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The judges of the New York Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, will venture into Brooklyn this week for an extraordinary session that includes a case steeped in the history of rock and roll. With their home court in Albany undergoing a $37 million renovation, the judges will borrow Brooklyn Borough Hall for three days before returning to the capital for the remainder of their September calendar. Headlining the session is a case involving legendary rock and roll producer Phil Spector and an allegation he exploited a pioneering “girl group” trio called the Ronettes led by his future wife, Veronica “Ronnie” Bennett Spector Greenfield. Greenfield v. Philles Records Inc. is a contract dispute with potentially major implications in the entertainment industry. But the September calendar also includes several cases of lesser public notoriety, and at least equal legal significance. This month, in a session split between Brooklyn and Albany, the court will: � Decide whether New York law allows imposition of criminal liability against the adult owner of a firearm when a child uses the weapon without permission and accidentally harms another minor. In People v. Terrence Hitchcock and People v. Alex Duenas, the defendants were convicted of endangering the welfare of a child. � Revisit a ruling from 1983 on the scope of a grand jury subpoena served on hospitals with the aim of tracking down a felon who may have been injured during the commission of a crime. Matter of a Grand Jury Investigation in New York County. � Consider whether New York City has a right to state indemnification for hundreds of millions of dollars in personal injury claims stemming from alleged negligent highway maintenance. Matter of City of New York v. State of New York. The Ronettes case is scheduled for Thursday, and is rooted in a 1963 recording contract between the group and Mr. Spector. In the early 1960s, the Ronettes were an obscure trio of three teen-age girls from Spanish Harlem — Ronnie Bennett, her sister Estelle Bennett and their cousin Nedra Talley Ross. They had secured a small recording contract with Colpix, but until Spector granted them an audition, the girls played mainly at parties and were virtually unknown. After Spector got the Ronettes out of their Colpix contract and took the group under his wing, the trio’s success skyrocketed. With their beehive hairdos and honeycomb voices, the girls recorded 28 songs for Spector’s company, Philles Records, between 1963 and 1967. Their hits included “Be My Baby,” “Walking in the Rain,” “Baby I Love You,” “The Best Part of Breaking Up” and “Born to Be Together.” They also recorded a number of popular holiday songs, including “Frosty the Snowman,” “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus” and “Sleigh Ride.” In their heyday, the trio toured with the Rolling Stones and hung out with the Beatles. Spector went on to work for the Beatles, the Righteous Brothers and Tina Turner, created the acclaimed “Wall of Sound” technology, won a Grammy Award, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He wrote a number of popular songs, including “Spanish Harlem,” “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling” and many of the Ronettes’ hits. Under the 1963 recording contract, the Ronettes received a one-time payment of $14,482. They stopped recording in 1967 after their popularity waned. Spector and Greenfield married in 1968, but the couple separated shortly thereafter, and a protracted and messy divorce ensued. The marriage was finally dissolved six years later in California. BREACH OF CONTRACT CLAIM In the early 1980s, Spector began re-releasing Ronettes songs on compact discs and for movies, television and advertising. Ronettes songs have been featured in films like “Dirty Dancing,” “Goodfellas” and “Mean Streets,” the television series “Moonlighting” and in commercials for American Express and other companies. Spector made millions licensing out the songs, and while industry custom now calls for a 50 percent split with the performers, he declined to share any of the royalties. A breach of contract suit resulted. Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Paula Omansky in June 2000 held for the Ronettes and ordered Spector to pay them nearly $3 million, representing half the licensing proceeds, or the percentage that is now customary. The Appellate Division, 1st Department, affirmed and the matter is now before the Court of Appeals, where several issues have been raised. Spector’s attorney, Andrew H. Bart of Pryor Cashman Sherman & Flynn in Manhattan, contends Justice Omansky’s bench trial decision rewrote New York contract law, in part by relying on an alleged custom and practice — the 50 percent rule — that did not exist at the time of the agreement. What the contract between Spector and the teen-agers did say is that “all recordings … shall be entirely our property, free of any claims whatsoever by [the Ronettes] or any person deriving any rights of interest from you.” That, Bart insists, is clear as a bell. Omansky disagreed, finding the contractual provision ambiguous and holding that it did not give Spector the right to capitalize on the master recordings through synchronization and domestic