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STAHL v. NEW YORK

August 19, 1981

Edward STAHL, Petitioner,
v.
The STATE OF NEW YORK and Robert Abrams, as Attorney General of the State of New York, Respondents



The opinion of the court was delivered by: WEINFELD

Petitioner, Edward Stahl, an attorney, was convicted after a jury trial in the Supreme Court, New York County, on two counts of criminal contempt, first degree, in violation of § 215.51 of the Penal Law of the State of New York, *fn1" and was sentenced to serve concurrent nine-month terms of imprisonment. The conviction was unanimously affirmed by the Appellate Division, First Department, and by the New York State Court of Appeals.

Petitioner, by this habeas corpus proceeding commenced pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2254, challenges the judgment of conviction as void based upon claims of violation of his federal constitutional right to due process of law. He contends that: (1) the evidence was insufficient to permit a rational trier of the facts to find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt; (2) the refusal of the trial court to permit a witness to testify deprived him of his Sixth Amendment right to compel the appearance of a witness; (3) the prosecution suppressed exculpatory material; and (4) the statute on which the charges were based is unconstitutional as applied to him.

 The essence of the charges against petitioner centered about a grand jury investigation into the alleged corruption of public employees at the Civil Term of the New York State Supreme Court, New York County. The grand jury sought to ascertain whether any such employees had accepted illegal payments of money from certain lawyers and litigants to influence litigation in that court. The inquiry concerned the commission of the crimes of bribery, giving or receiving unlawful gratuities, and conspiracy. A specific thrust of the grand jury investigation was to determine whether one Abram Brown, then a law assistant in the Supreme Court, New York County, as well as other court employees, had agreed to influence the outcome of certain motions in pending litigation in return for money payments. Another target of the inquiry was Lloyd Paperno, a neighbor of petitioner in Atlantic Beach, New York, who was employed as a special referee by the Supreme Court. Brown died during the pendency of the investigation.

 One of the matters under investigation was an action for an accounting commenced in the Supreme Court, New York County, against petitioner by his former law partners, entitled Sharinn & Lipshie v. Stahl. The litigation had been assigned to Justice Alfred M. Ascione who, on March 3rd, had issued a decision granting petitioner's cross-motion for the appointment of a temporary receiver pending determination of the lawsuit. However, the matter was settled following a conference held in the chambers of the Justice attended by the litigants and their lawyers.

 Petitioner was granted immunity and testified before the grand jury on September 19 and November 15, 1977. Thereafter he was indicted under five counts for criminal contempt. *fn2" He was convicted under Counts 3 and 4. Count 3 of the indictment alleged that the grand jury, among other matters, "(m)ore specifically ... sought to determine whether Lloyd Paperno had told the defendant (petitioner) that a court employee had said that the defendant had made a deal to pay money in exchange for a favorable outcome in the case of Sharinn and Lipshie against Stahl, and that the defendant had not lived up to that deal." *fn3" Under Count 4, the indictment alleged that the grand jury "(m)ore specifically ... sought to determine whether Lloyd Paperno had told the defendant that Paperno had been marked lousy at the courthouse because of the defendant's failure to pay money to the court employee who had worked on the case of Sharinn and Lipshie against Stahl." *fn4" The indictment charged that with respect to these matters the defendant "gave equivocal, evasive, conspicuously unbelievable and patently false answers" *fn5" and cited under Count 3 examples of his testimony:

 
Q. Well, has anyone ever told you in words or substance that a court employee said that you, Mr. Stahl, had promised money in exchange for a favorable outcome in the case of Sharinn and Lipshie Against Stahl?
 
A. Who do you mean by anybody? I don't understand the question.
 
Q. Has anyone ever told you that a court employee expects a bribe from you?
 
A. I don't recall any such conversation ever having taken place.
 
Q. Do you deny that you were told that a court employee expected money from you in exchange for a favorable outcome in the case of Sharinn and Lipshie Against Stahl?
 
A. I answered that question.
 
Q. What's your answer?
 
A. I answered it. I don't recall any such conversation ever having taken place.
 
Q. Did Lloyd Paperno tell you that Abe Brown said you, Edward Stahl, had promised him money in exchange for a favorable outcome in the case ...

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