Article

Federal Court Sustains Suit Challenging Over-detentions of People Entitled to Release on Bail from New York City Jails

On September 28, 2018, federal judge William H. Pauley III denied a motion by the city of New York seeking to dismiss a proposed class action lawsuit filed by ECBA and co-counsel Romano & Kuan PLLC on behalf of presumptively innocent criminal defendants held for hours or days in New York City jails despite being entitled to release on bail.  The court held that “Plaintiffs adequately allege that their interest in paying bail and being released after paying bail has been infringed by the City’s deliberate indifference.”  The suit alleges that the City is responsible for unreasonable systemic delays in accepting bail payments and in processing detainees for release once bail is posted.  The complaint details a Kafka-esque system where antiquated technology, inadequate staffing, and indifference conspire to keep thousands of New Yorkers each year in jail for hours or days without any legal basis.  The court’s decision ruled that these allegations are sufficient to claim violations of the United States constitution and New York law.  The case will now proceed to discovery.

To read the Court’s decision, click here.
To read the complaint, click here.

To read coverage of the lawsuit in the New York Daily News, click here.

ECBA’s Matt Brinckerhoff Debbie Greenberger, and David Lebowitz, along with Julia Kuan of Romano & Kuan, represent the plaintiffs.

Article

Exoneree Sues New Haven Police for 17 Years of Wrongful Imprisonment

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

CONTACT:

Ilann M. Maazel, ECBA, 212.763.5000, imaazel@ecbalaw.com

Sean McElligott, Koskoff, 203.336.4421 smcelligott@koskoff.com

 

 

September 7, 2018 ­­– Vernon Horn, who was exonerated in April 2018 after spending 17 years in prison for a murder he did not commit, today filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the City of New Haven, three New Haven detectives, and a state firearms examiner.  The New Haven Police Department (NHPD) hid 137 pages of exculpatory phone records in a detective’s home basement, failed to investigate evidence that would have proven Mr. Horn’s innocence, and coerced witnesses against him.  Mr. Horn is represented by the law firms of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP and Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder, P.C.

 

Mr. Horn was convicted of murder for a shooting at the Dixwell Deli in New Haven on January 24, 1999. A cell phone stolen from the murder scene was a key piece of evidence at trial.  The state claimed that Mr. Horn had taken the phone to Bridgeport, given it to his accomplice, brought it back to New Haven the next day, and lent it to a friend to make a call.

 

In fact, the stolen cell phone never left Bridgeport, and Mr. Horn never touched it.  Evidence proving as much was readily available to the NHPD all along, but detectives never bothered to ask for it.  Phone records showed that every call from the stolen cell phone was linked to the same crew of Bridgeport drug dealers.  But instead of turning those records over to Mr. Horn, as the Constitution requires, the NHPD buried them in a basement.

 

This and other new evidence was discovered only because the Federal Public Defender for the District of Connecticut doggedly reinvestigated the case.  In April 2018, in response to the new evidence uncovered by the investigation, the State’s Attorney’s Office moved to vacate Mr. Horn’s conviction and dismiss the charges.  Mr. Horn’s co-defendant, Marquis Jackson, was also exonerated and released.

 

Today’s lawsuit, filed in United States District Court for the District of Connecticut, seeks damages for the 17 dehumanizing years that Mr. Horn spent in prison as an innocent man.  While in prison, Mr. Horn was assaulted by inmates, strip-searched by guards, held in solitary confinement, and denied essential medical care for serious injuries suffered in a car accident.  His young daughter began to grow up without him.

Mr. Horn said:

First and foremost, I would like to thank the Most High for allowing me to make it through this injustice.  I would like to thank my attorneys David Keenan and Terence Ward of the Connecticut Federal Public Defender Office for securing my freedom.

What happened to me was not only a crime against me, but it was a crime against humanity.  I was falsely prosecuted and lied about by people who are supposed to be public servants.  I suffered emotionally, and I was physically and mentally abused in prison.  I was not able to go to college and learn the things a man should know.  I was taken away from my first child when she was only 10 months old.

After being released, I was put back into the world without any help and without an apology.  The thing that hurts the most is that my daughter does not know me.  After what happened, I cannot trust anyone or hold on to relationships because I think everyone is trying to hurt me.

I hope that people who are a part of the criminal justice system learn from what was done to me.  They need to know that there are more innocent men and women who have been framed and falsely accused.  It is real, and it needs to end.

 

Ilann M. Maazel, partner at Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP, and counsel for Mr. Horn, said:

The New Haven Police Department stole the prime of Vernon Horn’s life.  This was a complete breakdown in the criminal justice system.  We intend to hold the police and everyone responsible for this travesty of justice accountable.

