Tag Archives: corasanti

Corasanti Acquitted

31 May

An Erie County jury yesterday acquitted Dr. James Corasanti of 2nd degree vehicular manslaughter, 2nd degree manslaughter, leaving the scene of an accident that resulted in death without reporting it, and two counts of tampering with evidence. He was convicted of one lesser, misdemeanor charge of DWI.

The vehicular manslaughter charge requires a finding of “criminal negligence“, which basically means he fails to see or perceive something that he should have, and that his failure to do so represents a “gross departure” from the reasonable person standard of care. If the defendant was DWI, there is a rebuttable presumption that his mental condition contributed to the death. 

The 2nd degree manslaughter charge requires a finding of “reckless” culpable conduct. As compared with criminal negligence, recklessness requires a finding that the defendant was aware of a substantial risk of unnecessary harm, and disregarded it. 

In this case, Corasanti took the stand – something he was under no obligation to do as a criminal defendant. His legal team took a calculated risk in exposing him to the scrutiny of cross-examination, and it was completely up to the jury whether to believe him when he said he didn’t see Alix Rice on her longboard; that he didn’t know he had hit a person – much less killed her; that he wasn’t drunk; that he wasn’t texting; that he wasn’t speeding or weaving. The jury bought it. 

That’s not the fault of the prosecution, or the judge, or the jury. That’s no one’s fault at all. That’s just how it shook out.

Mad at Corasanti? Of course. He hit and killed a girl with his car. Privileged rich guy with a 5-series and a low-number EC license plate. The very embodiment of local WNY monied privilege. But that wasn’t the issue – whether he committed that act, but whether he had the culpable mental conduct in doing so that would justify sending him to jail.  His wealth and prominence weren’t an issue, either in the commission of the crime. Mere accident, or something that would have/could have been prevented had Corasanti acted like any reasonable person? This jury found that this was a tragic accident, not one punishable by jail time – not one that he could have prevented. 

Face it – if you were in Corasanti’s shoes, you’d have paid every penny to buy the best damn criminal defense you could afford, too. 

Alix Rice, via Facebook

A jury is specifically instructed – carefully selected – to be impartial; to set aside prejudices or sympathies they may have. They most certainly didn’t insult the memory of Alix Rice last night – they couldn’t have; weren’t allowed to.  The judge explicitly told them to set any such feeling aside. Juries aren’t supposed to convict people because they feel badly for the victim or her family. Juries aren’t supposed to convict people because popular opinion will be outraged at what they did. Juries aren’t supposed to decide based on sympathy or empathy. 

Juries are specifically instructed to analyze the facts presented to them in the courtroom, and apply the law to the facts as they find them. Jurors are uniquely empowered to make determinations about the credibility of evidence and witnesses before them. This jury worked hard and did what was asked of them. They were careful, methodical, and thoughtful. They analyzed the evidence. It just so happened that they had what they considered to be a reasonable doubt about Corasanti’s guilt on the homicide counts. 

They apparently found that Corasanti never saw Rice – that she was operating her longboard in such a way that she was very difficult to be seen. They may have found that Rice contributed to her own death by the way in which she was operating the longboard. That’s enough to conclude that Corasanti was neither criminally negligent nor reckless. 

But the public outcry – it’s totally reasonable for people to be outraged. A young girl is dead, and a wealthy, prominent person was able to buy himself the best local criminal defense team he could afford. In this case, he probably dropped six figures to buy accident reconstructionists, expert witnesses, and some of the most effective criminal defense lawyers in town. Is it fair? Are the people who are outraged going to agitate to change the laws so that indigent or middle-income criminal defendants have equal access to expert defense witnesses?  A turning point in this case was the expert testimony that Rice’s longboard may have veered across the fog line into Corasanti’s path. That testimony cost a lot of money, and likely saved Corasanti from prison.

Left the body in the brambles? Call Joel Daniels. Caught by a sleuth? Call Cheryl Meyers-Buth. Need a jury uncertain? Call Tom Burton. 

