DANIEL VASQUEZ, ELIZABETH
Elizabeth Daniel Vasquez proudly joined the Brooklyn Defender Services as Special Forensic Science Counsel in 2019. Before joining BDS, Elizabeth worked as a staff attorney in the trial division of the Public Defender Service (“PDS”) for the District of Columbia. At PDS, Elizabeth represented adults and juveniles in D.C. Superior and Family Court who were charged with serious felonies. She also served as a member of PDS’s Forensic Practice Group, focusing on the litigation of forensic evidence across disciplines, consulting on cases involving complex forensic matters, and creating model pleadings and updates on emerging forensic issues. Before PDS, Elizabeth was an associate at Neufeld Scheck & Brustin, LLP, litigating wrongful conviction and civil rights cases in state and federal courts throughout the country. At NSB, Elizabeth’s work focused predominantly on complex § 1983 claims that involved faulty forensic evidence.
Elizabeth is a cum laude graduate of New York University School of Law, where she was Editor-in-Chief of the Review of Law and Social Change and participated in Bryan Stevenson’s Equal Justice and Defender Clinic. While in law school, she also founded The Defender Collective, worked as a research assistant to Professor Erin Murphy on forensic evidence issues, and spent summers interning with the American Civil Liberties Union’s Capital Punishment Project and The Defender Association in Seattle, Washington. Upon graduation, Elizabeth was awarded the Vanderbilt Medal for outstanding contributions to the School of Law.
Prior to law school, Elizabeth worked as a paralegal with Neufeld Scheck & Brustin, LLP, in Manhattan. She earned her B.A. with honors from the University of Chicago. Between her graduation from high school and her entry to college, Elizabeth served as an AmeriCorps member, tutoring and mentoring middle school students designated as at-risk for dropping out of school with Communities in Schools in Austin, Texas.
A lifelong New Yorker, Paul Magel earned his B.A. in clinical psychology from Tufts University in 2011. He went on to St. John’s School of Law and received his J.D. in 2014. While a law student, he was an active participant in the Polestino Trial Advocacy Institute. In that program, he competed in mock criminal trial competitions across the country, and was awarded Best Cross Examination. He is now a trial advocacy coach, training St. John’s students in trial skills. During his final year of school, he was a student public defense attorney with the Legal Aid Society in Queens through the St. John’s Criminal Defense Clinic, which cemented his desire to be a criminal defense attorney and protect the rights of the accused.
After graduating, he worked in a boutique criminal defense firm in Nassau County, working on cases ranging from traffic tickets to homicide.
He left that firm to become a public defender, joining the Nassau County Legal Aid Society in 2016. There, he handled hundreds of cases, dozens of pretrial hearings, dozens of parole revocation hearings, and conducted several jury trials. He spent over a year working in the specialized domestic violence misdemeanor courtroom, where he successfully obtained many dismissals and other favorable results for his clients.
Paul is thrilled to be here at Brooklyn Defenders Services working to serve his clients in a system that is all too often stacked against them.
LUSKIN, CHARLES (CASS)
Originally from Washington D.C., Cass received his B.A. in Classics and Government from the University of Texas in 2009. Upon returning home, he worked as a defense investigator for the Public Defender Service in D.C., where he came face to face with the unfairness and injustice of the criminal courts and fell in love with public defense.
After two years, Cass began at Harvard Law School where he focused on clinical programs, participating heavily in Harvard Defenders and then the Criminal Justice Institute, where he worked as a student attorney for poor people accused of crimes. He interned at the Bronx Defenders and the Federal Defender for the Middle District of Alabama during this time.
After graduation in 2015, Cass began working with Gideon’s Promise, an organization that seeks to transform the criminal justice system by strengthening public defender systems, particularly in under-resourced and under-served areas in the South. From 2015 until 2018, he worked as a public defender in rural south Louisiana where he handled hundreds and hundreds of cases, ranging from low level offenses to homicides.
Cass is honored to have the privilege of advocating on behalf of the Brooklyn community, and excited to be a part of BDS.
Aubrey joined Brooklyn Defender Services in 2019. As the son of a former vagabond salesman, Aubrey grew up hearing stories about how law enforcement unjustly impacts the downtrodden and the poor. In his sixth-grade yearbook, Aubrey had already declared that he wanted to be a criminal defense attorney—it just took him awhile to get here.
Aubrey first arrived in New York City from California in 1993 to study acting at NYU, and he fell in love with the city on day one. After a decade-long acting career, including performances at St. Mark’s Theater, Dixon Place, the Ohio Theater, and Circle-in-the-Square, Aubrey renewed his studies.
He completed a post-baccalaureate psychology program at Columbia University in 2008 and graduated summa cum laude from Widener University in 2015 with doctoral degrees in clinical psychology and law. Aubrey served as a Widener Academic Success Fellow and manuscript editor for the Widener Law Review. He was the recipient of the Reed Hamilton Memorial and Kimberly Marshall Dissertation Awards.
Following law school, Aubrey clerked for the Honorable R. Barclay Surrick of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, assisting on multiple trials, including a multi-defendant capital murder trial.
Aubrey became a public defender in 2016, when he joined the Legal Aid Society of Nassau County. He handled hundreds of misdemeanor and felony cases, dozens of pretrial hearings, dozens of parole revocation hearings, and briefly served as a courtroom supervisor before joining BDS.
The path to becoming a public defender was not straight and narrow, but Aubrey is grateful to be living out his childhood dream at BDS. He could not do it without the support of his wife and three children.
Andrew Friedman recently joined BDS’s newly formed Homicide Practice Unit having practiced criminal law for the past 33 years.
After graduating Binghamton University as a history major in 1982, Andrew attended the University of Buffalo School of Law graduating in 1985. During his time there, Andrew was the recipient of the Robert J. Connelly Trial Technique Award. Upon graduation from law school, Andrew joined the Brooklyn office of the Legal Aid Society’s (LAS) Criminal Defense Division where he learned to try cases and eventually became the MOP (Major Offense Person) attorney, responsible for representing clients charged with the most serious offenses, including homicide.
