DIGEST : Delay in release of Eric Garner grand jury records ; Sheldon Silver and Eric Schneiderman updates

By LOUIS FLORES

On the first day of testimony in the confirmation hearings for President Barack Obama's nominee for the next U.S. Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, a judge has once again postponed the hearing for arguments in the petitions to release the grand jury records in the Eric Garner chokehold homicide case.

Mr. Garner died of a chokehold applied to him in broad daylight by New York Police Department officer Daniel Pantaleo on July 17.  Mr. Garner was unarmed at the time, and Officer Pantaleo reportedly choked Mr. Garner to death after reports that Mr. Garner had been selling single cigarettes for as little as fifty cents in untaxed transactions as a means of earning a living.  

On December 3, a grand jury voted not to file criminal charges against Officer Pantaleo in a case that was presented by District Attorney Daniel Donovan (R-Staten Island), igniting weeks of protests in New York City and across the nation that merged with protests inspired by the failure of a St. Louis County, Missouri, grand jury to indict Ferguson Police Department officer, Darren Wilson, in the shooting death of another unarmed man, Michael Brown, in broad daylight.

A prior hearing for arguments in the petitions for the release of the records in the Eric Garner grand jury proceedings had been scheduled for December 19.  However, the prior judge, Stephen Rooney, recused himself due to a potential conflict of interest involving his wife, Kathryn Krause Rooney, leading to a postponement of that hearing to January 28. 

Ms. Rooney is chair of the board of directors of Richmond University Medical Center, which employed the emergency medical technicians, who responded to the crime scene of Mr. Garner's chokehold homicide.

Following Judge Rooney's recusal, Judge William Garnett was appointed to review the petitions for the release of the grand jury records.

The postponement announced by written Scheduling Order on Wednesday by Judge Garnett was blamed on the four-inch snow storm that struck New York City from Monday night into Tuesday morning.  

"Due to the winter snow storm that cause the closure of all of the courts in New York City between 3:00 p.m. Monday, January 26, 2015 and 9:00 a.m. Wednesday, January 28, 2015, which required the undersigned Justice to postpone the deliberations in a felony trial over which he is currently presiding in another country, the oral arguments on the petitioners' applications to unseal the Grand Jury minutes and related relief in these consolidated proceedings must be adjourned to Thursday, February 5 2015." (Footnote omitted)

Judge Garnett based his ruling on New York Codes, Rules and Regulations, specifically Section 22 NYCRR 125.1(c), which governs the priorities of postponements in competing proceedings.

The winter storm, which dropped between 4 to 6 inches of snow in New York City, according to one of the briefings provided by Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-New York), led to the wholesale closure of government, businesses, and public transportation systems.  The decisions to order the closures were criticised as official overreach.  

The serial postponement of the oral arguments hearing in support of petitions seeking the release of the Eric Garner grand jury proceedings is taking place against a confluence of escalating political worries by public officials, who are seeking to diffuse social and racial demands for justice.

Even before the Staten Island grand jury voted not to file charges against NYPD Officer Pantaleo, the family of Eric Garner had sought assurances from Loretta Lynch, the U.S. Attorney for New York's eastern district, that her office would initiate a federal investigation of Mr. Garner's homicide.  

Now that U.S. Attorney Lynch has commenced her nomination hearings in the U.S. Senate, the White House does not want to jeopardise the Lynch nomination by drawing attention to the political hot potato that the Eric Garner grand jury records almost certainly represent.

Indeed, U.S. Attorney Lynch has already been caught having omitted information from her sworn questionnaire, information pertaining to her controversial settlement of the money laundering case involving the banking giant HSBC.  Furthermore, the U.S. Department of Justice has leaked information to The New York Times that it plans to close its civil rights investigation in the Michael Brown shooting homicide without pressing federal charges against Ferguson P.D. Officer Wilson.  Since last summer, each of New York and Ferguson became a focus of immense protest activity directed at what activists charge are nation-wide, militaristic-style and race-based policing tactics that allow police officers to kill innocent citizens with impunity.  

Police reform protests subsided in New York following the unprovoked shooting deaths of two police officers in Brooklyn, which instigated a public backlash against protesters.  In the wake of increased tensions between City Hall and the NYPD, Mayor de Blasio has sought to appease the NYPD at the expense of the police reform movement, a platform he rhetorically said he shared, allowing him to, in part, win the 2013 mayoral race.

