Lisa Zenzen Baker, 1961-2003


Sunday, April 19, 2009

Coffey's close encounter

The imagined danger
was closer than he knew

If it’s Wednesday, this must be Amtrak

For someone who so causally tramples on other people, attorney Steve Coffey leads a remarkably visible life.

His home address – on New Scotland Road in Slingerlands—is listed in the phone book. And most weeks, he literally broadcasts his whereabouts as he spends time promoting himself on radio broadcasts from the Amtrak station in Rensselaer.

And now he has been in the news for almost three weeks during the murder trial of Warren Powell, with his presence in the courthouse known to anyone with a newspaper, a TV or a computer.

This is a man who claimed in legal papers that I am “driven by paranoia” and alleged (in a letter to me) that I had carried out “assaults” on him and his office. Later (in a letter to the Committee on Professional Standards that he thought I would never see), he accused me of making repeated phone calls to his office during which I angrily demanded attention to my case.

There were no such phone calls. Not one. Just as there was no police misconduct in the case he just tried.

So look who’s calling me crazy.

But until he reads this post, he will have had no idea how close he was last week to the person he has claimed is unstable.

During a break in the Warren Powell trial Thursday morning, I left the courtroom and went to a bathroom next to the main stairs. The small room was empty when I walked in but a few seconds later, with my back to the door, I heard but did not see someone else enter and go into a stall. Then I turned to use a washbasin next to the door and as I did the other person came up behind me to also use the basin.

It was Coffey.

For about 30 seconds we stood side by side, both of us taking paper towels from two the dispensers in the small space. Then, without speaking, I left and went quickly back to my seat in the courtroom, wondering if Coffey might have recognized me and would make yet another false accusation.

But as the case continued he glanced around the courtroom several times without showing a flicker of recognition, not even a ‘where have I seen that person before’ expression. It was soon apparent that he did not know who I was.

When the court recessed for lunch, I asked a photographer if there was somewhere close by to get something to eat. He suggested a place called Cascades, just a block away. But as I approached the restaurant I saw Coffey and two other people with him going in.

I crossed to the other side of Warren Street and found another place to eat.

– David Baker