Stuart Namm was a judge in Suffolk County, New York when he became suspicious and started asking questions about the actions of prosecutors and police in criminal cases. He then became a victim of political reprisals and personal intimidation that forced him off the bench. That’s when he had an epiphany.

The Long Island Newsday did an interview with Judge Namm recently about his memoir: A Whistleblower’s Lament:  The Perverted Pursuit of Justice in the State of New York.

It has been 21 years since Judge Namm left Long Island, abandoned by his political colleagues and thrown out of his job as a judge. His ouster came after he exposed fabricated police testimony in several murder cases. One would think that would have earned him respect and the title of true justice seeker, but that was only half the story. On the other side, several factions of the criminal justice system turned on him.

Now, he’s decided to tell the public what he saw, what he did, and what happened to the whistleblower. Former Judge Namm, now 80, began his book while still on the bench, but took it back up only last year after a scare with non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

“I can’t die without this story being told,” he said.

The book: A Whistleblower’s Lament: The Perverted Pursuit of Justice in the State of New York, describes Namm’s swift change in 1985 from “Maximum Stu”, the nickname he earned handing down hard sentences, to a judge skeptical of law enforcement’s dedication to its own oath. As things changed, the District Attorney’s Office began seeking his removal from cases saying he had “animosity and bias” against the prosecution.

[NOTE:  Judge Namm’s Book is On Sale Now:  A Whistleblower’s Lament: The Perverted Pursuit of Justice in the State of New York]

He realized there was perjured testimony in several cases and decided not to sit back and let it happen. He asked then-Governor Mario Cuomo to investigate law enforcement and the State Commission of Investigation began an investigation that would become a full blown scandal.  They ultimately released a report that condemned the Suffolk homicide and narcotics detectives and prosecutors for engaging in routine misconduct and showing no interest in disciplining those who engaged in it. Namm’s career wasn’t so lucky as a New York Times article from 1992 stated:

“No farewell banquet is planned for Judge Stuart Namm…the man some say toppled a district attorney, forced the police to reform, and shook the Suffolk bench…The 58-year-old former Army ranger has been dumped…in a political cross-endorsement deal that left him without a nomination…Republic and Democratic leaders deny that Judge Namm’s high-profile assaults on the…establishment kept his name off their list…Judge Namm…says anyone who accepts these denials believes in the tooth fairy, “It was a price I knew I was going to have to pay…”

“What happened to Judge Namm represents the very worst kind of political manipulation of the judiciary,” said Robert C. Gottlieb…”

“Thomas J. Spellman, the president of the Suffolk County Bar Association said…“As long as we have elected judges that come through the political system, we will have to live with it…”

In 1985, Judge Namm, a Brooklyn native, alleged that prosecutors knowingly allowed perjured testimony and that the police botched investigations in two murder cases that ended in acquittals. His allegations triggered a 3 year investigation by the State Commission of Investigation, a state watchdog agency. In 1989, the commission vindicated Namm upholding his allegations and citing clear evidence of abuses including coercion and false confessions.

Namm told The New York Times back then, “I never saw myself as a whistleblower. I thought I was doing what a judge was supposed to do.”

In 1991, after reforms took hold, Namm once again questioned things as he presided over a murder case where the man had confessed. In later statements, two other men confessed. Namm dismissed the murder charges against the man after ruling that his confession was coerced.  The aftermath of the investigation left Suffolk District Attorney Patrick Henry declining to seek re-election and much of the Suffolk Police Department’s leadership gone. But many of the people Namm named have become fixtures in the criminal justice system.

Thomas Spota, a former homicide prosecutor under Henry and then the former attorney for a police association is in his fourth term as district attorney. Former prosecutors William Keahon, Steven Wilutis, Ray Perini, and Timothy Mazzei are successful defense attorneys now. Mark Cohen, the head of the appellate bureau under Henry and the chief assistant district attorney under Henry’s successor, James Catterson Jr., is now an acting NY Supreme Court justice.

For Namm, that tells him one thing: things haven’t changed.

