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Fwd: N.Y. defendants' secrets exposed

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    Read the third paragraph from the bottom, they actually mentioned PI s! ... Date: Mon, 21 Jul 2003 12:38:21 -0700 From: To:
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 22 2:44 PM
      Read the third paragraph from the bottom, they actually mentioned PI's!


      --- <aiep-inst@...> wrote:
      Date: Mon, 21 Jul 2003 12:38:21 -0700
      From: <aiep-inst@...>
      To: demand2know@...
      Subject: N.Y. defendants' secrets exposed

      This will probably get interesting before all is said and done!


      N.Y. defendants' secrets exposed 3 million 'sealed' records open to public

      By BOB PORT
      DAILY NEWS STAFF WRITER

      Millions of New Yorkers who thought their criminal records for everything from DWI to
      rape were sealed from the public are in for a shock.

      Their dirty secrets are about to be revealed.

      In response to a Daily News investigation, officials of the state court system now are
      instructing court clerks to hand over millions of files stamped "Sealed After Conviction"
      to anyone who asks to see them.

      "Wow," exclaimed James Palumbo, a Manhattan defense attorney and former Bronx
      prosecutor. "That's not my understanding of what 'sealed' means."

      State law requires police records to be sealed in cases where the charges are reduced.
      That has led many city lawyers, judges and defendants to believe that court records of
      some convictions may also be sealed.

      The result is that more than 3.2 million criminal convictions - involving 2.7 million New
      Yorkers - have been sealed over the past 15 years, according to computer records obtained
      by The News.

      Local defense lawyers, prosecutors and ex-defendants have believed their convictions
      would stay totally secret - often a key point in plea-bargain agreements.

      They were wrong. Those secrets are about to become open secrets. The change comes after
      The News sought, often unsuccessfully, to gain access to records and confronted the state
      Office of Court Administration with questions about the sheer volume of sealed cases.
      There was also confusion in some courts about whether the cases should be sealed.

      State court officials, while acknowledging the extent of the practice of sealing the
      cases, now claim that longstanding policy has always been that court records should be
      open to public scrutiny.

      They insist that this is nothing new, despite the staggering number of sealed
      convictions in city courthouses and the belief of many lawyers, prosecutors, court
      officers and even judges that sealing was legal.

      Lawrence Marks, special counsel to the state's chief administrative judge, told The News
      that court files are open to the public - and always have been.

      "It's unfortunate that this is not as widely understood as it should be," Marks said.
      "The law has been clear on this for many years."

      'Lawyers should know'

      It's not clear why state officials didn't make their views on the law widely known before
      they were prodded by The News.

      Albany Law School Prof. Peter Preiser, the author of commentaries used in legal reference
      books, agrees that court records in criminal plea-bargain cases should not be sealed.

      "Defense lawyers should know," Preiser said. "I can't answer for lawyers who don't read
      the law."

      But defense lawyers openly challenge the Office of Court Administration's reading of the
      law.

      If someone pleads guilty to a violation, "it's none of your business," snapped Lori Zeno,
      a veteran defense lawyer in Queens. "It's not a crime and I don't think it's anyone
      else's business."

      Zeno blamed the huge volume of sealed verdicts on "all the quality-of-life ---" brought
      into local courts.

      More plea bargains are struck in Brooklyn than in any other borough, according
      to computer data. Court St. lawyers were shocked when told that state court
      administrators intend to lay bare their sealed violations.

      "It created a real controversy in this office," said Jerry Schmetterer, spokesman for
      Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes. "Some of the older attorneys knew this, but
      most of the younger ones didn't."

      Brooklyn defense attorneys widely assumed their clients could rest assured their records
      would never be unearthed.

      "This was the impression given to a lot of clients," Schmetterer said.

      Brooklyn lawyer Mark Cossuto charges $1,000 a pop for a DWI case and getting his clients'
      records sealed.

      Cossuto has plea-bargained and sealed 29 cases of drunken driving in the last 12 years -
      the biggest tally of DWI sealing cases of any lawyer in the state.

      One of Cossuto's clients, Kenneth LaBarre, 57, a general contractor, flunked a sobriety
      test during an August 1997 traffic stop at the Battery Tunnel after he said he'd had a
      drink with dinner.

      LaBarre was thrilled to learn his DWI bust would be sealed. He had nothing but praise for
      Cossuto.

      "He was the greatest lawyer I ever met," LaBarre said. "He was a godsend to me."

      Cossuto angrily refused comment.

      In Queens, Chief Assistant District Attorney Jack Ryan has another take. "I don't like
      sealing - period," Ryan said.

      But he explained that plea bargains are a fact of life for city prosecutors. "When you're
      facing 58,000 to 68,000 cases a year, you can't take every one to trial," Ryan said.
      "Decisions have to be made."

      Making a case for sealing

      There are legitimate reasons to seal some records. Courts in New York seal all juvenile
      cases. They seal adult files when someone is found not guilty or when a judge throws out
      all charges, said special counsel Marks.

      The law also requires police reports - fingerprints, arrest records, criminal rap sheets
      - to be sealed if the accused are found guilty of only minor, noncriminal violations.

      That happens a lot in New York.

      Prosecutors downgrade a criminal charge to a disorderly conduct violation to clear a
      case. The defendant admits to nothing worse than a speeding ticket - even when the
      charges may be as grave as attempted murder, rape or child abuse.

      But the law that seals police records, say state judicial officials, does not extend to
      the courts - or to courthouse files.

      ***Last week, the state court system began selling a new $52-per-name database search
      that lists all those once-sealed cases statewide. Private Internet access is being
      offered to employers and private investigators who want to make quick background checks.

      Lawmakers voted this year to sell the background checks to raise money to pay higher
      salaries to lawyers who represent the poor.

      With reporting by Chuck Bennett

      http://nydailynews.com/front/story/102552p-92749c.html


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      Caliber Investigation Agency
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      American Institute of Executive Protection
      http://www.americanexecprotection.com
      http://aiep1.bravepages.com (TEMPORARY PORTAL)
      AIEP@...
      BECAUSE CHANCE FAVOURS THE PREPARED MIND
      Newsletters: http://aiep1.bravepages.com/nwsltr/pg1.html

      "Vocatus atque non vocatus deus aderit"
      "Always do right. This will gratify some people and astonish the rest."
      "Genius may have its limitations, but stupidity is not thus handicapped."

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