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Judge Approves $60 Million Settlement in Debt Collection Suit

A federal court approved the settlement on behalf of  New Yorkers who alleged fraudulent debt collection practices.  The $60 million settlement in the case, captioned Sykes v. Mel S. Harris and Associates LLC, No. 09 Civ. 8486 (S.D.N.Y), is  the largest ever of its kind.  The settlement should also lead to the unprecedented vacating of approximately 195,000 court judgments and result in the forgiveness of over $1 billion in alleged debt. Plaintiffs’ lawsuit alleged that that Defendants used fraudulent practices to file debt collection lawsuits, obtain default judgments, and then collect on those judgments.

Judge Denny Chin found that the settlement is a “remarkable resolution” to “hard fought litigation” that will bring “extraordinarily meaningful benefits to tens of thousands of individuals.”  He concludes that the settlement will have an “immediate and enormously positive impact on the lives of many.”

The class is represented by ECBA attorneys, Matthew Brinckerhoff, Debbie GreenbergerElizabeth Saylor, and Jonathan Abady,  along with co-counsel MFY Legal Services and the New Economy Project.   Read more about the settlement in coverage by the New York Times, the Nation, the NY Law Journal, the NY Post, the Democrat & Chronicle, the Daily News and NY 1.

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Groundbreaking Court Delay Case in the Press

On May 10, 2016, along with the Bronx Defenders and Morrison & Foerster LLP, ECBA filed a federal class action to end the massive delays in misdemeanor cases in the Bronx Criminal Court. The groundbreaking suit alleges that the systematic delays violate the constitutional speedy trial and due process rights of thousands of people facing misdemeanor charges in the Bronx.

The case has garnered local, national and international press coverage. Read about the case in the New York Times, CNN.com, New York Daily News and Reuters. The New York Times Editorial Board published an op-ed calling for the transformation of “the dysfunctional culture that has long plagued the justice system, and the citizens, of the Bronx.”

Listen to an interview with Ilann Maazel on NPR’s The Brian Lehrer Show.  ECBA attorneys Matthew Brinckerhoff and Doug Lieb are also working on the case.

 

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Ten ECBA Attorneys Named as Super Lawyers; Two Named as Rising Stars

ECBA is proud to announce that partners Richard EmeryAndrew CelliMatthew Brinckerhoff, Jonathan AbadyIlann MaazelEarl WardHal Lieberman, Dan Kornstein, Andrew Wilson, and Elizabeth Saylor were named as Super Lawyers for 2016. Partner Debra Greenberger and associate Hayley Horowitz were named as Rising Stars.

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Families Request Bronx DA Criminal Investigation in “Bronx Zoo” Disability Abuse Case

Three families have formally requested that Darcel Clark, the District Attorney for Bronx County, open a formal criminal investigation into the abuse of disabled residents at Union Avenue IRA, a group home run by New York State.

The State has not revealed how many of these alleged abusers still work for the State or with the disabled.

Last week, the families filed a civil rights lawsuit in Manhattan federal court.  According to New York State’s own Justice Center, staff gave disabled residents black eyes, punched them, pulled their hair, spit on them, shoved and punched them, kicked them, smashed their heads into walls, denied them food, and botched their medical care.

A copy of the demand for a criminal investigation to the District Attorney is here.

 

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New Class Action Challenges Unconstitutional Delay in Bronx Criminal Court

This morning, four people filed a federal class action to end massive delays in misdemeanor cases in Bronx Criminal Court.  The suit, Trowbridge v. Cuomo, alleges that systemic delay violates the constitutional speedy trial and due process rights of thousands of people facing misdemeanor charges in the Bronx.

It now takes an average of 827 days to get a misdemeanor jury trial in Bronx Criminal Court.  In 2015, there were more than 45,000 misdemeanor arraignments in the Bronx, but fewer than 100 trials.

The Bronx has fewer misdemeanor case filings than Brooklyn or Manhattan, but more year-old misdemeanor cases than every other borough combined.

ECBA attorneys Matthew D. Brinckerhoff, Ilann M. Maazel, and Doug Lieb represent the plaintiffs, along with lead counsel The Bronx Defenders and the firm of Morrison & Foerster LLP.  For more information, see the press release here.

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ECBA Files Federal Lawsuit Alleging Shocking Abuse in Bronx Group Home

This morning, three families filed a lawsuit in Manhattan federal court alleging severe and pervasive abuse of disabled residents in a New York State group home called the Union Avenue IRA.  According to New York State’s own Justice Center, staff gave disabled residents black eyes, punched them, pulled their hair, spit on them, shoved and punched them, kicked them, smashed their heads into walls, denied them food, and botched their medical care.  The lawsuit also alleges that high-level State officials knew about the alleged abuse, but did nothing to stop it for months.