Although Spota had left the D.A.’s office by the time Namm exposed the misconduct, the former judge says that he was part of the law enforcement’s war on his credibility. Spota defended detectives and prosecutors to the State Commission Investigation’s hearings in 1987.  He’s disappointed that Cohen became a judge. Namm criticizes Cohen for directing an effort to get Namm off of certain cases, “Is Mark Cohen now not totally prosecution minded? People like Cohen – they have to answer to their consciences…” Namm wrote in his memoir.  Spota, Pernini, and Mazzei have spoken out against Namm’s memoir, still defending the police and prosecutors, more than 25 years later, saying that there was none to negligible misconduct.

“His recollection is very different from mine,” Spota said. “I think Namm was seeing shadows everywhere. Why was it only Judge Namm who saw this stuff, and no other judge?”

Namm has an answer to that.

“What happened in Suffolk County happened because trial judges are elected in the political system,” he said. His fellow judges declined to get involved in untoward things happening in their courtrooms because they were too worried about public image and inner-party relations, the two elements necessary for re-election.

Perini, chief of the narcotics bureau under Henry, said, “It seems like he’s become a bitter old man.”

Namm doesn’t necessarily disagree and said that anyone treated the way he was would be bitter, “I loved being a lawyer. The pinnacle of my success…was to be a judge and they destroyed my dream. It’s hard…I’m bitter about these people who have gone on to better things. That’s a difficult pill…to swallow.”

Namm was first elected in 1975, he barely squeezed out a win using two major strategies: anti-Republican backlash following Watergate and his promise to end the “revolving door” of justice. He quickly got a reputation as tough and lost his re-election in 1981. In 1982, NY Gov. Hugh Carey appointed him to a vacancy and he was re-elected that same year due to cross-endorsement. He was then named one of three judges who were to handle all homicides in Suffolk.

“I wasn’t asked to try homicide cases because I was a good judge,” Namm reflected, “It was because I was seen as a tough, pro-prosecution judge.”

He continued as a tough judge, setting high bail and routinely handing out the maximum sentenced to all convicted. That’s how he got his nickname, “Maximum Stu.” In 1984, Namm was presiding over the Vincent Waters trial. He was charged with attempted murder of a police officer.

Namm granted a hearing to Peter Newman, the defense, because he complained that prosecutors were systematically excluding young African American men from the jury pool. Assistant District Attorney Barry Feldman called four prosecutors, including Keahon and Wilutis, to testify that they regularly saw young African American men called for jury duty. Namm knew that wasn’t true.

“My eyes were now literally wide open!” he wrote, “Having heard this absolutely incredible testimony by four prosecutors, sworn to uphold the law, it didn’t take a great intellectual leap to realize that in the major offense bureau of the district attorney’s office…the conviction of a defendant justified whatever means was necessary to insure that result, including manufactured testimony…”

But, Namm kept his feelings to himself and ruled that Waters’ rights weren’t violated. Namm said he started paying more attention to what police and prosecutors did after that, “It turned my stomach. I knew things were going on in my courtroom that were wrong.”  In 1985, the murder trials of Peter Corso and James Diaz were on the docket. Corso was charged with a 1979 execution-style murder of Archimedes Cervera, a lawyer. During the trial, it was revealed that homicide detectives weren’t filing reports and that police had auctioned off the answering machine that belonged to the victim. It was found not far from his body in his office.  Corso was acquitted and police and prosecutors blamed Namm for biasing jurors against them. Namm said that the jury acquitted him because the police didn’t do a good job investigating. Corso later pled guilty to cocaine and as part of a deal did not contest the prosecution’s assertion that he had committed the Cervera murder.

Then, came the Diaz trial, a man charged with the rape and murder of Maureen Negus, 35, in her home in 1984. Detectives claimed that Diaz confessed and told them where he hid the knife (behind her house). They had found a knife in the woods there. Detectives said he initialed the crime scene photos as part of a confession, but refused to sign a written one.  By the time the trial came around, it was discovered that police failed to recover the real murder weapon, which was found 10 months after her murder in the basement just 15 feet from where she was killed. Defense Attorney Paul Gianelli called a handwriting expert who testified that the photos were initialed by a right-handed person, but the defendant was a lefty.

