Sunday, March 29, 2009

Bruno Lawsuits

Sasha Baron Cohen has hired a small army of lawyers for his "Bruno" movie, where a gay austrian talk show host comes to Americ to try to be famous and dupes, among others, white supremicists into giving candid interviews. (Daily Mail, UK; Perez Hilton).

Cohen's Borat film drew attention in the legal community, and generated several lawsuits from those who were punked in the film, including: frat boys; a driving instructor; an ettiquite coach, and an entire romanian village. (Daily Mail, Herald Tribune; Australia Entertainment News;TMZ;TMZ; AceShowBiz News; Gawker; Reuters;Harvard's Concurring Opinion; It is Still News). Most of the persons in the film had signed releases, making the viability of their suits questionable; one man (who is depicted fleeing as Cohen tries, naked, to give him a hug) did not sign a release and may have had a viable claim. (Total Lawyer).

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The Suffolk County Supreme Court

Suffolk County Supreme Court


Riverhead: One Court Street, Riverhead, NY 11901

Central Islip: 400 Carleton Avenue, Central Islip, NY 11722


The history of the Suffolk County Courthouse predates the United States itself. The first County Courthouse was built in 1729 in what is now known as Riverhead.  Prior to this, the County Court system consisted of small Town Courts, the most prominent of which was Southhampton.  The initial County courthouse was a small wood-framed building that served triple-duty as the courthouse, jail, and home of the jail-keeper and his family.  In 1822, Maria Edwards, the 22 year old daughter of the then-Jailkeeper, broke her arm while attempting to prevent a prisoner from escaping.  Other landmarks in the town during the colonial period included the local Congregationalist Church, and a pub named "Griffing's," after which "Griffing Avenue" is now named. 

The wood-frame colonial courthouse served Suffolk County for well over a century, playing host to all of the County's civil and criminal trials well into the nineteenth century.  One writer, who passed through the area in 1804, commented:
Riverhead is the shire of this County.  The courthouse, a poor decayed building, and a miserable hamlet, containing about ten or twelve houses, stands near the efflux of the river. From this account of the court house it will naturally be expected that the business of lawyers and sheriffs is not here in very great demand nor in very high reputation The suspicion is certainly well founded The county court or court of common pleas sits here twice a year assembles on Tuesday and after having finished its whole business adjourns almost always on the succeeding day No lawyer if I am not misinformed has hitherto ever been able to get a living in the county of Suffolk I entertain a very respectful opinion of the gentlemen of the bar but all will agree with me in saying that this exemption from litigation while it is a peculiar is also a very honorable characteristic of this county Not far from this hamlet is a spot of ground about three miles in diameter which as I was informed by good authority is covered with shrub oaks and pines not more than five or six feet in height In the whole tract there is not a single tree of the usual size although it is surrounded by a forest of such trees The cause of this phenomenon in a place where the soil is substantially the same with that of the neighboring country is not easy to assign.

Riverhead went through a period of rapid grown during the first half of the nineteenth century.  The town's ports drew a great deal of attention in July 1814, when a battle -- loosely associated with the War of 1812 -- was fought in Riverhead's harbor. Thirty men of the town militia turned away two British barges, suffering no casualties.  In the 1830's, the port was greatly expanded, and by the 1850's a growing population and the need for a larger jail prompted a demand for a new courthouse/jail complex.  

The rapid increase in population during the first half of the nineteenth century caused a significant change in the legal system.  Prior to this, the area had been sparsely populated and remarkably un-litigious.  Indeed, there were no full time attorneys until the latter part of the 1800s.  Instead, the more educated farmers, such as Hull Osborn (1771-1834), filled in as part-time judges and lawyers.  

A new combined courthouse and jail was erected in 1855, but was immediately criticized as inadequate for the County's needs.  Twenty-six years later, in 1881, a second building, a two story courthouse, was added to the complex.  By this point, the legal industry had expanded, and there were twenty-five full time lawyers in Suffolk County, two of whom maintained offices in Riverhead.  

