“You know what downstate blacks call upstate blacks?
After hearing all the evidence, a judge appointed by the New York Commission on Judicial Conduct determined that Utica city court judge, Gerald Popeo, made this remark with a black attorney present during judicial activities. However that Commission refused to accept his finding and issued a mere slap on the wrist in the way of a public censure in 2015.
If that was all, it might be excused by the people served, but Judge Popeo went on to exact revenge on those he believed to be involved in the censure, thereby violating additional provisions of the ethical code in New York. One of his targets was Leon Koziol, the former civil rights attorney for Stephen Patterson. Judge Popeo presided over Patterson’s case in 2010 leading to a suicide attempt in the city lock-up.
Neither this attempt nor a shocking ordeal which followed came before the state commission. Consequently, in light of today’s racial crisis with Judge Popeo still on the bench, Mr. Koziol is lodging a complaint against Popeo with the same Commission seeking removal and a permanent ban from any judicial office. The content published here is designed to secure public support behind this initiative.
The above news interview features Stephen Patterson, the first African-American Commissioner of Public Works in Utica, New York. He was wrongfully fired, leading to a jury verdict of $330,000 obtained by long time civil rights attorney Leon Koziol. It was argued before Justice Sonia Sotomayor in a federal appeals court prior to her elevation to U.S. Supreme Court, see Patterson v City of Utica, 370 F. 3d 322.
A second recovery of $90,000 was obtained for Steve’s dad, a pastor, when retaliation occurred to his church through an abuse of code violations. That retaliation continued for many years after Steve opened a social club using the monies recovered against the city. A barrage of charges followed, resulting in an arrest warrant for non-appearance and first time incarceration. They were thrown out by a jury, yielding yet another civil rights case in 2009.
This news conference (both clips above and below) describes the trauma that Steve endured with a suicide attempt when a belt was placed in his cell that night. Steve was rushed to the hospital and actually arraigned there on the nuisance and code charges by city judge Gerald Popeo. Judge Popeo was later found guilty of using racial slurs during judicial duties by a judge of the state’s misconduct commission.
However Judge Popeo was merely censured and not removed, allowing him to exact revenge against Mr. Patterson’s civil rights attorney, a vow made during a bar conversation witnessed by a marine veteran in 2017. Six months later, Popeo managed to have himself assigned as a city judge to Koziol’s personal family court matters. He started with a nonappearance warrant.
When that was corrected, Popeo persisted with a support warrant based on a fraudulent, concealed record to achieve incarceration. It resulted in a “shoot on sight” threat by a traffic cop in 2018. Mr. Koziol was forced to take a stand against this warrant consistent with his rights of self-defense. In reports, he compared himself to the Rodney King beating with “fists and batons replaced by orders and edicts.” Either can achieve a fatal outcome.
This news clip adds to the ongoing problem of retaliation and lack of diversity in Utica city government. The Black Lives Matter movement has taken aim against racial injustices in this city, but as this highly followed news conference shows, nothing has changed. If anything, given this week’s racial incident involving Jakeila Phillips, the divide may have gotten worse since this 2010 news conference occurred. That shocking incident is detailed later.
There were multiple civil rights cases underway against the City of Utica and Town of New Hartford when Attorney Koziol was suspended as part of a witch hunt in retaliation for his many successes including a $300,000 recovery in a race discrimination case against the Oneida County Sheriff Department. That suspension caused at least four such cases to be dismissed or abandoned, including those by Stephen Patterson and Casey Stuckman in this interview.
In this week’s racially charged incident to be addressed below, video taker, Jakeila Phillips, complains of racial discrimination in the community. She was denied entry to a white-owned bar based on black stereotypes as trouble-makers. Both Patterson and Casey Stuckman operated a prominent bar and social club in Utica to make up for this. Both went out of business due to city harassment.
