The Legal Aid Society Seeks Names of Police Officers Implicated in Bronx Ticket Investigation

The Legal Aid Society is seeking the names of poice officers implicated in the Bronx ticket investigation. The Society has asked the Bronx District Attorney's Office to provide the names of officers alleged to be involved in ticket fixing who will testify in cases of clients of the Society. If necessary, the Society will submit a Freedom of Information request. "If that's the only route that's being offered to us to get vital information that could prevent wrongful conviction of our clients, we'll certainly pursue it," Steven Banks, Attorney-in-Chief of The Legal Aid Society, told the Daily News. "DA [Robert] Johnson has refused to turn over this information early, stating he will comply with discovery rules and turn over this material only when the cases move forward toward trial," said Deborah Wright, president of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys.

New York Daily News
Ticket-fixing probe: Defense lawyers seething over DA's refusal to spill implicated cops' names
BY Kevin Deutsch
Thursday, October 6th 2011

Defense attorneys claim that the Bronx DA's withholding the names of NYPD officers implicated in the ticket-fixing investigation is hurting their ability to defend their clients.

Defense lawyers are seething over the Bronx district attorney's refusal to release the names of nearly 530 cops touched by the ticket-fixing scandal, the Daily News has learned.

The Legal Aid Society, as well as the union representing its lawyers, say they have been thwarted at every turn when trying to get the list of cops caught on wiretaps in the two-year probe.

Prosecutors have turned over information on some officers, but the identity of most remains a closely guarded secret.

Lawyers say the district attorney's refusal to release all the names is misguided and unfair to their clients.

"DA [Robert] Johnson has refused to turn over this information early, stating he will comply with discovery rules and turn over this material only when the cases move forward toward trial," said Deborah Wright, president of the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys.

Wright said that's too late, because lawyers are working on cases that may involve cops with ties to the scandal.

Lawyers say they need the names to properly defend clients busted by implicated cops. They're planning to submit Freedom of Information Law requests to force the DA's hand if necessary.

"If that's the only route that's being offered to us to get vital information that could prevent wrongful conviction of our clients, we'll certainly pursue it," said Steven Banks, chief lawyer at the Legal Aid Society.

Johnson said his office has complied with the law.

"We are aware of our constitutional obligation, which is to disclose information about witnesses when we are aware of impeachment material prior to their testifying," Johnson said. "We have done this and will continue to do so."

Prosecutors have cut dozens of plea deals in cases linked to ticket-fixing cops, sparing them from having to disclose their roles in the scandal, sources said.

Indictments in the ticket-fixing case are expected to be announced soon.

Wall Street Journal
October 3, 2011
By Sean Gardiner

Criminal defense attorneys said they will challenge the credibility of New York City police officers investigated for ticket-fixing when they testify in unrelated cases, a sign of how the scandal may reverberate through the court system.

It could upend untold numbers of prosecutions in the borough where the ticket probe began, the Bronx, which perennially has the worst conviction rate in the city.

A Bronx grand jury is expected soon to hand up indictments of a dozen or more officers accused of making traffic and parking tickets go away, "fixing" them. Hundreds more are under investigation for departmental violations.

Defense attorneys said they will try to impeach the testimony of officers indicted criminally, charged administratively by the department, or implicated in the probe but not charged because the statute of limitations expired.

"I'm telling everyone now: 'Let's go slow on your case and see what pops up,'" said Bronx defense attorney Kyle Watters, who has already won an acquittal in an attempted-murder case involving an implicated officer's testimony. "Because if the cop [testifying] is going to be one of the ones who get in trouble, it's only going to be good for our case."

The acquittal Mr. Watters secured is one of at least two that came about after prosecutors provided the defense with evidence that police officers involved in the cases were tied to fixing tickets. He said he is now going to make Freedom of Information Law requests about every officer who testifies in his cases.

Separately, a Bronx judge presiding over a bench trial is expected to issue a verdict Monday in a case involving the testimony of an officer who admitted on the stand to ticket fixing.

And the Legal Aid Society of New York City—the primary provider of indigent defense services in the city—has asked Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson to provide the names of alleged ticket-fixing officers who will testify in its cases, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. Legal Aid handles about 230,000 criminal cases a year.

"This is potentially a home run," said defense attorney Peter Frankel of the ticket-fixing information. "An officer's credibility is always a central part of any case."

The ticket-fixing scandal has highlighted what police union officials say has been a long-standing "courtesy" tacitly approved by the New York Police Department's brass. The most common ways to "fix" a ticket are to pull it before processing or testifying poorly at traffic court.

The probe began as a narcotics investigation against a detective. He was heard on a wiretap trying to fix a traffic ticket for a friend, spawning a separate investigation. In May, the Bronx District Attorney's Office began presenting evidence to a grand jury. Meanwhile, the NYPD's Department Advocate's Office, which prosecutes violations of agency policy, are investigating 400 or more officers alleged to have tried to fix tickets, according to a law-enforcement official with knowledge of the matter.

The controversy has reverberated in a borough where juries have historically been perceived to be skeptical of police credibility. The Bronx has long had the worst jury-trial conviction rate in the city.

In 2009, the Bronx District Attorney's Office set a record by winning only 43% of its felony jury trials, the lowest conviction rate since the state began keeping those statistics 22 years ago. Citywide, the felony jury-conviction rate was 70%.

Last year wasn't much better. About 53% of felony jury trials resulted in convictions, the lowest rate of the five boroughs and far lower than the 66% rate citywide. This year, the Bronx rate was 48% compared with 63% citywide, according to New York State Unified Court System statistics.

Steven Reed, a spokesman for the Bronx District Attorney, said jury trials account for 4% of the total felony case dispositions. Of felony cases that ultimately appear before a judge—jury trials, bench trials and pleas—83% result in convictions, he said.

The number of acquittals comes despite the fact that the Bronx District Attorney's Office declines to prosecute a far greater percent of felony and misdemeanor cases than the other prosecutors' offices.

Mr. Watters said Bronx juries are less likely to convict because of aggressive police tactics in the borough. "Most jurors in the Bronx have a very negative view of the police officer on the street," Mr. Watters said.

Mr. Reed said Mr. Watters's comments were "speculation."

The scandal has already helped one of Mr. Watters's clients. Just before Lance Williams went to trial in May on attempted murder charges, Bronx prosecutors gave Mr. Watters recordings of phone calls in which the arresting officer had discussed trying to fix a ticket.

That evidence wasn't the only reason Mr. Williams was acquitted, Mr. Watters said, but it didn't hurt. "It was part of a cumulative effect," he said.

Three weeks later, a personal-injury lawyer who is a former Bronx prosecutor was acquitted on drunken-driving charges in a case in which two officers testified they had fixed tickets for relatives and friends.

On Monday, the trial of a Bronx bodega's two owners and a worker could hinge on ticket-fixing information supplied to their defense attorneys. The arresting officer in the case admitted he purposefully lost a traffic-court case and attempted to have other tickets fixed.

Mr. Frankel, a defense attorney in the case, declined to comment on information received about the officer. The judge, Michael Gross, has ordered the information be kept secret.

Mr. Frankel, a former Bronx prosecutor, said ticket-fixing allegations will have a bigger impact on jury trials than on those decided by judges. Juries, he said, are more likely to make decisions based on emotion. "It's not often you have the opportunity to show what an officer is like when he's not wearing the uniform," Mr. Frankel said. "So if he's engaging in certain behavior that's unprofessional or improper, that's great."