The nineteenth century Courthouse complex was damaged by fire in 1928, and rebuilt in 1929, and thereafter remained in service until 1994.  In 1994, a long-awaited new Courthouse was built and is attached to the nineteenth century complex by bridges. The Courthouse is distinctly modern, with large glass walls and broad open spaces, but also incorporates the small town charm of Suffolk County.  

The new Courthouse hears strictly civil cases, with all criminal matters being heard at the Criminal Court  across the river (built in the 1970s).  

In 2011, the courthouse was renamed the Alan Oshrin Supreme Court building.


[Two buildings from the 1881 Courthouse complex (rebuilt in 1928); and the 1996 Courthouse]

[The Peconic River]

Google Maps


* The Early History of Suffolk County, by Lt. Col. Sherrill Stevens

* 10/18/1995 proceedings of the Suffolk County Legislature, officially naming the Cromarty Court Complex. 

* NY Times, 10/27/1855, criticism of the newly built courthouse

*  Legal and Judicial History of New York, By Alden Chester, et al.,  page 116 (National Americana society, 1911) 

* Courts and Lawyers of New York: A History 1609 - 1925, by Alden Chester, (The American Historical Society, Inc., 1925)

* NY Times, Riverhead's Long Awaited Courthouse, by Carole Paquette (8/15/2004)

Forgotten Tales of Long Island, by Richard Panchyk, Page 126 (The History Press, 2008) 

* New Courthouse Announcement, Benchmarks, Official Journal of the New York State Court's, Fall 2006

* Riverhead Hamlet, by Tom Morris, Newsday 

* Wikipedia, "Suffolk County"

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Chimps are People Too -- Sortof

(By Scott J. Kreppein and Stephanie Lifrieri-Kreppein)

Human law makers will dictate the future of chimpanzees and other great apes. Approximately five to seven million years ago, humans and chimpanzees branched away from one another as separate species. Between then and now, human and chimp genomes have evolved a 1% to 5% difference. Humans have one less chromosome than chimpanzees, caused by a genetic sequence that is split between two chromosomes in apes, but has merged into a single chromosome in humans. Humans and chimps still share similar complex emotions and social structures, but are distinguished by numerous physical and cognitive characteristics. The difference is well illustrated by the handful of chimps have been taught to use sign language, but are only able to communicate with the clarity and understanding of a young child.

Throughout the twentieth century, chimps and other primates were used to test and develop pharmaceuticals and for other scientific experiments. The polio vaccine, for example, was developed by allowing human viruses to pass through monkey organs, thereby decreasing the virus' potency. The less potent (“attenuated”) viruses were then used asg vaccines, batches of which were grown by infecting more monkeys, then slaughtering them and checking to make sure that the live virus had not regained virulence. More humane methods for vaccine production have since been developed; not out of respect for the chimps, but more-so because of concerns for human safety. As an unforeseen consequence of using monkeys to develop, test, and produce vaccines, simian viruses (causing various cancers, and possibly HIV) were unknowingly passed into human populations.

Within the last twenty-five years governments around the world have begun limiting the use of great apes in scientific experiments, and animal activists are arguing that apes and cetaceans (wales and dolphins) should be considered non-human persons with certain fundamental rights. One Chimp, Haizl, through an animal rights organization, has petitioned the European Union Court of Human Rights to recognize a basic level of rights for Chimpanzees and other great apes; and in 2008 Spain passed a law declaring chimpanzees and other great apes to be legal people.

Humanity must decide the future of the great apes. We are destroying their natural habitat, and have caused them to become endangered in the wild. If we do nothing, they will likely go extinct. The great apes will, of course, not go extinct -- humanity will not allow it -- but what should we do with them?

Zoos and animal sanctuaries currently focus on preserving endangered species, and use selective breeding to prevent inbreeding and maximize genetic diversity. Just as humanity did with dogs, horses, cows, and pigs, however, selective breeding can also be used to favor or discourage particular traits. Thus, as wild chimp populations dwindle, humanity will take increasing control over the evolutionary path of chimps and other great apes.

Chimps are not pets, but people want them to be. Recently, a chimp attack in Connecticut has made this very clear. The chimp in question had starred in commercials when it was young; and, as a 200 lb adult, the chimp wore clothes, drank wine, and slept in bed with its custodian. Then, in February, the chimp viciously attacked a visitor to the home, causing severe injuries. 