After leaving LAS in 1992, Andrew went into private practice for the next 20 years, focusing on criminal defense and handling a multitude of serious and high profile cases, including the representation of Amanda Bynes. During that time he was also a member of the Kings County Assigned Counsel Plan’s Felony and Homicide panels and was certified to handle death penalty eligible cases. In 2012 Andrew joined New York County Defender Services where he continued to try cases and mentor younger attorneys. To date, Andrew has tried over 100 felony trials to verdict, 34 of which have been homicides. He is a long time faculty participant in Cardozo Law School’s annual ITAP program.
In his spare time, Andrew enjoys music, tennis, poker and reading.
Clinton is the Forensic DNA Attorney with Brooklyn Defender Services in Brooklyn, NY. From 2013-2019 he was a Senior Staff Attorney with the DNA Unit of The Legal Aid Society of New York City.
He has also been a forensic advisor in hundreds of criminal cases involving DNA evidence, and has been a pro bono advisor for attorneys in state and federal court in California, Michigan, New Jersey, New York and Texas.
Clinton has lectured to national audiences of defense lawyers, forensic scientists and appellate judges on the legal ramifications of probabilistic genotyping.
In 2018, Clinton received a formal four-day training in STRmix DNA interpretation software from its developers, and then had two months of hands-on experience with the program.
In the summertime, Clinton likes to take his kids to the kinder, gentler version of Action Park in Vernon Township, NJ.
Andrea Moletteri has returned to Brooklyn, where she began her nearly thirty years in public defense. Immediately after earning her JD from Emory Law School, she joined the staff at the Legal Aid Society’s Brooklyn Office, where she worked in the Criminal Defense Division, first as a Staff Attorney, and later as a supervisor. After 11 years with LAS, she became a Staff Attorney at New York County Defender Services, where she maintained her commitment to representing indigent clients. In her years as a litigator, Ms. Moletteri tried thirty cases to verdict, and has resolved countless others, working on behalf of folks facing the full range of charges, including misdemeanors and the most serious felonies. Most recently, she was the Director of Training at New York County Defender Services, where she developed the program, combining years of common sense litigation experience with a firm commitment to client-centered representation. She is thrilled to return to the courtroom, where she expresses her resolve that people who cannot afford to select a lawyer deserve the best representation possible.
She holds a BA from Manhattanville and a JD from Emory University School of Law.
Edward J. Mandery recently joined Brooklyn Defender Services to become part of the newly formed Homicide Defense Unit.
Mr. Mandery has an extensive background in criminal law. His career began in 1989 when he obtained an internship in the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of New York. After six months, he was offered a full time position as a paralegal while he attended St. John’s University School of Law at night.
In 1993, upon graduation from Law School, Mr. Mandery was appointed as an Assistant District Attorney in the Kings County District Attorney’s Office. He was a senior trial attorney when he left the DA’s Office in 1998, having handled a variety of criminal cases including Murder, Rape, Robbery, Weapons and Drug cases.
From 1999 until 2019 Mr. Mandery was in private practice handling a multitude of high profile criminal cases in various counties. He was also member of the King’s County Assigned Counsel Plan’s Homicide and Felony Panels.
Mr. Mandery has lectured at the New York City Police Academy, the New York City Bar Association, the Brooklyn Bar Association and several colleges. He was an adjunct professor at Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) where he taught Criminology.
In his spare time, Ed plays ice hockey and the guitar. He assures us that he is a much better lawyer than hockey player or guitarist.
Lorena Ramirez is a proud Bensonhurst native. In 2016, she received her B.A. in Journalism and minor in Latinx Studies from the City University of New York – Brooklyn College.
Over the years Lorena interned at amNY, the Brooklyn Spectator, and the Home Reporter, where she reported on all things news in what felt like was basically her backyard. During her time at Brooklyn College, she was also Editor-in-Chief for The Kingsman, one of the campus newspapers. While she loved being on the ground reporting breaking news, the unexpected led her into a different path.
Her life flipped upside down after a loved one was put into deportation proceedings. As a first generation American inextricably tied to her community, Lorena was frustrated by how confusing the US immigration system is. She sought out help the best way she knew how. She ditched her notebook for a legal notepad and dived into immigrant advocacy work. She interned at Families for Freedom, a New York-based multi-ethnic human rights organization by and for families facing and fighting deportation. The desire to learn more led her to become a Coordinator for the Immigrant Justice Project at the City Bar Justice Center. At the Immigrant Justice Project, she assisted survivors of domestic violence and trafficking, and individuals seeking humanitarian protection and other forms of immigration relief.
Now, the aspiring lawyer wants to branch out to other fields. Lorena joined Brooklyn Defender Services in November 2018 as a Paralegal in the Criminal Defense Practice.
In her spare time, Lorena can be found either cuddling with her beloved calico cat Conchita, doting on her plants, or staying local somewhere in South Brooklyn.
Nathan Winshall is a 2017 graduate from Tulane University, where he studied public health and political economy. During his junior and senior year, Nathan worked at the Office of the Independent Police Monitor in New Orleans, taking in complaints of police misconduct. After graduating, Nathan moved to New York and continued his work in police oversight at the Civilian Complaint Review Board (CCRB) as an investigator. After a year at the CCRB, Nathan realized he was more interested in the defense of the accused than in impartial investigations and subsequently left the CCRB to join the Brooklyn Defender Services as a criminal defense paralegal.
Nathan also enjoys cooking, fishing, and exploring New York City.
Natalie is a Licensed Master Social Worker in the Criminal Defense Practice.
Natalie received her MSW from Columbia University in 2018. Much of her coursework was grounded in an anti-oppressive framework, with the intention of centering directly impacted individuals as leaders of movements.
