Monday, January 30, 2006
WILL JEFF FELDMAN DO THE ABRAMOFF?
By Maurice Gumbs. January 4, 2006
"Words will not ever be able to express my sorrow and my profound regret for all my actions and mistakes. I hope I can merit forgiveness from the Almighty and those I've wronged or caused to suffer. I plead guilty, your honor” (Lobbyist Jack Abramoff, January 3, 2006). According to the plea agreement, prosecutors will recommend a sentence of 9 1/2 to 11 years, providing he cooperates with federal prosecutors.”
Jeff Feldman, Executive Director of the Kings County Democratic Club, and chief advisor to County Leader Clarence Norman is facing the toughest decision of his life.
If he hasn’t done it already, within a few days or hours, Jeff will have to decide whether to follow in the footsteps of Mr. Abramoff and bargain for a reduced jail sentence or to hang tough and hope for a miracle.
Tampering with judicial elections through Bribery and Extortion is not an offense that escapes with just a token punishment. In fact, there may have been enough basis for a Federal RICO probe which considered conspiracy charges against Clarence, Jeff, and even Professor Boonie III.
Setting an excruciatingly painful example is evidently the only way to deter those who are intent on making a profit out of the Judicial system. So even with a reduced sentence, Jeff is likely to do at least 4 years in prison. But on the other hand, a conviction after trial could land him in the slammer for twice as many years.
According to reports, Jeff has retained one of the top criminal lawyers in the United States at the kind of fee which usually requires taking out a mortgage on a home. Attorney Branfman is a blue-blood lawyer usually retained by the rich and famous like Michael Jackson.
Jeff has already tested Judge Marcus with requests for Appellate review and dismissal of the charges against him. The Appellate Judges studied and rejected his arguments, agreeing with Judge Marcus' scholarly, well-researched brief justifying a trial. That statement of Law has now provided a clear and certain roadmap for the DA’s office to follow in its prosecution.
FOOTNOTES had always considered the bribery/extortion trial to be the only one of the 4 trials which was a toss-up. Two of the four have now been decided. Our assessment was that a third, the travel-voucher fraud had already decided when Assemblyman Roger Green pleaded guilty to an identical crime. Bet the bankroll on that one when it comes up. Short and bitter verdict from the jury.
We initially felt that the allegations by the former judges appeared to be a situation where judicial candidates violated the “caveat emptor” rule. Because they were judges they should have known better. In effect, they entered into a deal with individuals who were already known, or at least reputed, to be dishonorable and corrupt.
They chose to involve themselves with two or more shady characters in order to get an edge over their competition. However, apparently, the fact that these women may have been victims of a crime because of their own folly, does not change the fact that a crime was committed.
More to the point is the prosecution’s argument that these sitting judges believed they had no choice but to Obey and Pay. Or Obey and Sell a Piece of Your Court. Jurors do not live in a vacuum, and there is the strong possibility that some, if not all of them have heard the story of Surrogate Court Judge Margarita Lopez Torres.
That story is a gross and vivid confirmation that this type of intimidation and extortion by the County leadership indeed does exist. In fact, at this point in time, probably 90% of Kings County residents have been convinced that the Kings County Democratic Leadership and their cronies have totally corrupted Brooklyn’s Judiciary system.
There are sitting judges like Bernie Graham and judicial candidates like Ingrid Joseph who have chosen to remain silent. All it takes for evil to prevail is for honest men and women to remain silent. All it takes for Brooklyn’s Courts to remain tainted with corruption is for judges and judicial candidates to remain silent.
Ms. Joseph was the front-runner in a Brooklyn Civil Court race in 2004 when County Leader Clarence boldly and openly stated that he would take steps to punish her as a demonstration that candidates could not defy or disobey the County Leader. Like Judge Lopez-Torres, Ms Joseph could also have become a shining symbol if she had the courage and integrity to speak out.
Judge Graham who was the beneficiary of Joseph’s destruction could also have provided a profile in courage by describing the arrangements made with Carl Andrews, Moses Musa, and Clarence in order to inherit the support of the County. And Maxine Archer, another candidate in that race could also have come forward and explained her deal with Clarence.