Most people would have probably taken a plea. This trial was a huge gamble. A massive risk. All or nothing for Corasanti. Insert your big-win-gambling-analogy here. 

Had Alix Rice ran down a prominent doctor late at night after leaving “martini night” at a friend’s house, and registering a .1 BAC a few hours later have gotten away with it? We’ll never know, but I doubt it. Maybe it depends on the defense her family could have afforded. 

Justice? Justice is what you make of it. Corasanti probably thinks he found justice. Supporters of Alix Rice don’t. But this isn’t over. Civil suits have been brought against Corasanti on behalf of Rice’s estate. There, the standard of proof for a plaintiff is significantly lower than in criminal court. Corasanti may never go to jail, but depending on how well-insured he is, he very well may be financially destroyed. If his personal assets are exposed, all his wealth will be at risk, his future and his legacy demolished. Is that justice? 

After the verdict, Corasanti’s legal team started in with “nobody’s a winner here” and other mouth-noises about how sad this all is for everybody. I’d suggest that the legal team is better at defending criminals than public relations. Now is a great time for them to keep quiet. No one wants to hear their platitudes about winning and losing. Quite palpably, Dr. Corasanti is the winner and Alix Rice is the loser. Corasanti woke up this morning in his own home, convicted only of a first-offense misdemeanor. He’s surrounded by his wife and family. Alix Rice remains dead, her life gone, her future destroyed, her friends and family even more distraught and filled with loss. It’s quite clear that there was a winner and a loser in this case. Corasanti’s team should dummy up and let Rice’s family grieve, and let her supporters be outraged. 

Judge DiTullio did not allow reporters to live-blog or Tweet during the trial. She didn’t allow the proceedings to be televised, as is the norm in New York State. I think it’s long past the time to change that rule. If we’re going to subject ourselves to criminal trial porn, then it’d be helpful if the general public was better informed about what was going on in court, in real time. 500-word summaries of a day’s worth of testimony don’t cut it. Unless you were in that courtroom for the entirety of the proceedings, you have only a generalized, condensed idea what that jury saw and heard. Court proceedings are public in nature, but the public works for a living. It’s time New York changed its rules to permit electronic media in court as a general rule, and leave judges discretion to exclude them, not the other way around. 

Please don’t vilify the jurors. They did what they were supposed to do, and they did it thoughtfully. You can disagree with their verdict, but they aren’t the bad guys and they aren’t your enemy. If jurors start fearing for their lives or start getting harassed because they fulfilled their civic duty, you deal a blow to our system – an imperfect one in an imperfect world.  Please, media, stay away from the roadside shrine to Alix Rice. Let people grieve and remember in peace. Get man-in-the-street voxpops somewhere else. Anywhere else. 

Lawyers win, lawyers lose. Juries get it right, juries get it wrong. The guilty go to jail, and the guilty get off. The innocent get off, and the innocent go to jail. The innocent sometimes die. Life isn’t fair, money is important, and sometimes things don’t go the way you expect them to go. As long as the matter was tried fairly – and no one, anywhere, has suggested otherwise – we must accept what happened last night. We don’t have to like it, and we can analyze it every which-way, but if you’re ever charged with a crime, you’ll come to appreciate the inherent fairness of our system, and the protections it affords the accused.  Neither sending Corasanti to jail, nor sending him to the poorhouse will ever bring Alix Rice back. But the latter will make him literally pay for what he did that night. 

After all, the jury in the civil suit will only need to find that he was culpable for Alix Rice’s death by a preponderance of the evidence, a lower standard than that within which the criminal jury worked. 

Perhaps then, the public will feel that justice has been done. 

//

The Morning Grumpy – 2/23/2012

23 Feb

All the news and views fit to consume during your morning grumpy.

 As true today as it was in 1963

1. Welcome back, Jim Heaney. We missed you. If you missed my link earlier this week in the grumpy, the best investigative journalist in Buffalo is back on the prowl with his new project, InvestigativePost. His first article out of the box took a look at Gov. Cuomo’s promise of $1BN in economic development incentives in Buffalo and how we might expect to see them doled out.

