Oy Gevalt! Major Corruption Trial Halted In New York Due To Lack Of Yiddish Translators


Judge Kenneth M. Karas of United States District Court had declared a mistrial in the bribery and fraud trial of Sen. Malcolm A. Smith on a less than common objection: a lack of Yiddish translators. Smith was the Democratic majority leader and the minority leader of the State Senate. He is accused of working with a developer to give out envelopes of cash and gifts to leading Republicans to engineer a run on the Republican side for mayor to avoid a crowed Democratic field. His attorneys discovered 70 hours of taped conversations that were not disclosed by the prosecution — a third of which was in Yiddish. However, those wiretapped conversations could not be translated due to a lack of translators. That led to a kvetsh and a motion for mistrial. While the government argued that the defense was having a plotz for no reason, they looked like a bunch of shlemiels.

The testimony in White Plains was already pretty damning for Smith with accounts of cash filled envelopes and parties at strip clubs. The alleged recipients of more than $80,000 in bribes were Daniel J. Halloran III, a Republican former city councilman from Queens, and three Republican county leaders. One of of two co-defendants, Vincent Tabone, the former vice chairman of the Bronx Republican committee, is shown on a video receiving $25,000 in hundred-dollar bills in an S.U.V. parked outside a steak house in Manhattan.

The tapes came up in the cross examination of the first witness, Special Agent William McGrogan, who referenced recordings of wiretapped conversations between the key government informer, Moses Stern, and Dr. Joseph Frager, a Jewish activist. It was later discovered that there were also conversations between Mr. Stern and a Queens rabbi, Zalman Beck, that prosecutors had largely failed to turn over. Many of those calls were in Yiddish.

The jury could not be held for the period of translation which would take weeks so the court dismissed them.

Here is the most curious aspect of the ruling. The prosecutors withhold a significant number of clearly material interception (many of which the prosecutors could not have known the content given the Yiddish). Yet, Judge Karas dismissed any notion of “bad faith” by the prosecutors and said that prosecutors Douglas B. Bloom and Justin Anderson simply made a bad call in assuming that they were mistaken. Come again? This is precisely why the Justice Department is routinely accused of withholding evidence, including trials like Ted Stevens that result in disastrous reversals. Prosecutors are not held accountable by federal judges. Defense lawyers privately complain that federal judges do not hesitate to hammer them for the slightest violations but that many are former prosecutors who are sympathetic or heavily identify with prosecutors in such controversies. I have seen former prosecutors serve as judges with great distinction and fairness. However, I do believe that the Justice Department has a long and troubling history of withholding evidence and engaging in questionable trial conduct. There is very little deterrent from the courts or from the widely ridiculed internal review process of the Justice Department.

By the way, none of this matters to the voters of the 14th Senate District which has kept Smith in office.

Source: New York Times

9 thoughts on “Oy Gevalt! Major Corruption Trial Halted In New York Due To Lack Of Yiddish Translators”

  1. I found this portion of an article in a blog called Crime Report, on the North Carolina discovery Rule. Here:

    North Carolina Leads

    While Texas illustrates what can happen when a human story draws public support, the state with the most expansive discovery law in the country is North Carolina.

    In 2004, Gov. Mike Easley signed a law that requires prosecutors to share files in all felony cases with defense lawyers who request them prior to trial. Investigator notes, defendant and witness statements, test results and a list of probable witnesses for the trial must be included.

    The defense also must turn over witness lists and details about the grounds on which it plans to make its case.

    Oddly enough, it was actually the “tough on crime” mindset of the 1990s, Moore points out, that led to reform in that state in 1996. It began as a political compromise to speed capital and post-conviction litigation, as well as executions.

    The law was expanded again through amendments that addressed both defense and prosecution’s concerns.

    Ohio has enacted some reforms, though not nearly as broad as North Carolina’s, which is being used to as the basis for model legislation.

    Robust discovery laws can also be found in Florida, Arizona and Massachusetts, according to Ellen C. Yaroshefsky, clinical professor of law and director of the Jacob Burns Center for Ethics in the Practice of Law at Cardozo Law School.

  2. We need a discovery rule in state and federal courts which requires the state or fed govt to provide all information availed to the state or feds. Names and statements of all witnesses, records, the whole schmeil. Or however ya spull it. I have heard that the State of NC has the best Rule on this. Does anyone live there in NC and know about this Rule?

  3. REALLY? A lack of Yiddish speakers in New York? That’s as believable as a lack of Yiddish speakers in Miami.

  4. White Plains is only a short drive from the Catskills. Got to be plenty of Yiddish speakers there. Actually, courts have problems w/ certified translators. You can’t just be fluent in a language, you must be certified. And, while I detest overregulation, I find this one righteous. My wife, as a Federal presentence PO, dealt w/ many Hmong cases when they first arrived to the Madison area. She didn’t supervise probationers and parolees, she did presentence investigations for the Court. Hmong is a verbal language, not a written one. That made certification of translators difficult. There are always plenty of certified translators for common languages. It is languages like Yiddish, Hmong, etc. that can be a challenge. I wonder if there are any certified Latin translators?

  5. Did anyone think these tapes were going to be exculpatory? Or is the defense casting in the wind for straws?

  6. Smith is a member of the a lack of Yiddish translators.” – JT

    Was this translated from Yiddish? 😉

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