Additionally, Natalie served as a Research Assistant at SAFElab, an initiative out of Columbia University. As a digital ethnographer, she was responsible for contributing to the “Natural Language Processing Tools For Gang Violence Prevention” project by providing qualitative analysis on Twitter posts of youth in Chicago. The work of SAFElab appealed to her interest in using research and analytical tools to amplify community voices.
During school, she interned at the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) within their Advocacy department supporting the decarceration campaign. Natalie also interned at The Fortune Society. Fortune Society afforded her the opportunity to radically validate formerly incarcerated clients by supporting their transition to sustainable employment and organizing around The Fair Chance Act.
Natalie is an active volunteer at Court Watch NYC, a project out of Brooklyn Community Bail Fund, VOCAL-NY, and 5 Boro Defenders. She is committed to holding the criminal legal system accountable by collecting real-time data and demanding transparency. Originally from Los Angeles, Natalie received her BA in Sociology from Kenyon College in 2013. She is honored to work for residents of Brooklyn in a collaborative and interdisciplinary organization.
Miriam Gentile was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. She received her B.A. in Philosophy and Political Science from Bryn Mawr College, where she spent her junior year studying in Vienna, Austria. She wrote her thesis on police power and civilian review boards. She received her J.D. from Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana.
At Tulane, Miriam competed as a member of the moot court team and worked as a student advocate with the Tulane Juvenile Defense Clinic. During her time in law school, Miriam worked at Brooklyn Defenders Services and Orleans Public Defenders. In addition to public defense, she also worked on death sentence appeals at the Capital Post Conviction Project of Louisiana, and conducted research on cybercrime at the Appellate Division of the Second Judicial Department of New York.
Miriam is honored to join the team at BDS and excited to be back in Brooklyn.
Tess was born and raised in New York. She is a graduate of Fordham University, where she studied political science and sociology. Tess went on to receive her J.D. from the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law.
As a law student, Tess was determined to gain exposure to as much of the criminal injustice system as possible. In this vain, Tess spent the summer following her first year of law school teaching legal research classes and providing general support to detained individuals at Rikers Island. Traveling to Rikers every day and spending so much time with people who were incarcerated solely because they could not afford cash bail propelled her drive to become a public defender.
Tess later interned with Mental Hygiene Legal Services at Manhattan Psychiatric Center advocating for and representing individuals facing involuntary commitments in psychiatric facilities, another pivotal experience Tess brings with her to her criminal defense practice.
Throughout law school, Tess volunteered with the Parole Preparation Project and successfully advocated for the parole release of an individual who served more than 28 year in New York State prisons. Tess was also a volunteer with the Student Advocacy Project, where she represented public school students facing suspensions and interruptions in their education.
Tess was a member of the CUNY Law Criminal Defense Clinic and spent her time in the clinic representing clients facing misdemeanor charges in Queens Criminal Court and interning at Brooklyn Defender Services. Aside from gaining hands-on experience in criminal court, Tess also dedicated much of her final year of law school to preparing an application for Executive Clemency for an individual serving his 31st year of a 50 year to life sentence in New York State prisons.
In her free time, Tess enjoys cooking and maintaining her small rooftop garden in Brooklyn.
Luis Ortiz was born in Panama but raised in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. He now lives in Bed-Stuy with his dog and cat. Luis received a B.A. in History at NYU and a J.D. from the University of Texas. After spending three years in the Texas heat, Luis is ecstatic to be back and cold in Brooklyn.
Luis participated in various law school clinics, representing asylum seekers in Immigration Court, defending clients accused of misdemeanors in criminal court, preparing trial strategy for a capital murder trial, and working to end debtor’s prison practices in Central Texas. In addition, Luis supervised other law students working on asylum claims for detained migrants on the Texas/Mexico Border. He interned at the Bronx Defenders and the Public Defender Service for the District of Columbia.
When he’s not working Luis enjoys travel, playing banjo, and prison abolition.
Eugenie joined Brooklyn Defender Services in 2018 as an attorney in the criminal defense practice. She graduated from NYU School of Law where she was a recipient of the Eric Dean Bender Prize for her commitment to public service.
As a student advocate in the NYU Juvenile Defender Clinic, Eugenie spent a year representing young people in the Bronx accused of juvenile delinquencies. She further developed her advocacy skills through a summer clerkship at the Orleans Public Defender office in Louisiana and at the International Center for Transitional Justice in Bogotá, Colombia.
Eugenie spent a year in the NYU Immigrant Rights Clinic representing non-citizens facing deportation as a result of criminal convictions. As a part of this work, she co-authored an Amicus Brief to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court challenging the 2017 Muslim Ban.
Eugenie graduated magna cum laude and with honors from Brown University. Prior to law school she worked as a paralegal at the Federal Defenders in the Southern District of New York, assisting with the representation of indigent New Yorkers accused of federal crimes.
James Mercurio was born and raised in New York. He went to Salve Regina University in Newport, Rhode Island, where he received a Bachelor’s Degree in Administration of Justice. While an undergraduate, he worked for the Rhode Island Public Defender. He graduated in 2017 from Roger Williams University School of Law.
While attending law school, James worked on both misdemeanor and felony cases with various attorneys in private criminal defense. He worked in the Roger Williams Criminal Defense Clinic where he served as lead counsel for indigent clients in Providence, Rhode Island.
James worked at BDS as an intern and is excited to be back as an attorney in the Criminal Defense Practice.
LA TRONICA, CHRISTOPHER
Mr. La Tronica received his B.A. from Skidmore College, his MSc from the London School of Economics and Political Science, and his J.D. from Tulane University Law School.
In 2011, Mr. La Tronica commissioned with the United States Navy Judge Advocate General’s Corps. In the Navy, he cut his teeth as a defense attorney representing service members in both criminal justice and administrative matters. After the Navy, he continued working as a private criminal defense attorney, representing clients facing charges ranging from traffic infractions to murder.
