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Kevin Spacey is Clarence Darrow: What We Can Learn From the “Attorney for the Damned”

June 27, 2017

  To be an effective criminal defense counsel, an attorney must be prepared to be demanding, outrageous, irreverent, blasphemous, a rogue, a renegade, and a hated, isolated, and lonely person – few love a spokesman for the despised and the damned. These words of Clarence Darrow (1857 – 1938), America’s most famous trial lawyer, transcend time.  The challenges Darrow confronted in and outside the courtroom over 100 years ago are the same for criminal defense attorneys today. Dubbed the “attorney for the damned,” Darrow represented the innocent and the depraved, the wealthy and the penniless, all the way defending each the same because he believed that every human life was worth saving.  His efforts helped spare 102 defendants the death penalty.  Darrow pleaded with judges and jurors that only by overcoming hate with love and by employing logic and reason instead of contempt and prejudice, could we hope to progress as a society and fulfill our human potential for greatness. Darrow did not claim to be righteous or wise; he was aware of his own misgivings, believing he, like all men, were capable of doing both well and ill.  He was agnostic, believing the fallibility of human knowledge prevented the certainty of God’s existence.  That said, his firm belief in human mortality and the indivisible nature of the human spirit fueled his relentless efforts to bring civilization to a higher level and distinguished his place in American history as a formidable champion for life. Just over a week ago, our team at Varghese & Associates had the privilege of experiencing Kevin Spacey bring Darrow’s story to life in a one-man show performed in Arthur Ashe Stadium at the US Tennis Center in Queens.  For 90 minutes, Spacey breathtakingly recounted some of Darrow’s most renowned cases and delivered bits from the great speeches Darrow used to win over the hearts and minds of juries, judges, and the public. Spacey first walked us through Darrow’s representation of Eugene V. Debs, arrested on conspiracy charges for organizing the American Railway Union strike in 1893.  Darrow delivered a pointed, principled description of the restrictive, oppressive nature of the conspiracy statute that unfortunately still holds true today: Conspiracy from the days of tyranny in England down to the day the railroads use it as a club, has been the favorite weapon of every tyrant. It is an effort to punish the crime of thought. If there are still any citizens interested in protecting human liberty, let them study the conspiracy laws of the United States which have grown until today no one’s liberty is safe…This is not the first time that evil men—men who are themselves criminals—have conspired to use the law for the purpose of bringing righteous ones to death or jail! Darrow said Debs’ case would be an historic one, serving as a reminder that the law, simply because it is written, is not necessarily just.  Darrow believed that citizens needed to fight to preserve liberty against those who would infringe upon it. Fighting to preserve liberty is the work of a criminal defense lawyer and so is the necessity of sometimes defending […]

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When the Villain Has a Badge

June 13, 2017

In the 1980s and 1990s, Louis Scarcella was the best homicide detective in New York City.  In an era demanding law enforcement to be tough on crime, Scarcella, well-dressed and charismatic, made a name for himself by solving some of the most high-profile murders.  Scarcella charmed witnesses and juries and easily secured confessions and convictions.  Scarcella was said to be able to get things the other detectives couldn’t.  In 1990, one of these investigations led Scarcella to David Ranta, who was convicted for shooting holocaust survivor and Hasidic rabbi, Chaskel Werzberger—Mr. Ranta got a life sentence.  At the time, no one stopped to consider whether his investigations were too good to be true.  After all, the Brooklyn DA’s office needed to demonstrate they were doing something about crime and Scarcella was serving them murderer after murderer on a shiny silver platter.  With each conviction, the DA was one step closer to appeasing the public panic brought about by the crack epidemic plaguing the streets of New York.   Twenty years later, public attitude has somewhat shifted as there has been some focus on wrongful convictions and a push to reform the criminal justice system.  In response, in 2011, the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office under Charles Hynes established its “Conviction Integrity Unit” (CIU) to review potentially problematic cases.  Many questions had surfaced surrounding several of Scarcella’s cases and the DA’s office announced it would review over fifty cases in which Scarcella played a chief role in the conviction.  So far, seven of these convictions have been overturned.  Scarcella manipulated the investigations to fit his narrative and send his suspects to prison, guilty or not. In 2013, David Ranta, after 23 years in prison, became the first of the Scarcella defendants freed.  The Brooklyn DA’s office concluded that Scarcella’s investigation did not add up, that Ranta did not belong behind bars, and asked a judge to release him.  Multiple convictions were then overturned.  As it turned out, Scarcella coerced or falsified confessions, and bribed or blackmailed witnesses to lie on the stand.  Some of these defendants said Scarcella beat them until they signed a confession, others that he manufactured it altogether.  Witnesses reported they were threatened with perjury, jail, and even losing their children, if they did not say what Scarcella told them to say.  Notably, Scarcella also relied on the testimony of one crack-riddled prostitute, Teresa Gomez, as his star witness in at least four different murder trials. Mr. Ranta was convicted despite a lack of physical evidence connecting him to the murder; his conviction stemmed instead from witness accounts and a confession, all of which since appear to have been coerced or plainly falsified by Scarcella.  An eyewitness testified that he was told by a detective—Scarcella was the lead detective on the case—to pick the man with “the big nose” out of a lineup, with Ranta being the only one fitting that description.  Two other witnesses admitted to explicitly lying in exchange for clemency in their own unrelated cases, and said that Scarcella had even accommodated them by having them leave jail to smoke crack and have sex with prostitutes in exchange for their testimony.  Mr. Ranta himself steadfastly maintained that Scarcella […]

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Bill O’Reilly, Bill Cosby, and the Endangered Species Known as Men

