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Practical Legal Reforms To Avoid Another George Floyd Death From Happening

There have been heinous deaths caused by police brutality before followed by righteous protests but any big structural change rarely seems to happen and the ugly pattern happens again and again without progress.

Nobody really talks about a major factor in play here and that’s MONEY. A legal doctrine created by the Supreme Court called ‘qualified immunity’ makes it extremely difficult for victims of police brutality to win civil rights excessive force civil cases and get monetary damages.

So when cops consistently win, municipalities save money and have no financial motive to reform police practices. Moral and societal motives should prevail, but that doesn’t always happen.  Hitting the police departments in the pocketbook when they resist reform often does work to accelerate reform. Changing that “qualified immunity” barrier in a civil rights case (by the Supreme Court or Congress) is a good place to start.

*The following is an initial list of proposed legal reforms regarding police brutality:

  1. Redefine qualified immunity.
  2. Require every alleged police brutality case be investigated and prosecuted by a special independent prosecutor or State Attorney General, not local prosecutors, because local prosecutors work hand in hand with local police in prosecuting all other criminal cases leading to an appearance of impropriety when investigating/prosecuting their “colleagues.”
  3. Establish a uniform, national definition of excessive force for purposes of police training.
  4. Allow release of prior disciplinary records of police officers to establish if there is a pattern of abuse.
  5. Outlaw chokeholds and knees on the necks of suspects.
  6. Bar police departments from obtaining tank-like vehicles and other military style equipment.
  7. Change the federal standard in police misconduct cases from “intent” to “recklessness” to make prosecutions against offending police officers more reasonable.
  8. Congress can pass a law requiring police to do uniformly standardized data collection regarding records of alleged police brutality/false arrest complaints and their dispositions.
  9. Congress can aggressively fund local police training regarding arrests, use of force and internal investigations.
  10. States can pass new laws regarding use of force standards, training and regulations for hiring and retaining police officers with checkered histories in the area of police misconduct.
  11. States can rethink arrests versus social service intervention.
  12. Local police departments must confront subcultures of officers who are prime for perpetrating misconduct, require transparency about instances of alleged misconduct and enforce constant training and retraining of reasonable standards to protect the public.
  13. Constant supervision, vigilance and review on the federal, state and local level evaluating both the procedures enacted and their results.
  14. VOTE. VOTE. VOTE. The public has the ultimate power to vote out any politician who does not favor and help enact the above reforms.

*Most of these proposals have been discussed in excellent commentaries by Governor Andrew Cuomo; Seth W. Stoughton, Jeffrey J. Noble and Geoffrey P. Alpert in The Atlantic (6/3/20); Various U.S. Senators as reported by Kristina Peterson and Andrew Duehren in the Wall Street Journal (6/3/20); President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing; Color of Change and Campaign Zero.

To find out more information about police brutality cases, please call me toll free at: (877) CALL-LAW® (225-5529) or (212) 714-0988.

Sheriff Brutality Right Here in the Bronx

Few New Yorkers even know that there is a New York City Sheriff. Deputy Sheriffs mostly serve court orders and seize property. They are also empowered to make arrests under the same rules and laws governing the NYPD. That’s where today’s true story begins.

My client was standing on a crowded public bus in the Bronx when his shopping bag brushed against a teenager who then started cursing and shoving my innocent client. A man in street clothes (an off-duty deputy sheriff) a few rows from the altercation got up, separated my client and the teenager then the deputy sheriff proceeded to follow my client off the bus at the next stop on the Grand Concourse. He never identified himself to my client as an off-duty deputy sheriff.

The deputy sheriff then pushed my client from behind as they exited the bus and my client pushed back then started running. The off-duty deputy sheriff chased him down and tackled him on the roadway median of the Grand Concourse, a very major thoroughfare.  My client, who weighed approximately 350 lbs. and had asthma, fell onto his stomach and was handcuffed behind his back while pleading “I can’t breathe”. The deputy sheriff walked 3 steps away from my handcuffed client (who was still face down on the ground), pulled his foot all the way back and delivered a hard, field goal-like kick to my client’s right eye and head. Fortunately, my client was not killed by the grace of the angle of the kick.

Unlike George Floyd or Eric Garner, there was no video evidence of this sickening brutality.  So, the deputy sheriff denied he kicked him and charges were filed against my client for the altercation with the teenager on the bus (though the teen fled the bus early on) resisting arrest and assaulting a law enforcement officer. My client suffered physical and psychological injuries.

During my investigation, I located a lawyer in a public legal assistance office who was on an adjacent stopped bus and witnessed the entire tackling and kicking incident through her bus window.