In September 2018, Mr. La Tronica joined the BDS Criminal Defense Practice. He is excited to have the opportunity to zealously represent members of the local community.
Dan Kieselstein was born and raised in Chicago. He received a BA in Political Economy from Tulane University and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. Between college and law school, Dan served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Rwanda.
While at law school, Dan participated in a number of clinics and student practice organizations, defending clients accused of misdemeanors in various proceedings as a student attorney for Harvard Defenders and the Criminal Justice Institute. He interned at Public Advocates, the Advancement Project, and Brooklyn Defenders, and served as co-President of the Harvard Law ACLU.
Dan enjoys playing pickup basketball, which keeps him grounded by providing frequent doses of intense humiliation.
Lindsey Smith joined Brooklyn Defender Services in 2018 as a Skadden Fellow on the financial consequences of criminal legal involvement, focusing on fines and fees imposed on young people as well as debtors’ prisons. She is passionate about enforcing the constitutional rights of BDS clients to be free from punishment for poverty. Ms. Smith previously interned in BDS’s Special Litigation Unit and is honored to return to the organization and represent Brooklyn clients in economic justice matters.
Ms. Smith grew up in Houston, Texas and has been a Brooklyn resident since 2013. She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin in 2012 with a B.A. in Government and served as a Fulbright Scholar in Cairo, Egypt from 2012 to 2013. She received her J.D. from New York University School of Law, where she was a Root-Tilden-Kern Scholar and a D’Agostino Scholar for Women and Children. While in law school, Ms. Smith worked on police practices at the ACLU’s Criminal Law Reform Project, advocated for children with unmet educational needs at Advocates for Children, and contributed to projects advancing New Yorkers’ expressive and due process rights at the New York Civil Liberties Union.
BROOKLYN DEFENDER SERVICES APPLAUDS THE NEW YORK STATE ASSEMBLY FOR PASSAGE OF COMPREHENSIVE DISCOVERY REFORM
Lisa Schreibersdorf, Executive Director and Founder of Brooklyn Defender Services, issued the following statement in response to the historic passage of the Assembly Discovery Reform Bill, A.4360 (Lentol).
“Brooklyn Defender Services applauds the New York State Assembly for taking the bold and historic step of passing comprehensive criminal discovery reform. New York is now well on its way to ensuring justice statewide and joining the other states that have open-file criminal discovery laws. People accused of crimes must have early and automatic access to the evidence in their cases.
For more than forty years, New York prosecutors have been allowed to withhold police reports and other crucial evidence, called discovery, from people accused of crimes until after a jury is sworn – months or years after an arrest. This is an injustice that cannot stand in the twenty-first century. We urge the Senate to pass and the Governor to sign this groundbreaking piece of legislation immediately.”
SMITHSON, MARGARET (MEG)
Meg Smithson is a social worker with the New York Immigrant Family Unity Project (NYIFUP). She received her BA in Latin American and Latino Studies from the University of California at Santa Cruz and her Masters in Social Work from New York University.
Meg was inspired to pursue her social work degree while working with immigrant survivors of domestic violence in the Family Law Unit at the New York Legal Assistance Group. For her first year social work internship, Meg was placed at the LGBT Center (The Center), providing career counseling and facilitating support groups for LGBT immigrants. After her internship, Meg co-created the Queer Immigrant Mentorship Program at the Center. The program works to connect recently arrived immigrants with people who have been in New York for longer, with the aim of sharing resources and fostering community.
For her second year internship, Meg was placed at Brooklyn Defender Services, working with NYIFUP. She is honored and excited to continue working with this dedicated team, supporting those seeking justice from our immigration legal system.
KATZ, SAMANTHA (SAMMIE)
Sammie is a social worker in the Criminal Defense Practice at BDS.
She obtained her MSW from New York University Silver School of Social Work in May 2018. During her second year field placement, Sammie interned at BDS in the Criminal Defense Practice. She felt passionately that defense-based work was what she wanted to do upon graduation, and was thrilled to start at BDS as a full-time social worker shortly thereafter.
Sammie’s passion for this work first developed when she worked in the child welfare system as a foster care caseworker. She worked closely with youth and families using a holistic, trauma-informed model to work towards permanency in each case. During this time, Sammie began to fully grasp how important it is to view all of the factors that lead individuals into trying situations and oppressive systems. One of her responsibilities during this job was to support her adolescent clients in their criminal court proceedings. Sammie saw how her clients—who had all experienced insurmountable trauma and hardship—were easy targets for the criminal justice system.
Additionally, Sammie has volunteered with The Focus Forward Project—an organization which works with individuals who are charged with federal crimes to begin preparing for reentry at the very start of their criminal cases.
Sammie is excited and honored to join the Criminal Defense Practice team at BDS, and she will remain committed to fiercely and compassionately advocating for those impacted by the criminal justice system.
Alysha Seroussi joined Brooklyn Defender Services as a staff attorney in 2017. She received Bachelor of Arts from The Ohio State University in 2013 and her Juris Doctorate from The University of Texas School of Law in 2016. While in law school, she interned at the Public Defender Service in the District of Columbia and for Disability Rights Texas, and also represented indigent Texans as a student attorney in the Criminal Defense Clinic. Alysha is passionate about social justice and zealously advocates for her clients rights.
Alysha is a licensed attorney in California and New York.
BDS CALLS FOR AN NYC COUNCIL HEALTH COMMITTEE HEARING ON HEALINGNYC’S ALLOCATION OF OPIOID OVERDOSE PREVENTION FUNDS TO THE NYPD
May 30, 2017
Hon. Corey Johnson
New York City Councilmember
224 West 30th Street, #1206
New York, NY 10001
Dear Council Member Johnson:
I write regarding recent news that the largest share of City funding for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s new initiative to combat the opioid epidemic, HealingNYC, is slated to be allocated to the New York Police Department (NYPD). I respectfully request that the New York City Council Committee on Health hold a public hearing on this funding allocation as well as the City’s attempt to pair a public health approach to problematic drug use with increasingly aggressive law enforcement tactics.
