One Police Plaza

Livoti stalling settlement deal

September 28, 1998

The four-year-long, $48 million lawsuit filed by the family of 28-year-old Anthony Baez against the city and police officer Francis X. Livoti is about to be settled.

The price tag to the city: $3 million.

Baez died after a December, 1994, altercation during which Livoti used a department-banned chokehold.

But in a bizarre twist, Livoti, who will pay nothing, is holding up the settlement deal. He refuses to drop a libel suit against Baez attorney Susan Karten alleging she and Baez wife, Maribel, referred to him outside One Police Plaza as a "murderer."

The problem is that Karten, who filed a countersuit after Livoti then called her "a common pettifogger," insists that all "global issues" be resolved before the Baez family signs on to the pending settlement. A "pettifogger," according to the American Heritage Dictionary, is "a petty, quibbling, unscrupulous lawyer."

But Livoti isn't budging. Currently settling in at the Bronx House of Detention for nine months for assaulting a Bronx teenager, Livoti wants Patrolmen's Benevolent Association president Lou Matarazzo to promise the union will pay his legal fees in all three lawsuits. A PBA spokesman told Newsday the union is "contractually obligated" to do so.

The outlines of the Baez settlement emerged after a key ruling last month by State Supreme Court Justice Douglas McKeon of the Bronx. McKeon's taken some tough stances in the case, such as allowing testimony from Livoti's former 46th Precinct boss William Casey, who sought Livoti's removal only to be overruled by his boss, Chief of Department Louis Anemone. Last month McKeon concluded that Livoti's chokehold occurred while taking police action during an altercation with Baez and his brothers, making the city responsible. The city had argued that because the chokehold violated department rules, Livoti acted outside the scope of his police duties; hence, the city wasn't liable.

Livoti (and many in the NYPD) maintains Baez died from an asthma attack. Though acquitted of state criminal charges, a federal jury convicted him of violating Baez civil rights. Sentencing is next week. He faces up to 10 years.

Wrong Call? Judge McKeon, meanwhile, is taking his lumps. Despite his reputation as "an excellent judge," as the court's chief administrative judge, Jonathan Lippman, described him last week, Lippman has removed him from hearing future city cases. The reason: a censure by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, which concluded McKeon had improperly attempted to expedite the medical benefits for a sick child of a newly hired corporation counsel employee. The problem: city corporation counsel's attorneys appear before him. McKeon vehemently denies wrongdoing. Many in the court system feel the commission overreacted.

Help for Bessie, a Dive for Joe. Today in State Supreme Court, Justice Leonard Scholnick, of Brooklyn, is to hear a guardianship application for 80-year-old Bessie Rosen, allegedly bilked out of her home and life savings by her 29-year-old tenant, Simon Jacobson.

Her attorney Yitzchok Wagshul is seeking to void the transaction in which (supposedly at Jacobson's behest), Rosen remortgaged her home, which she owned free and clear, for $191,000. Norwest, the bank that now owns the house, is seeking to repossess it. "They show no mercy," Wagshul says.

Jacobson was arrested last December by Det. John Ryan of the NYPD's Special Fraud squad on a related forgery. But Brooklyn District Attorney Joe Hynes top assistant, Dennis Hawkins, dismissed the case "for lack of evidence." Hawkins also ignored two witnesses prepared to identify Jacobson for allegedly passing two bad checks, according to law enforcement sources. Hawkins did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Law enforcement sources say Hawkins deep-sixed Jacobson's case because he was well-connected to Brooklyn's orthodox Jewish community, whose support Hynes was cultivating in his quixotic run for governor.

How Low Do You Go? So low is the number of applicants signing up for the January police exam - about 6,312 (as compared to 23,000 in May and 50,000 just five years ago) - that the department has extended its filing date to Oct. 16.

Meanwhile, 56,306 people have signed up for the sanitation exam on Nov. 21. Assistant Commissioner Denise Collins of the Department of Personnel says the discrepancy in numbers may stem from the fact that the Sanitation Department last offered an exam in 1990, while the NYPD has offered an exam at least once a year for the past four years.

Unseen (Last Week at Police Plaza): Commissioner Howard Safir.

Seen and Heard: Deputy Commissioner Marilyn Mode's wee dog Lil in her warm-weather cut, especially frisky in Mode's office last Friday.

©1998 Newsday, Inc.Reprinted with permission.