One Police Plaza

Court Ruling Puts The Heat on Worth

March 4, 2002

A federal appeals court has spoken. And if Stephen Worth is allowed to spend another day defending a cop either in court or in the Police Department trial room, someone should be asking Patrolmen's Benevolent Association president Patrick Lynch some hard questions.

The appeals court didn't say Worth's client Charles Schwarz was innocent of being the so-called second man in the bathroom of the 70th Precinct station house in Brooklyn when Justin Volpe sodomized Abner Louima with a broomstick handle.

The court all but cried out that Schwarz and fellow defendants Thomas Bruder and Thomas Wiese lied about their whereabouts on Aug. 9, 1997.

Nonetheless, the three-judge panel called for a new trial for Schwarz because anyone with a pea brain could have put on a better defense than Worth with his $10 million PBA retainer.

Worth's so-called defense - based on no facts, the judges said - was that Volpe acted alone and that Louima fabricated the second man to "preserve his manhood."

The judges regarded this defense as so feeble they could offer no explanation other than that Worth sought to turn the focus from Wiese. Volpe subsequently named Wiese as the second man in the bathroom, and Wiese admitted he entered the bathroom, although he claims the assault was over.

Worth's purpose, the judges concluded, was to distance the union from Louima's unprecedented civil suit, which claimed union officials conspired to injure Louima and cover it up.

Part of the alleged conspiracy was a precinct-basement meeting of the participants shortly after the assault. That meeting included Wiese, the precinct delegate; Mike Immitt, the union trustee; and a union lawyer, Hugo Ortega, whose firm held the PBA retainer before its partners went to jail for fraud and Worth's firm took over.

Still, had the jurists attended Schwarz's first trial, they might have reached a different conclusion as to why Worth failed to implicate Wiese.

Those who know Worth best say that what caused him to tank the biggest case of his career was not his $10 million retainer but his ego.

Ego is why Worth takes the stairs when he leaves the fourth-floor trial room at One Police Plaza - so that he can amble by the offices of the police reporters on the second floor. Worth loves seeing his name in The New York Times, and he loves seeing himself on the 6 o'clock news.

But there in Brooklyn federal court at Schwarz's first trial, holding center stage as Volpe's attorney, was a rival who had unsuccessfully sought the PBA contract and whose ego is the same size as Worth's: Marvyn Kornberg.

As the trial began, it was Kornberg, not Worth, getting the hot media play until he flamed out with the claim that Louima had been sodomized not by his client's broomstick handle but through gay sex.

Nonetheless, when Volpe pleaded guilty to assaulting Louima, Kornberg informed Worth in his best Queens Boulevard brogue, "My guy can take your guy out of the bathroom."

This, the appeals court noted, gave Worth the following information: (1) Volpe, the only indisputable witness in the bathroom with Louima, would testify Schwarz was not the second officer; (2) Louima could not identify Schwarz; (3) both Wiese and Bruder had indicated it was Wiese, not Schwarz, who escorted Louima toward the bathroom.

But to travel Wiese's road meant Volpe had to testify. Worth later said he feared no jury would believe Volpe, and at Schwarz's second trial he was proven correct.

But those close to him say that what caused Worth to avoid Volpe was not Worth's fear of a credibility gap involving Volpe. It was instead an awareness that in calling Volpe, Kornberg would get more air time.


Ray's Way. As you read this, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly is to meet with the Rev. Al Sharpton about the possible reinstatement of Bruder and Wiese, a virtual impossibility.

Forget for a moment the revolutionary significance of the meeting after eight years of Rudy Giuliani's refusal to meet with the reverend. For Kelly the stakes are enormous.

No longer can he hide behind the policies of the previous administration, such as the reinstatement of Amadou Diallo cop shooter Sean Carroll, albeit with no badge or gun. At least in that case, a jury acquitted the officers involved, and whatever else you can say, no one - probably not even Sharpton - believes they deliberately set out that night to murder anyone.

Not so Volpe. And his assault on Louima was covered up.

And the appeals court that overturned Bruder's and Wiese's convictions did so on a technicality, while acknowledging the two of them lied to obstruct the investigation.

So why is Kelly meeting with Sharpton? Why not just fight the reinstatement?

©2002 Newsday, Inc.Reprinted with permission.