After rank and file NYPD officers, including at the urging of police unions, publicly shamed Mayor de Blasio by turning their backs on him and by hiring banners to be flown by airplanes over New York City with messaging directed to exert political pressure on Mayor de Blasio, the last thing officials with the de Blasio administration wants to see is police reform activists outraged anew by the release of the records in the Eric Garner grand jury proceedings, which would only serve as a reminder of justice denied.

Moreover, District Attorney Donovan has increased in prominence amongst the Staten Island electorate as a result of his role in Eric Garner case, so much so that District Attorney Donovan is now campaigning to fill the Congressional seat vacated by former U.S. Representative Michael Grimm (R-Staten Island).  District Attorney Donovan's campaign is complicated by criticisms that he failed to include lesser charges, in particular, reckless endangerment, in his instructions to the grand jury in the Eric Garner case.  District Attorney Donovan's mishandling of the Eric Garner case has led to widespread criticisms that district attorneys are conflicted in their investigation and prosecutions of cases of officer-invovled misconduct and crimes, including homicides.  The early release of the Eric Garner grand jury records would act to undermine District Attorney Donovan's campaign for Congress, some police reform activists say.  Aware of the potential for electoral disaster, District Attorney Donovan has demanded that Democrats not make an issue of the Eric Garner grand jury decision in his Congressional campaign.

On Friday, Progress Queens asked U.S. Attorney for New York's southern district, Preet Bharara, if his office could assign a team of prosecutors to investigate the systemic lack of accountability within the NYPD and then to propose reforms, similar to what his office has been able to achieve with great critical acclaim in respect of problems with accountability and correctional officer-involved misconduct at Rikers Island.  However, U.S. Attorney Bharara told Progress Queens that he believed that sufficient oversight existed over the NYPD.  Nonetheless, U.S. Attorney Bharara noted that, during his time as Manhattan's top federal prosecutor, his office has had to prosecute and send 20 police officers to jail for crimes, an admission on the part of federal authorities that goes to the heart of criticisms by police reform activists, namely, that local district attorneys are incapable of investigating and prosecuting cases of police officer-involved misconduct.

In New York City, district attorneys and trial judges of the Supreme Court of New York generally each run for office with the consent and assistance of the county political organizations.  Judge Garnett, originally from Brooklyn Supreme Court, runs for election and reëlection for office with the consent of the Brooklyn Democratic Party, just as will Kenneth Thompson, when District Attorney Thompson runs for reëlection as the Brooklyn District Attorney.  As demonstrated by Mayor de Blasio, elected officials and the political apparatus that support elected officials do not have the political will to challenge police unions on issues of reform.  Consequently, it's not known how independent Supreme Court justices truly are when it comes to hearing cases involving NYPD officer-involved crimes, including homicide.  As such, there are real questions as to whether political considerations are a factor in the serial delays in the hearings about the release of the Eric Garner grand jury records.

Governor Cuomo, who has sole discretion to call for special elections in New York state,  has yet to make an announcement of when the special election to replace U.S. Representative Grimm will take place.  

In a separate announcement, Governor Cuomo has proposed minor reforms to how NYPD cases would be handled.  However, Governor Cuomo's proposal would keep the authority of the prosecution of police misconduct cases within the offices of district attorneys, a move that would certainly propagate further conflicts of interests.

New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to be force to step down

In a deal announced Tuesday night, the Democratic Party conference of New York State Assemblymembers confronted Speaker Sheldon Silver with a demand :  that he either step down from the speakership or else Democratic Assemblymembers would take action to replace him.  Not one to give up, Speaker Silver said that he would not step down, forcing Democratic Party Assemblymembers to announce that Speaker Silver would be replaced by a vote scheduled for Monday, February 2, in which Assemblymember Joseph Morelle (D-Rochester), the Majority Leader, is expected to serve as an interim speaker, until the Assembly holds a formal election for a permanent speaker on Tuesday, February 10.

Amongst the candidates seeking to be selected as permanent speaker is Assemblymember Catherine Nolan (D-Ridgewood).

Update on Queens delegation survey regarding Speaker Silver

In a shameful insult to each of public transparency and to their own constituents, the entire Queens delegation refused to answer a Progress Queens survey about delegation members' respective support, or lack of support, for Speaker Silver.  

El silencio del Fiscal General Schneiderman sobre la corrupción

No es aceptable que el fiscal general del estado Eric Schneiderman se mantienen silencio sobre la corrupción gubernamental.

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