As Chair of the Committee on Health, you have been a leader in the fight to protect the health and wellbeing of New York City’s most vulnerable residents, most notably those in our jails on Rikers Island. You have also taken this city forward with funding for the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to study safe injection facilities for intravenous drug users.
The opioid epidemic is among the most deadly forces in our city today, warranting a strong response from policymakers. I appreciate that Mayor de Blasio is spearheading an effort to expand the use of life-saving naloxone kits and medication-assisted treatment, as well as other important initiatives to reduce the stigma of addiction and mental illness. However, I am concerned this important work could be undermined by regressive law enforcement strategies that further marginalize, stigmatize and ultimately criminalize the very people the Administration seeks to support. Indeed, earlier this week, Crain’s reported that “nearly half of the $143.7 million budgeted for HealingNYC through fiscal year 2021 will go to the NYPD, mostly to step up arrests of drug dealers.” Much of the funding provided to the police will reportedly be used to investigate overdoses with the goal of bringing criminal charges against people alleged to have supplied the drugs.
There is a growing recognition among policymakers of all parties, many of whom may struggle with addiction themselves or have friends or family members who struggle with addiction, that criminalization is an ineffective and, in fact, often very dangerous approach to drugs. These dangers are only heightened as police and prosecutors here and across the country pursue homicide-like charges or other very serious charges against alleged suppliers when overdoses do occur. Among many other serious risks, experts have noted that increased enforcement can discourage people who witness overdoses from calling 911 because suppliers are often close acquaintances and may even be the witnesses, themselves.
Even if a greater investment in law enforcement efforts against suppliers were an effective approach, the Council should consider whether it makes sense for those funds to come from HealingNYC or rather be diverted from other NYPD functions. For example, the most common drug arrest charge in 2016 was low-level marijuana possession, with 18,136 arrests. The disproportionate impact of these arrests aggravates racial and economic inequality in our society, undermines trust in our criminal legal system, and contravenes the beliefs of the majority of Americans (60 percent), who support full legalization of marijuana. Moreover, research funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse found that legally protected marijuana dispensaries were associated with reductions of 16 to 31 percent in opioid overdose deaths. (HealingNYC seeks to reduce opioid deaths by 35 percent over the next 5 years.) Other experts have argued that the criminalization of marijuana led to the over-prescription and over-use of opioids and eventually the epidemic that we are struggling to address today. Simply put, marijuana seems to be a safer alternative to opioids in pain management, but criminalization undercuts that benefit.
At the Committee on Public Safety’s Executive Budget hearing on Monday, NYPD Chief of Detectives Robert Boyce said of the Department’s response to the epidemic: “Our focus is not on the individual addict. Our focus is on the street level as well as interdictions coming into the country.” Arrest data provided by the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services does not support this statement. After low-level marijuana possession, the next most common NYPD drug arrest charge, or fifth most common arrest overall, in 2016 was low-level non-marijuana drug possession, or Criminal Possession of a Controlled Substance in the 7th Degree, with 16,630 arrests. The most common drug sale arrest charge was Criminal Sale of a Controlled Substance in the 3rd Degree, with 5,628 arrests, or approximately one-sixth of the number of low-level drug possession arrests.
We believe a public hearing on this critical subject would help to evaluate the efficacy of the different components of HealingNYC and facilitate greater transparency and accountability in our City’s overall approach to drug use.
Because City administration and agency officials generally are permitted to testify first at Council hearings, I ask in advance that the Council request testimony from NYPD with research to support the use of scarce public funds to disrupt the supply chain of heroin, fentanyl or other drugs.
Thank you for your consideration of my request.
Brooklyn Defender Services
 Caroline Lewis & Rosa Goldensohn. Will stepping up drug-dealer arrests help alleviate the opioid crisis? Crain’s New York Business (2017), http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20170522/HEALTH_CARE/170529996/nypd-gets-biggest-share-of-new-city-funding-to-fight-opioid-overdose-deaths (last visited May 30, 2017).
 Art Swift. Support for Legal Marijuana Use Up to 60% in U.S. (2016), http://www.gallup.com/poll/196550/support-legal-marijuana.aspx (last visited May 30, 2017).
 National Institute on Drug Abuse, Study Links Medical Marijuana Dispensaries to Reduced Mortality From Opioid Overdose NIDA (2016), https://www.drugabuse.gov/news-events/nida-notes/2016/05/study-links-medical-marijuana-dispensaries-to-reduced-mortality-opioid-overdose (last visited May 30, 2017).
The New York Times and the Marshall Project collaborated to shed light on New York’s unjust “Blindfold Law,” which allows prosecutors to withhold key evidence until trial. To improve fairness in the criminal legal system and prevent wrongful convictions, Brooklyn Defender Services and a coalition of partners are working to repeal and replace the Blindfold Law with new legislation.
The Atlantic published an article on new legislation proposed by State Sen. Jesse Hamilton and Assemblywoman Tremaine Wright that would decriminalize turnstile jumping. “Instead of making the fiscally sound and just decision to help enhance access through reduced-fare Metro Cards or free Metro Cards, we do the opposite: We arrest; we lock people up,” said BDS’ Scott Hechinger.
Congratulations to BDS senior staff attorney Renee Seman on winning the Kevin M. Andersen Memorial Award. Renee works and lives by the principles of justice, determination, and compassion. Read more about her award here.
Hear from BDS’ Scott Hechinger and our client “Juan” on the cruel absurdity of money bail. Listen until the end to hear the “Bail Bond Queen” say the presumption of innocence is “hullabaloo.” Also featured in the segment: Legal Aid Society & Brooklyn Community Bail Fund.
