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People v. Puma

Other Lower Courts

February 12, 2008

The People of the State of New York, Plaintiff,
v.
Rafael Quiroga-Puma, Defendant.

Editorial Note:

This case is not published in a printed volume and its disposition appears in a table in the reporter.

COUNSEL

FOR THE VILLAGE: DWIGHT D. KRAEMER, ESQ., Village Attorney and Prosecutor

FOR THE DEFENDANT :LAW OFFICES OF BERTRAM JORISCH

OPINION

Thomas F. Liotti, J.

Perhaps due to the publicity generated in this case, [1] the Court has received a letter request from defense counsel for increased security for himself and his client. This Court is concerned about the safety of the defendant, defense counsel, others in the court, court personnel, and itself. [2] The Court is well aware of both positive and negative opinions concerning its decisions. It respects the rights of all to agree, disagree or take no position at all.

This Court would require a metal detector and Court Officers to be placed in the courtroom or just outside of it. The Legislature created the Justice Court Assistance Program ("JCAP") in 1999 to provide critical financial assistance to towns and villages having Justice Courts in their communities (see L. 1999, c. 280). By that time, it had become clear that those Courts, funded locally, did not have the resources needed to meet increased reporting obligations, security demands and other responsibilities of a modern judiciary; and that, for those courts to remain viable institutions, some measure of supplementary State assistance was in order. Under JCAP, towns and villages were invited, on an annual basis, to apply to the Chief Administrative Judge for modest monetary grants to assist them in the purchase or procurement of computers, recording devices and other essential electronic equipment, small facilities' enhancements, training for their court personnel and legal materials for court use. The JCAP program covers up to $30,000 for a metal detector; however, JCAP procedure does not begin again until April, 2008 when the State Legislature passes the budget for the fiscal year. JCAP will not cover the cost of personnel additions, meaning that the Village of Westbury would have to foot the bill for Court Officers, as well as provide for training. As the security addition options are foreclosed to the Court at this time, the measures taken infra are justified for the security of the defendant, defense counsel, et alia.

Unfortunately, this Court has had some experience in dealing with individuals who have allegedly threatened or caused harm to lawyers, [3] elected officials, [4]or court personnel. [5] Their comments and actions obviously go beyond the pale of fair comment and appropriate First Amendment protection. There are others though whose conduct is borderline; where they are obsessed with an issue or a person; whose obsession consumes them to the point where they are pushed over the edge [6] beyond pandering to their electorate (if they are elected officials), and in some cases, into a delusional, episodic psychosis. [7] In this case, the racist rhetoric by or cowardly expression of persons, anonymous or not, will be reported to the police. When it comes to irrational behavior, the fact that this Court is just a lower Village Court with relatively minor matters before it is of no moment. This Court will not be intimidated into a renunciation of its opinions [8] and will never back down from them.

The hateful sentiments expressed by persons regarding non-citizens or undocumented Hispanic aliens, and that my previous decision on unlicenced operation of a motor vehicle somehow jeopardizes the foundations of civilization is an exaggeration beyond comparison and reinforces the Court's opinion that some of the views expressed are so out of proportion that they are racist and borderline delusional. One State Senator from Suffolk County, for example, called for my removal from the Bench without even having read my decision. [9] My decision does not pose a threat to our way of life; it is meant to enhance it by promoting safety on our highways.

Judging from some of the anonymous internet postings and letters which this Court is aware of or has received, I find that defense counsel's concerns about security are warranted. Fortunately, this Court has never had an incident of violence or even contemptuous behavior occur before it. [10] Our proceedings are largely uneventful, but when the Court makes a decision on legal issues before it as it did in this case, which some view as controversial, the frequency of communications and even anonymous threats directed at the Court or the parties increases.

This Court is mindful of the immortal words of Honorable Frank Santagata, the former Associate Justice of this Court for nearly thirty years, who often said that our judiciary must function "without fear or favor." This Court fondly remembers those words and strives to live by them.

When race and ethnic issues are involved, our country has shown its intolerance for minorities and its belligerence towards them. Abraham Lincoln was assassinated following the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. John F. Kennedy, Medgar Evers, Robert F. Kennedy, [11] James Meredith, [12]and Martin Luther King, Jr. were all assassinated or assassination, in the case of Mr. Meredith, was attempted and each pioneered civil rights issues.

Justice Thurgood Marshall once wrote that "in recognizing the humanity of our fellow beings, we pay ourselves the highest tribute." [13] However, Justice Marshall also warned, "Even if all parties approach the court's mandate with the best of conscious intentions, ... that mandate requires them to confront and overcome their own ...


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