Staff refer to the group home as the “Bronx Zoo.”  It is not known how many of these New York State employees still work for the State or with the disabled.

“It’s revolting, appalling, inhuman,” said Ilann M. Maazel, lead counsel, and a lawyer at Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady.  “This case represents a complete breakdown in hiring, training, investigation, discipline, and oversight.  We call on Governor Cuomo and the Bronx District Attorney to get justice for these families, and to make sure no disabled person is abused in a New York State group home ever again.”

“Even by the standards of New York’s notorious system of care for disabled people, this case stands out as one of the most repugnant,” said David Lebowitz, another attorney for the residents’ families.  “This is not a case of one or two bad apples, but an entrenched culture of cruelty tolerated by supervisors and State officials who turned their backs on vulnerable people in their care.”

Follow updates on the case here.

 

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Earl Ward Speaks on Panel on Wrongful Convictions

ECBA partner Earl S. Ward appeared on a panel at Fordham Law School to discuss wrongful convictions. The panelists discussed the problems with eye witness testimony, Brady material, and prosecutorial discretion. Earl has successfully represented many people challenging their convictions. Most recently, he helped secure over $30 million from New York State and New York City for three men who were convicted of a murder they did not commit. Two of the men spent 18 years in prison; the third was incarcerated for over 12 years. Read more about the Firm’s wrongful conviction work here.

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Tamir Rice Settlement in the News

On April 25, 2016, the City of Cleveland agreed to a $6 million payment to settle the federal civil rights lawsuit that arose from the tragic death of Tamir Rice. This settlement has received extensive coverage in the national and local press.

Read coverage of the settlement in the New York Times, the New York Daily News, and the Amsterdam News.

Listen to an interview with Jonathan Abady on NPR’s The Brian Lehrer Show.

Watch an interview with Zoe Salzman on Democracy Now!.

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City of Cleveland Settles Tamir Rice Lawsuit for $6 Million

The City of Cleveland has agreed to payment of $6 million to settle the federal civil rights lawsuit involving the tragic death of Tamir Rice. Although historic in financial terms, no amount of money can adequately compensate for the loss of a life. Tamir was 12 years old when he was shot and killed by police — a young boy with his entire life ahead of him, full of potential and promise.

In a situation such as this, there is no such thing as closure or justice. Nothing will bring Tamir back. His unnecessary and premature death leaves a gaping hole for those who  knew and loved him that can never be filled.

Regrettably, Tamir’s death is not an isolated event. The problem of police violence, especially in communities of  color, is a crisis plaguing our nation. It is the sincere  hope of  the Rice family that Tamir’s death will stimulate a movement for genuine change in our society and our nation’s policing so that no family ever has to suffer a tragedy such as this again.

Tamir’s family was represented by ECBA attorneys Jonathan Abady, Earl Ward, and Zoe Salzman, and local counsel Subodh Chandra. The New York Times and the New York Daily News, among many other outlets, covered the settlement.

 

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ECBA Obtains Over $30 Million for Three Wrongfully Convicted Men in Infamous “Bronx Six” Case

New York City and State have agreed to pay $23.78 million to Michael Cosme and Carlos Perez, who were wrongfully convicted and incarcerated for 18 years for two 1995 murders in which neither man had any involvement. Mr. Cosme and Mr. Perez will each receive $8 million from New York City, in addition to $3.89 million previously paid by New York State, for a total of $11.89 million each in settlements.

Mr. Cosme and Mr. Perez were jointly indicted with five other individuals for the 1995 murders of a livery taxi driver and a FedEx employee, despite the absence of any physical evidence connecting them to the crimes. A 2012 investigation by federal authorities revealed that the taxi driver’s murder had actually been committed by two gang members whose names came up repeatedly during the NYPD’s 1995 investigation but who were never pursued as suspects. The revelation that the two gang members had previously confessed to committing the taxi driver murder—without any involvement by any of the six people convicted—led to the recantation of a central witness in the FedEx case, who claimed that her trial testimony had been coerced and manufactured by NYPD detectives. After using this new information to help free Mr. Cosme and Mr. Perez from prison in 2013, ECBA attorneys Earl S. Ward, Elizabeth S. Saylor, and David A. Lebowitz represented the men in civil litigation against the City and State along with co-counsel Julia Kuan of Romano & Kuan, PLLC.

ECBA and Romano & Kuan previously obtained $6.7 million in settlements from the City and State on behalf of the estate of Israel Vasquez, one of the other individuals wrongly accused of the same two 1995 murders, who spent over 12 years in prison before his conviction was overturned due to the insufficiency of the evidence against him. The team has thus recovered over $30 million for these three families in connection with this tragic case. The New York Times and the New York Daily News, among other publications, covered the settlements.