The key, of course, is how the state targets its $1 billion. While the plan is a work in progress, some aspects of Cuomo’s general approach appear ambitious – at best – and beg a larger question: Is the apparent focus on big-ticket projects the best way to rebuild the region’s economy?

He began to answer the question with his own reporting and supplemented his work with links to dozens of related stories and data points that I’m still churning through. Really great stuff.

In a blog post, Heaney also explained the DNA of this collaborative, non-profit news outlet.

I’ve had a quote from Carl Bernstein taped to the front of my computer terminal for the better part of 20 years that reads, “Reporting is not stenography. It is the best obtainable version of the truth.”

I’ve never been a fan of the “he said, she said” brand of journalism practiced by many reporters and taken to its lowest form by pundits and other talking – or shall I say, “screaming” – heads on cable. That is, present two sides of the story – as though things are ever that simple – and let readers figure it out.

I always thought my job as a reporter was to figure it out – after all, I was the one with the time, training and resources – and provide readers “the best obtainable version of the truth.” This required me to do my homework, get things right and write with clarity – “telling it like it is,” in the words of Howard Cosell.

This is the mindset I will instill as I build the reporting culture at Investigative Post.

Halle-fucking-lujah!  I can barely contain my excitement about this project and what it will mean for enterprise journalism in this region.

2. Were you arrested and charged with second-degree vehicular manslaughter, second-degree manslaughter, leaving the scene of an incident resulting in death, and two counts of tampering with physical evidence whilst driving while intoxicated and texting? Are you also a millionaire doctor?  No problem, call Michael Clayton Joel Daniels!

Dr. James G. Corasanti’s actions were not criminally reckless and there isn’t evidence to prove second-degree manslaughter, defense lawyer Joel L. Daniels said.

Daniels is mining an astounding array of technicalities as he mounts his vigorous defense. This case will play out over the summer and if Daniels does what he is well-paid to do, a whole new playbook will be issued to criminal defense attorneys on how to keep wealthy pricks out of jail. Our resident lawyer, Alan Bedenko, will most certainly provide comprehensive coverage on this as the story develops.

3. You should follow the steps at this link and clean up your web history. With a massive change to their privacy policy, the Google is coming to assimilate you.

On March 1st, Google will implement its new, unified privacy policy, which will affect data Google has collected on you prior to March 1st as well as data it collects on you in the future. Until now, your Google Web History (your Google searches and sites visited) was cordoned off from Google’s other products. This protection was especially important because search data can reveal particularly sensitive information about you, including facts about your location, interests, age, sexual orientation, religion, health concerns, and more. If you want to keep Google from combining your Web History with the data they have gathered about you in their other products, such as YouTube or Google Plus, you may want to remove all items from your Web History and stop your Web History from being recorded in the future.

Here’s how you can do that.

Follow the easy, illustrated steps and retain some of your ever shrinking amount of privacy.

4. This story is perfect for talk radio. The type of information that when relayed, causes visceral anger over these entitled 1 percenters who abuse their power and privilege to steal hundreds of millions of dollars from the federal treasury through graft, corruption, and tax evasion. We simply won’t stand for it! Wait…what?!

Not long ago, the Atlantic did a story on the cosmetic surgery rider that Buffalo teachers have.

On Monday, CNN continued to shine the national spotlight on a story that we reported extensively a year and a half ago (“Cosmetic surgery dearly costs city schools,” “Saving face(s): Cosmetic surgery costs for school employees skyrocket,” “Cosmetic surgery rider was saved once,” and more.)

The piece on Anderson Cooper’s show, “Teachers nip, tuck for free,” recaps what we already know: Buffalo teachers have the cosmetic surgery rider; teachers pay nothing for procedures; taxpayers pick up the full tab; last year, it cost about $5.9 million; the district wants the union to waive the benefit as a gesture of goodwill; the union is willing to get rid of the rider, but only through contract negotiations; the contract expired nearly eight years ago.