Brooklyn Defender Services calls for the immediate passage of S.6176 (Little)/A. 588A (Rosenthal). The bill would require that all women who are incarcerated in New York State or City facilities have access to free feminine hygiene products.
Learn more about this critical issue in a recent N.Y. Times article featuring BDS Jail Services Social Worker Kelsey DeAvila.
Being accused of a crime is just the beginning of “perpetual punishment”: a lifelong cycle of legalized discrimination, structural poverty, and re-incarceration. This cycle is kept in motion by 47,000 laws and regulations nationwide that restrict critical rights and opportunities.
But we know how to break the cycle: Remove the barriers and empower people.
Watch PERPETUAL PUNISHMENT, a short animated film by Molly Crabapple and presented by Brooklyn Defender Services and Vox:
Here in New York, there are five bills in the State Legislature that would dramatically change the punishment paradigm, and we need YOU to push your local representatives to get these bills enacted into law.
- ‘Ban the Box’ on Job & Higher Education Applications – Pass A.3050 & A.1792/S.3740! Approximately 7.1 million New Yorkers, or 36%, have criminal records that affect them for the rest of their lives. Many people were convicted when young, or were incarcerated on bail and took a plea to get out. Many were never arrested again, years or even decades later. The conviction subjects these fellow New Yorkers to discrimination in employment and education that affects them and their families forever under current New York law and costs taxpayers money in the long run for public assistance and reduced taxes that these people would contribute if earning at their potential. These bills help to provide New Yorkers with a real chance at success by prohibiting job and higher education discrimination based on criminal convictions.
- Reform NY’s Discovery Law to Prevent Wrongful Convictions – Pass S.3334! In New York, unlike most of the rest of the country, prosecutors and police are not required to provide police reports to the attorney representing a person facing criminal allegations at the earliest point so that defense counsel can investigate the case. This contributes to wrongful convictions and elongates the time our clients stay in jail waiting for a trial. The sad case of Kalief Browder is an example of someone whose time at Rikers Island would have been dramatically shortened or eliminated if his attorney had the information on the case. In civil cases and other cases in New York, “Discovery” is provided quickly and comprehensively. Yet we treat people who are in jail or facing serious allegations as if they do not deserve to have a fair defense. It is no coincidence that New York is 3rd in the country in wrongful convictions. This bill will repeal an outdated law and replace it with a just and fair discovery law.
- Sealing Criminal Records – Pass S.4027! New York is one of the only states in the nation with no sealing or expungement law, meaning even people convicted of the lowest level criminal offenses have a permanent criminal record. Many of the most debilitating collateral consequences of contact with the criminal justice system could be reduced through a robust sealing law that allows people to move beyond their punishment after a reasonable time period.
- Seal All Low-Level Marijuana Possession Convictions – Pass A.2142/S.3809! In 1977, the NYS Legislature passed the Marihuana Reform Act, decriminalizing personal possession of 25 grams or less of marijuana, but the law still allows for arrest and prosecution of those with marijuana in “public view.” In practice, low-level marijuana possession remains one of the top arrest charges in New York; more than 800,000 New Yorkers have criminal records for this offense in the last 20 years. 9 in 10 arrested for this offense are people of color, despite roughly equal rates of marijuana use across demographics. This bill would simply seal these records and remove the senseless barriers they face in education, employment, housing opportunities, and other state services. While there is not currently a bill pending, you should also ask your legislators to support full marijuana legalization!
- Stop Criminalizing Workers for Carrying Their Tools – Pass A.05667A/S.4769! Tens of thousands of New Yorkers, mostly people of color and/or immigrants, have been prosecuted for being in possession of—either on their person, or somewhere in their car or home—an instrument they use peacefully in the workplace, simply because it meets the technical legal definition of a “gravity knife.” True gravity knives, banned in New York in the 1950’s, have been extinct for some time, but the definition included in the law has allowed for the criminalization of workers—often stagehands, carpenters or stockroom employees—simply for carrying tools that they purchased at hardware and other common retail stores and that they use on their job. This bill would change the law to clarify that simple tools, used peacefully, are not weapons.
Find your NYS Legislator by entering your address here: www.openstates.org.
The best way to make your elected representatives hear you is to call, not email! Call them today and ask for their support for these three bills.
Brooklyn Defender Services strongly supports the City’s efforts to reduce the number of people who await trial on Rikers Island. In 2015, 67,672 people were admitted to New York City jails, with an average daily population of 10,240. During this period, approximately 13,100 people arraigned in Brooklyn courts spent time on Rikers Island, 89% of who were identified as “African-American” or “Hispanic.” Roughly 75 percent of people on any given day at Rikers Island are there in pretrial detention – presumed innocent under the law and ostensibly waiting for their day in court. Yet the reality is that judges and prosecutors are just waiting for them to plead guilty.
Never before in the history of our organization has police accountability been so prominently an issue of popular national importance. Just four years ago drag-net Stop & Frisk was being defended as an essential policing tactic, responsible for saving tens of thousands of lives despite research that questioned this causality and obvious constitutional concerns. While we welcome the national, progressive attention on these issues, to which our clients are often at the receiving end, we must acknowledge how we got here: long-standing police abuses coming into the light due to lawsuits, civilian documentation and protest. The deaths of Eric Garner and Ramarley Graham at the hands of the New York Police Department, and the public’s perception of a lack of accountability for the officers involved, especially as compared to the extensive punishment regimes for civilians in criminal court, have driven a significant interest in this topic both locally, nationally, and even internationally. More
Mayor de Blasio announced on Monday that the NYPD will no longer arrest people caught with small amounts of marijuana, issuing summonses instead. Advocates expressed cautious support.
NEW YORK CITY — The New York Police Department will no longer arrest people for low-level marijuana possession, Mayor Bill de Blasio and Police Commissioner William Bratton announced in a press conference on Monday.
