Today is Friday!
New York City’s crime and courts news ranged from the sensational to the serious this week, with headlines on Tekashi 6ix9ine and a lawsuit challenging the National Rifle Association’s very existence. More details in The Allegedly List. For The Allegedly Original, author Peggy Gavan recounts a cat-centered courtroom drama from 1878 that makes today’s lawsuits between neighbors look tame. Since you’ll obviously love what you read, don’t forget to subscribe!
The Allegedly List
New York State Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit Thursday to dissolve the NRA, alleging that the gun-lobbying group engaged in “illegal conduct because of their diversion of millions of dollars away from the charitable mission of the organization for personal use by senior leadership.” The Manhattan Supreme Court suit called out NRA head Wayne LaPierre, former treasurer and CFO Wilson “Woody” Phillips, ex-chief of staff Joshua Powell, and general counsel John Frazer, for allegedly “contributing to the loss of more than $64 million in just three years for the NRA.” Via New York Attorney General
Not long after the AG announced her NRA suit, the group counter-sued, reportedly alleging in Albany Federal Court that “There can be no doubt that [James’] actions against the NRA are motivated and substantially caused by her hostility toward the NRA’s political advocacy.” The group also complained that James “maligned” them, “without a single shred of evidence, nor any sincere belief, that the NRA was violating the New York Not-For-Profit Corporation Law, or any other law.” Via New York Post
Rikers Island is seeing record-high levels of violence despite a 2015 consent judgment mandating that city and Department of Correction officials fix the problem. The Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s Office said Thursday that a new agreement had been brokered “to address ongoing non-compliance” with the five-year-old judgment; this just-announced agreement will once again call for reducing unnecessary force against inmates, ramping up investigations of use-of-force, and improving supervision of young inmates. Via New York Times and SDNY.
Tekashi 6ix9ine is officially done with home confinement following his release from prison in April over coronavirus concerns, his attorney said Sunday. Hernandez, who was arrested in November 2018 on racketeering charges related to his involvement with the Nine Trey Gangsta Bloods, still has five years of supervised release, and 300 hours of community service to complete, as well as a $35,000 fine. Via Vulture
Michael Cohen, who was sentenced to three years in prison after copping to campaign finance fraud, has been “offered work as a consultant and to make media appearances for a political action committee,” a Manhattan Federal Court filing revealed Wednesday. The filing also indicated that President Trump’s former lawyer, who was recently released from prison, was working “as quickly as possible” to push out a book on his ex-boss. Via Associated Press
The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, which has been fighting to get Trump’s tax returns, has hit Deutsche Bank, his “longtime lender,” with a subpoena, suggesting that prosecutors might be digging deeper than originally thought. Prosecutors also mentioned “public reports of possibly extensive and protracted criminal conduct at the Trump Organization” in a court document earlier this week, indicating they might be probing potential financial crimes. Via New York Times
New York state’s “Commission to Reimagine the Future of New York’s Courts” released a report Wednesday with recommendations on how to resume in-person proceedings, such as “consider impaneling extra alternates or extending service for grand juries to reduce the need for new panels to be picked, where permitted under the law.” Among the ideas for handling courtroom spectators is to “consider use of pool reporter if significant media attention is anticipated” and “consider livestreaming, where available.” Via New York State Office of Court Administration
Eighteen New York City police unions sued Thursday over new anti-chokehold legislation, saying electeds exceeded their authority in green-lighting the law and that it “fails to give officers notice of the precise sort of conduct not permitted when effecting an arrest.” The Eric Garner Anti-Chokehold Act classifies choke-holds—which have been banned by the NYPD for nearly 20 years—as a Class A misdemeanor that can result in fines and up to one year behind bars. Via New York Daily News
NYPD cops utilized a paid informant to get close to the anti-police protester who was arrested for allegedly attempting to cut the brake lines on a police car, Brooklyn federal prosecutors said Wednesday. “The information provided by the CS has proven reliable in the past and has been corroborated by independent investigative techniques,” the feds reportedly said. Via New York Daily News
Manhattan Federal Judge Jesse Furman on Wednesday expedited the schedule of a lawsuit challenging Trump’s recent changes to the U.S. Census, which include “excluding undocumented immigrants from political apportionment and bumping up the deadline for in-person interviews.” James sued the Trump administration in July, following a memo which sought to change how “persons” were counted. Via Courthouse News Service
The Allegedly Original
Fur, Loathing, and Arsenic on the Upper East Side
By Peggy Gavan
Sitting behind his desk at the Yorkville Police Court on the East Side of Manhattan, Judge James F. Kilbreth could barely contain his laughter during what The New York Times called “the most amusing farce.” Standing before him was the plaintiff, Mr. M. Christensen of 115 East 77th Street, who had filed several complaints against his backyard neighbors, Mr. W. Lunt of 118 East 78th Street, and Mr. W. Haas of 120 East 78th Street. On his desk was the “collateral evidence, rolled up in a towel,” consisting of coal bits, brickbats, stones, and small chunks of wood.
Christensen, a Danish fresco painter, had charged his neighbors with disturbing his peace of mind and domestic comfort by using the items to torture a notorious black cat on his property. Unable to speak fluent English, he presented the judge with a hand-written note on which he wrote, “The circumstances bid us like other people to keep a cat and the law do not forbid it. A cat after my opinion is a evil, but rats and mice is still worse. A cat like other living beings cannot always be kept imprisoned in the house without cruelty to the animal.”
