PRO BONO BARRISTER: Justice Knipel to guide Columbian Lawyers through maze of new e-filing system

October 26, 2012 By Charles F. Otey For Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Few new trends have hit the legal profession as fast and as hard as the one driven by internet technology. So the members of the Columbian Lawyers of Kings County – especially those who think Quark is a quirk– are in for a timely treat at their next session set for the evening of Nov. 7 at the Rex Manor on Eleventh Ave. here in Brooklyn.

That’s the night when special guest Kings County Supreme Court Justice Lawrence Knipel will give his invaluable views of how Internet access has radically changed legal procedures, according to program co-chairs Justice Anthony Cutrona and Marc Longo.

Justice Knipel – who has handled some of the most complex parts in Kings Supreme, including med-mal matters, knows his way around the cyber world, and his insights will help the Columbians use, but not confuse, this ever evolving technology.

Is it any longer possible to operate as a solo practitioner or a small firm without a thorough grounding in Internet access? Of course not!

In fact, we know a few barristers who decided to take an earlier retirement rather than make the confusing, complex change-over by employing some bright teenager who could convert all their case files to an acceptable web program.

More realistically, Justice Knipel will deal with E- filing of pleadings and other documents and there’s always the tricky issue of which e-mails are “discoverable” and which are not.

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Hon. Sunshine Tours Borough Explaining e-Filing Methods

Kings County Clerk Nancy Sunshine has made heroic efforts in the past few years to address various bar groups on the intricacies of e- filing. One of these groups has been the Bay Ridge Lawyers Association, headed by President Pasqualino Russo.

Here’s part of a newspaper report by Jamie Mallette on the substance of what the Hon. Sunshine said that night: “The New York State Courts Electronic Filing (NYSCEF) System was implemented to make filing easier and court documents more accessible. A lawyer can now file cases 24 hours a day, seven days a week, with no additional cost.”

Just 10 years ago, 24-hour-per-day filing would have been regarded by most attorneys as science fiction! Today the NYSCEF system allows law firms to print the pages of their documents anywhere! No longer are they limited to going to the clerk’s office to examine the files.

Even a visit to the Kings Supreme web site may be overwhelming for attorneys who started out in the days when pleadings had to be typed out – perfectly — and in triplicate on carbon paper!

This is a typical advisory entry viewable on the court website: “Cases Commenced via NYSCEF: Cases that are commenced by filing of the initial papers with NYSCEF are identified as e-filed cases by assignment of a special index number (i.e. cases beginning with 500,000; tax certiorari proceedings will remain 400,000). The Supreme Court’s Civil Case Information System (“CCIS”) will further identify e-filed cases by the addition of a suffix to the index number (e.g. 500136/2006E). This suffix should be used on all documents filed with the court in e-filed matters.”

(I’d like to know what legendary trial veteran Irv Kosover said when he saw this item!)

But have no fear. When County Clerk Sunshine appeared before the Bay Ridge Lawyers a month or so ago, her e-performance got rave reviews. We’re sure the same will happen when Justice Knipel unravels the mystique of this modern marvel of communication on Nov. 7 at the Rex Manor.

The affable, articulate Bruno F. Codispoti is president of the Columbian Lawyers Association of Brooklyn this year, aided by a stellar slate consisting of First Vice President Robert J. Musso, Second Vice Pres. Bartholomew Russo, Third Vice President Rose Ann C. Branda, Treasuerer Mark Longo, Corresponding Secretary Dean G. Delianites, Recording Secretary Linda Locascio and Historian Aldo Alleva. Msgr. David Cassato is chaplain, while the immediate past president is Dominic Famulari.

Publicity Chair Greg Cerchione – who made a cameo appearance at the recent dramatic Inns of Court “civility” presentation (directed by impressario Dave Chidekel) — reminds all Columbians and guests that the event, featuring a delicious dinner, begins promptly at 6 p.m.

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Steve’s Big Pumpkin Party At Juniors on the Way!

