the paper received a barrage of criticism over the news (he's also received criticism from this reporter, in an incident explained here), and on the midwestern witness stand today, he tried to explain.

Hasidic Jews Reject Evil Text Messaging, Sprint Service

Plaintiff: Yeshiva Yagdil Torah, a New York Corp. doing business as Vaad Harabbonim Letikshoreth Defendants: Sprint Solutions Inc.; Sprint P.C.S.; Sprint Nextel Corp.; Sprint Communications Co. Accusation: In 2005, a group of rabbis formed a council to find a way Hasidic Jews could use cell phones without getting exposed to soul-corrupting text messages and spam. They enlisted the help of Sprint Nextel in developing something called a Kosher Phone: a so-called "plain vanilla" voice phone that would preclude the very possibility of going online, and the attendant temptations. Of course, it didn't work.

But Will the Prosecutor Send a Limo?

The Driving Mrs. Hevesi debacle keeps cruising along. Today's Post reports that the embattled comptroller has received a written invitation to tell his side of the story to an Albany grand jury this Friday, "if he so desires." Hevesi's lawyer had no comment on whether his client would accept the invitation. The grand jury, of course, is the body that might indict the comptroller, and as Steve Fishman noted in this week's magazine, Hevesi's job currently seems more secure than you might think — unless he gets indicted. One fun part of this: It's all awfully polite, isn't it, than Alan is merely being "invited" to talk. For simpler folks, as we understand it, such an invitation usually comes under a less courtly name: They get subpoenas. Hevesi Given Friday Grand-Jury Invitation [NYP] The Penitent [NYM]

How Many Lawyers Does It Take to Make You Sick?

Plaintiff: Amy Seiler Defendants: Harry J. Mulry Jr.; Gregory G. Shaub, doing business under the firm name Mulry & Shaub L.L.P. Accusation: A paralegal toils for a small law firm and gets bouts of "stomach distress, headaches and disagreeable fits of temper." Oh, and don't forget those "digestive upsets." In a lawsuit filed last week in Brooklyn Federal Court, Amy Seiler says her bosses at Mulry & Shaub in Port Washington negligently dragged their feet in hiring a replacement for an outgoing receptionist. And so for the next two months, Seiler was forced to work two jobs for the price of one. But instead of quitting, Seiler stuck around for a "nightmare" at work that boiled over into "heated exchanges and accusations concerning baseless allegations of errors." The bosses, Seiler claims, wanted to force her out instead of hiring more staff.

Oy! Did You Hear the One About the Overzealous Mohel?

Plaintiffs: L.G., a minor, by and through his parents and next friends, Dror Gerges and Sivan Gerges Defendants: Daniel J. Krimsky; Mogen Circumcision Instruments Ltd. Accusation: An Oceanside, Long Island, rabbi is accused of lopping off the head of an 8-day-old's penis during a Bris on December 16, 2004. According to the federal complaint filed last week in Central Islip, New York, not only was Daniel Krimsky unqualified to perform a Bris, but the circumcision tool he used — called a "Mogen clamp" for the overly curious — was faulty, and instructions failed to warn against the (seemingly obvious) risk of severing. What's worse, the rabbi then tried to hide his error, and the boy's injuries only came to light when a physician attending the Bris noticed something was wrong and spoke up.

Lynne Stewart Sentencing Begins; Chaos Ensues

Chaos erupted on the twelfth floor of the Daniel Patrick Moynihan U.S. Courthouse in lower Manhattan this morning when Lynne Stewart, the left-wing criminal-defense lawyer convicted of materially aiding terrorism last year, appeared for sentencing before U.S. District Judge John G. Koeltl a bit after nine. "Free Lynne! Free Lynne!" shouted at least 100 of her supporters massed outside the courtroom, some of them raising their fists in a Black Power salute, others singing from "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." They had gathered earlier for a rally in Foley Square to support Stewart's efforts to be spared prison, perhaps with a sentence of home confinement. She has undergone radiation therapy for breast cancer.