Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
Their typical clients are investment bankers and real estate moguls — not exactly society’s downtrodden. But two young commercial litigators and their boss wound up with hearts on their monogrammed sleeves in representing a child traumatized after testifying in a high-profile murder trial. The unlikely trio persuaded a judge to declare New York’s Crime Victims Compensation Board “arbitrary and capricious” in refusing to underwrite the cost of special schooling needed to repair severe psychological damage suffered by an 8-year-old boy. The boy’s testimony in the slaying of a neighbor was crucial in convicting a killer he used to call “Puppy” — the seemingly friendly fellow who gave him carriage rides. “This was my first real juicy [pro bono] assignment,” said Matthew E. Hearle, 34, an associate at Goldberg, Weprin & Ustin. “It was all quite serendipitous.” Indeed, the case grew from a chance conversation at the Pelham commuter train station between the boy’s father and Hearle’s boss at the time, William M. O’Connor, managing shareholder in the New York office of Pittsburgh’s Buchanan Ingersoll. “And it was quite a tricky case to prepare,” said Hearle, a graduate of Widener University School of Law in Harrisburg, Pa. He recently moved to Goldberg Weprin from Buchanan Ingersoll, where he acted as lead attorney in Boyd v. New York State Crime Victims Compensation Board, 200/01. “In drafting it, we couldn’t strong-arm a victory. We had to finesse it. “With no case law to hang our hat on, [the decision] was a long time coming.” The matter now passes to Hearle’s former colleagues at Buchanan Ingersoll: O’Connor, 47, and second-year associate Diane M. Nardi, 28. Should the state decline to appeal Justice Daniel D. Angiolillo’s forceful ruling early this month for the plaintiff — William Gouin, who is now 14 — Nardi will ask the compensation board to repay three years of steep tuition for the boy’s special needs. Nardi, a graduate of New York Law School, said the amount was approximately $80,000. According to court papers, the board rejected reimbursement on the basis of William Gouin’s pre-existing learning disabilities. But Justice Angiolillo in his May 7 decision faulted the state body for its “failure to determine from proof presented that William suffered a material adverse effect as a result of the crime, and the erroneous determination that it had not been shown that the public school system could not adequately address the trauma, anguish, emotional turmoil and exacerbation of William’s learning disabilities.” Nothing in the applicable statute [Executive Law Article 22] justified the denial, Justice Angiolillo ruled. He offered an analogy: “An individual with a back injury would not be told he could not consider surgery that might cure the condition just because he received some relief from a chiropractor or a physical therapist.” As a purely factual claim, the case was passed over by a number of law firms before the boy’s family succeeded in attracting Buchanan Ingersoll, which quickly took it up as a pro bono matter. Until then, the boy’s parents, George Gouin and Cory Boyd, had tried to retain 10 attorneys. “I elaborated my case all those times, only to be told there were no precedents, that I didn’t have a chance in the world,” said Boyd. “Then Bill [O'Connor] took this on without blinking an eye. “In fact, I remember him asking, Why didn’t you come to me first? Well, we didn’t because he was a friend. We didn’t want to take that route.” TRAIN DEPOT CONVERSATION And, in fact, the conversation at the train depot was strictly business — at first. Gouin happens to be in the business of corporate advertising specialties — company logos applied to mugs, T-shirts, stress balls and the like — and Buchanan Ingersoll happens to be among his clients. “He had some question on a mug or something,” said O’Connor, who happens to be a member of the Pelham Town Council. “But in the middle of it, he opened up and started telling me the whole story. “So I asked him, What are you doing right now?” In short order, Gouin was explaining to O’Connor and Herle and Nardi how his son’s emotional problems had been treated in public school, how he was progressing nicely toward mainstream classes, but then how he hit the wall. Namely, the boy’s experience in court caused him to lose control of his emotions altogether and to virtually shut down for two years. All this necessitated the private schooling his family could ill afford. Through the long process, there was help from the Westchester County District Attorney’s Office. Boyd credits Marianne Walsh, assistant to the director of public affairs, and Executive Assistant District Attorney David Hebert with critical guidance as she assembled documents for the compensation board. “We were happy to assist the family at whatever level we could,” said District Attorney Jeannine Pirro, whose letter of support for William Gouin became part of the court papers before Justice Angiolillo. “Without the testimony of the son, there would not have been a conviction — period. “It’s a sad commentary on the criminal justice system when people who assist us in a murder case — who simply want to be compensated for the devastating emotional effect — are denied. It’s just not right.” COMPENSATING CRIME VICTIMS The New York State Crime Victims Compensation Board is a five-member group appointed by the governor. The mission, according the board’s Web site, is to “provide compensation to innocent victims of crime in a timely, efficient and compassionate manner.” Currently, the board is headed by Joan A. Cusack. A call to her office for comment was referred to the New York Attorney General’s Office. A spokesman for the Attorney General would say only that no decision has yet been made on whether to appeal Justice Angiolillo’s ruling. “I don’t think there’s much basis for appeal,” said O’Connor. “This kid was having nightmares all the time. All the time! The family had the D.A. behind them. And the family met all financial requirements.” The family money troubles, according to O’Connor, stem from her husband’s heart ailment, a viral disease that struck him before the murder trial. To pay the bills, he had to sell his restaurant business. Boyd said two-thirds of her Gouin’s heart function was destroyed. “Here was a six-foot-four man who used to run marathons who suddenly couldn’t drag an empty trash container up the driveway,” said Boyd. With reference to the neighborhood murder and her son’s testimony, she said: “My husband was just getting his health back, and we were just getting adjusted — then this. “We’re not yuppies from Pelham trying to beat the system. This is about what’s right for this child. And it’s bigger than us,” she added. “It’s staggering how many children are involved in violent crimes. “The people sitting on this [compensation] board were just totally ignorant of the effect on children.” Indeed, O’Connor sees his pro bono team’s success as potential landmark law. “The statute is broad,” he said. “Help is help. You don’t get into defining what you can and cannot allow.” In the next stage of the case on behalf of William Gouin, Nardi and O’Connor may surely count on the continued support of the Westchester District Attorney — especially that of Walsh. Walsh’s own father, it happens, was a murder victim.

This content has been archived. It is available through our partners, LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law.

To view this content, please continue to their sites.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Not a Bloomberg Law Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law are third party online distributors of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law customers are able to access and use ALM's content, including content from the National Law Journal, The American Lawyer, Legaltech News, The New York Law Journal, and Corporate Counsel, as well as other sources of legal information.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.