New Yorkers for Responsible Lending Releases Report Showing the Need for Uniform Foreclosure Settlement Conferences

The statewide coalition, New Yorkers for Responsible Lending (NYRL), released the results from its survey of New York’s court-mediated foreclosure settlement conferences’ practices and procedures. The study found that there is such variation in conferences between the different counties in New York, that outcomes are as much dependent on geographical location as they are on merit. Although foreclosure settlement conferences are intended to aid homeowners in preventing the loss of their home, homeowners are not given the same opportunities because policies are not uniform across the board.

As part of the NYRL study, possible improvements to foreclosure settlement conferences were discussed. If these improvements are made, it is posited that more homeowners will be able to save their home from foreclosure. The main suggestion is to create uniform policies and procedures, and consistently implement them across New York State. This would include clarifying what authority a court has when a party negotiates in bad faith. Also, creating procedures to handle attorneys when they negotiate without the authority necessary or are not prepared for the conference, was discussed to better the process for homeowners.

Additionally, NYRL recommends better record keeping to improve accountability and efficiency, uniform order forms, a system where a mediator will be appointed for each case, and a separate calendar for initial settlement conferences. The hope is that this will reduce the some 90,000 pending foreclosures that were reported as of October 2015.

If you are a homeowner facing foreclosure, an experienced attorney may be able to help you save your home and protect your legal rights. Contact Wendy Pelle-Beer & Associates at (718) 313-0770 for the representation you deserve.

Operation Cocoon

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Customs and Border Protection Agency are working together to combat a new trend of drug traffickers who fool seniors into becoming international drug mules.  Traffickers either forge a relationship with seniors or promise inheritance or other monetary incentives.  In targeting the elderly, traffickers hope that the drugs pass through security undetected.  This scheme has worked to some degree because eighty-three U.S. citizens who fell victim to drug trafficking tricks have been arrested in foreign countries since 2013.

Operation Cocoon, an initiative to identify seniors before leaving the U.S. as drug mules,  has been successful in preventing some seniors from boarding international flights and facing jail time in a foreign country.  According to the New York Times, approximately 272 kilograms of methamphetamine, 209 kilograms of cocaine, 4 kilograms of ecstasy, and 11 kilograms of heroin have been confiscated under Operation Cocoon.

Some seniors, though, have not been so lucky.  One such man, J. Bryon Martin, is now serving a six-year jail term abroad for smuggling almost 2 kilograms of cocaine.  Mr. Martin, a seventy-seven-year-old retired pastor from Maine, met an individual he knew as “Joy,” who eventually asked for his help in transporting what he thought were real estate papers.  Mr. Martin trusted “Joy” because they had an online relationship for about five years before she asked him to travel to Peru and then onto London.  During Mr. Martin’s layover in Spain, authorities opened up the packages thought to contain paperwork, and found the drugs.

Operation Cocoon has helped prevent many seniors from traveling abroad as drug mules, but there is still progress that needs to be made.  One challenge for authorities is the fact that drug traffickers are not typically located within U.S. borders.  Traffickers are also savvy and seem to know ways in avoiding detection.

The initiative must start at home: caring for our elderly and choosing the best care specialists is essential in preventing our older loved ones from being victimized.  If you or someone you know faces criminal charges, it is vital to contact an experienced criminal law attorney.  Contact Wendy Pelle-Beer & Associates at (718) 313-0770 for the representation you deserve.

NYPD Seeks to Reduce Claims of Civil Rights Violations

There are approximately 3,000 lawsuits filed each year against the New York City Police Department claiming violations of civil rights or use of excessive force, especially against minorities.  Police Commissioner William J. Bratton has created a new legal unit that will investigate these claims.  The 40-member legal unit searches through evidence such as surveillance footage to see if the claims have merit.  Approximately 30 attorneys have been hired as well to take on the trial caseload the city deals with.

