Monday, January 12, 2009

You Know the Difference Between a Lawyer and a Catfish?

The New York Times has published an article about Joseph Tacopina. Formerly a prosecutor from Brooklyn, he became known as the legal voice in the courtroom of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the ever-present voice of unconditional support for its officers. Recently, however, things have changed.

But a jagged crack has opened between Mr. Tacopina and the police union.

Mr. Tacopina recently defended Lillo Brancato Jr., the former actor who was charged in the killing of an off-duty officer, and the strain on the longstanding relationship showed at the end of a day of jury deliberations.

The president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, Patrick J. Lynch, himself not camera-shy, accused Mr. Tacopina of the high crime of smirking in the courtroom.

“To sit there and have a professional attorney laughing as if this was a joke in front of a dead man’s family is the most insulting thing that ever happened in front of a bench in this state,” Mr. Lynch told reporters outside the courtroom.

Although Tacopina denied that either he or his client "smirked," the mere suggestion of it indicates how the relationship between himself and the police has changed.

The NYT article says the strain was increased all the more with the acquittal of Lillo Brancato of the most serious charge against him: felony murder, in the death of Officer Daniel Enchautegui. Mr. Brancato was convicted of attempted burglary, and was sentenced Friday to 10 years in prison.

Does it mean that Joseph Tacopina has switched from high profile police cases to high profile celebrity cases? Could Lillo's defense be called that, high profile? The animosity on the part of the police is interesting. Do you think it's part of that old "Blue Fraternity?" They're the ones who think killing a cop is worse than killing anyone else, and defending a cop killer is almost as bad.

I hasten to add, nothing could be worse than what happened to Daniel Enchautegui. The pain and suffering of his family should not be lost in these discussions. Yet, I feel 10 years for attempted burglary is a bit heavy. And I feel personal attacks from the PBA spokesman against the defense attorney are inappropriate especially when that attorney has been a great champion of theirs.

What's your opinion? Could it boil down to the idea that accused cops are somehow better than other accused people? Defending dirty cops is OK, but defending dirty criminals and cop killers is not? What about Tacopina's having been a prosecutor first? What kind of transition do you suppose that was, from State's attorney to defending accused cops?

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