Lisa Zenzen Baker, 1961-2003


Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Committee takes a second look

Coffey withholds his letters
as committee probe restarts

By David Baker
Posted Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Committee on Professional Standards says it is now conducting a reopened investigation of my complaint against Stephen Coffey of the Albany law firm O’Connell & Aronowitz. In a tersely worded letter last week, an attorney on the committee’s staff says I will be advised when this renewed probe has been completed.

Last September, six months after I had filed the complaint, the committee informed me that it found no basis for a finding of misconduct. But it had not forwarded to me letters it had received from Coffey in response to my allegation that he had contacted me and said he would take a look at my existing wrongful-death case but instead tried to get the case thrown out of court.

As I have reported on this page, these letters present a gross misrepresentation of what happened. They also contain at least one flat-out false statement.

I saw the letters only after the file had been closed – and only because a committee staff member who apparently had been protecting Coffey died suddenly, and the person who took over the file clearly was not fully familiar with the case when he partially granted my repeated requests for any letters Coffey had sent to the committee.

Partially, because I was only allowed to read them at the committee’s office, with the staff member sitting and watching me. He would not give me copies of them.

I then wrote to O’Connell & Aronowitz and demanded copies of the letters Coffey had sent to the committee. I said that if it would not provide them, I would conclude that it was not prepared to stand by statements made about me by a member of the firm

I have received no response.


Meanwhile, Coffey is in the courtroom this week, defending Warren Powell. Powell is accused of strangling his pregnant wife, Mary Ann, in 1994 and dumping her body into the Hudson River.

It’s the second trial for Powell. He was found guilty the first time but the conviction was thrown out by the Appellate Division because of a mistake in jury selection.

Coffey was not representing him then and some people are wondering why he is doing it now. Powell is already serving a long prison sentence for an unrelated drug conviction. Does his family have enough money to pay for Coffey to represent him? Or is Coffey, at the end of a now-fading career, doing it for little or nothing, looking for the publicly?

Last week, Coffey suggested during his cross examination of witnesses that State Police investigators had fabricated evidence to back up the prosecution’s case.

That’s a serious allegation, which may or may not help his client when the lawyer puts on a defense. Either way, it certainly won’t make Coffey any friends in the law enforcement community.

But it could get him some additional media attention. Which may be exactly what he wants.