Arson Conviction Reversed

New Jersey Criminal Lawyers Schwartz Posnock

Philadelphia Inquirer

August 21, 1986
BOY'S ARSON CONVICTION REVERSED

Author: Michael B. Coakley

Common Pleas Court Judge Joseph P. McCabe reversed the arson conviction of
a 13-year-old boy yesterday, ending an unusual series of actions that
began in the courtroom of Judge Mitchell S. Lipschutz.

The boy, who was accused of being involved in a mailbox fire, was
convicted of arson and two misdemeanors by Lipschutz on July 11.

On Friday, Lipschutz ruled he had improperly convicted the boy of arson
but later in the same hearing abruptly disqualified himself from the case
and declared "void" his decision to reverse the conviction.

Lipschutz said that another judge would have to reconsider the
post-verdict motions. The youth was ordered to remain in confinement, as
he had been since his conviction.

Lipschutz's sudden disqualification came at the direction of Family Court
Administrative Judge Nicholas A. Cipriani, who said later that he had
ordered Lipschutz to cease hearing the case "in the interest of the
system, so no one would feel that something improper had been done."

Friday's appearance on the bench was the first by Lipschutz since Cipriani
removed him from hearing cases July 24 after both a prosecutor and defense
attorney accused Lipschutz of making racial slurs and obscenities  in his
chambers after convicting a 17-year-old black youth of robbery.

Cipriani said last week that he had decided that Lipschutz should dispose
of several pending post-trial motions remaining from cases that he had
previously decided but that he should disqualify himself if any of  the
interested parties objected. Apparently none of the parties did object,
but nevertheless, in the midst of Friday's hearing, Cipriani called
Lipschutz on the bench and directed him not to continue.

On Monday, representatives of the district attorney's office and the
public defender's office met with  Cipriani to discuss the case, according
to members of both offices.

At that time, members of both offices said yesterday, the district
attorney's office agreed that Lipschutz's first order on Friday - the one
reversing the boy's conviction - should be granted.

Defense attorney Leslie Posnock contended at Friday's hearing that
Lipschutz had improperly considered a statement given by the youth,
confessing to the incident, without the required independent evidence that
 a crime had been committed.

Yesterday, during a hearing before Judge McCabe, Assistant District
Attorney Richard Green said he agreed that the arson conviction should be
reversed.  McCabe issued the ruling and sentenced the 13-year-old boy  to
probation on the two misdemeanor counts: conspiracy and unauthorized use
of an automobile and simple assault.

Posnock said the boy was released in the custody of his father and will
live in New Jersey.

Lipschutz was removed from hearing cases by Cipriani pending the outcome
of an investigation into allegations by Green and defense attorney Leonard
Tishgart that Lipschutz had cursed and made racial slurs in chambers
after convicting the 17-year-old.
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