In Mr. Stuckman’s case, he was gang tackled and body-slammed to the ground, face down, before handcuffs were applied. And it occurred as a victim of a domestic incident shooting. When police arrived, the assailant was a woman holding a gun. Casey was the obvious, hapless victim of both race and sex discrimination. His depiction brings to mind images of George Floyd.
In this clip, Mr. Stuckman describes the racial divide between city police and the black community. In articulate manner, despite his false arrest and injuries, he does not condemn his attackers. He outlines a plan for change to make Utica a great city again, change that Ms. Phillips is seeking 10 years later which has yet to materialize.
In this clip of the same news conference, Attorney Koziol announces a public forum, one of many he sponsored over the years to influence change. It was well attended with numerous testimonials submitted to the Justice Department seeking an investigation into racist city practices.
To this day, there has not even been an acknowledgement of this report, including those recently hand-delivered to members of Congress and discussed personally with prominent national leaders. Today, we learn of movements erupting from the George Floyd murder focused on both police and judge accountability.
However, as this publication proves throughout, the responses from our governments are mere window dressing to detract from a much larger crisis in race relations. Will Black Lives Matter be patronized as these victims and their attorney were? Why lodge misconduct complaints when our public servants go to private extremes to ignore them, discredit them and literally kill the messenger?
Cornell Maye was the first African-American Public Safety Commissioner for the City of Utica, New York, placing him in charge of the police and fire departments. He was an aggressive commissioner and former city marshal quickly responding to numerous crime scenes.
One night he came upon a traffic stop in which a white patrolman was placed in serious danger. He came up undetected on the opposite side of the vehicle and prevented the passenger from using a concealed weapon. It turned out to be a drug bust but Mr. Maye turned up with charges against him for a misuse of firearms by local prosecutors.
As a civilian, it was alleged that he was not authorized to use his gun, despite the fact he may have saved his subordinate’s life. The gun charge was obviously a pretext for removal followed by a piling-on of additional charges. These included “misuse of city stationery” when Mr. Maye presented a written defense to the gun charge before a county judge. All the charges were ultimately dismissed (“no-billed”) by a grand jury.
Contrary to attorney recommendations of non-appearance before any grand jury (because of a prerequisite waiver of constitutional rights), Maye’s selected attorney, Leon Koziol, boldly advised the opposite because the charges were too absurd and retaliation so obvious. A civil rights action followed but dismissed on grounds of judicial immunity, prosecutorial immunity and police quasi-immunity, issues that are current after the George Floyd murder.
Only three years later, a city patrolman was murdered after a similar stop and drug bust without back-up on the scene. With his employment record saved, Mr. Maye went on to a successful career with the Raleigh, North Carolina Police Department. He is now happily retired and still married to the woman once employed as a minority codes enforcer with the same City of Utica.
Persecution of a civil rights attorney
As Mr. Patterson warns, retaliation is very real in civil rights cases and used to suppress change, free speech and whistleblowers such as his attorney.
The above news clips depict the final series of civil rights cases prosecuted by attorney Leon Koziol after 23 years of practice. That was in 2010 when he was targeted, subjected to false ethics charges, and punished with an ongoing 10-year suspension of his law license. It all came in retaliation for his filings, public forums and conscientious stand against draconian child support collection practices.
Like Susan B. Anthony who refused to pay her fine for the crime of voting, and Dr. Martin Luther King who opposed his release from Birmingham jail, Mr. Koziol risked his life and livelihood in a cause for fair treatment in our nation’s family courts. In retaliation, he was ultimately deprived all contact with his daughters, even denied notice of a 2020 graduation ceremony at the New Hartford Central High School.
The unwarranted and excessive punishment led to at least five applications for reinstatement since a 6-month suspension was completed in 2013, a term imposed due to an insider secretary influenced to tamper with office calendars. She was belatedly imprisoned on felony convictions in 2016. A sixth application is currently underway.
An ethics committee in Albany has opposed every reinstatement to date based largely on whistleblowing activity cited from this website, Leon Koziol.com. Its chief attorney and deputy attorneys engaged in the witch hunt against him were terminated by the ethics court after an inspector general exposed their falsified time sheets.