The goal of this new legal unit is to decrease cases such as one which occurred in 2010, where a Brooklyn resident was shot by police.  The police contended that the defendant, while holding a machete, ran towards the police in a threatening manner.  According to the defendant, he had a machete, but dropped it and ran from the police.  The defendant, who pled guilty to the charge of menacing an officer, originally brought suit seeking compensatory and punitive damages in the amount of $3 million.  In the end, the case was settled for only $5,000.

Previously, the police would offer individuals a “nuisance value deal,” which was a calculated amount based on the projected cost to bring the case to trial.  In some cases, the department would choose not to review statements from the police officers and individuals and instead would offer a settlement.

With the new legal team and implementation of an investigation strategy now in place, it is now more important than ever to seek experienced legal counsel in the event your civil rights have been violated.  Contact Wendy Pelle-Beer & Associates at (718) 313-0770 for the representation you deserve.

U.S. District Court Judge Dismisses Civil Rights Action based on Employee Status

Caitrin Kennedy filed a lawsuit against the New York State Assembly, the former New York State Assembly Member Dennis Gabryszak, former chief of staff Adam Locher, and former State Assembly Member and Speaker Sheldon Silver.  The claims of a hostile work environment and sexual harassment were filed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and under New York State Human Rights Law. On March 3, 2016, U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny dismissed the Title VII claims against the former New York Assembly Speaker by holding that Title VII actions by staff members are barred when against the elected officials they work for.  The remaining state claims against the former Assembly Member, though, were not dismissed.

The plaintiff, Ms. Kennedy, was hired as a Director of Community Relations for Mr. Gabryszak’s office in September 2013.  Ms. Kennedy remained in the office until resigning in January of 2014.  Her immediate supervisor was Mr. Locher.  Throughout the time Ms. Kennedy worked in the office, she alleged that Mr. Gabryszak sexually harassed her by asking her improper questions, making inappropriate comments, and giving her a gift in an inappropriate manner.  Ms. Kennedy alleged that her complaints to Mr. Locher were not taken seriously, and that Mr. Locher replied that “was just how Dennis [Gabryszak] was.”

The Title VII federal action alleged that Ms. Kennedy was discriminated against because of her gender.  Under Title VII, the U.S. District Court will not be able to hear a case if the plaintiff was a member of the “personal staff” of the defendant’s.  The parties each argued as to whether Ms. Kennedy was an “employee” or not, thereby determining if she could bring a Title VII action.  The court weighed not only language from Title VII and conference committee reports from the U.S. House and Senate, but also the facts and circumstances of Ms. Kennedy’s employment.  Some factors taken into account were the type of working relationship between the parties, official duties and descriptions, and whether the employee “occupie[d] a position of trust and sensitivity.”  The Court held that Ms. Kennedy met these standards, and therefore would be considered “personal staff” to the former Assembly Member Gabryszak, and thus the Title VII action was barred.

If you feel you have been discriminated against by an employer, contacting an experienced civil rights attorney can help you protect your rights.  Contact Wendy Pelle-Beer & Associates at (718) 313-0770 for the representation you deserve.


New York State to Pardon Those Convicted at 16 and 17

Recently, Governor Cuomo announced that he will be pardoning New Yorkers who were convicted of non-violent crimes when they were minors and have not committed another crime in a ten year period.  Currently, 48 states in the nation have adopted the “Raise the Age Campaign,” a movement that purports 16 and 17 year olds should not be tried as adults.  Governor Cuomo’s clemency action adopts the principles from the campaign to allow young people who have made mistakes in their youth move ahead with their lives and gain employment and other opportunities.  New York’s clemency program is the first of its kind in the nation.

The pardon will affect approximately 10,000 people in New York and make 350 citizens per year eligible for the pardon.  To qualify for the pardon, a citizen must have been 16 or 17 at the time they committed the crime, have lived crime free for ten years after conviction or incarceration, have been convicted of a misdemeanor or a non-violent felony, currently reside in New York State, and currently be looking for work or is legitimately unable to work.

The pardoning is expected to assist those who are unable to find employment due to convictions they faced as minors.  Each applicant must undergo a screening process to determine if they are deserving of the pardon.