 

Sean McElligott, a lawyer at Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder, P.C., and counsel for Mr. Horn, said:

After seventeen years of lies and betrayal, Vernon Horn will finally have the opportunity to speak the truth through this lawsuit.  We look forward to helping him gain some measure of peace after decades of wrongful incarceration and suffering.   

Matt Blumenthal, a lawyer at Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder, P.C., and counsel for Mr. Horn, said:

We all depend on law enforcement to act with competence and integrity. Vernon Horn suffered a spectacular betrayal of this trust. We are proud to stand with him in his fight for justice and accountability.

 

The complaint is available here.

Article

ECBA Files Brief For Public Defenders and Civil Rights Groups Urging Appeals Court to Reconsider Approach to False Evidence Claims

ECBA has filed a “friend of the court” brief in the federal appeals court in Manhattan urging the full court to reconsider a recent decision that affects how much time victims of police misconduct have to file civil rights claims in court.  The amici curiae brief was filed on behalf of a coalition of organizations that defend indigent people accused of crimes, work to correct wrongful convictions, and protect civil rights.  It argues that when someone alleges that police fabricated evidence used to charge him with a crime, the statute of limitations on his civil claim should not start running until the criminal case against him is resolved in his favor.  As the brief explains, the recent decision, if not corrected by the full court, could hurt criminal defendants’ ability to defend themselves against charges and lead to the dismissal of valid civil rights claims for technical reasons, even if the plaintiff is the victim of egregious misconduct or has served years in prison for a crime he did not commit.

The groups represented by ECBA in the case are the American Civil Liberties Union, Bronx Defenders, Brooklyn Defender Services, Center for Appellate Litigation, Connecticut Innocence Project, The Innocence Project, The Legal Aid Society, National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, New York County Defender Services, New York State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Office of the Appellate Defender, and Vermont Office of the Defender General.  ECBA attorneys Sam Shapiro, David Lebowitz, Doug Lieb and Ashok Chandran worked on the brief.

Article

Harlem Black Business Owner Arrested for Being a Business Owner While Black

The law firm of Emery Celli Brinkerhoff & Abady LLP (ECBA) yesterday evening filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of three black men who are among the many black New Yorkers and black Americans arrested for simply doing the normal things that normal people do—driving a car down the street, having a barbecue, or, in this case, doing one’s job.

Plaintiff Dr. Clyde Pemberton is the CEO of the corporation that owns MIST Harlem (https://mistharlem.com/), a restaurant and entertainment venue. The complaint alleges that Dr. Pemberton and two MIST employees were arrested on June 1, 2017 simply because they are black. Dr. Pemberton went to aid a white woman who was unconscious and being dragged through MIST by her two white friends. The ill woman’s friends screamed racial epithets at him and attacked him. MIST employees called 911 for an ambulance. When the paramedics and the police arrived, Dr. Pemberton and two MIST employees were arrested for allegedly falsely imprisoning the ill woman. The police never interviewed them before arresting them.

Plaintiff’s attorney, Elizabeth S. Saylor said, “It is time for the NYPD to be held accountable. The NYPD must stop reflexively defending its officers without even conducting an investigation. The NYPD must take real action to stamp out discrimination by holding accountable those officers who violate citizens’ constitutional rights.”

Despite having done nothing but express concern for a patron in danger, suffer an unprovoked racist attack, and try to deescalate a volatile situation, Dr. Pemberton and two other MIST employees were arrested, held at a police station overnight, and forced to go to court to fight charges for several months, before the district attorney finally dismissed the charges.

“This is exactly the kind of interaction that destroys trust in law enforcement in minority communities,” said Ms. Saylor. This incident has left Plaintiffs deeply shaken. They had not previously known the fear, the disrespect, or the pain of being the victims of arbitrary and heavy-handed conduct by the police. Dr. Pemberton had even previously worked with the police. He ran a Harlem-based community mental health center, performed psychological evaluations for the NYPD, and served as a psychiatric consultant to the Newark Police Department.

“This lawsuit seeks to remedy the injustice perpetrated by the NYPD,” said Ms. Saylor. The complaint is available here. The three plaintiffs are represented by Elizabeth Saylor and Doug Lieb. Read coverage of the case in the New York TimesNY Daily News, NY Post, New York Law Journal, Hip Hop Wired, and The Grio.

Article

ECBA Wins Landmark Ruling in Rape and Gender Motivated Violence Case

ECBA won a landmark ruling allowing a case for rape to proceed under New York City’s Victims of Gender Motivated Violence Protection Act. Justice Robert R. Reed denied the defendant’s motion to dismiss the case, holding that the complaint properly alleged all the elements of the claim.

