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ALBANY � An attorney who stole more than $7 million from his clients has been denied parole in part because the parole board took into consideration his record in prison, which was a positive one. The case of disbarred lawyer Steven J. Romer illustrates the broad discretion exercised by a parole board appointed by Governor George E. Pataki, who has long sought to eliminate parole. If the panel had considered only the seriousness of Mr. Romer’s crimes, he may well have prevailed in overturning his fourth parole denial, the Appellate Division, Third Department, suggested. But the board’s consideration of other factors supports its decision to deny Mr. Romer parole, even though those factors are generally favorable. Romer v. Dennison , 98467, arose from an appeal of a ruling last June in which Justice Bernard J. Malone Jr., now of the Appellate Division, First Department, annulled the Board of Parole decision denying Mr. Romer release. Justice Malone found that the board considered only the seriousness of Mr. Romer’s crime and ordered the panel to reconsider. But the Third Department reversed. It found that the board had noted and presumably considered factors other than the seriousness of the crime, and thus was on solid legal ground in denying Mr. Romer’s release. The appeals court reiterated that, absent a showing of abject irrationality, the board may do as it wishes so long as it addresses the statutory criteria. It may also give any weight it desires to the various factors that must be taken into consideration. Here, it said, the parole board took into account the statutory criteria. The Third Department said the parole board presumably considered the fact that Mr. Romer has served as a paralegal assistant in the Sing Sing law library, as an aide to the chaplain, that he taught other inmates legal research techniques and Hebrew, and that he has not received a single disciplinary ticket in the 13 years since he began serving a 7-1/2 to 22-1/2 year sentence for his deceit. Additionally, the board observed that Mr. Romer has no prior criminal record, expresses an intent to pay restitution to his victims and has never had a drug or alcohol problem, the court said. But the board also pointed out that Mr. Romer maintains his innocence and appears to disregard the impact that crimes he says he did not commit had on his clients. “As we previously have held, the Board need not recite each of the factors upon which it relied in making its determination, and its decision (actual or perceived) to place particular emphasis on the specific factor is not fatal where, as here, it is apparent that the Board’s decision was made in compliance with the statutory requirements,” Justice D. Bruce Crew III wrote for the unanimous panel. He was joined by Justices Thomas E. Mercure, Karen K. Peters, Anthony J. Carpinello and Anthony T. Kane. The court distinguished Romer v. Dennisonfrom Wallman v. Travis , 18 AD3d 304 (2005), where the First Department found nothing in the record to indicate that the parole board had considered anything other than the instant offense in denying parole to a prisoner. Wallmanalso involved an attorney, Jay Wallman of Manhattan, who stole $4.7 million from his clients in the mid-1990s. In that case, the First Department said: “A Parole Board’s exclusive reliance on the severity of the offense to deny parole not only contravenes the discretionary scheme mandated by statute, but also effectively constitutes an unauthorized resentencing of the defendant.” After it ordered a rehearing, the parole board approved Mr. Wallman’s release on July 6. $7 Million Stolen Mr. Romer, who will turn 70 later this month, was indicted in Manhattan and accused of stealing more than $7 million, including an orphan’s entire inheritance. He was missing for 55 days before showing up at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office in 1991, claiming that he had been abducted and that his captors had raided his trust accounts. The jury was out for three days before finding Mr. Romer guilty of grand larceny, possession of stolen property and possession of a forged instrument. In the past, elected officials ranging from then-U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan to Assemblyman James Tedisco, a tough-on-crime Schenectady Republican who was just elected Assembly minority leader, have advocated for Mr. Romer’s release, according to published reports. Mr. Romer is scheduled for a fifth parole hearing in June, but he could be conditionally released in February when, because of the length of time he will have served, he could be freed with good time credits and without another appearance before the Board of Parole. Mr. Romer appeared pro se. The parole board was represented by Assistant Attorney General Frank Brady. Habeas Denied In an unrelated case involving the Division of Parole, a federal judge has rejected a habeas corpus petition filed by a father’s rights activist who in 1998 sprayed chicken excrement on Court of Appeals Hall. Charles Collins III has already served his 1-1/3 to 4 year term for criminal mischief, but remains on parole until Jan. 28, 2006. So he is still in “custody” for habeas purposes. In 1998, Mr. Collins brought a 55-gallon drum containing a mixture of chicken manure and water, and a high-powered sprayer, to Court of Appeals Hall, where he desecrated the building to raise awareness of what he claimed was judicial corruption. He also had the event videotaped. After the Appellate Division, Third Department, affirmed his conviction, the Court of Appeals denied leave and the sentence was served, Mr. Collins commenced a pro se habeas corpus action challenging the constitutionality of the criminal mischief statute and the propriety of the grand jury proceeding. Mr. Collins argued that he should have received transactional immunity for testifying before the grand jury that indicted him, despite signing a waiver. Northern District Judge Lawrence E. Kahn disagreed, accepting the report-recommendation of U.S. Magistrate Judge David R. Homer. Additionally, Mr. Collins claimed that the criminal mischief statute is unconstitutionally vague. In particular, he disputed that his conduct caused more than $1,500 in damage to Court of Appeals Hall, arguing that the statute does not permit clean-up costs to constitute “damage.” Again, Judge Kahn adopted Magistrate Judge Homer’s recommendations and rejected the petition. “[A] reasonable person would know that spraying fifty-five gallons of chicken excrement would substantially lower the value and efficiency of the building,” Magistrate Judge Homer wrote. On the federal matter, Mr. Collins appeared pro se. Assistant Attorneys General Bridget E. Holohan and Gerald J. Rock defended the Division of Parole. � John Caher can be reached at [email protected] .

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