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PBA lawyers get the boot

February 22, 1999

Two of the four cops accused in the Bronx shooting death of West African immigrant Amadou Diallo have ditched their union-selected attorneys, presaging strains and potential conflicts on the all-police team.

Uncomfortable with the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association's first choice, officer Richard Murphy on Friday hired James Culleton, a former Bronx assistant district attorney, whose law firm provided a spirited defense of Genovese crime family head Vincent (The Chin) Gigante two years ago.

Also Friday, officer Sean Carroll ditched his union-appointed attorney and hired the flamboyant Marvyn Kornberg, who promptly knocked the PBA for "failing to call to public attention the cases of officers Steven McDonald and Edward Byrne." MacDonald was shot and paralyzed by a teeanger in Central Park in 1986. Byrne was shot to death by a drug dealer in Queens in 1988.

Stephen Worth, the PBA's lead attorney who represents a third officer, Edward McMellon, said, "Bringing up Byrne and McDonald only serves to inflame and polarize an already difficult situation."

Bad blood already exists between Kornberg and PBA president Jim (Doc) Savage, who recently accused Kornberg of suing the union on behalf of a woman falsely arrested. Kornberg denied it.

Still, in footing Culleton's and Kornberg's bills, the PBA is placing the cops individual interests ahead of the union's preference of defending them as one. It has not always provided separate counsel. Eight years ago, the union's former law firm of Lysaght and Kramer represented four cops in the death of Federico Pereira, who died in police custody in Queens. The cops were indicted on second-degree murder charges, which were dismissed.

Kornberg's and Culleton's statements may also indicate their clients differing interests and levels of exposure in the Diallo shooting. Carroll is believed to have stood closest to Diallo while Murphy is believed to have taken cover behind a car and to have fired the fewest shots in the 41-bullet barrage. Nor is it clear whether Murphy's bullets struck Diallo.

While Kornberg cites McDonald and Byrne, Culleton says: "I am not here to take the position of the PBA. Worth made that clear to me when he hired me. I represent one client."

Winds of Change? Police Commissioner Howard Safir took off on New York Post reporter Murray Weiss at a news briefing last week, like he usually does with this reporter, criticizing as inaccurate a Post story about hollow-point bullets in the Diallo aftermath. Perhaps Safir was smarting from a series of front-page Diallo headlines from the paper that has served in recent years as the unofficial mouthpiece for Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, which include: "In Cold Blood," "Justice Must Be Done" and "We Are All Crying."

Asked whether change was afoot, managing editor Marc Kalesh said coverage of the Diallo shooting was "a legitimate reaction to a news story. It's as simple as that."

Saving Face.
Criticism by Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Dember of the Bronx district attorney's prosecution of ex-cop Francis Livoti in the death of Anthony Baez has led to what one law-enforcement source calls an "apology" from U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White to Bronx D.A. Robert Johnson. Another law-enforcement source says White's call was less an apology than an "explanation."

The Hawk Flies In.
With Brooklyn D.A. Joe Hynes spokesman Pat Clark departing, Hynes loyalist and henchman Dennis Hawkins has taken over. Last year, Hawkins said of Jeffrey Blake's release from prison after serving eight years for a murder he didn't commit, "In a sense, the system worked, although it took some time."

Now, Hawkins can explain Hynes 18-month delay in prosecuting Kenneth Boss, one of the Diallo-shooting cops, for the shooting of Patrick Bailey in October 1997; Hynes failure to indict Simon Jacobson, accused of stealing $191,000 from an 80-year-old woman; or the failure of nearly one-third of the office's latest class to pass the bar exam.

Explains Hawkins: The Bailey case is moving forward. Jacobson has been charged with unrelated welfare fraud. The office's bar-exam failure rate exceeds the state average by only 9 percent.

Fat Cats.
Despite all the Police Foundation's good works - including assurances from executive director Pam Delaney that it is not funding Commissioner Howard Safir's wife's police museum - this reporter won't attend its dinner. Not even the joy of eating roast beef with Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, who boycotted last year's event because the Foundation selected as its Man of the Year Daily News publisher Mort Zuckerman, is worth the discounted price of $206.

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© 1999 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.