September 17, 2012

A brief overview of the Graziano v. Pataki case

A brief overview of the Graziano v. Pataki case, given by the Prison Action Network:

In January 2006, a Class Action complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of NY, alleging that the Pataki administration's policy/practice of denying parole to prisoners serving indeterminate sentences (1) for convictions of Class A-1 offenses with (2) sentences of less than 25-Life, the statutory maximum term of imprisonment, and currently serving such sentences; (3) have served the minimum terms of their indeterminate sentences and are therefore eligible for parole release; and (4) have had their most recent applications for parole release denied by the Parole Board solely because of the "seriousness of the offense", the "nature of the present offense", or words to that effect, without due regard to any factor other than the violent nature of their present offenses, violates the Class members' rights to due process of law and equal protection of laws under the 14th amendment to the US Constitution, and whether such policy/practice violates their rights to be free from an ex post facto enhancement of the punishments under the US Constitution, Article 1, §1.

In March of 2006, a First Amendment complaint was filed to include A1 felons who received the maximum indeterminate sentence of 25 years to Life who meet the same defining factors of the main Class.

In April of 2006, the State filed an answer requesting the court to dismiss the action for a failure to state a course of action. The Class filed an opposition.

On July 17, 2006, the Honorable Judge Charles Brieant denied the State's motion to dismiss the complaint as to all claims. (2006 lib 2023082.)

In May of 2007, the State filed a second motion to dismiss the amended complaint, submitting the Class's claims are moot because Pataki left office in 2006 and the new governor Eliot Spitzer, along with a new Parole Chairman, George Alexander, would not follow Pataki's alleged policy. The Class filed an opposition in May of 2007. In December of 2007, Judge Brieant denied the State's moot argument, stating: "the change of office does not necessarily mean the policy or practice of the Parole Board would not be repeated". Judge Brieant also granted Class certification, instructing the State to settle the case. In early November of 2007, after months of settlement discussions, the State agreed to terms of a settlement. On Nov. 15, 2007, then Senate Majority leader Joseph Bruno and his cronies likened a settlement in the inmate parole suit to a "get out of jail free card" and persuaded Spitzer to continue fighting the suit. Senate hearings were conducted asking Spitzer why he had let out 56 violent felons. In March of 2008, we had the Spitzer sex scandal.

On July 22, 2008, the NY Law Journal announced that Judge Brieant, who had served on the bench for 37 years and who was appointed by President Nixon in 1971, died of cancer at 85. The Class lost a seasoned Jurist.

In 2008, Cathy Seibel was appointed to replace Judge Brieant and in December of 2008 Class Counsel moved to have former Governor Pataki deposed [made to testify to or give evidence on oath, typically in a written statement]. In her first ever ruling on the case, in April of 2009, Judge Seibel denied plaintiffs' motion to compel Pataki's deposition.

In September of 2010, knowing Judge Siebel had given them their first favorable ruling in Graziano, the State moved for a third bite at the [dismissal] apple, asking Seibel to dismiss the action. Despite the fact that Judge Brieant, who was a seasoned judge with 37 years on the bench had twice denied the State's request to dismiss the action, Judge Siebel granted the State's dismissal request and directed the clerk to close the case.

An appeal was filed in the US Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit and oral argument was allowed in March of 2012. On August 3, 2012 a majority of the Court affirmed Judge Seibel's dismissal, with Judge Stefan R. Underhill - sitting by designation from Connecticut - filing an informal reasoned dissenting opinion.

An en banc (asking the complete court) application is presently being filed to the 2nd Circuit.