My client was acquitted on all criminal charges relating to his scuffle with the deputy sheriff, paving the way for my civil rights and battery lawsuit against the City of New York and the remorseless deputy sheriff (who testified under oath that this never happened). During the civil rights and battery case, I took the deposition testimony of the eyewitness (public interest lawyer) who consistently supported my client’s story. Just a few weeks before trial the City, on behalf of the sheriff’s office and the deputy sheriff, settled the case for a substantial sum. Due to the testimony of the eyewitness that I located during the early investigation of the case, justice was done. In the absence of real time video, the credible eyewitness was critical to proving brutality and misconduct by the deputy sheriff.

To find out more about your rights as a victim of police brutality, please call me toll free at (877) CALL-LAW® (225-5529) or (212) 714-0988.

Covid19 Nursing Home Negligence

Defining Nursing Home Abuse in NY

If you have a family member in a nursing home or long-term care facility, call the local Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program (advocates for patients) with any complaints or questions about your loved one.  It is a free service.

To find your local ombudsman program click here:  https://theconsumervoice.org/get_help

If you have questions about a possible nursing home negligence or wrongful death regarding a loved one in a nursing home or long term care facility contact Richard C. Bell today to schedule your initial free consultation and take the first steps toward getting the compensation you deserve. Call toll free at 877.CALL.LAW (225-5529) or call 212.714.0988.

Construction Worker Falls 30 Feet Down a Shaft When Wood Platform Collapses

When Profits Trump Safety

Construction work is by its very nature dangerous. Doing it in New York City is particularly difficult due to the volume of work, tight schedules  and nature of big city construction. These factors are why there are many safety rules and regulations as well as special legal protections for construction workers who perform their jobs from a height, i.e., while standing on scaffolds, ladders and raised platforms.

My client was an experienced union insulator worker during the construction phase of the new Staten Island Courthouse. He was working on the top floor assessing whether some wood planks over a ventilation shaft could be removed for use in another ventilation shaft. While standing on the wood plank platform, two of the boards suddenly wobbled and collapsed sending him down the open shaft. In a split second he was able to turn his body in a manner where he would fall 30 feet down onto an angle iron instead of falling the entire 100 feet depth of the shaft. He was very seriously injured, but survived.

He claimed that the area of shaft where he entered had no barricade. He also testified that he was looking for a place to tie off his safety lanyard but found no such tie off hooks or posts while standing on the planks. There were also no railings around the wood platform.

The lawsuit alleged numerous safety violations by the owners and contractors responsible for worksite safety. The parties sued claimed that they were not responsible and it was all the fault of my client.

After years of investigation, multiple depositions, exchange of hundreds of pages of documents and applications by the parties being sued to dismiss the case, the matter was ready for trial. Numerous settlement mediations failed within the year before trial. I fully prepared this complex case for trial against multiple defendants. With the trial clock ticking away, five days before jury selection the case settled for a very substantial sum of money.

The labor law is complicated despite certain special protections afforded to construction workers. What may sound like a simple set of facts, a 30 foot fall from a platform, was anything but simple. The parties disputed every one of my clients claims and produced their own employees who attempted to contradict his testimony and the testimony of his co-workers. There was no other road to take other than intense trial preparations to let the other side know we were ready for the upcoming jury trial. Justice is rarely found on a straight path. That’s why it’s called an adversarial system. The other side also fights tooth and nail. Never think the path to success in litigation is easy. That’s why an experienced trial attorney is so important when you bring a lawsuit. The other side needs to know you are willing to go to trial if necessary

To find out more information about construction site cases, please call me toll free at: (877) CALL-LAW® (225-5529) or (212) 714-0988. Also you may request a copy of my special report entitled “If You Are Injured at a Construction Site in New York… 10 Things You Need to Know”.

ATTENTION CONSTRUCTION WORKERS: You Have Special Legal Protections for Many Construction Site Accidents

Due to the dangers on construction sites in New York, construction workers here need special legal protections when they have unfortunate accidents on construction machinery, construction equipment or unsafe sites where such conditions cause them serious injuries or death. The law recognizes the increased risk for such workers and you need to exercise your special rights to the fullest extent of the law if you are involved in a construction site accident.

If you are a construction worker, you may think that if you are hurt on the job at a construction or renovation site that you are only entitled to workers’ compensations payments. That is WRONG in many cases.

The Labor of New York provides that construction workers injured on a job site may be entitled to sue the owner of the site and the general contractor of the project for pain and suffering, lost wages and medical costs in addition to receiving workers’ compensation payments for lost earnings and medical bills. The circumstances under which these laws apply vary, so you need to be aware of your special rights in particular situations.