licensing without paying royalties. Bart contends Omansky’s ruling threatens to undermine generations of contractual tradition and jurisprudence. “Unless the court reverses this unprecedented rewriting of New York law, not only will it cause massive upheaval in the recording industry, but it will create precedent for far broader judicial reformation of contracts whenever a court deems that the terms of contracts from earlier eras are not consistent with its ad hoc sense of equality,” Bart argues in his brief. Ira G. Greenberg of Edwards & Angell in Manhattan, counsel for the Ronettes, concedes that the contract gave Philles ownership rights to the master recordings. But he insists that it did not give Spector “free reign to exploit [the master recordings] in whatever way” he chose. “There is no judicial revolution to be quelled in this case,” Greenberg contends. “There are only routine issues of contract interpretation that the lower courts correctly decided.” GUN OWNER LIABILITY The two gun cases calendared for Sept. 12 in Albany raise pivotal questions about the criminal culpability of gun owners. In People v. Terrence Hitchcock, 12-year-old Billy Newark of Allegany broke a household rule and took a handgun from an unlocked storage area, loaded it and brought it outside with a 12-year-old friend. The gun discharged while Billy was attempting to free a jammed cartridge and his friend suffered a serious chest wound. Billy’s stepfather, a licensed gun collector who had 23 firearms — none of them secured and at least one of them loaded — on the premises, was convicted of a misdemeanor endangering count. On appeal, Roger W. Wilcox Jr. of Lipsitz, Green, Fahringer, Roll, Salisbury & Cambria in Buffalo, N.Y., argues for the defendant that an endangering count requires knowledge that a certain act is likely to result in harm to a child. Wilcox maintains that the prosecution’s theory “calls into question whether we should also prosecute parents who leave matches, poisonous household chemicals, kitchen knives, scissors, circular saws, flammable liquids, hot irons or other dangerous items where they can be accessed by children.” Cattaraugus County First Assistant District Attorney Lori Pettit Rieman said the case cannot be compared to one where someone “absent-mindedly leaves their car keys on the kitchen table.” Here, she said, the defendant had nearly two dozen guns and ammunition in his home, and had plenty of opportunity to safely store the weapons. People v. Alex Duenas arose after an 11-year-old boy on Staten Island found his older brother’s hidden handgun. While the boy, Danny Duenas, was showing the gun to a 12-year-old friend, it discharged. The friend was killed, and Alex Duenas, the 21-year-old brother, was convicted of various charges, including child endangerment. On appeal, the Appellate Term overturned the endangering count. Staten Island Assistant District Attorney Paul A. Capofari, is asking the Court of Appeals to reinstate the conviction. He argues the weapon was unsecured, loaded and illegally possessed, and that Duenas knew that his curious little brother was likely to discover and attempt to use the gun. Defense attorney David Crow of The Legal Aid Society in Manhattan observes that the gun was well hidden and that at the time there was no local or state law requiring safe storage of firearms. HOSPITAL SUBPOENAS The hospital subpoenas case arises from a Manhattan grand jury probe into a 1998 homicide. Evidence suggested that the assailant was cut and bleeding. The grand jury, contemplating the possibility that the perpetrator sought medical treatment, issued subpoenas on 23 hospitals, including four owned by the Health and Hospitals Corp. The subpoenas were drawn narrowly in an attempt to avoid the doctor-patient confidentiality problems identified by the Court of Appeals when it decided Matter of a Grand Jury Investigation of Onondaga County, 59 NY2d 130, in 1983. In the Manhattan case, the Appellate Division, 1st Department, reversed the trial court and quashed the subpoenas. Assistant District Attorney David J. Mudd will appear for the prosecution on Thursday. Timothy J. O’Shaughnessy of Manhattan is scheduled to argue for the Health and Hospitals Corp. COVERING NEW YORK CITY The Matter of City of New York v. State of New York has huge financial implications for both governing entities. At issue is a longstanding practice in which the state contracts with cities to maintain arterials, such as the Cross Bronx Expressway, the Staten Island Expressway, the Lincoln Tunnel and other highways. In all of the contracts, except the one with New York, the state agreed to provide liability insurance. When the state could no longer obtain insurance in 1985, it agreed to indemnify the cities. The question before the Court of Appeals is whether New York City is covered under that umbrella, as the city claims and as Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Phyllis Gangel-Jacob found, or excluded, as a unanimous panel of the Appellate Division, 1st Department, concluded in reversing Gangel-Jacob. Assistant Corporation Counsel Ellen B. Fishman will argue for the city Wednesday while Assistant Solicitor General Deon J. Nossel appears for the state.

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