By Sarina Trangle
Too many lawyers in the courtroom may spoil the federal court date for two Queens political figures fighting corruption charges.
Six weeks ahead of their scheduled trial in White Plains federal court, Judge Kenneth Karas called a conference to weigh state Sen. Malcolm Smith’s (D-Hollis) right to a speedy trial, the pregnancy of the lawyer representing co-defendant Vincent Tabone and the government’s insistence that severing their trials would impede prosecutors’ case.
Tabone’s attorney Deborah Misir is pushing for an adjournment until September because of what she described as a high-risk pregnancy and planned maternity leave.
Many have suggested alternative attorneys for Tabone, the former vice chairman of the Queens Republican Party. Prosecutors have been eyeing Misir’s co-counsel, Leo Ahern, and the judge has penciled in Misir’s husband and legal partner, Grant Lally, for Thursday’s planned conference despite his withdrawing from the case months ago.
Lally lost a race for Congress Nov. 4. Prosecutors previously argued the Republican’s failed bid might have pitted his interests against Tabone’s.
“Mr. Lally is happy to go to court if the judge wants him there,” Misir said, noting he spent months engrossed in campaigning and away from the case. “He is not sure what he can add.”
Misir, Ahern and Tabone have described Misir as the lead attorney and emphasized Tabone intends to exercise his right to an attorney of his choice by sticking with Misir in court filings.
Thursday’s conference comes on the heels of prosecutors adding an obstruction of witness testimony charge to the indictment facing Tabone.
Prosecutors alleged that Tabone visited the home of now-deceased Queens GOP boss Phil Ragusa more than an hour before the ailing Whitestone resident was expected to give a deposition May 23 and urged him not to testify.
Misir said her client has pleaded not guilty to that charge.
His attorneys along with Smith’s have maintained their innocence in what prosecutors have described as an elaborate ploy by Smith to bribe his way onto the Republican line in the 2013 mayoral elections.
Smith is charged with steering $500,000 in state funding to a pseudo real estate project in exchange for its recipients agreeing to finance his suspected bribes of county GOP leaders.
Tabone, who prosecutors contend controlled the Queens GOP during Ragusa’s illness, is charged with pocketing a $25,000 alleged bribe.
A jury previously found former Republican City Councilman Daniel Halloran guilty of helping broker Smith’s deals while accepting kickbacks.
His case was severed from Smith’s and Tabone’s this June. Their attorneys successfully sought mistrials because the government did not hand over hours of conversation and hundreds of text messages in Yiddish from a wiretap on a cooperating witness’s phone ahead of the trial.
Tabone and Smith were slated to return to court Jan. 5.
Misir requested an adjournment until September, however, because of her pregnancy and planned maternity leave.
Prosecutors questioned this, circulating a memo from the judge they described as “formally admonishing” Misir “for lying to him about her doctor mandating bed rest while she was simultaneously planning a trip to D.C. to speak at a professional conference.”
In a memo, Misir said she fell ill and did not make the speech, stressed that pregnancy is a federally recognized temporarily disability and suggested that the additional charge against her client was retaliatory.
“[Prosecutors] Carbone and Bloom then followed up that abusive exchange by insultingly and absurdly questioning, in a written response filed with the court, whether I was in fact Mr. Tabone’s ‘lead counsel.’ and threatening — in their response to my request for an adjournment — a superseding indictment,” her letter read.
She also submitted a note from her doctor describing “multiple high-risk conditions” and recommending against her taking on a trial ahead of her February due date.
Still, prosecutors denied her allegations and urged the judge to proceed. They said separate trials would impede their case.
Smith’s attorney, Gerald Shargel, said he objected to further delays, but would be comfortable with his case proceeding alone.
Reach reporter Sarina Trangle by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (718) 260–4546.