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Chief Judge Requests Federal Investigation in ECBA Class Action Challenging Illegal Transfers of Rikers Detainees to Albany

Chief Judge McMahon of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York denied New York City’s motion to dismiss a federal civil rights class action brought by four young pretrial detainees who allege that they were illegally transferred to an upstate jail in Albany, where they were beaten, sexually assaulted, and held in solitary confinement without due process, and requested a criminal investigation into the plaintiffs’ allegations.

 

Chief Judge McMahon noted: “The Court is deeply troubled by the allegations . . . .  [T]here is reason to conclude, even at this early stage, that at least some of the horrors that are described” in the complaint “actually took place.”  The Court referred the matter for investigation to federal and state prosecutors’ offices in New York and Albany.  The New York Daily News reported on the Court’s decision.

 

Plaintiffs Davon Washington, Steven Espinal, John Doe, and Pariis Tillery allege that they were suddenly transferred without notice by the City of New York to the Albany County Correctional Facility, cut off from their criminal defense lawyers and their families.  In Albany, they were systematically subjected to brutal beatings and sexual assaults upon their arrival. For the entirety of their time in Albany, they were held in round-the-clock isolation in solitary confinement without meaningful human contact.  The lawsuit seeks to transfer all New York City detainees back from Albany and to prevent the City from sending detainees there in the future.

 

The plaintiffs are represented by Katie Rosenfeld and Doug Lieb of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP and Steven Goldman of the Law Offices of Goldman & Associates.

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Black Intelligence Detectives Settle Bias Suit for $974,000

ECBA settled a suit on behalf of three black detectives who were denied promotions within the elite Intelligence Division of the NYPD. The City will pay $700,000 in damages to the detectives, as well as $374,000 in attorneys’ fees. For well over a decade, the Intelligence Division maintained a subjective promotions policy, administered by white supervisors, who refused to promote deserving black detectives. The three detectives joined the Intelligence Division in 2001 and assisted with the cleanup and investigation of the September 11 attacks. They tracked hundreds of leads and suspects. In spite of their achievements and strong recommendations from their direct supervisors, they were repeatedly passed up for promotion because of their race.

The settlement was reported in numerous papers, including the New York Daily News. The detectives’ experiences were also covered in an article on the New York Times’ front page, which led to a Times’ editorial. ABC, Spectrum NY1, the New York Daily News, and the New York Post also previously covered the case. The key case documents are available at the following links: federal complaint, EEOC charge, EEOC finding of probable cause of discrimination, and the U.S. Department of Justice’s Right to Sue letter.

ECBA’s Elizabeth SaylorEarl Ward, Jessica Clarke, and Doug Lieb, along with Chris Dunn with the NYCLU, represent Sara Coleman, the widow of Detective Theodore Coleman, and Detectives Jon McCollum and Roland Stephens.

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ECBA and Co-Counsel File Suit Against New York City and Albany County for Illegal Transfer of Young Rikers Pretrial Detainees to “Black Site” Albany Jail

Today, four young men who were pretrial detainees at Rikers Island until 2018 when the City of New York abruptly transferred them to an upstate “black site” jail, filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the City of New York, New York City Department of Correction (“DOC”) Commissioner Cynthia Brann, Albany County, Albany County Sheriff Craig D. Apple, Sr., and individual correctional officers.

Since 2015, when it banned solitary confinement for inmates ages 21 and younger, the City and DOC have illegally rendered dozens of young Rikers inmates to Albany County Correctional Facility (the “Albany County Jail”).  Plaintiffs in this case were taken by DOC from Rikers to the Albany County Jail.  Upon arrival, they were systematically subjected to brutal beatings and sexual assaults by jail guards.  Plaintiffs suffered severe injuries, including a perforated eardrum, concussion, rectal bleeding, black eyes, and lacerations.  For the entirety of their time at the Albany County Jail, the Rikers detainees were held in solitary confinement, cut off from meaningful human contact and isolated from family, adequate medical care, and their lawyers.

Plaintiff Davon Washington is a 22-year-old man who resides in the Bronx, New York.  He was released from custody on December 24, 2018.  Plaintiff Steven Espinal is a 19-year-old man, and Plaintiff Pariis Tillery is a 25-year-old man, both of whom are still detained in solitary confinement at the Albany County Jail pending trial.  Plaintiff John Doe is a 24-year-old man who was previously detained at the Albany County Jail and is now serving a sentence in state custody.

Today’s lawsuit, filed in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, seeks injunctive relief and damages.  Plaintiffs Espinal and Tillery seek to be transferred out of the Albany County Jail, where they fear daily for their safety.  Plaintiffs are represented by Katie Rosenfeld and Douglas E. Lieb of Emery Celli Brinckerhoff & Abady LLP and Steven Goldman of the Law Office of Goldman & Associates.

The complaint is available here.

Read the New York Times coverage here.

