Tagged: New York State

Prof. Mushlin Testifies in Favor of Oversight in NY State Prisons

POST WRITTEN BY:  Erica Danielsen (’16), J.D. Pace Law School

On Wednesday, December 2, 2015 the NY Assembly Standing Committee on Correction held a hearing in Albany to discuss “Oversight and Investigations of the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS).” The Assembly held this hearing in the aftermath of the June 2015 Clinton Correctional Facility escape. The Assembly invited experts, academics, attorneys, and family members of inmates to testify. The Committee also invited Pace Law School Professor Michael B. Mushlin to testify.

Prof. Mushlin has extensive experience in the area of prisoners’ rights and brought his knowledge of prison oversight to the attention of the Committee. He expressed the importance of adequate oversight and noted key issues with New York’s current failure to provide adequate oversight of its correctional facilities. He stated that

oversight is needed because prisons are dark places where horrible things will happen unless there is oversight. Without oversight prisons cannot be humane despite the best of intentions and ‘inhumane prisons are not safe.’

Prof. Mushlin presented the Committee recommendations on how to improve its lacking system. He suggested critical components of oversight such as independence, an open door policy for physical access, an effective monitoring and regulatory system, the duty to report, and a legal requirement for correctional facilities to respond to investigation reports.

Professor Mushlin embraced organizations that New York already has in place such as the Correctional Association and Prisoners Legal Services of New York whose Executive Director, Karen Murtagh, also testified, and he pointed out that these organizations can only do so much, which is why legislative action is needed.  Professor Mushlin critiqued the NYS Commission of Correction which currently has legislative authority to investigate and report on prisons but fails to live up to its legislative powers.

The Assembly further heard testimony from Charlene Burkett, Corrections Ombudsman of State of Indiana, and Kate Eves, Independent Oversight Consultant of United Kingdom and Wales. Ms. Burkett and Ms. Eves aided the discussion by offering insights about an overview, guidelines, and recommendations of how various oversight bodies work in other states and countries. Moreover, Jonathan Moore, Esq. – the lead counsel for New York’s stop and frisk case, attorney for the Eric Garner case, and counsel for the family of Samuel Harrell who tragically lost his life to guards at Fishkill – testified about the importance of civil rights issues. And last but certainly not least, came the emotional cries from two mothers whose son’s were abused in prisons bringing their own human realities to the attention of the Committee.

Neither the Inspector General nor the Commissioner of Corrections testified on Wednesday since the Clinton escape investigations are still pending. However, Daniel O’Donnell, the chair of the Committee on Correction, adjourned the hearing for a future date in order for those organizations to offer testimony about their findings. Mr. O’Donnell stated that he would subpoena them to testify if necessary.

Related Readings:

Prosecutor Accountability for Appellate Delays

DA Mary Rain recently had to defend an extensive appellate delay caused by one of the attorneys in her office.  Is there a better solution to extensive delays in criminal appeals?

A Prosecutorial Misconduct Commission?

Pace Professor Bennett Gershman makes a case for the establishing a prosecutorial misconduct commission, as New York considers doing just that.  Read the article in The Daily Beast titled How to Hold Bad Prosecutors Accountable: The Case for a Commission on Prosecutorial Conduct.

Yet Another Death in Police Custody

In case you didn’t have a chance to read this when it first came out, we bring to you another post by Professor Bennett L. Gershman, titled On the Death of Raynette Turner.

Prof. Gershman introduces his piece by saying,

The fifth death of a woman of color in US police custody in July. An unspeakable tragedy by itself, but arguably symbolic of the legal profession’s failure to examine the factual and logical foundation for our system of modern policing and mass incarceration.

Tired of Corruption? Hold On … A Possible Cure by Constitutional Convention

POST WRITTEN BY: John A. Vitagliano (’17), J.D. Pace Law School

U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara has criticized New York’s political culture, where

deal-making has long been done in Albany by ‘three men in a room’ (the governor, the State Assembly speaker and the State Senate majority leader), who work in secret and without accountability to decide [the states] most vital issues.

On May 12, 2015 New York Senate Majority Leader, Republican Dean Skelos vacated his post amidst a criminal complaint filed for federal charges involving fraud, extortion, and solicitation of gratuities and bribes.

On January 21, 2015, the Former Speaker of the New York State Assembly Sheldon Silver, Assemblyman since 1976 and continuously re-elected speaker since 1994, was indicted on several criminal corruption charges using his political power and influence that netted him $4 million in payoffs.

Mr. Silver, a Democrat from the Lower East Side of Manhattan, was accussed of steering real estate developers to a law firm that paid him kickbacks. He was also accused of funneling state grants to a doctor who referred claims to a second law firm that employed Mr. Silver and paid him fees for referring clients.

Mr. Silver has resigned from his position as Speaker and is currently awaiting trial to defend himself against the federal charges. The exposure of Mr. Silver’s conduct brings Governor Andrew Cuomo’s termination of the Moreland Commission back into the spotlight. The anti-corruption panel was set up to investigate public corruption in New York State and was disbanded after it began looking at the behaviors of certain law firms tied to the governor and Mr. Silver.

Over the past few years, the New York Legislature has been infested with corruption and political misconduct. On February 5, 2015, Mr. Silver and former New York State Assemblyman, Vito Lopez, settled a sexual harassment lawsuit for $580,000 using state funds to pay over 90% of the settlement. William Scarborough resigned from his position and plead guilty to corruption charges in April 2015. Bronx politician Nelson Castro was sentenced to two years probation and 250 community service hours after pleading guilty for lying to investigators. Due to Castro’s cooperation, Eric Stevenson was convicted and sentenced to three years in prison for accepting bribes from businessmen in May 2014. In October 2014 Gabriela Rosa was sentenced to a year in prison after pleading guilty for making false statements in a bankruptcy petition and lying to authorities regarding her marital relationship. William Boyland was convicted in March 2014 on federal charges including bribery, extortion and mail fraud. In February 2014, Malcolm Smith was found guilty of conspiracy, wire fraud, bribery, and extortion when he attempted to scheme his way onto the ballot. In July 2014 Thomas Libous was indicted for lying to federal agents in regards to abusing his political influence in order to obtain a job for his son. In 2013 Pedro Espada Jr. was sentenced to five years in prison for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from a health care network he ran. In 2012 Nick Spano, after pleading guilty to a felony for filing fraudulent tax returns, served one year in prison.

Amidst all the public corruption and political misconduct in New York State, the question becomes – can we trust our elected officials? Regardless of political party, can the citizens of New York rely on politicians to uphold their offices with honesty and integrity? Do we really know if our representatives have the public’s interest at heart when they are conducting “business” behind closed doors? Given the recent developments the answer appears to be NO.

The apparent corruption in New York may engender a strong grass-roots movement for a State Constitutional Convention to assist in revamping our political system. Every 20 years, the New York Constitution mandates voters to decide whether to hold a statewide convention to change or amend the constitution and the government. The 2017 ballot will ask the voters if a State Constitutional Convention should be held. Most politicians oppose a constitutional convention because

it is feared that a convention might take steps to diminish the legislature’s institutional power or incumbents’ chances of re-election.

Citizens of the state with honest motives, ethics and morals would have the opportunity to run for delegates for the Convention to redesign the New York State government. While many obstacles would be met if a Constitutional Convention were to take place, it is a legitimate opportunity to rid the state of corrupt politicians.

Action should be taken in order to change the New York political system and restore the integrity of the State. If nothing changes, nothing changes; public corruption and political misconduct will continue to run rampant within our state and voters will only have themselves to blame.