EXAMPLE:

If you fall from a ladder or scaffold at a construction site or fall over construction materials/debris or are struck by a falling object from an building under construction or renovation resulting in injuries, you may be entitled to money damages from the owner and general contractor of the premises.

Special protection laws for construction workers apply under certain fact patterns that may allow you to collect substantial money for your pain and suffering and lost earnings, over and above workers’ compensation payments, either by way of settlement or jury verdict.

To find out more information about construction site cases, please call me toll free at: (877) CALL-LAW® (225-5529) or (212) 714-0988. Also you may request a copy of my special report entitled “If You Are Injured at a Construction Site in New York… 10 Things You Need to Know”.

Construction Worker Falls 30 Feet Down a Shaft When Wood Platform Collapses

When Profits Trump Safety

Construction work is by its very nature dangerous. Doing it in New York City is particularly difficult due to the volume of work, tight schedules  and nature of big city construction. These factors are why there are many safety rules and regulations as well as special legal protections for construction workers who perform their jobs from a height, i.e., while standing on scaffolds, ladders and raised platforms.

My client was an experienced union insulator worker during the construction phase of the new Staten Island Courthouse. He was working on the top floor assessing whether some wood planks over a ventilation shaft could be removed for use in another ventilation shaft. While standing on the wood plank platform, two of the boards suddenly wobbled and collapsed sending him down the open shaft. In a split second he was able to turn is body in a manner where he would fall 30 feet down onto an angle iron instead of falling the entire 100 feet depth of the shaft. He was very seriously injured, but survived.

He claimed that the area of shaft where he entered had no barricade. He also testified that he was looking for a place to tie off his safety lanyard but found no such tie off hooks or posts while standing on the planks. There were also no railings around the wood platform.

The lawsuit alleged numerous safety violations by the owners and contractors responsible for worksite safety. The parties sued claimed that they were not responsible and it was all the fault of my client.

After years of investigation, multiple depositions, exchange of hundreds of pages of documents and applications by the parties being sued to dismiss the case, the matter was ready for trial. Numerous settlement mediations failed within the year before trial. I fully prepared this complex case for trial against multiple defendants. With the trial clock ticking away, five days before jury selection the case settled for a very substantial sum of money.

The labor law is complicated despite certain special protections afforded to construction workers. What may sound like a simple set of facts, a 30 foot fall from a platform, was anything but simple. The parties disputed every one of my clients claims and produced their own employees who attempted to contradict his testimony and the testimony of his co-workers. There was no other road to take other than intense trial preparations to let the other side know we were ready for the upcoming jury trial. Justice is rarely found on a straight path. That’s why it’s called an adversarial system. The other side also fights tooth and nail. Never think the path to success in litigation is easy. That’s why an experienced trial attorney is so important when you bring a lawsuit. The other side needs to know you are willing to go to trial if necessary

To find out more information about construction site cases, please call me toll free at: (877) CALL-LAW® (225-5529) or (212) 714-0988. Also you may request a copy of my special report entitled “If You Are Injured at a Construction Site in New York… 10 Things You Need to Know”.

After a Devastating Election Loss, DON’T WHINE, VOLUNTEER

After a Devastating Election Loss, DON'T WHINE, VOLUNTEER

Dear Friends:

I spent the  weekend before election day and election day outside polling sites in Broward County, Florida on behalf of the Clinton campaign in my role as a volunteer lawyer poll observer.  My job was to observe, resolve and report voting issues that could lead to disenfranchisement of voters (disproportionately, as always, African-American and Latino voters).  I’ll share more about my Florida experiences a bit later in this blog post.

We may share the same feelings of shock and devastation at the defeat of Hillary Clinton.  I feel both shame and disappointment for the country I love so much.  The majority of the electoral college vote (popular vote totals aside), whether out of frustration or anger, chose hate, fear, racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism, misogyny, anti-immigrant fervor and bullying over our core values of equality, justice, fairness, diversity and generosity.  The seismic shock waves of this election will likely be felt for years to come by our fellow Americans and the world at large.

It is heartbreaking to imagine the nightmares that now may be realized by some of our most vulnerable neighbors.  Will the ignorant bullies at school feel even more emboldened to intimidate the little Muslim-American girl whose perceived threat to them is her different religion and culture?  Will the little Mexican-American boy whose parents are hard-working, undocumented immigrants lose sleep every night worrying that his parents will be taken away and deported?  Will the young African-American man continue to be the target of discriminatory profiling and violence both directly and systemically?  Will the vulnerable single mother lose her Obamacare and become a casualty of repeal without a plan?  Will the financially strapped blue collar worker become even more disheartened and disaffected if the promise of immediate  manufacturing and factory jobs turns out to be a hollow campaign promise?  Will the millennial entering the job market continue to drown under the debt of college loans?  Will the woman who now has choices have the clock turned back on Roe v. Wade and be denied the full services of Planned Parenthood?  Will respect for every woman be an ongoing casualty of the vile campaign run by the Republican President-elect?  Will our next generation’s environment be eviscerated by climate change deniers for the sake of fossil fuel energy company profits?

