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Diallo judge clears panel

December 13, 1999

With no fanfare, Acting State Supreme Court Justice Patricia Anne Williams sailed through the mayor's judicial panel last month, Newsday has learned.

This should scotch the last shreds of speculation she may not preside over the trial of four police officers charged with murdering Amadou Diallo, which begins Jan. 3.

Williams' term expires Dec. 31. Williams, one of the Bronx's few black judges, was supposedly selected at random to preside at the racially charged trial. But because she has not yet been notified of her reappointment, some attorneys have expressed concern that Mayor Rudolph Giuliani may not reappoint her.

Committee chairman Paul Curran, who acknowledged Williams was "one of 11 or 12 judges" whose terms expire at year's end, declined to comment on her reappointment, saying any such comment must come from City Hall. None did. An official in the court system noted Giuliani has always followed his committee's recommendations: "Not to appoint an acting Supreme Court judge would be especially difficult-unless there was a big problem. And there is no big problem." There have been small ones. Her bullet-proof resume notwithstanding-Cornell, Columbia and Yale Law School; assistant U.S. attorney (under Giuliani); associate at the white-shoe firm of Wilkie, Farr & Gallagher-she was moved from Manhattan to the Bronx after complaints of rudeness from assistant district attorneys.

In the Bronx, assistant district attorneys also complain she is too dismissive of police testimony against defendants. One lawyer told Newsday that the Bronx district attorney's office sent a letter of complaint about her to Giuliani's committee. Steven Reed, a spokesman for the Bronx district attorney, declined to comment and Williams didn't return calls.

This brings us to the dilemma of the lawyers for the four cops in the Diallo case. The lawyers must decide whether their clients face a Bronx jury that distrusts police or an equally distrustful Bronx judge. As an attorney connected to the case told Newsday: "Bronx juries don't trust cops, period, and could convict all four of murder. As much as she may distrust cops, she is intelligent enough that she may draw a distinction between the two cops who fired first at Diallo Sean Carroll and Edward McMellon and the two behind them Richard Murphy and Kenneth Boss who fired to protect them."

Saving Commissioner Safir. With Insp. Mike Collins gone, his replacement, Deputy Chief Tom (The Savior) Fahey, made his first move last week, adding a captain to the Public Information Office's four lieutenants and dozen or so cops.

But Fahey's nominal boss, Deputy Commissioner Marilyn Mode, showed no sign of departing, although the jungle drums say she may be heading north to the 14th floor, where Safir sits.

Fahey, as One Police Plaza reported last week, replaced the well-regarded Collins because Safir feels unloved and unappreciated. Because Mode has been with Safir for more than a decade, she was deemed irreplaceable.

The incident that precipitated Collins' departure, say top police officials, was a Nov. 29 Daily News story that was critical of the department's crime lab, which upset Safir. For reasons never explained, the News' reporter, John Marzulli, was prevented from interviewing the lab's head, Insp. Phil Pulaski.

To counter this, the department arranged for Pulaski to speak to the Times. Its story, which ran the next day, was more positive than the News' story.

Collins dealt with both Marzulli and the Times reporter. But it was Mode, say those familiar with the Public Information Office, who refused to allow Pulaski to speak to Marzulli. In the past, people in the office say, Collins has been able to cover Mode's mistakes.

Whether she complained about Collins to Safir-as those in her office say she often did-is not known. She declined to answer last week, saying, "Why don't you be a newspaper reporter and report news?" On Dec. 3, Safir transferred Collins. The night before Collins paid $450 of his own money for the office's Christmas party. Both Mode and Safir attended but gave no indication Collins was out.

One Police Plaza turned to Richard Freedman, chairman of the Department of Management at New York University's Leonard N. Stern School of Business, to explain the significance of the move. Said Freedman: "This is organizational politics at its dirtiest. It's called scapegoating. The boss has to do something so you find the appropriate victim. ...You are not going to admit that you screwed up for the past 10 years. What you are doing is giving the appearance of doing something about the problem. Only if you really know what is going on do you know it is pure facade."

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© 1999 Newsday, Inc. Reprinted with permission.