Last week was a bad one for Bronx Attorneys. In one case, United States Attorney Mary Jo White removed Special Assistant United States Attorney Vincent Heintz off of the Junior Gotti case for talking to the press. Heintz, who is a Bronx Assistant District Attorney assigned to the United States Attorney’s Office, has been working on the Gotti investigation longer than any other prosecutor in the United States Attorneys Office.
In a letter written by Mark Pomerantz, the Criminal Division Bureau Chief for White, Heintz acknowledged contacts with the press that are in violation of the policy of the United States Attorney’s Office.
In another matter, Bronx attorney Pat Stiso was disbarred by the Appellate Division after his federal conviction for, among other charges, obstruction of justice. Stiso, who was “house” counsel to a drug gang, set into motion an elaborate scheme to get his client into the good graces of the United States Attorney’s office and thereby land a reduced prison sentence by setting up a phony drug den and then informing the authorities about it.
There is a report issued by the Fund for Modern Courts entitled “Make Housing Court Fairer, Better.” The report, was based upon reports compiled by the Bronx Citizen’s Court Monitoring Project, Inc., which is a group of volunteers organized and coordinated by the Office of Bronx Assembly member Jeffrey Dinowitz.
The volunteers observed proceedings in the Housing Court for one month and made several recommendations which were contained in the Fund’s report. The report found that the housing court judges were generally good, evaluations ranged from “efficient and workmanlike” (Judge Eardell Rashford) to “very compassionate and attentive” (Judge Howard Sherman).
Likewise, the attorneys were described as generally “competent and well prepared” and “respectful of the judges and their decisions.” Additionally, while 90% of tenants are without counsel, the monitors found that most of the tenants were able to do an adequate job of presenting their own cases, especially with the assistance of the court. According to the report, “litigants were able to state their facts, their efforts at settlement and their understanding of the judge’s decision” observed one monitor.
However, the ability to defend themselves was as a result of the court’s efforts to level the playing field by advising tenants of their rights and on what claims they can make their defense.
Despite all of the good reports about the Bronx courthouse, several complaints were raised by the monitors. They included that hallway negotiations seemed like more of a marketplace than a court of justice and that sometimes, despite the efforts of the judges and court personnel, the courtrooms can seem like a “three ring circus” due to jam packed courtrooms and people constantly walking in and out.
Adding to the chaos are the constant delays while court personnel locate and gather parties for cases. One monitor described the chaos as a “hit or miss” whether both parties would be in the courtroom at the same time that the judge called their respective names.
Lastly, one monitor despite the overall positive tone of the report described the procedures and conduct of the housing court as being “in utter disarray and a disgrace to the court system” Food for thought, but not while in court!!!