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The Evergreen case -- Have Justice and Democracy in Rockland been Denied?

By Mike Diederich, Jr.


To die in a fire is a horrible death. And when recklessness and stupidity rise to the level of criminality, perpetrators should go to jail or prison when deaths have resulted.


I am not sufficiently acquainted with the facts to pass judgment on the persons — both rabbis — who caused the death of a firefighter and an elderly man. As a lawyer and former Army prosecutor, I know that proving a criminal case can be difficult.


People make mistakes and are not perfect. Carelessness and negligence can get someone killed — take a typical highway tragedy — without the mistake rising to the level of criminality.


But people also expect justice from the criminal justice system. This means holding people accountable, even if they are upstanding members of their community. The call for “Justice, without Fear or Favor” does not mean good deeds can become a “get out of jail” card when injustice results.


Thus, justice is served when an offender is punished fairly. But justice also has a larger component, namely, prevention of crime in the future. Deterrence!


Justice will be denied to innocent inhabitants of buildings who die in deadly blazes because fire codes are ignored by inspectors, or by landlords being intentionally ignorant of fire codes and safety.


Justice will be denied to first responders — especially volunteer firemen — who are forced to risk their lives fighting a blaze caused by the disregard of safety.


Thus, justice requires both fair punishment of offenders and punishment sufficient to deter similar criminal conduct by others in the future.


There seems to be an impression by many that the two rabbis (father and son) who were prosecuted in the Evergreen case are receiving special favor by the DA and the Judge.


I cannot opine as to the District Attorney, because I do not have the evidence that the District Attorney has. However, it is too often the case that prosecutors are afraid of trying sound cases out of fear of losing. Some prosecutors have almost a 100% record of wins, which means they don’t try cases that should be tried — even though prosecuting the case will itself deter others from similar criminality, even if the jury finds for the defendant.


As to Judge Russo, I think criticism is misplaced. He can only adjudicate what is presented to him, including a plea deal. If he were to reject the plea, it might cause the prosecution to go forward. But it might also do the opposite—it might cause DA Walsh to drop all charges. DAs have absolute discretion in this regard.


In Rockland County, there is the impression by many that some “religious” communities disregard laws that are applicable to everyone else. For example, the leadership of the Satmar Hasidic sect is perceived as seeing itself as above the law, by disregarding the requirements of the N.Y.S. Education Law by denying that sect’s children a sound secular education.


Depriving children of a sound liberal education (history, literature, science, civics, sex education, mathematics) leads to poverty. Poverty, in turn, creates the need for financial assistance from government. It also creates the need for shortcuts or inaction, to save money. Shortcuts, inaction and insufficient education can result in deaths. These may have been factors the Evergreen fire that killed two men. So too perhaps in an electrical fire which killed three adults and two children in Spring Valley in May 2023.[1]


Some people have asked me to run for the office of District Attorney again. I ran in 2003, so that the incumbent, Michael Bongiorno, would have an opponent. Voters should have a choice on Election Day.


I ran for DA again in 2019, as an independent, because of a groundswell of citizens upset with the fact that Mr. Walsh was on both the Democratic and Republican Party lines (even though he was not an incumbent and had no prosecutorial credentials warranting being anointed into this very important elective office).


Shame on both the Rockland County Democratic and Republican Party leadership for anointing Mr. Walsh again. Voters are wondering “where is our choice?” Voters are also asking: “Are both political parties afraid of the increasingly powerful Hasidic Bloc vote? Are both parties being corrupted?”


In light of the Evergreen controversy regarding a plea bargain resulting in no jail time, I was asked if I would run for DA again. Well, the Election Law does not permit late entries, so my answer is “no” for that reason, as well as the reality that it takes a great deal of money to win a county-wide race.


I was asked if I would run as a “write-in” candidate. My response was that I do not believe anyone has ever been elected to a countywide office through a write-in campaign.


Of course, I am flattered by being asked to represent the families of firefighters and first responders—fellow citizens comprised of Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, Jews and Gentiles, and others, each an American. It gave me a sense of community here in our county. Rockland’s future depends upon citizens who care. Starting with local firefighters and ambulance corps volunteers.


I was asked: “What if the citizens of Rockland County elect you in a write-in campaign”? Well, how could I decline such an unprecedented result. Of course I would accept the job, and with the utmost humility.


But let’s please be realistic—no election is ever won without a massive effort by those involved who wish to elect anyone to political office. This is so even when their name is on the ballot on a major party line.


I do hope people will consider joining my Serve Rockland Civic Association. That is where I post articles about the serious issues we face in Rockland County, particularly regarding governance, criminal justice and democracy. I invite Rocklanders to contribute articles.


Within the next couple of weeks, I will write an article regarding victims’ rights in the N.Y.S. criminal justice system. Regarding the Evergreen case, it is not only the families of Spring Valley Firefighter Second Lieutenant Jared Loyd and Mr. Oliver Hueston who are the living victims,[2] but also all local firefighters and other emergency responders whose volunteerism is made more dangerous if criminal negligence, recklessness, and manslaughter are not deterred in Rockland County.


Mike Diederich

Diederich Law Office

Stony Point, NY

23 June 2023

[1] See, Eyewitness News, "At least 5 people killed, 5 others injured in Spring Valley house fire," WABC (March 5, 2023), https://abc7ny.com/spring-valley-fire-rockland-county-house-new-york/12913221/.

[2] The N.Y.S. Executive Law provides at § 647, in relevant part, that: “1. The court shall consider the views of the … family of a homicide victim … regarding discretionary decisions relating to the criminal case, including, but not limited to, plea agreements and sentence.”


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