Wednesday, May 11, 2005

“Anti-Irish” Bias Acquits Carpenter Union Leader

By Debbie McGoldrick--IRISH VOICE

Citing what he termed a “troubling” case of jury misconduct, New York State Supreme Court Judge Jeffrey Atlas last Friday overturned a 2004 bribery conviction against Mike Forde, the executive secretary/treasurer of the New York City District Council of Carpenters, and Carpenters Local 608 business agent Martin Devereaux.

Brian O’Dwyer of the law firm O’Dwyer and Bernstien, the firm which handles council’s legal affairs, also accused the jurors of an “anti-Irish bias” which made a fair deliberation of the evidence against the union leaders virtually impossible.

In a 25-page verdict in which he quashed the conviction, Atlas wrote that post-trial juror interviews showed that several members of the jury viewed his instructions not to discuss the case while it was going on as “something of a joke.”

The jurors, Atlas discovered, held many pre-conceived notions about the case, comparing it to the mob TV show The Sopranos and dismissing the defendants as smirking criminals who spent lunch recesses consuming alcohol.

The notion that the defendants were drinkers, O’Dwyer says, shows that the jury was ill equipped to deal with the serious nature of the case.

“One of the most offensive things was that the jurors basically said that Mike and Martin would come back to the case red-faced and drunk in the afternoons,” O’Dwyer told the Irish Voice during a victory party for the defendants at his downtown offices on Friday morning.

“It’s such an anti-Irish bias. The jurors were deliberately prejudiced and the judge gave a fantastic verdict,” he added.

In April of last year, Forde and Devereaux were convicted of accepting a $10,000 cash bribe from a mob-connected construction firm seeking to utilize non-union workers for a large renovation at the Park Central Hotel in Manhattan which took place in 1998.

The evidence presented was circumstantial, Atlas wrote. The prosecution’s two chief witnesses gave conflicting testimony and were unable to definitively say that money had actually exchanged hands.

Criminal attorneys Mike Dowd and Dino Lombardi, enlisted by O’Dwyer and Bernstien as co-counsel on the case, soon filed two motions to set the verdict aside based on correspondence they received from an alternate juror who revealed that jury members openly discussed the case and all connected with it while testimony was ongoing, in direct contradiction of Atlas’s persistent instructions to the contrary.

Once this information came to light, Atlas conducted a series of interviews with each of the jurors, some of whom acknowledged ignoring the judge’s orders to leave the case inside the courtroom until its conclusion.

“Negative comments about the defense attorneys and defendants were made regularly by several jurors, especially by Juror 5 who stated that the defendants were drinking at lunch and that Hooters restaurant was the perfect place for furthering their conspiracy,” Atlas wrote. The meeting at which it was alleged the $10,000 was given to the defendants took place at a Hooters location across from the Park Central Hotel.

“Juror 5 stated that the defendants had been drinking during the luncheon recess, and that one of the defendants was not paying attention and was falling asleep in court,” Atlas continued.

The jurors were also charged with “anti-union bias,” “unequivocal favor for the prosecutor’s performance,” and “the view that the case resembled a Sopranos’ episode.”

According to several members of the jury, Juror 8 described himself as a former police officer and felt authorized to explain and define certain terms such as “shop steward” and “racketeering” used during the course of the trial.

“Juror 8 is, in fact, an accountant for a security company whose job, as he put it, is to ‘count the beans,’” Atlas wrote.

The judge concluded, “I am deeply troubled by the distinct likelihood that, given the unauthorized pre-deliberation discussion of the evidence and the open expression of opinions about guilt and bias about unions, these jurors may well have failed to appreciate the delicacy and difficulty of their task and overlooked the standard proof to which the prosecutor was held.”

After hearing that their convictions were dismissed, the defendants and their supporters walked the short distance to the law offices of O’Dwyer and Bernstien for a celebration. Forde, active in many Irish American organizations, was visibly relieved.

“I didn’t know what to expect today. This should have never happened to begin with,” Forde told the Irish Voice. “It has been an awful time for my family.

“I was mortified, devastated when the allegations first came out,” added Forde, a union man for 25 years who started out with Carpenters Local 608 before being elected to the New York District Council which oversees the city’s carpenter’s unions.

Forde, a resident of Woodside, is married with two grown children and is active in St. Sebastian’s church. His elderly parents, also Queens residents and natives of Castlebar, Co. Mayo, were especially worried about the charges against their son, he said.

“I called them right away this morning and they’re so relieved,” Forde said.

Forde, who stood for re-election to his post during the trial and was retained by a member vote margin of 3-1, plans to run again in December. “I’m totally focused on helping our membership now,” he said. “I’ve had tremendous support from our members and I thank them so much for that.”

Forde was president of the nearly 8,000 member Carpenters Local 608 before being elected to the top executive secretary/treasurer post at the New York District Council of Carpenters, which oversees 10 unions, five years ago. Membership is heavily Irish American, and Forde estimates that at least 1/3 of the District Council’s 25,000 members are Irish.

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