To the Chimpanzee, we are Prometheus. Eventually, chimps could be bred into pets; or they could be used for manual labor; or they could become intelligent and autonomous members of our society. Some would argue that we are ethically obligated to preserve chimpanzees in their natural habitat and leave them alone, but that is unlikely to happen due to the economic demand for chimpanzees in our society. Moreover, some might argue that we have an ethical obligation, since we are aware of chimpanzees' intellectual potential, to aid in their development. Our decisions and legislation, whatever they will be, will significantly effect the future of the chimpanzee and similar great apes.

This may seem like a fringe issue, but the recent Connecticut chimp attack has spurred law makers into action. The policies set down today will have a far-reaching impact on the future of chimpanzees and other great apes. Are chimps and other great apes property to be owned, or are they persons over whom humans serve as custodial guardians? What rights do chimps have, and what are the responsibilities of their guardians? These are questions that need to be answered.






Sunday, March 1, 2009

Long Island Legal News -- February 2009 In Review


Suffolk Count continues to respond to the disturbing wave of anti-hispanic hate crimes. The murder trial of seven Patchogue youths who brutally murdered an Equidorian man, Marcelo Lucero, as part of what they called their "sport" of roaming the streets of Patchogue on bicycles assaulting hispanic men. According to matters discussed in the pre-trial hearings, a gang of youths, larger than the seven who were charged in the case, had been allowed to roam the streets of patchogue on bicycles, unchecked, randomly assaulting at least twenty other hispanic men over the course of a year. (NY Times, 2/2/09). Although the situation in Suffolk County is particularly eggregious, it is part of a growing trend of anti-hispanic hate crime nationwide. ("Feeling the Hate, No Matter What The Motive," NY Times; "Why they hate hispanics," Mexia Daily News, TX.; Huffington Post.) Mr. Lucero's family has called for the County Executive's resignation, and is contempating a lawsuit. (Newsday).

Some elements of local Suffolk County government are being called to task for their long-entrenched discriminatory practices. Smithtown settled minority housing suit, alleging that the town unfairly favored white applicants for Section 8 welfare housing by giving preference to Smithtown residents. (Newsday, by Stacy Alther). Despite outrage amongst advocacy groups, Suffolk County's police complaint forms continue to ask crime victim's residency status. (Newsday, by Reid Epstein). And, a Central Islip Town Employee has files a sexual harassment suit. (See Newsday, Jennifer Maloney).


The County Government took a few significant steps to improve public health. Following New York City's lead, Suffolk County has banned trans-fats at fast food eateries, and will require such establishments to post calorie listings on their menus. (Long Island Press, NY Times, 2/4/09). Taking the lead, the County was the first in the country to ban Bisphenol A -- a plastic additive that can seep from into food and may be toxic -- from baby bottles. (See Daily Green , Attorney At Law Blog, Scientific American)

The County and Federal Government also both took steps to curb the pollution problem, fining a duck farm $776,000 for pollution, and seizing $1 Million the estate of a deceased Long Island polluter for toxic waste cleanup. (North Country Gizette, Newsday)


The Agape World scandal continues to develop. Last year, Michael Kessler, a private investigator specializing in financial investigation, was hired by a potential investor to look into Happauge based Agape World. What Kessler found was a organization run by men with criminal histories and little financial experience. The company's founder, Nicolas Cosmo, had been a stock broker in the late 1990's, operating out of Carle Place, but had his license revoked and was sentenced to 21 months in Federal prison when, in 1999, it was discovered that he was swindling investors. Upon his release from jail, he started Agape World The company had all the signs of a classic pyramid scheme, and Kessler contacted the Suffolk County District Attorney's office, who confirmed these findings in their own investigation.

The Suffolk County DA uncovered a $37o Million operation that had duped more than 1500 investors. The investors believed they were investing in high interest short-term loans, and many even paid additional fees for bogus "investment insurance." Most of the investors were blue-collar individual Long Islanders, but the investors also included numerous businesses, and even some investment firms. With the business investors, Cosmo also convinced them to have all of their employees deposit money into fake IRA accounts.