The frightening answers to these important questions and others do not only affect the above groups of Americans, but they affect every one of us who love freedom for all, justice for all, and equality for all.  In the words of the late civil rights hero Fannie Lou Hamer, “…NOBODY’S FREE UNTIL EVERYBODY’S FREE”.

My Florida poll observation experiences offer some insight into our challenges ahead.  On the bright side, my inside poll observer partner Liz and I were able to ensure that dozens of voters who were initially told by poll workers that they could not vote due to registration “technicalities” (a/k/a intentional or unintentional voter suppression) were eventually able to cast their votes after our interventions.

On the dark side, Liz and I observed numerous instances of systemic voter suppression created by laws established by Republican politicians and executed (intentionally or inadvertently) by  allegedly “nonpartisan” poll workers.  All of the suppression that we observed solely affected African-American and Latino voters.  Proving intent is always a high legal bar, but it is beyond my imagination to think the disparate impact upon minority voters was a mere coincidence.

Voter suppression is not a particularly sexy issue for most members of the media.  When Trump supporters allegedly blocked voters at a nearby poll on election day, the media gave it coverage because there were available pictures and a reported police response.  When systemic legal/technical issues happened at polls like mine, media attention was virtually non-existent because it is a far more nuanced story that cannot be described in a sound bite or captured in a photo or video.  The latter type of voter suppression is a much more prevalent, pernicious and systemic problem that can easily result in hundreds of thousands  or more votes not being cast nationwide.  The very votes that are not cast due to under the radar voter suppression can easily turn a swing state from blue to red.

To its credit, the Clinton voter protection headquarters was very responsive to our concerns at our polling place.  There was a prioritized effort to involve the appropriate election officials.  At times during the day things improved, but at other times it reverted back to the same suppression problems that we recognized earlier.  Vigilance by all poll observers is a never ending requirement to ensure fair and free elections.

When the polls closed, I read reports of similar problems of legal/technical suppression issues that were occurring in Miami-Dade County and Palm Beach County simultaneously with our experiences in Broward County.

We will never know if voter suppression efforts – intentional or inadvertent – changed the ultimate results in Florida, North Carolina and other swing states.  We do know that one vote suppressed in our democracy is one vote too many.  All eligible voters should be allowed to vote and all votes should be counted.  That’s called a free and fair election.

The next four years are not likely to unfold as we imagined when the pre-election pollsters and pundits assured us that a victory for Hillary was at hand.  The next administration will test our confidence in our government institutions and democratic principles.  We must be vigilant, focused and more active than ever in our participatory democracy moving forward.

I have a passion for protecting voting rights that led me to voter protection volunteer work at the polls and in the courts during the past twelve years.  The Al Gore voting debacle in Florida in 2000 woke me up to this stain on our democracy.  I hope my volunteer work makes our democracy a little better every election year.

Your passion for helping others may involve issues of child protection, domestic violence, elder care, homelessness, racism, education, animal rights  or an infinite variety of other societal problems.  There are so many wonderful organizations that are begging for you to volunteer your services to help others.  Just a few of those that come to mind are NationaPopularVote.com (reforming the electoral college to honor the popular vote without the necessity of an act of Congress), NAACP, Planned Parenthood, ACLU, National Coalition for the Homeless, Brennan Center for Social Justice, Southern Poverty Law Center, and ASPCA.  Also, any local organization that provides services for the most vulnerable among us would love to have you as a volunteer to ensure that we as a society one day eliminate domestic abuse, animal abuse, poverty, discrimination of all kinds, injustice, homelessness, bullying, educational inequality, unequal pay for women and hatred in any form.

Remember, we’re all in this together.  Social change and social justice is only achieved when we all do our part.  Our fellow residents of America need help.  They need lots of help.  Freedom comes with responsibility.  We each need to do our part until equality, justice and fairness becomes a reality for everyone living in America

Let’s make everybody free.  We’re Americans.  We get up when we’re knocked down and come back twice as strong.  Adversity creates character and the American character has no peer.

I implore you to adopt my new post-election motto:  DON’T WHINE, VOLUNTEER.

Respectfully,

 

Richard C. Bell, Esq.