They were the standard bearers of lawyer ethics charged with a duty of preventing lawyer over-billing practices. Unlike Mr. Koziol’s highly discriminatory treatment without any criminal wrongdoing or malpractice, these “ethics” lawyers were allowed to return to private practice with no public charges, see Robert Gavin, Oversight lawyers quit amid inquiry, Times Union (Albany, New York) July 11, 2013.
In contrast, the indefinite license suspension has prevented Mr. Koziol from continuing with these and other civil rights cases. They were ultimately dismissed in the hands of lesser qualified counsel or abandoned altogether due to a lack of interest or affordable representation.
To illustrate the absurdity, Attorney Stanley Cohen was reinstated in 2018 only two years after his release from federal prison for tax evasion on some $3 million in unreported fees and income. These were felony convictions that routinely lead to a seven-year disbarment. However he somehow incurred a short term suspension instead and was known for representing cop-killers, drug dealers and terrorists.
In contrast, Mr. Koziol was punished more severely for representing true victims of racial injustice and a conscientious stand against corruption. He issued a series of reports since the one depicted in the front page story above. A 2015 report predicted his potential demise following the Walter Scott murder in 2015.
At the Walter Scott funeral in South Carolina, Mr. Koziol addressed national media, civil rights groups, Al Sharpton and Congressman James Clyburn, among others. He did so because this particular black lives victim was a father shot dead five times in the back while fleeing unarmed from a child support warrant uncovered during a traffic stop.
His report the same year was submitted to then Attorney General Loretta Lynch who testified along with Mr. Koziol, Preet Bharara and other invitees at a hearing of Governor Cuomo’s Moreland Commission on Public Corruption at Pace University in 2013. His prediction was realized in 2018 when a “shoot on sight” threat was made by a traffic cop to a driver of Mr. Koziol’s vehicle at a toll booth in Albany, New York.
As fate would have it, Mr. Koziol was not present in the vehicle, but a sworn statement, traffic report and court record corroborate the incident. Another consequential report that year was discussed personally with Senate Judiciary Chair Lyndsey Graham. It asks for a Justice Department investigation of this horrific ordeal supported by a peaceful, three-day lobby initiative and March on Washington.
As race related protests continue across America, leaders are praising peaceful demonstrations over violent ones. But as Mr. Koziol has experienced, his peaceful protests have earned no reforms. This one in 2019 featured a police escort from the White House to the Capitol and a lobby day when 600 reports were delivered by parents to members of Congress and Justice Department.
The “shoot on sight” threat was based on a secret bulletin attached to a child support warrant leaked to local media to further discredit Mr. Koziol and his message, not unlike attorney whistleblowers in China. Local Sheriff Robert Maciol admitted that the leak was unlawful and has yet to respond to a misconduct complaint against his deputy who triggered it.
The support warrant was issued by Utica City Judge Gerald Popeo. He was appointed under suspect circumstances to Mr. Koziol’s family court matters in 2017 to avenge a public censure issued against him by the state’s judicial conduct commission in 2015. Its startling racial aspects are presented below.
All recourse was closed off by federal and state judges abusing judicial immunity and other judge-created obstacles to be detailed in a later post. Ultimately a conditional filing order was orchestrated by federal judge Gary Sharpe despite an earlier order by a higher court which removed him from a case based on his use of a human gene in a sentencing decision, one that would not be discovered for “another fifty years,” see United States v Cossey, 632 F.3d 82.
Such Hitleresque decision-making is easily concealed, and it warrants removal from any American bench. But Judge Sharpe refused to step down from Mr. Koziol’s personal case, and impeachment is the only means for achieving removal for life appointments in the federal system. Such a rare process has shown to be prohibitive and costly this year. The filing order was to be challenged at a federal appeals court in Manhattan but put off due to the pandemic.