Attorney Branfman cannot possibly take much pleasure in defending a client who is accused of intimidating and scamming judges. Branfman is no Ed Rappaport. Unlike Easy Ed, Branfman has an impeccable reputation to maintain. That reputation is hardly enhanced when he is knocked around by an unknown prosecutor in a nickel and dime bribery and extortion trial.
Branfman would not have had Clarence take the witness stand. He would not have depended on Diane Gordon to be his chief witness. His almost perfect record of victories was not accomplished by gambling. We have to believe that he will convince Jeff to take a plea.
We expect that attorney Branfman has been brutally blunt with Jeff and his wife Judge Marsha Steinhardt about the defendant’s situation. The following are some of the insurmountable roadblocks to an Innocent verdict for Jeff.
1. Thanks to the lost appeal, the Law governing this case has been already articulated by Judge Marcus. It is Judge Marcus who will send the jury out with instruction as to what constitutes Extortion and Bribery. It is his rules that jury members will bring to each other’s attention on the way to making a decision. And it is now clear from the two preceding cases that Marcus is quite proficient at explaining the Law to jurors.
2. For the first time in these trials a jury will get to see the actual victims of the crime committed. That is bad news for Jeff. Particularly when these victims will be women. Women who claimed that they were intimidated and abused by men who were twisting their arms and threatening them into giving up large sums of money. There will be several women on that jury, Black as well as White, who will identify with these witnesses from their own personal experiences. Whether it was with an auto mechanic, a bullying husband, a pocketbook snatcher.
3. These 2 or 3 female witnesses will be supremely credible. They will be judges with impeccable reputations, who are comfortable with appearances in Court. Any attempt to smear them is likely to be offensive to the jury.
4. A major setback for Jeff is the fact that William Boonie III, an alleged professor at Medgar Evers College will probably be called to the witness stand by the prosecution. Boonie was one of Clarence's team whom the judges had to give thousands of dollars for what the judges felt was a scam. Boonie’s testimony will once again bury the defendants. As a side effect, listening to this nutty professor will once more raise questions about whether he belongs in a College or a Comedy show.
5. By the time they are required to make a decision, these jurors will all be aware that Clarence Norman has already been convicted on two felonies. In fact, by that time, the sentencing phase for the first two convictions should be completed and Clarence might be arriving in Court from prison each day, and leaving in handcuffs for his cell after each session. Being a co-defendant with someone who has already been convicted of 2 sets of felonies will hardly be helpful to Jeff.
6. Finally, at some point it will become clear in the minds of the jurors that Clarence did not invent corruption, and is not the only one who has corrupted the judicial system. There was Grand Jury testimony by the witnesses about their conversation with Jeff during the “extortion”. As we recall, part of that discussion found Jeff telling the witnesses that he was just representing his “Principal.” And Jeff might be tempted to use the alibi that he was only a loyal servant or messenger for Clarence, the County Leader.
That won’t fly at this trial. At the Diane Gordon Stolen Check trial, Attorney Rappaport made a strong case for Clarence being simple-minded. So it won’t be surprising if the jury quietly comes to the conclusion that Jeff Feldman was really the brain behind the operation and the one who actually made the major decisions. Especially when it came to White candidates. And guess what? Black jurors particularly are never going to believe that Clarence, a Black man was giving orders to Jeff Feldman about arrangements to be made with White judges. No Way!!
So now we have a situation where two predominantly Black juries have convicted Clarence of crimes. In spite of the impressive presence of his father Reverend Norman, his wife, deacons, deaconesses, and other Church members gazing at them each day. These Black jurors have made their decision with sadness, and sometimes with tears.
Now along comes Jeff Feldman, a White man. No doubt there will once more be a predominantly Black jury. Attorney Branfman undoubtedly appreciates exactly what the Black members of that jury will be thinking. He will also probably predict that the White minority on that jury will understand and agree with their Black colleagues. Jeff Feldman on trial could have as much chance as a snowball in Hell... And his lawyer may already have given him Abramoff’s confession to read so he could develop some lines of his own.