Article

Historic Settlement in Pennsylvania

ECBA has settled the 2016 Pennsylvania recount case brought by presidential candidate Jill Stein and Pennsylvania voters. The lawsuit challenged Pennsylvania’s use of paperless voting systems, as well as its byzantine, anti-voter recount procedures.

The settlement requires Pennsylvania to provide voter-verifiable paper ballots to all voters by 2020, and automatic, robust, statewide election audits by 2022.

“With this settlement, Pennsylvania will go from an election integrity backwater to a national leader,” said Ilann M. Maazel. “We will be watching closely to ensure Pennsylvania implements every one of these important election reforms.”

The Pennsylvania plaintiffs are represented by Ilann M. Maazel, Ali Frick, and Doug Lieb, as well as co-counsel Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads. In addition, Jonathan Abady and Andrew G. Celli Jr. represented the overall Stein 2016 recount effort.

The settlement can be found here. The press release is here.

Article

ECBA Clients File $380 million Suit Against Sotheby’s

ECBA clients, two trusts named Accent Delight International Ltd. and Xitrans Finance Ltd., filed a complaint in the Southern District of New York against Sotheby’s, one of the world’s largest and most famous auction houses. The Complaint alleges that Sotheby’s helped Yves Bouvier facilitate the largest art fraud in history. As detailed in the New Yorker, Bouvier is alleged to have defrauded the two plaintiff trusts of approximately $1 billion. The new suit alleges that Sotheby’s played a key role in aiding Mr. Bouvier’s scheme by providing valuations and other support for fraudulent transactions. ECBA attorneys Daniel J. Kornstein, O. Andrew F. Wilson, Zoe Salzman, and Doug Lieb represent the plaintiffs. Articles describing the filing can be found here and here.

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Exoneree Sues New Haven Police for 17 Years of Wrongful Imprisonment

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

CONTACT:

Ilann M. Maazel, ECBA, 212.763.5000, imaazel@www.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, Avaaz Defeat “Chilling,” “Overbroad,” “Utterly Irrelevant” Monsanto Subpoena

 

In a victory for the First Amendment, a New York judge granted ECBA’s motion on behalf of the Avaaz Foundation, a global civic movement, to quash a sweeping document subpoena issued by the Monsanto Company, the multi-billion-dollar agricultural and biotech giant.  The subpoena sought access to three-and-a-half years’ worth of Avaaz’s confidential political communications, internal strategy memos, and campaign plans – its political “playbook,” in the judge’s words — for its ongoing, worldwide effort to persuade governments around the world to ban the chemical agent glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup® products.  The International Agency for Research on Cancer has concluded that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic to humans,” and a California jury recently found that Roundup® caused a school groundskeeper’s non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

In quashing the subpoena, Justice Shlomo Hagler of the New York County Supreme Court ruled that Monsanto’s request would have a “tremendous chilling effect” on the protected First Amendment activities of Avaaz and other civic organizations.  Giving Monsanto access to Avaaz’s internal communications, Justice Hagler explained, would discourage Avaaz and its members from participating in “a movement they feel is just and right.”  Justice Hagler also ruled that the documents Monsanto sought were “utterly irrelevant” to a Missouri lawsuit for which it purportedly sought them.  If enforced, the subpoena would have required Avaaz to produce its campaign plans, strategy deliberations, and research to Monsanto.

Law360 and other media outlets have reported on yesterday’s ruling, and many publications have been following the case. Click here for Law360, The Guardian, DownToEarth magazine, and EcoWatch.

ECBA attorneys Andrew G. Celli, Jr. and Doug Lieb represent Avaaz in this matter.

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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.

Read coverage of the case in The New York TimesNew York Daily News, New York Post, New York Law Journal, Hip Hop Wired, and The Grio. The complaint is available here.

The three plaintiffs are represented by Elizabeth Saylor and Doug Lieb.

Article

Settlement Reached in Challenge to Bronx Court Delays

ECBA, The Bronx Defenders, and Morrison & Foerster, LLP announced a settlement of a lawsuit challenging widespread delays in misdemeanor cases in Bronx Criminal Court.

The settlement agreement allows the plaintiffs to monitor the court system for the next four years and to re-open the case if not enough progress is made. It also creates a new mechanism for people charged with misdemeanors to request a speedy trial, at which point the court system will be required to track the progress of their case.

Since the May 2016 filing of the lawsuit, Trowbridge v. DiFiore, the number of misdemeanor cases pending for more than a year in the Bronx dropped from 2,378 to 513.  The number of misdemeanor cases pending for more than two years dropped from 538 to 64.  But more work remains to be done: the proportion of misdemeanor cases that are more than a year old in the Bronx is still twice as high as in any other borough.

“This settlement is only the beginning,” ECBA partner Ilann M. Maazel told the press. “We will be watching the Bronx court system very carefully to make sure that they live up to their promises, achieve parity with the other boroughs, and make speedy trials a reality for everyone in the Bronx.”

Matthew D. Brinckerhoff, Ilann M. Maazel, and Doug Lieb represented the plaintiffs.

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