Stories like this are designed to get you riled up and pissed off about how those damn unions are fucking us over at every opportunity. Sandy Beach can blow an artery and Tom Bauerle can get his thong in a bunch over how these damned teachers are just stealing from you. My reaction? Meh. And I’m in the distinct minority.

Being a teacher in the Buffalo Public Schools is not an easy job. The pay isn’t that great, the working conditions can be hostile, and violent student behavior is a major concern for many teachers in some of the more dangerous city schools. The benefit was originally instituted for medically necessary plastic surgery procedures and has expanded over time to include elective procedures. Imagine a teacher in the BPS suffering injuries at school which might require plastic surgery. Why should that restorative surgery not be covered if deemed medically necessary?

Even so, union leadership is willing to give up the benefit in the next round of negotiations, but the teachers union has been operating without a new contract for nearly ten years. So, instead of demanding the BPS sit down to seriously negotiate with the union, we ask the teachers to make a “gesture of good faith” and voluntarily waive the benefit. To which I say, “Fuck that!”.  Once that’s done, a precedent is set and negotiating power is lost.

Contract negotiations should be a mediated process in which offers are exchanged and compromise is found. Want the union to give up a $6MM benefit? Well, offer them something in return to compensate them for relinquishing it. Perhaps a reduction of the benefit to cover only those procedures deemed medically necessary as a result of injury on the job and moving the saved cash into a teacher training fund, pay increases, or to cover the purchase of new classroom supplies and equipment. Transfer the savings to improve the product.

I only wish I had a union working on my behalf to secure benefits, protect job security, and demand employer accountability. We should all be so lucky. Instead, we operate in fear of losing our jobs at the whim of quarterly profits and the constant demands to increase shareholder value. And we’re thankful for the treatment and call into WBEN demanding that everyone else suffer our fate. It’s a weird country.

5. Do you remember that KeystoneXL pipeline that Republicans have a hard-on for? The pipeline that will reduce our gas prices to Reagan-era levels and bring us hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions in economic development? Yeah, about that…

Unfortunately, there’s an all-too-typical problem with the Republican line on Keystone: it’s completely unsupported by the facts. On the jobs front, the Cornell Global Labor Institute estimates the project would create only 2,500 to 4,650 short-term construction jobs—not the “hundreds of thousands” of jobs claimed by House Speaker John Boehner.

Similarly, gas prices would not decrease if Keystone was built—they’d likely go up in many areas of the country.

This is nonsense on many fronts, most of all because the price is oil is fundamentally set on global markets. As the Congressional Research Service pointed out in late January, when there’s trouble in places like the Straits of Hormuz, the price of oil goes up for everyone and Keystone will make no difference, since the oil market is “globally integrated’; it’s not like Exxon offers a home-country discount to American motorists.

But in the case of the Keystone pipeline, it turns out there’s a special twist. At the moment, there’s an oversupply of tarsands crude in the Midwest, which has depressed gas prices there. If the pipeline gets built so that crude can easily be sent overseas, that excess will immediately disappear and gas prices for 15 states across the middle of the country will suddenly rise. Says who? Says the companies trying to build the thing. Transcanada Pipeline’s rationale for investors, and their testimony to Canadian officials, included precisely this point: removing the “oversupply’ and the resulting “price discount” would raise their returns by $2 to $4 billion a year.

So, are we all done with this now?

Fact Of The Day: An economist spent ten years studying street gangs and found they function much like corporations. Executives in the 1%, the street dealers making less than minimum wage and firmly in the 99%. Linked video is from a classic TED Talk.

Quote Of The Day: “They don’t think it be the way it is, but it do” – Oscar Gamble unaware that he just explained the universe in one sentence.

Video Of the Day: Every punch to the face in the classic film, Roadhouse. As someone who has watched Roadhouse over 300 times, you should know that it is more of a religion than a movie. Be nice until it’s time to not be nice.

Cartoon Of The Day: “Terrier Stricken” – Chuck Jones

Song Of The Day: “Acid In My Heart” – The Sleepy Jackson

Follow me on Twitter: @ChrisSmithAV

Email me links, tips, story ideas: chris@artvoice.com