After the scandal broke, Agape was quickly forced into bankruptcy, and -- adding insult to injury -- when the company opened its books it was revealed that Cosmo had started the company using a Federally subsidized small business loan with the support of a local small business association. Several lawsuits have been filed, but the authorities have yet to find where the money is being hidden.

SOURCES: Happauge Ponzi Scheme, NY Times, News 12 NJ; Investors call for Agape Bankruptcy, Newsday. Interview with The Private Investigator Who Uncovered the Agape Scandal, Long Island Business News. 2/12). Agape forced to open files to bankruptcy trustee, Newsday, Michael Amon). Agape World had two federal subsidized loans, Newsday, Michael Amon. First lawsuit filed against Agape, Newsday).

Other Financial Fraud News:

* County Claims "100 Black Men Misused Funds," Long Island Business News,

* Rockland County Investors file RICO suit against Long Island Hedge Fund, Lower Hudson News,

* CoStar alleges fraud by Long Island Based Polimeni International, MSNBC


Relations with local indian tribes continue to be strained. The Unkechaug Chief has called for negotiations after legal victories against Suffolk County and New York City related to the County and City's attempt to dissuade sale of untaxed cigarettes on Indian land. (Sag Harbor Express.) The US Supreme Court issued a ruling that suggests local governments may have jurisdiction over some Indian land used for commercial development but the Long Island Shinnecock tribe says that the ruling should have no effect on their long-fought battle to build a casino in Suffolk County. (27 East)

Quality of life issues made news on both sides of the island. Nassau County has sued a Queens strip club over because of its racy billboard, saying the billboard is a nuisance that can be seen across the County line, Newsday, Long Island Press, Queens Chronical (February 6, 2009). Out east, the town of Riverhead has sued Suffolk County to prevent a sex-offender trailer park from being located there. Long Island Press.

An ongoing wave of unrelated scandals suggests an endemic problem with abuse of power on Long Island. An ex-fire official from Montauk Pleaded guilty to embezzling more than a half-million dollars. (SI Live, 2/13). A Nassau County land developer has filed suit against Freeport and Nassau County officials, claiming they conspired to steal land. (Newsday, Eden Laikin). And Fire Island Police face criminal charges for thuggishly beating a litterer and attempting to cover up the assault; the town faces criticism for quietly settling prior similar incidents. (Newsday)


* Judge Dismisses LI Screamer Suit, (Newsday, 2/2/09)

* Judge Throws Out $50 million Lawsuit Against 50 Cent, People Magazine. 2/5/09

* A Long Island School Bus crashed and killed 17 students, Justice News,

* Wal-Mart stampede suits continue, Insurance Journal.

* A Suffolk County police officer was killed when his Crown Victoria burst into flames after a crash, prompting some critics question the Crown Victoria's safety., Newsday.

* Construction safety Vigil for fallen worker, one of three so far this year. (27 East)

* Computer Associates and Rocket Software settle lawsuit, Forbes.

* The woman accused of drunk driving who, last month, sued Nassau County and forced it to remove its "wall of shame" depicting drunk drivers, has plead guilty to her DWI charge (Newsday). (See also Liability for Drunk Driving Accidents).

* Long Island Ducks minor league baseball player is sued for hitting an opponent with a bat,Hartford Courant, Associated Press,

* The Law Firm of Dell, Little, Trovato & Vecere has moved to Ronkonkoma, Long Island Business News

* Review of Nassau and Suffolk 2007 "Social Host" laws, imposing criminal liability on private persons who serve alcohol to minors resulting in motor vehicle accidents, Manhasset Press

* A Long Island Teen Has Sued Facebook over cyber-bullying, Albany Times Union, CBS News,Fox News

* a Lindenhurst High School Student Files Suit Over Bible Club. (Newsday, Chau Lam; WNCT;)

* Southhampton Hospital and Stonybrook Hospital named in malpractice suit over failed organ transplant (27 East).

* Developer's suit against WestHampton for civil rights violations is thrown out, 27 East.

* Port Washington School District Wins Suit, Port Washington News.

* Suffolk County has appointed a new consumer affairs commissioner, Denis McElliot, Empire State News,