It may be a day or so after Halloween, but that won’t dull the excitement the morning of Nov. 2 when Steve Cohn & Co. stage their big pre-election breakfast party at the original Juniors on Flatbush Avenue starting before 8 a.m.!
Collegiality and good food — with an extra dollop of anticipation stirred by the upcoming (Nov. 6) election — will be the positive themes as leaders of the political, civic and educational establishment meet and greet under the most civil of circumstances.
Attorney Cohn, as readers know, is one of the state’s outstanding volunteer lawyers and heads the 110-year-old Seneca Club with the aid of his photogenic son, Warren, and other respected Kings figures.
Steve’s partner, Dick Goldberg, is pitching in as usual, and they can all be contacted by telephone at (718) 875 2400 by those inquiring about tickets and other background on the popular get-together which is a must-attend for those who are – and might become – leaders in their respective areas of endeavor.

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Brooklyn Bar Foundation Offers Much-Needed Public Forum

Once again reaching out to people who may not be able to afford good legal advice, the Brooklyn Bar Association Foundation Law Committee is at the forefront of a valuable offering set for Tuesday, Nov. 8, at BBA headquarters. According to Foundation Chair Fern Finkel an expert panel will hold an open forum on “Landlord/Tenant Law in New York City.”

Few cities across the nation have housing laws with the complexities or ours, which underlie the often-tense relationship between owners and renters. The city’s “rent control law” is the bane of some landlords and most developers, and a boon for those who just happened to sign leases in multiple dwellings between the end of World War II and the early 1970s.

Today, most such apartments have been decontrolled (although many are subject to the more liberal rent stabilization law), but many people of limited means don’t know what the law requires, and this BBA presentation will answer many of their questions.”

All members of the public are invited to attend (this) informational lecture on building violations and rights of rent-stabilized tenants,” according to a BBA spokeswoman.

On the speakers’ panel will be Jamie Lathrop, foreclosure director of the BBA Volunteer Lawyers Project; Jeffrey McCready, a court attorney in the part of the Civil Court dealing with Landlord and Tenant law; and Dina Luck, senior staff attorney, MFY Legal Services, dealing with the “Rights of Rent-Stabilized Tenants in New York City.”

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Hagan Shares L & T Expertise With Bay Ridge Lawyers

Some “L & T” programs – such as the above — are open to the public, others are limited to professionals, such as the one offered a few days ago by the Bay Ridge Lawyers Association.

Sam Hagan, one of Brooklyn’s top landlord/tenant authorities addressed the Bay Ridge Lawyers Association Wednesday night at Hunter’s Steak House, sharing the benefit of the expertise he has developed after three decades of practice in that challenging, hard-scrabble arena.

Corresponding Secretary Stephen Spinelli reported that attorney Hagan’s topic, “What every real estate lawyer should know about landlord/tenant law,” was an especially valuable one for lawyers even for those who have some experience in the tough L & T area.

This writer would suggest that just about every practicing attorney could learn some valuable lessons from Hagan, a one-time president of the Bay Ridge Lawyers Association, led this year by President Pasqualino Russo.

Relatives, friends and clients regularly ask barristers qestions about apartment rental leases, getting back deposits or how to evict a tenant who may be breaking the law in some way. Sam Hagan has the answers – and courtroom experience – to give a professional response and his efforts are much appreciated by his colleagues in the BRLA.

Other officers assisting President Russo this year are Vice President Joann Monaco, Secretary Lisa Becke, and Treasurer Grace M. Borrino. Immediate past president is Helen Z. Galette.

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D.A. Hynes’ Age Won’t Be a Factor Next Year

Attorneys are like everyone else, especially when it comes to getting some visible “face time” on television and in other media. This natural temptation is believed to be a motivating factor in the recent campaign announcement by barrister Kenneth Thompson. He did an attention-getting job of going public for his client in the notorious criminal case involving international financier Dominique Strauss-Kahn who was initially charged with sexually assaulting a housekeeper at a ritzy Manhattan hotel.
Initially it looked like it would be easy for the Manhattan District Attorney to win a conviction based on the charges presented to them by Thompson’s client, Nafissatou Diallo. But powerful and wealthy Strauss-Kahn roared back, poking holes in Ms. Diallo’s story and undermining her credibility.