For more information regarding the pardon program, click here.

If you have questions regarding prior criminal convictions, contact Wendy Pelle-Beer & Associates, an experienced criminal defense law firm. Call (718) 313-0770 to schedule a consultation.

Criminal Law Experts: Don’t Let Your Defense Go Up In Smoke

As many of us know, criminal law and the justice system is often depicted in popular television and movies.  Viewers know what they will see: forensic experts and a bit of drama.  Although it seems glamorous, real life is not as straightforward and trustworthy.  In a criminal case, the expert’s knowledge must be examined.  Attorneys who are well-versed in criminal law will know which expert to rely on for proper information, which are diligent, and how forensic science really fits into a trial.

For defendants, having experts that are open-minded and current in their field of expertise is vital during a trial.  With new technology regarding testing for DNA, the criminal justice system has seen many innocent persons who were convicted of certain crimes exonerated.  In addition to DNA testing, the field of arson science is also being scrutinized.  Since 1989, there have been 31 people exonerated across the U.S. based on either new evidence or new scrutiny of the old evidence showing that they did not commit an arson crime for which they were convicted.

The crux of the issue for defendants accused of a crime involving arson is that there were many myths that were accepted as truths.  For example, it was always thought that sagging mattress springs indicated that a flammable liquid or smoldering cigarette caused the fire.  Scientists have now concluded that this was a total myth, and that mattress springs have no probative value.  Another renowned tool for investigators was lines of demarcation caused by burn patterns.  Once believed to show accelerant use, it has now been proven that these irregularly shaped patterns do not point specifically to incendiary liquids.

These types of myths and many others were published by the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration and by the National Bureau of Standards (currently named the National Institute of Standards and Technology) starting in the 1970s.  Finally, in the mid-1980s, there were concerns about the previously published long-held beliefs.  After a meeting of experts, NFPA 921: Guide for Fire and Explosion Investigations was published, revolutionizing arson investigations.

Retaining an experienced attorney in criminal defense is vital to ensure the forensic evidence is analyzed properly and expert witnesses are truly qualified. Criminal charges can result in serious consequences and impact your life in multiple ways.  Contact Wendy Pelle-Beer & Associates at (718) 313-0770 for the representation you deserve.


Focus on Gathering Data in Civil Rights Cases Increasing

Recently, more citizens are shooting video footage on their cell phones of police misconduct, showing use of excessive force when police interact with minorities. The police often claim that the use of unprovoked excessive force is an isolated incident caused by a few police officers. Currently, police data on use of excessive force is based on voluntary disclosure, leading many to believe that not all information is being reported, information is modified, and therefore the data is unreliable.

In 2015, The White House commenced a police data initiative, focusing on policing in the communities and helping to improve law enforcement weaknesses. Jurisdictions voluntarily participate in the program, pledging to make data more transparent and to work towards more accountability. As of 2015, there were only 21 police departments participating. Due to the voluntary nature of the White House initiative, national statistics of excessive force cases is still incomplete.

Private organizations, such as the Knight Foundation, have created grant programs focusing on the disproportionate police misconduct cases between African American citizens and Caucasian law enforcement members. The Knight Foundation has given the Law, Order, and Algorithms project at Stanford University a grant in the amount of $310,000. The Stanford project is gathering data from highway traffic stops across 11 states, totaling more than 50 million traffic stops in all. With all of this information, the project will form a database that will give the media and public access to statistics from across the country for the purpose of bringing police misconduct to light.

If you feel you have been the victim of wrongful police misconduct, consulting with an experienced civil rights attorney is vital to protecting your legal rights. Contact Wendy Pelle-Beer & Associates at (718) 313-0770 for the representation you deserve.

How Do My Civil Rights Intersect with Criminal Law?

The criminal justice system aims to be fair and protect citizens’ rights, but sometimes at the cost of violating their civil liberties. The criminal justice system starts with the police­­­—the frontrunners in protecting the accused individual’s rights. These include the right to remain silent and the right to an attorney derived from the 5th Amendment of the United States Constitution, as well as general criminal law constructs, including the probable cause requirement and search warrants in certain situations.