But Feldman, also the prosecutor in this case, called a jailhouse informant, Joseph Pistone, who said Diaz confessed to him and that he saw Diaz writing with his right hand. Pistone’s testimony shocked Namm and the defense because neither of them had heard anything about that during hearings pretrial. Namm recalls angrily telling Feldman,

“If this defendant is guilty, I want him convicted. But by God, if he is not guilty…he should not be convicted and it is not important enough to have perjurers come into this court to ensure that somebody is convicted…”

The officer who took Diaz’s suspected false confession was James McCready, who later would take Marty Tankleff’s alleged “confession”. Tankleff was convicted in 1988, at the age of 17, of his parents’ murders. He was sentenced to two consecutive sentences of 25 to life.

His conviction was initially upheld by a 3-2 vote. The dissenting judges believed there was insufficient evidence to convict him. Tankleff repeatedly lost, but didn’t give up. New evidence was uncovered over the years, including a sworn statement of Glenn Harris who said he drove two hit men to and from the Tankleff home the night of the murders. He was declined immunity in 2004, so he invoked his Fifth Amendment right. The defense was able to assemble more than 20 witnesses that corroborated Harris’ account. He still was not given a new trial. In 2007, after 17 years in prison, Tankleff was given a new trial after the Appellate Division of the New York Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the jury should hear the new evidence and that it was probable Tankleff would be acquitted.

New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo was appointed as special prosecutor for Tankleff’s retrial. Prosecutors Benjamin Rosenberg and Thomas Schellhammer reinvestigated the case and dropped the charges after not finding “sufficient evidence” to proceed to trial. Earlier this year, the state of New York settled a false-imprisonment lawsuit brought by Tankleff for almost $3.5 million. The centerpiece of the prosecution’s case was the “confession” that McCready took, but Tankleff never signed any confession. Tankleff said that police coerced his confession after lying to him. They told him that his father was still alive and implicated him. Tankleff always maintained his innocence. An alternative suspect, Seymour Tankleff’s business partner who may have hired a pair of hit men to kill them, was never investigated. The business partner, who maintains his innocence, owed Tankleff’s father $500,000. Following the murders, he faked his own death.

Thomas Spota, District Attorney at the time, said that he didn’t find any other theories about killers of the Tankleffs credible.

While the jury was deliberating in the Diaz case, Namm says he heard someone yell from the direction of Feldman’s office, “You lose, Stu!” and he found that his car was keyed. That’s when he decided to write the governor. He said the last straw was the intimidation. Three days later, Diaz was acquitted.

The rest of Namm’s term, which included state investigative panel hearings, featured open hostility by prosecutors toward him. In 1992, the Democratic Party refused to nominate him again.  As much as some people still dislike him, others still admire him.  Michael Ahern, then a Legal Aid Society attorney, now in private practice, recalled Namm dismissing a case after a pretrial hearing against a client charged with burglary whom detectives had hung on a fence by his handcuffs, then knocked his teeth out.

“Judge Namm was a good man,” Ahern said, “He was a good judge.”

According to Newsday, other attorneys praised him, but couldn’t go on record because they were still practicing. Namm’s adversaries don’t remember him fondly.

“We were very friendly,” Mazzei said, “I tried a lot of murders in front of him. He treated me like gold. But all of a sudden, he changed. He started to see the KGB in the bushes. He became extremely bizarre, with everyone.”  Henry, who became a judge after he was district attorney, said “He didn’t care for me…It was probably political…I wish him well and I hope his book is a success…”  Henry declined to comment on the events in the book, “My memory is not so good…I don’t want to misspeak.”

For Namm, the moral of the story is that elected judges are too compromised by the political system to be relied upon to speak out about injustices.  Namm still reads about law enforcement from Suffolk, “I hope they’re doing a better job now…” He noted that recently there were $30 million in settlements of civil suits over police misconduct (since 2002).

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Comments
  1. nefigat says:

    Unfortunately the only change in Suffolk County New York Courts. Is that things have obviously worsened. I like Namm can’t respect nor watch idly while Suffolk County Police who have the same dirty District Attorney Spota. In his 4th term as Dirty District attorney. Tom Spota has no feathers in his cap. He must be a soulless man. For the crimes that he does prosecute. That he should not. Then those covered up murders. The false arrests and dirty judges. The system in Suffolk and what they have been doing to MY family under Spota.. Just thinking about them. Makes my stomach queasy. You Mr.Namm I respect you as a judge and a man.
    Impossible to maintain your high standards being surrounded by colleagues who suffer from Psychopathy. Belong behind bars themselves. Certainly not on the bench. The worst of criminals.

    Like

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