The NYPD will issue violation summonses to people caught with small amounts marijuana, instead of putting them in handcuffs and taking them to a precinct. The summonses will require people to appear in court at a later date and pay a fine.
The policy, which will go into effect on Nov. 19, will not protect people who are found with more than 25 grams of marijuana, those who are smoking in public, or those caught with the drug near schools or playgrounds, the officials said. People who have open warrants, are subject to an active investigation, or do do not have proper identification could also be arrested.
Speaking at the press conference, Mayor de Blasio said that the new policy is intended to refocus the attention of police officers away from petty offenses and toward more serious crimes.
“When an individual gets arrested for even the smallest quantity of marijuana it hurts their chances to get a good job, to get housing, to qualify for a student loan,” de Blasio said. “This policy will allow officers to continue on with their work and to put more time and energy into fighting more serious crime rather than get bogged down with an unproductive arrest.”
The new policy could bring about a sea change in the way the city is policed. Misdemeanor-level marijuana possession accounts for a large percentage of the city’s arrests, a vast majority of which happen to young black or Latino men living in poor neighborhoods.
“This is a huge improvement,” Lisa Schreibersdorf, executive director of Brooklyn Defender Services, told BuzzFeed News. “Summonses don’t get you fingerprinted. This will be better for people who are vulnerable to collateral consequences, like immigrants.”
Still, Schreibersdorf cautioned that the policy will not fulfill its goal unless the NYPD relaxes its identification requirements for summonses. Immigrants and teenagers often do not carry valid identification, she said, which often means that they cannot be processed for a summons. She added that the policy change does not address what she called the root cause of the problem — police officers in New York routinely stopping people without probable cause.
“Having summonses is an improvement for people who are already being stopped, but that doesn’t mean they should be stopped in the first place,” she said. “The problem, from my perspective, is that stopping people without cause is unconstitutional.”
We are encouraged that the New York City Council is discussing issues of brutality and neglect on Rikers Island and is seeking to hold accountable the public and private officials tasked with managing these facilities. It seems there is widespread agreement that the status quo in City jails is untenable. However, we are concerned efforts for reform will fall short if City Government continues to avoid addressing the primary driver of many of these problems – too many admissions to jails in the first place.
Read more on our Huffington Post Blog
Stuart came to Brooklyn Defender Services following 30 years in a private criminal defense practice that concentrated on representing the accused at trial and on appeal in State and Federal Courts. During that time Stuart prevailed in the majority of over 100 felony cases he tried to verdict and obtained reversals in the Appellate Division and The New York Court of Appeals.
Stuart started his legal career as an Assistant District Attorney, Kings County, New York where he served in Trial Bureaus and the Appeals Bureau.
Aside from his law degree Stuart has a Master’s Degree in Special Education. Stuart’s final job in Special Ed was as the Program Director for approximately 200 multiply-handicapped children where he supervised a staff of 40 teachers, physical therapists, occupational therapists and an adaptive equipment workshop.
Stuart served as a Commissioner on The Montclair, N.J Civil Rights Commission for 10 years where he chaired the Police-Community Relations Committee. He also served on The Juvenile Conference Committee, a branch of the Essex County Family Court that seeks alternative programs rather than juvenile delinquency adjudications for juvenile offenders.
At the 2018 annual dinner of The Kings County Criminal Bar Association Stuart was honored as Person of The Year.
On Friday, Staten Island resident Eric Garner’s death was officially ruled a homicide. For the last two weeks, New York City has been roiled by video of him gasping his last words—“I can’t breathe!”—after an NYPD officer put him in a choke-hold while arresting him on suspicion of selling untaxed cigarettes. At Garner’s funeral on July 23 at Bethel Baptist Church in Brooklyn’s Boerum Hill neighborhood, reporters and news crews swarmed the block, interviewing relatives, high-profile guests like the Reverend Al Sharpton, and other attendees.
What the local press didn’t see that evening, and what has gone unreported until now, is that police officers chose the funeral of a man whose death in police custody has put the NYPD on the defensive to make another, very public arrest of a guy who wasn’t doing anything illegal at the time.
The New York City Council is investigating mental health services and violence on Rikers Island and in other city jails as recent media reports have renewed the public’s interest on this topic. At a recent oversight hearing conducted by the council, mayoral officials, union leaders, corrections officers, civilians working in city jails and other advocates testified to their experiences. Notably absent from the discussion were people with personal experience inside the cell blocks; with 120,000 people each year churning through city jails — over 1 million over the past ten years — it seemed incongruous that the Criminal Justice and Mental Health Committees of the City Council had not included these voices. The City Council legal department has declined to provide us with the list of official invitees to the hearing.
More than 75 percent of the people on Rikers Island and in other city jails are not in custody due to a conviction. They are in jail on bail, sometimes as low as $250, because they cannot afford to meet this cash obligation. According to the Criminal Justice Agency, just 12 percent of people accused of misdemeanors are able to post bail at arraignments. Prosecutorial requests for bail and the choice to insist on cash bail when other options are legally viable, is a matter of public policy. And so we have decided to place people accused of the most minor of crimes in jail solely because they have been locked out of the social and economic resources and opportunities that would otherwise enable them to post a couple of hundred dollars as collateral. A recent Vera Institute report on the Manhattan District Attorney’s office found that race plays a significant factor in making bail determinations.
A homeless man arrested for trespassing, like Jerome Murdough who unable to pay $2500 bail subsequently died in a Rikers Island solitary confinement cell, is more likely to be held in city jails than a Bernie Madoff, a Richard Haste, a John Gotti. And it is these indigent people who are subjected to solitary confinement and other abuses in city jails.
