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Frank S. Russell, a former Suffolk County, N.Y., prosecutor and plaintiffs personal injury lawyer, would have been better off if he had quit while he was ahead. After more than two years of litigation over an $80 fine for making an unsafe lane change, he was able to overturn his conviction and, after yet another four-month delay, he finally got his money back. But, concerned that a legal maneuver by a village prosecutor might put him back to square one, he pressed on. The result: the Appellate Term for Long Island sanctioned him $1,000. Russell’s saga began on the night of Nov. 17, 2002, when he was pulled aside by a police officer as he was edging past an accident. Some words were exchanged between one of Russell’s passengers and the officer, and the officer proceeded to ticket him. Lake Success Village Justice Howard Boris found him guilty on one of the two tickets issued. Russell, of three-lawyer Lite & Russell in West Islip, N.Y., appealed. In February of this year, the Appellate Term for Long Island reversed his conviction in the Lake Success Village Court after Russell had expended “many hours and hundreds of dollars” worth of legal time. Then, Russell made a number of phone calls to court personnel at the Lake Success Village Court in a vain effort to get his money back and his record expunged. Finally, he said, at the end of May he asked the Appellate Term to hold Boris in contempt of court. That broke the logjam. The village judge hired Donald Jay Schwartz, of Forchelli, Curto, Schwartz, Mineo, Carlino & Cohn in Mineola, who promptly contacted the state Comptroller’s Office and the Department of Motor Vehicles to resolve the problem. By the end of July, Russell had his money back and his record had been expunged. At that point, Schwartz thought the matter was over, and he asked Russell to withdraw his contempt motion. Russell, however, refused because the Lake Success Village prosecutor was seeking to reargue the Appellate Term’s reversal of his conviction. In view of the pending motion, he said, he would only drop the contempt motion if the village prosecutor abandoned his reargument request. “I was surprised,” Schwartz said, “The motion was obviously moot and he was asking me, as the judge’s lawyer, to ask the village prosecutor, an independent official over whom the judge had no control, to take an action on matter that he had presided over.” Schwartz cross-moved for sanctions, and, earlier this month, the Appellate Term agreed with him, and fined Russell $1,000. Ironically, the Appellate Term denied the village prosecutor’s motion to reargue on Aug. 26, only four days after the cross-motions for contempt and sanctions were submitted to the court for a decision. Russell said he will pay the fine but feels the sanction “was unfair because I was just trying to vindicate myself.”

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