Intro by George Capsis
“Hi George, I am calling you from a cell” were the words spoken to me from the first cell that attorney Arthur Schwartz had ever been in.
Later taken in handcuffs from the 6th precinct out onto 10th Street, he experienced the searing humiliation of eyes asking “what crime did that man commit.” And the humiliation continued when police escorted him into the Criminal Court where he had reassuringly brought dozens of clients like me to be arraigned and tried. Now he was the criminal. Court clerks who knew him looked surprised and stunned—“why was attorney Arthur Schwartz in handcuffs, what did he do?”
Arthur Schwartz had made an error in judgment—he had assumed that an amoral landlord who had contrived to get a ninety-two-year-old tenant committed to a nursing home and then installed surveillance cameras had simply gone too far. Schwartz removed the cameras—and became a victim of those who can afford and relish the abuse of law.
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Exclusive—In His Own Words!
By Arthur Z. Schwartz
Since Ruth Berk got home, I have dedicated myself, as her Guardian, to bringing about the repairs that her apartment has needed for twenty years. The situation has been so bad, for so long that one can look back to a decision by now retired Justice Sarah Lee Evans, in 1996, awarding Ruth Berk an eight year 50% rent abatement, and $62,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees, because of the horrible conditions. Since then the Landlord, Lloyd Goldman, has gone on an amazing campaign to evict the Berks from their amazing fifteenth floor terraced apartment. There have been a dozen eviction actions brought, some alleging non-payment and others alleging that the Berks are a nuisance.
On June 4, the landlord’s attorney, Jessica Berk’s attorney, Yetta Kurland, and I had a conference with Judge Tanya Kennedy, who is overseeing all Ruth Berk matters, and I asked that she order all repairs to be made, and she did. Jessica Berk had told me that surveillance cameras were watching the apartment; when I asked on the 4th that they be removed the landlord’s lawyer said that there weren’t any cameras. On June 18 we met at the apartment to assess the work to be done. At the end Jessica Berk pointed out the surveillance cameras, which were extremely obvious, and which pointed, from 5 different angles, directly inside the Berk apartment. (continued below)
Frankly, I was outraged. So as I said to the press, as Ruth’s guardian, I took appropriate action to abate what I perceived to be both harassment and an inappropriate invasion of privacy. I did no damage. In the end I had five unplugged cameras in a bag, which I intended to deposit with Judge Kennedy or with the Attorney General’s Tenant Harassment Unit. I also called Community Affairs Officer James Alverici at the 6th Precinct and told him what I had done; I was aware that Community Affairs had looked at, and disturbed the cameras a month earlier. He said he would get back to me.
A half hour later he called me and told me that Sophia Lamas, the building manager at 95 Christopher, had come in to file a complaint. He said that she had been told that it was a civil matter and that no complaint would be processed. An attempt by the Landlord’s lawyer to get Judge Kennedy involved was rebuffed later that day. I sent the cameras on to the AG’s office, with a harassment complaint.
Fast forward to July 9. I get a call from a Detective Massey from the 6th Precinct telling me that Sophia has come back, after reading an article about the camera removal in Westview, and that I had to turn myself in on a grand larceny charge, or have a warrant issued.
I called a lawyer, James Roth of Stampur and Roth, the best criminal defense guys I know. I emailed Corey Johnson, City Council Member and State Senator Brad Hoylman. By the end of Friday, after I showed that the five cameras were only worth a total of $550 (grand larceny is $1000 plus), and the Precinct got tons of calls, I was told that I would get a Desk Appearance ticket. But at 7:30 that night I got a call that our new 6th Precinct Commander, Captain John Simonetti, wanted me to go through Central Booking, holding cell in the Tombs and all.
So on Tuesday at 8am, after some great press reaction, I went in to the 6th Precinct with my wife, and met Detective Massey, who put me in a cell for three hours, no handcuffs. He then said we were going to Central Booking at 100 Centre Street.
I was handcuffed, behind my back, and stuffed into the back seat of a car with the cuffs digging deeply into my wrists. At 100 Centre, I was photographed and fingerprinted (cuffs off, thank goodness), and then recuffed and marched up to the hallway outside the arraignment courtroom. There I met judges who I knew and lawyers who I knew, and a handful of people who said they had seen a piece on Channel 4 and were supportive.
That was at noon. It took till 2:30 pm for me to get called into a courtroom, and another forty-five minutes to have my case called. I was cuffed through it all, even when I faced the judge, something I had never experienced. I didn’t enter a plea because it involved a felony; instead I was given a grand jury date! Yes, in order to move forward the DA would have to get me indicted. We immediately notified the judge that I would testify at the grand jury. Photographers were in the courtroom, and the press circled me on my way out the door. Even the reporter from the Post told me that his paper was on my side.
As I write this, at 11:30 pm, I have two reactions. First, I believe that what I did was appropriate. I stopped a ninety-two-year-old woman from being harassed. I was doing my job, and I had been rebuffed when I asked “please.” I can’t wait to retain counsel for Ruth who will sue the landlord and his managing agent both to stop the harassment, stop the lawsuits, and pay Mrs Berk some damages. (I am guardian so I can’t be counsel—in Court I am Mrs. Berk).
I am also annoyed that we have a CO at the 6th Precinct who reversed what his detectives had agreed to, and who thumbed his nose at Council Member Johnson and State Senator Hoylman (and me, an elected community leader.) I may just start a campaign to make his stay in our community as short-lived as possible. Perhaps next month the front page of WestView can say: Simonetti must go. He is a friend of landlords, and decided in my case to get tough on a do-gooder.
Understand dear neighbors: I don’t mind being arrested. If that is what it takes to achieve justice I will take an arrest. But the charges and the arrest here were totally unnecessary. The landlord should be charged with Harassment in the Second Degree and Ms. Lamas should be charged with Filing a False Instrument, claiming that the five cameras involved were worth $4000. This fight is far from over!
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