Guy Raimondi has been practicing criminal defense in Brooklyn for more than twenty years. He graduated magna cum laude from Niagara University with a B.A. in History in 1986. He later received his J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center where he was on the editorial staff of the Georgetown Immigration Law Journal. His legal career began in 1989 as a staff attorney with the Criminal Defense Division of the Legal Aid Society. In private practice from 1996 to 2010, Guy was a member of the Assigned Counsel Plan’s Homicide and Felony Panels. He has tried more than sixty-five felony jury trials and has won acquittals in the vast majority of those cases including several murder trials. He has also argued before the Appellate Division, Second Department.
Guy views with particular interest ongoing scientific studies that demonstrate the perils of juries relying primarily upon eyewitness identification evidence and has successfully presented before a jury expert testimony regarding the factors that adversely affect eyewitness accuracy. Gratified that judges and jurors are beginning to recognize the flaws inherent in eyewitness identification, he still believes that defense attorneys need to advocate more than ever to expand the use of expert testimony.
Admitted to practice in New York State and the Federal Eastern District of New York, Guy is a member of the Kings County Criminal Bar Association. Married and the father of two teenage daughters, he is an avid runner, triathlete and hockey player. While in private practice he once considered offering free legal services to any client willing to admit to running slower than him.
Sonia Tate-Cousins attended undergraduate school at the State University of New York in Buffalo where she graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Political Science and English. Sonia went on to study law at the SUNY-Buffalo campus, where she earned her Juris Doctorate degree.
Sonia has devoted her entire legal career to representing the poor and underprivileged. Her first job after law school was at North Florida Legal Services – Panama City office, where she represented poor elderly clients in a variety of legal matters, ranging from landlord and tenant issues to uncontested divorce proceedings. Upon her return to the New York area she worked with Nassau/Suffolk Legal Services handling Social Security Disability matters.
In 1987 Sonia joined the staff at the Legal Aid Society Juvenile Rights Division, where she represented children in Family Court proceedings. In 1991 she became a Supervisory Attorney at JRD, a position she held until 1995, when she transferred to the Legal Aid Society Criminal Defense Division as a Staff Attorney. She worked in both Manhattan and Queens trial offices handling innumerable cases in both Criminal and Supreme Court. In April of 2011 she joined the staff at Brooklyn Defender Services as a Senior Trial Attorney.
Marissa Sherman, a Boston area native, received a B.A. in Communications from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 2006. After spending a few years in California, she attended Northeastern University School of Law.
While in law school Marissa interned with United States Magistrate Judge Kenneth Neiman in Springfield, Massachusetts and at Collora, LLP, a boutique litigation firm in Boston. However, it was her two internships with public defender offices in San Diego and Boston that ignited her passion for indigent defense. Marissa graduated from Northeastern in May of 2011 ready to begin her career as a public defender.
Marissa is excited and proud to be in Brooklyn and a part of Brooklyn Defender Services but she retains her strong allegiance to all Boston sports.
A native New Yorker, Arielle is pleased to return to her hometown after a period of study in Boston. Arielle attended Wellesley College and graduated summa cum laude in 2003. Her undergraduate thesis, entitled “From the Legislature to the Courts: Abortion Reform in the United States,” earned her honors for her degree in political science. She also pursued her interest in politics through writing and editing numerous pieces in the Wellesley-MIT publication, Counterpoint, and her leadership of Wellesley Women for Choice.
After college, she attended Boston College Law School, graduating in 2006. During her time at Boston College, she participated in the Criminal Justice Clinic, where her interest in criminal defense grew. Through course work and an independent study focusing on mental illness and the law, Arielle also expanded her interest in mental health issues with regard to the criminal justice system. At law school, Arielle also worked for two professors, helping to edit, research, and write about various issues of criminal procedure, among other areas of law. Additionally, she spent a summer participating in a clerkship program, assisting in research for a number criminal and civil trial court judges in Brockton, MA.
Since graduating from law school and returning to New York in 2006, Arielle has worked as a BDS staff attorney.
David Secular graduated from NYU Law School in 1977, and began his career as an Appellate Attorney with the Criminal Appeals Bureau of the Legal Aid Society. After two years of litigating appeals, David became a Trial Attorney with Legal Aid’s Criminal Defense Division, Brooklyn Office.
David went into private practice in 1983, specializing in criminal defense. From 1991 to 1999 he concentrated on federal criminal cases, and wrote the brief for Holloway v. United States, 526 U.S. 1, heard before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1999.
Mr. Secular joined the Federal Defender’s Office for the Northern District of New York when it was created in 1999, where he served as an Assistant Federal Defender in Syracuse until 2006. In 2006, he moved to Tampa, Florida, where he served as an Assistant Federal Defender in the Middle District of Florida.
While federal practice had its rewards, David longed to return to Brooklyn, and joined BDS in February 2011 as a Senior Trial Attorney.
WALKER, C. RANDALL
Randy graduated from Harvard College in 1984 and later attended Harvard Law School. He graduated from Harvard Law School in 1988 and went to work for a large Manhattan law firm, Stroock & Stroock & Lavan. In addition to corporate litigation, Randy worked on pro-bono matters including a Section 1983 civil-rights/officer-brutality case, and he secured political asylum for a young Somali man. In 1991, Randy joined the Juvenile Rights Division of the Legal Aid Society. From 1991 through 1996, he represented juveniles in delinquency cases and children in child protective proceedings in Manhattan Family Court. Randy came to Brooklyn Defender Services in January 1997, soon after its inception. Randy has been defending the indigent against criminal charges in Supreme Court and Criminal Court in Brooklyn ever since.
David is sixteen years old and lives in a New York City homeless shelter with his mother. He has been arrested three times in the past year for possession of a knife, most recently after robbing another teenager of their iPhone. More
Every year more than 300,000 people are arrested in New York City and roughly 100,000 people cycle through the city jail system at a cost to the taxpayer of $167,731 per incarcerated person per year. Most people held on Rikers Island and other borough specific facilities — 75 percent — are awaiting the disposition of their cases and are, thus by law, innocent. More