May 23, 2017

Happy May!   With the recent firing of Bill O’Reilly, the sordid tales of Bill Cosby and the “punishment” of the Stanford swimmer, the media has drawn massive attention to those accused of sexual misconduct and painted a terrible picture of these men, perhaps justifiably.  We here at Varghese & Associates wish, however, to highlight the plight of the many men whose lives have been devastated by false allegations of sexual misconduct.  Unless they have us defending them, these men are at risk of becoming an endangered species.  We highlight the problems men face by telling you about how we recently prevented the arrest of a client accused of sexual assault who we shall call “John.”  As you read this, remember that John could be your son, your brother, or your friend.     John is a successful, single man in his early 30’s.  John met a young woman about his age through his participation in a ballroom dancing league here in the City and they began a three-night sexual relationship in December.  Despite never calling her his “girlfriend,” the woman began texting John at all hours of the night.  One night, she showed up at his apartment unannounced at 3 am. John shared the apartment with two female roommates. After the woman woke everyone up by repeatedly ringing the bell, John’s roommates told her to leave John alone or they would call the police.  After that episode, he made it clear to the woman that he never wanted to see her again.   Despite ending their “relationship,” the woman continued to text him telling John of her unyielding affection for him.  When they would run into each other at ballroom dancing events, she made it extremely uncomfortable for him.  At one event, she bumped into him, spilling wine all over his shirt.  At another one, she followed John into the men’s room screaming at him over how he had broken her heart. At a third, when John wanted to leave after seeing her, she followed him for several blocks until he eluded her by running into a subway station. Finally, John, despite loving ballroom dancing, stopped attending these events.   The woman then took to disparaging him on Facebook, including on their group ballroom dancing page.  On her personal Facebook page, she started tagging John and linking him to articles about rape, including a New York Times article called “When a Rapist’s Weapon is a Drug.”   After he didn’t respond, she sought a restraining order in New York County Family Court against him.  In her petition, she claimed that John had raped her multiple times and listed dates of these alleged rapes.  On Facebook, she posted pictures of her inside the Family Court along with a photo of her petition.   You may ask why Family Court?  Several years ago, New York State legislators expanded the jurisdiction of the Family Court to allow those who had been in an “intimate relationship” to file for orders of protection aka restraining orders. Despite our client’s innocence, his reputation suffered due to her Facebook posts, and her public berating of him at the ballroom […]

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A Christmas Story: Our American Client Freed From Brazilian Prison

December 21, 2016

Happy Holidays! We are thrilled to announce that we were able to help free our client — just in time for Christmas and the New Year! After serving over three brutal years in prison, mostly in Brazil awaiting extradition to the United States, we were able to show a Manhattan federal judge why she should give him time served. Our client, an American citizen, had been living and working in Brazil for some time with his wife. While there, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York obtained through the State Department an extradition warrant for him to face financial crimes charges. While awaiting extradition, the Brazilian federal police incarcerated him, and the Brazilian court system held him for nearly three years. Our client wasn’t fighting extradition, but instead was left in diplomatic limbo as the American government squabbled with the Brazilian government over the extradition of our client. Vinoo Varghese, our principal, visited our client at the São Paulo Polícia Federal Jail and met with him to prepare for his defense in New York federal court. While waiting to be extradited, our client endured horrifying living conditions such as freezing temperatures in his cell, solitary confinement 23/24 hours a day, spoiled food, and fierce intimidation by both prison staff and gangs. He suffered severe insomnia, drastic weight loss and lived in constant fear of death. Weekly visits from his loving wife were his only solace. Our client returned to the United States a shell of his previous self, emaciated, and timid. Yet, the battle wasn’t over. He still faced up to another 17 years in jail, but we believed that he shouldn’t be incarcerated another day. So, we put together a sentencing mitigation package that the federal prosecutor said was the best he had ever seen. This package contained letters from numerous friends, colleagues, family members, and others including a Naval Officer, who came and spoke on our client’s behalf at the sentencing hearing. We also submitted reports from Human Rights Watchand The Economist about the deplorable conditions of Brazilian prisons. We were able to convince the judge that our client had suffered enough and she ordered him released and sentenced him to time served. A short while later, he was finally reunited with his wife, just in time for Christmas and the New Year. We are elated that our client is now able to resume his life with his wife as a free man. Our client embracing his wife as a newly freed man! Jailhouse in São Paulo, Brazil where Vinoo visited our client From the Team, Vinoo Varghese Tina McDonald Matthew De La Torre Katie Lanphere Giselle Muñoz

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Court Victory Against the IRS

August 24, 2016

A 6-year long ordeal for our client finally ended when a federal jury found him Not Guilty of All Charges last month. In previous newsletters we discussed how this client was tried and wrongfully convicted due to the testimony of a lying government witness. We fought to get him a new trial and succeeded when the federal District Court judge presiding over the case agreed with our view that the verdict was a “manifest injustice.” The government then appealed the judge’s decision granting a new trial to the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. We defended our client in the appellate court and won there too. Yet, despite our victories before the District Court and in the Second Circuit, the IRS kept going after our innocent client. Statistically, the IRS wins 99.75% of all cases they bring so they decided to try him again last month. We were there again to fight for him. After three weeks of trial, the jury deliberated less than 2 hours and cleared our client of all charges. Though statistically, we only had a .25% chance of winning, we prevailed and our client finally got the justice he deserved.   Defense team outside the Eastern District of New York Courthouse after our win. From Left: Joseph Caiazzo; Vinoo Varghese; our Client; Dennis Ring; & Katie Lanphere. Articles fromLaw360 about the trial win and our prior appellate victory can be found on our firm’s press page here. Special mentions and thanks are due to co-counsel Dennis Ring, our resident sage, Larry Sharpe, and our forensic accounting expert, David Gannaway.

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