The New York City Council passed the Act in 2000 to create a private right of action for victims of “gender motivated crimes of violence” like sexual assault and rape to sue their abusers in civil court. The Act also extends the statute of limitations to bring such cases to 7 years. Justice Reed’s ruling gives real meaning to the City’s Act and makes it a powerful and much needed tool for victims of sexual misconduct to seek justice in the courts.

The case is Breest v. Haggis, No. 161137/2017 (N.Y. Sup. Ct.).

ECBA attorneys Jonathan S. Abady, Ilann M. Maazel, and Zoe Salzman represent the plaintiff.

Read more about the case herehere, here, and here.

Article

ECBA Sues City for Retaliating Against Airbnb Host

On July 18, 2018, ECBA filed a federal lawsuit against the City of New York and others on behalf of Stanley “Skip” Karol, a lifelong Brooklyn resident, who uses the Airbnb platform to rent out part of his family home.  The suit alleges that, in violation of the First Amendment and the Due Process Clause, the City retaliated against Mr. Karol for his remarks criticizing City officials and policy at a public hearing before the New York City Council on June 26, 2018.  Concerned that the legislation pending before the Council would put him in the same category as operators of illegal hotels, Mr. Karol exercised his First Amendment rights by participating in a public hearing on the bill.  Days later, City enforcement officials appeared at Mr. Karol’s two-family home in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, and issued him four summonses carrying fines of tens of thousands of dollars.   The complaint alleges that the enforcement effort aimed at Mr. Karol was retaliatory, and the summonses issued to Mr. Karol are baseless.  “People shouldn’t have to worry that when they go home, there’s going to be a knock on the door just because they decided to speak up against the government,” ECBA partner Andrew G. Celli, Jr. told the press.  The case was widely covered and the subject of a New York Post editorial.

Mr. Karol is represented by ECBA attorneys Andrew G. Celli, Jr., Debra Greenberger, and Ashok Chandran. A copy of the complaint can be found here, and additional press coverage of the case can be found here, here, and here.

Article

Richard D. Emery Awarded Membership in The National Trial Lawyers Top 100

The National Trial Lawyers recently announced that ECBA Co-Founder Richard Emery was named to its prestigious Top 100. This invitation-only organization is composed of the premier civil plaintiff and criminal defense trial attorneys across the country. Each member of The National Trial Lawyers Top 100 is chosen for their demonstration of success, experience, influence and leadership.

You can learn more about the National Trial Lawyers organization here.

Article

ECBA and Co-Counsel File Discrimination Lawsuit Against New York City Department of Education and Public Schools Athletic League Calling for Equal Access to School Sports

ECBA filed a class action lawsuit today, representing a student-led organization Integrate NYC and four Black and Latino students denied access to New York City public high school sports, as co-counsel with civil rights advocacy group New York Lawyers for the Public Interest and Patterson, Belknap, Webb & Tyler LLP.

The suit charges that the Department of Education (DOE) and Public Schools Athletic League (PSAL) have engaged in racial discrimination by denying Black and Latino students equal opportunity to play high school sports.

On average, Black and Latino students have access to far fewer teams and sports, and the city spends much less per student than for students of other races. Thousands of Black and Latino New York City public high school students attend schools that offer no team sports whatsoever, and Black and Latino students are twice as likely as students of other races to attend schools without sports teams.

The lawsuit, filed pursuant to the New York City Human Rights Law, seeks to level the playing field and create equal access to high school sports for all students, regardless of race.

Read coverage from the New York times here.

Read New York Daily News’ coverage and the NYLPI’s press release for further information. You can also read additional reporting here and here.

Article

#HimToo: Porter Files Sexual Harassment Complaint Against Upper West Side Building with New York City Commission on Human Rights

ECBA filed a complaint with New York City’s Human Rights Commission on behalf of Hairo Olivares, an Upper West Side porter at 315 Riverside Drive, alleging years of sexual harassment by the building superintendent and manager. The complaint alleges, among other things, that the superintendent grabbed Mr. Olivares’s crotch and buttocks and made him an ongoing target of harassment and humiliation. ECBA’s Ilann M. Maazel and Emma L. Freeman represent Mr. Olivares.

To learn more, read coverage from the NY Daily News here.

Article

ECBA Client LaDonna Powell Profiled on This American Life

The firm’s client LaDonna Powell was profiled in this week’s This American Life.  To listen, click here.  LaDonna and many others were sexually harassed while working at JFK for Allied security.  The podcast describes in detail how she fought back against this harassment.  Elizabeth Saylor, Alanna Kaufman, and David Lebowitz represent Ms. Powell and three other Allied employers who were discriminated against.  To read the amended complaint, click here.

.