I like Kieran Crowley of the NY POST. I know him to be both a compassionate and hard working reporter. Which is what makes this article so disappointing. Keiran how could you let this show off Detective get away with slandering Judge Richard LaPera??
It seems that the the head of the Detectives Union, Tom Willdigg is angry because Judge LaPera, with the agreement of both the then District Attorney Denis Dillon and the defense attorney agreed that the sentence of 12 years for a guy who robbed people. Now it is easy to rip a judge for accepting a plea bargain because the public doesn't like plea bargains. Without them however, the criminal justice system would ground to a halt.
When a criminal agrees to plead guilty to a crime. He saves the state the cost of the trial. He saves the victim the emotional expense of reliving the crime. He takes responsibility for his crime. The value of a plea as opposed to a trial is so encouraged that the Federal government rewards a plea with a reduction in sentence of up to three points on the sentencing grid.
When judges and lawyers get involved in plea bargaining, they look not only to the crime but also to the background of the person being sentenced and the reason the person may have committed the crime. A drug addicted kid may get a bigger break than a sociopath. A younger person more of a break than a more "mature" person.
In the case Crowley writes about, the defendant received a 12 year plea as opposed to a 25 year max. If the court were to offer the max or even close to it, it is doubtful that the defendant would have agreed to it. After all what's he got to lose. The state may have saved over a half million dollars in paying for salaries for court personnel, district attorney, police, jury's, public defender, defense investigators, appeals, etc. etc. etc.
How dangerous will the defendant in the case be in 12 years? He will be over 50, He may even rehabilitate. Either way, the sentence given the goal of plea bargaining was not a soft one.
Moreover, judges cannot defend themselves. Rules of Judicial conduct prohibit them from speaking about their cases outside of the courtroom. They can't hold press conferences. That is why the Nassau County Criminal Court Bar President Vito Palmieri is holding one on the courthouse steps on Monday October 30th.
Now a few words about the Hon. Richard LaPera. I have been a lawyer for about as long as the judge has been a judge. He tries as many cases as any judge in the courthouse. I have had the privilege of trying cases and handling suppression hearings with the judge. He holds lawyers feet to the fire, both sides too. The Office of Court Administration records show that judge LaPera is among the hardest working judges in the courthouse.
I don't always win when I appear before Judge LaPera, I don't always lose either. I don't always agree with his rulings. I am however always treated with respect by the judge and though he can get testy, two minutes later all is forgotten. He listens to all sides. He is as concerned with the needs of the public as he is with the needs of the defendant. He treats everyone, even people he is not happy with (like criminals) with respect. His decision not to run for re-election (if indeed he doesn't run) is a loss to our courthouse.
My problem with the POSTS article is that someone from the defense side of things should have said something in the article. The defense attorney in the case had good reason for supporting the sentence. The Post article and the Detective Union's words should not have been reported as fact. Fact is, there were problems with this prosecution, and my sources say DA Rice and the Detectives are lucky that the court managed to get them a plea bargain and saved them the embarrassment of an acquittal.
The Nassau County Criminal Courts Bar Association will be meeting on the Courthouse steps on Monday October 30th 2006 at 12:30. They will be there to support both judge LaPera and the importance of Judicial Independence.