Smothering a laugh, Judge Kilbreth asked Lunt and Haas if they recognized any of the exhibits now splayed on his desk. They said they did not. In turn, Christensen told the judge he could not positively identify the defendants as those who had thrown the missiles. Amid great roars of laughter, the court confiscated the evidence and promptly disposed of it.
Christensen apologized to the judge for his “hurried writing” and humbly stated that all he wanted was for the court to take notice of the situation and to issue his neighbors a warning.
With its bumbling antagonist and hapless feline victim, this court story no doubt served its purpose in selling newspapers. Today, however, the 1878 courtroom drama is much more profound than a trivial animal tale. It is a window into the deep socioeconomic divisions of this era, all contained within a small block between East 77th and 78th Streets.
Here, those residents on the bottom rung of the ladder had shared a symbiotic relationship with the stray cats. They depended on the felines to keep the vermin away from their food crops, and the cats relied on them to share their meager food scraps and provide shelter. Those on the top rung had no use for the cats, and thus viewed them as nuisances that interfered with their lifestyles and lowered their property values.
Area map from the New York Public Library
The court’s handling of this case is also a good example of how justice was often reserved for the privileged few. By abruptly dismissing the case with a laugh, the judge essentially thumbed his nose at the lower-class citizens while giving a thumbs-up to the upper-crust man who had purportedly tortured a cat, damaged physical property, and committed perjury in court.
So, how did Lunt and Haas end up in court in the first place? To answer that question, we must travel back in time to the square bounded by 77th and 78th Streets and Lexington and Fourth (Park) Avenues.
According to the Times article, this area was an interesting mix of “aristocracy and penury,” where half was occupied by “handsome houses of the well-to-do” and the other half by “Irish families of limited means” who lived in two-story wooden cottages resembling “the thatched ones of the old country.” The former cultivated their fragrant backyard gardens with “loving care” while “the plots of ill-kept ground in front of the tumble-down structures bloom[ed] with the emerald cabbage head and the potato.”
Alas, separating the flower gardens of the upper class townhouses and the vegetable yards of the lower class cottages, was a long board fence upon which numerous stray cats gathered at night. Level with this fence was the roof of Christensen’s kitchen, where the felines held choir practice every evening.
The Times reported at the time that “After the evening shades have fallen, it resounds with a commotion, as if a multitude of Mr. Abrahamsen’s aeolian business harps were singing their discordant solos to the balmy night air. Thereby hangs a tale, or rather thereby hang a number of tails.”
In the summer of 1878, this wooden fence made for unhappy neighbors. The reporter for the Times—possibly touching on a popular stereotype that many immigrants of that era were former pig farmers who allowed their animals to roam at will in their homeland—described the scene in saying, “The poorer denizens of Seventy-eighth Street being unable to rear the perambulating pig in their cottages, as on the other side of the water, endeavor to atone for the deficiency by rearing up whole troops of cats. Each of the poorer families has, by the estimate of the rich, at least 15 cats, with their full accompaniment of kittens.”
Then, switching gears and throwing in some anthropomorphism that the Times was famous for using during the late 1800s and early 1900s, the reporter described the conflict over this cat cacophony in political terms.
“Every night these felines hold meetings, the Thomases resorting to the Democratic cat primary, and their wives and children flocking to the female garden party. Both primaries and garden party are held by common consent upon the great board fence,” the newspaper said. “As the Thomas cats raise their voices in heated discussion of the political topics of the day, and the females expand their lungs in kindred discussion of female suffrage and a united protest against the tyranny and cruelty of the human male, the neighborhood resounds with a loud and discordant chorus, which becomes even more loud and discordant when the discussions are abandoned and the male and female unite in melodious courtship.”
Lunt not only abhorred the backyard concerts; he also believed the cats were using the fence and kitchen roof as a medium for reaching his garden and tearing up his flowers with “relentless vigor.” After watching the cats destroy his garden more than 20 times, he decided to take out a large black cat that was particularly destructive.
So, one Sunday, Lunt placed some meat—sprinkled with arsenic—in the garden. Then he armed himself with two dozen wine bottles and stood at a rear window in his third-story brownstone, where he had a commanding view of his flowers. He watched the black cat leap onto the kitchen roof, step along the fence, spring into the garden, and drag the meat into a row of flowers. Then he fired every bottle at the cat. They all missed the target. The end result was 24 shattered bottles and a cool cat that never budged.
Next, Lunt armed himself with a large piece of coal from the cellar, which he threw at the cat. The spry feline sprang upon the kitchen roof and jumped about 10 feet in the air as the coal struck and shattered the fence. In response to a woman in the Christensen house who shouted at Lunt, he threatened to kill the cats if she didn’t keep them out of his garden. The outcome of this threat was “a series of amusing complaining epistles to Judge Kilbreth, and the summoning to the Yorkville Police Court.”
In the end, the judge dismissed the case. Lunt and Haas promised to return to court, but this time as plaintiffs against the neighborhood cats. The men told the Times reporter that he could expect to see them again in a few days.
The Times concluded, “The concert of felines arose once more upon the night air in the square last night…”
Perhaps justice had been served.
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