Some localities, such as Ferguson, Missouri, have been highlighted as allegedly using excessive force during arrest based on race and arresting citizens without probable cause. The city reportedly is under negotiations with the Justice Department, which may result in new training for police officers and improved record-keeping, and would install a federal monitor to ensure those changes were made. With federal monitoring, cities will be more vigilant in protecting citizens’ civil liberties.

Admission of evidence when constitutional guidelines have not been met can also violate one’s civil liberties. Police must have probable cause when arresting an individual. If the arrest is not based on probable cause or an exception, all evidence seized is not admissible in a criminal court. Additionally, if evidence is found inadmissible because of the illegality of the stop or arrest, the doctrine of “fruit of the poisonous tree” will apply, which dictates that any evidence derived from an illegal search or seizure is inadmissible.

If you feel your civil rights have been violated during an arrest or during a search and seizure of your home or personal belongings, contact Wendy Pelle-Beer & Associates for legal guidance. Criminal charges can result in serious consequences and impact your life in multiple ways. Contact Wendy Pelle-Beer & Associates at (718) 313-0770 for the representation you deserve.

Should I Waive My Right to a Jury Trial?

In criminal prosecutions, it is the defendant’s choice whether he or she wishes to waive the right to a jury trial.  This is a right constitutionally protected in both state and federal courts during criminal prosecutions.  If a criminal defendant waives the right to a trial by jury, the trial will be conducted by a judge alone- this is called a bench trial.  As a matter of strategy, there may be several reasons why a defendant would wish to have a case heard by a jury instead of by the bench, or vice versa.

There are several reasons a criminal defendant would want to waive their right to a jury trial.  For instance, if the crime the defendant is accused of is particularly heinous and a reasonable jury might be predisposed to prejudice the client, a bench trial could result in a fairer verdict.  Additionally, if the legal issues involved are so complicated that a jury could confuse them to the point of prejudicing the defendant, a jury trial might also not be in the defendant’s best interest.  In such an event, the judge is in a better position to make determinations.

To waive a right to a jury trial, the defendant must consent in writing.  The defendant also must be aware of and understand the implications concerning his agreement to waive the jury trial.  In other words, a defendant’s waiver of a jury trial must be voluntary, knowing and intelligent.  In addition, the prosecutor must consent to the waiver, and the court must approve.

If a defendant wishes to withdraw a waiver of a jury trial, it may be done at any time right before trial.  However, it is up to the court whether to deny the request depending on whether the withdrawal delays proceedings, or inconveniences other participants in the trial.

If you have been charged with a crime and have questions concerning whether you should waive your right to a jury trial, contact an experienced criminal defense attorney who can best advise you regarding your legal rights and your best course of action.  Contact Wendy Pelle-Beer & Associates at (718) 313-0770 for the representation you deserve.

What is Probable Cause?

In order for the police to effect a valid arrest, they must first have what is referred to as “probable cause.” This means that a police officer has an actual reason to arrest a person. A mere “hunch” that the suspect committed a crime does not suffice. Instead, a police officer must conclude, given the totality of the circumstances and their professional training, observations, and experience, that the suspect actually committed the crime.

The standard of probable cause is derived from the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, which states that “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be searched.” This means that it is each person’s Constitutional right to be protected from searches that have no basis.

However, detentions that do not result in arrest do not require probable cause. For example, in such instances as a traffic stop, or a pedestrian request for information, an officer does not need probable cause. Instead, the lesser standard of reasonable suspicion is used to determine the validity of the stop. In addition to applying the probable cause standard in evaluating a warrantless arrest, a judge will also consider whether there is probable cause before issuing a request for a search or arrest warrant.

A criminal conviction can result in serious consequences. If you believe you have been arrested without probable cause, contact an experienced criminal law attorney who will defend your rights. Contact Wendy Pelle-Beer & Associates at (718) 313-0770 for the representation you deserve.

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