Aware that his Ms. Diallo’s claim was about to be abandoned by the Manhattan District Attorney, Thompson began to call press conferences where he would describe in sometimes uncomfortable detail exactly what he believed had been done to his client and the extremes (unspecified) to which Strauss-Kahn’s attorneys were going in probing her background.

During his unsuccessful make-believe “public trial” of Strauss-Kahn, some reporters asked Thompson whether his posturing in that hotly-covered case, was his way of bringing his name into the political arena for a possible run against incumbent Brooklyn D.A. Charles (Joe) Hynes.

While the Diallo matter was pending, Thompson denied that he was planning to enter elective politics. And, here’s how he was quoted recently in a New York Times story written by Mosi Secret, following his official filing to run for Kings D.A. “I stood up for a victim of a sex crime. That had nothing to do with political aspirations.”

D.A. Hynes, elected in 1989 and re-elected through 2009, has prosecuted some very unpopular cases – often involving prominent politicians, members of his own (Democratic) party. Several are now in jail. He won acclaim in the 1980s for his work as a special prosecutor, when he unearthed and indicted many key figures in the nursing-home industry scandal.

Typically, would-be opponents have tried to assert that D.A. Hynes, 77, has not gone after some alleged wrongdoers for political reasons or that he’s been in office too long. Other than these traditional charges, his record is probably as good, perhaps better, than that of former long-reigning Manhattan D.A. Henry Morgenthau, who ran in his 80s and won.

Mr. Thompson is the second challenger – the first being 34-year-old Abe George who left a position in the Manhattan D.A.’s office – and more attorneys will likely join the fray. Even if a strong, well-financed candidate appears, the incumbent’s age won’t be a factor.

What voters may be interested to learn, however, is the growing number of much-needed neighborhood offices D.A. Hynes has established throughout our huge borough, a presence welcomed by leaders from all over Kings County. Or the special emphasis he has placed on domestic abuse putting the Kings D.A’s office on the cutting edge of a crisis brewing behind closed doors throughout the city.

One thing is sure about George and Thompson – they’re running their campaigns on the cheap, strictly by press release. Members of the press like to believe that everyone announcing her candidacy is a legitimate candidate until the election. This is a troubling assumption, especially in the campaigns of this ambitious duo.

Real candidates do more than take pot shots at sitting district attorneys. They open offices, get out mailings, set up phone banks, hire professional advisors. And, what often proves more difficult for some erstwhile “reformers,” they gather thousands of qualifying petitions signed by registered voters within the district of their campaign.

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Will Challengers ‘Qualify’ For Ballot In 2013?

In reality, neither Thompson or George can even qualify as serious ballot candidates until the petition-gathering period in mid-2013! While some press people, eager for inflammatory copy, now bill them as “not yet on the ballot” (an actual quote), they’ve got a very long way to go.

Appropriately, D.A. Hynes decided to point out a few things to my unsuspecting colleagues in the Fourth Estate and fire his own broadside (which appeared in a place called the NY Patch). The incumbent noted that George, for instance, “has never even held a single supervisory position in law enforcement.”

Normally, veteran office holders ignore early aspirants, but Hynes made an exception in George’s case. “I wish we could have waited until we had ballot access [next summer] instead of giving him any kind of platform when he has no understanding of the issues,” Hynes stated.

Unquestioned is Hynes’ willingness to prosecute members of the legal and political establishment. It’s generally agreed he has brought to justice “more corrupt public officials and judges than any prosecutor in New York’s history, including (County Democratic Leader) Assemblyman Clarence Norman in 2005 and Assemblywoman Diane Gordon in 2008…”

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PRO BONO BARRISTER is a weekly column dedicated to telling about the good that lawyers do. Send your comments or suggestions to this writer care of this newspaper or to [email protected].
Notice: Readers seeking legal representation on a Pro Bono Publico basis should not contact this columnist. Rather, they should seek out the Brooklyn Bar Association Volunteer Lawyers Project at 718 -624-3894.

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