Registered to Vote? Check Out Our Link for Your Status NOW

Registered to Vote? Check Out Our Link for Your Status NOW

Dear Friends,

We all know that we face a very critical election on November 8th. The stakes are so high that every citizen needs to cast a vote and have it counted.

Every election day, besides casting my ballot, I also volunteer to do legal voter protection work at polling places  or represent disenfranchised voters at court hearings. In the past, I have volunteered in Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. This year, I will be proudly standing up against voter suppression in Florida.

Today’s message is simple. To ensure that you exercise your sacred right to vote, you must be properly registered. Please confirm that you are registered to vote by clicking onto the following link and if you are not registered, please do so immediately.

http://www.canivote.org/

There are many problems arising in today’s world and if you want to be a part of the solution let your voice be heard with your vote this November. It’s your right to vote. It’s your duty to vote. It’s your way of standing up and being counted in our democracy.

Please share the above link with friends, family and co-workers.

Thank you.

Best Regards.

Bicycle Safety is a Matter of Life and Death in New York City

Bicycle

Virtually not a day goes by without a report about a bicyclist being injured or killed on the streets of New York City. It seems to get worse with the warm weather and the stream of tourists renting bicycles who are competing for traffic space with the bicycle commuters and messengers/delivery persons.

Two recent incidents illustrate just how critical bicycle safety has become in the boroughs. According to the New York Daily News, Leah Sylvain, a scenic artist riding her bicycle in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn was killed when struck by a fuel truck allegedly making a left in front of her and failing to yield her the right of way. The driver was arrested for his conduct at the scene. Ms. Sylvain apparently suffered head trauma leading to her death. She was not wearing a helmet.  This tragedy is another chapter in the story of seemingly endless bicycle-vehicle crashes in the city.

Similarly, the Greenwood section of Brooklyn was the site of a serious crash between an SUV and a bicycle, according to the New York Daily News, wherein a bicyclist allegedly suffered head trauma. The driver claimed that the bicyclist illegally passed a stop sign and struck the driver’s side rear section of the SUV.

If personal injury lawsuits or wrongful death lawsuits result from these incidents, the fault of the drivers and/or bicyclists will be determined. However, it is clear that trucks, cars and SUVs are no fair match for bicycles on our streets.

Please, if you are a bicyclist keep in mind that the tons of weight of motor vehicles will always wreck havoc with your light bicycle if there is contact. You must use extreme caution, extreme awareness and extreme patience when bicycling in the city. These safety measures may be the difference between life and death as you ride the city streets. You don’t want to end up as another tragic statistic.

To learn more about your rights if you or a loved one were injured due to a bicycle-automobile accident, please call me toll free at (877) CALL-LAW® (225-5529) or (212) 714-0988

Jury Duty – Take It Seriously and Follow The Rules or You Might End Up With a $1000 Fine.

Jury Duty – Take It Seriously and Follow The Rules or You Might End Up With a $1000 Fine.

I was summoned to jury duty last week and it made me reflect on being on the other side of the lawyers’ and judge’s questioning today.

We have all likely received a notice to report for jury duty. While my professional life revolves around trials and courtrooms, most people are unfamiliar with the jury system.

It is the duty and obligation of every citizen age 18 and older to report for jury duty and serve as a juror if chosen. Not everyone likes this responsibility of U.S. citizenship, but everyone who has been a party to a lawsuit would tell you that they want fair people from their borough paying full attention to their trial.

A recent Queens juror, according to the Daily News, posted on Facebook during a jury trial that she was sitting on a trial and she was “dying from boredom”. She also made comments about her fellow jurors on Facebook during jury deliberations.

Not only did this juror’s use of social media to discuss a pending jury trial violate the direct order of the judge to all jurors not to discuss the case with anyone or on social media during the case, but her conduct resulted in a mistrial. That means that the case will have to be tried again before another jury after wasting  the time, money and efforts of fellow jurors, the parties, the judge, court personnel and the lawyers. This very serious violation of court rules resulted in $1000 fine against the juror by the judge.

The lessons to be learned here are clear. Show up at jury duty and take it as seriously as you would want jurors to take it if it were your own trial. Listen to the judge’s orders and follow them – that’s the law. Social media is what it says – SOCIAL. There is no place for public posting during a jury trial. It’s a time to pay attention, be serious, be fair and fulfill your obligation as a U.S. citizen. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are not and should not be part of the jury process. Justice is a sacred right not to be taken lightly by jurors EVER. You certainly would want jurors to be pay full attention to your case if you were one of the parties to a trial. Do the same for others. Our legal system and country depend on it!

* Prior results cannot and do not guarantee a similar outcome.

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