This is only some background needed to further understand the outrage among groups such as Black Lives Matter. If a civil rights attorney can be persecuted in this way, victims of racial abuse are denied recourse and accountability. When our justice system breaks down as evidenced here, the natural response is to take the law into one’s own hands.
Mr. Koziol’s ordeal is also critical to events relating to Jakeila Phillips in Utica, New York, victim of a race-laced, verbal assault in downtown Utica, New York this past week. That connection is now explained for the benefit of victims, reform groups and genuine accountability in government.
By Dr. Leon Koziol
Civil Rights Advocate
On July 1, 2020, headline news in upstate New York featured a racist video gone viral. A pregnant, black woman managed to capture a road rage incident four days earlier in downtown Utica. What Jakeila Phillips recorded as a pedestrian by-stander was beyond shocking at a time when racial tensions are skyrocketing.
According to the local Observer Dispatch newspaper in Utica, New York, a white passenger in a vehicle was engaged with a person in the one ahead of him. Attention then turned to the by-stander with her unnoticed camera activated.
That passenger actually, if not moronically, identified himself in the video as Barry Wardell while accosting Ms. Phillips with racial slurs and offensive statements such as “Black lives don’t matter.” The victim then calmly asks: “Anything else?” The offender answers by declaring that “Blacks should be slaves, give me back my property,” and further, that “he hangs n_ _ _ _ rs on the weekends.”
Yes this actually occurred in the geographic heartland of New York State during a nationwide crisis focused on the police murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, a horrific event which ignited mass, violent protests. It triggered protests in Utica and suburban New Hartford where the racist passenger lived. Joined by local black leaders at a recent news conference, Ms. Phillips is seeking “change” and justice as police investigate whether any crimes were committed.
But what Ms. Phillips and her supporters are likely unaware, any charges, i.e. harassment, hate crimes, may come before the city court’s longest tenured judge, Gerald Popeo, who was charged with using racial slurs while in office. According to Syracuse.com and a February 12, 2015 decision of the New York Commission on Judicial Conduct, this is what Popeo was accused of saying:
“You know what downstate blacks call upstate blacks? Country n____rs.”
Of course, that “country” classification would include Ms. Phillips and the black leaders who accompanied her at this week’s news conference. Unlike the road rage incident at the core of that conference, the Popeo slur could not be defended as an emotional outburst. It was premeditated, witnessed in court (not on a street) and conveyed in the presence of a black attorney .
Predictably Judge Gerry denied all this as he did other ethics charges such as a young prosecutor “standing there like a cigar store Indian.” He jailed litigants for such things as a “smirk” and threatened to come off the bench to assault the one who gave the routine facial gesture. His demeanor and arrogance were off the charts, and he was simply censured instead of removed altogether by the Commission.
Today, we see Black Lives Matter and other protesters tearing down statues and taking aim at events occurring decades, even centuries ago. But these are symbolic aims that mean nothing to perpetrators that are long gone. In Popeo’s case there is a critical opportunity to take aim at a racist who is still on the bench. Specifically I am submitting a formal complaint to the same judicial conduct commission which issued that “slap on the wrist.”
I am also seeking an action which permanently bans Popeo from seeking any future appointment or election as a judge in any court. Such recourse has precedent in the case of ex-family judge Bryan Hedges in Syracuse. He was among the 40 trial level jurists removed from my originally uncontested divorce since 2006.
I filed a motion to remove Judge Hedges from my custody case because such judges were allowed to interact with children in chambers without the parents present. I was chastised by lawyers on grounds that this judge had a reputation beyond reproach. But I had two young girls to protect who were my utmost priority.
To my surprise, Judge Hedges granted my motion due to “an appearance of impropriety,” and as fate would have it, Judge Hedges resigned abruptly one year later after being caught in an admission that he sexually abused his handicapped five-year old niece decades earlier.
The judicial commission was unmoved by the resignation and proceeded further with a permanent ban from any judgeship. Hedges appealed to New York’s high court but was slapped with a scathing opinion which left the ban in place, see In re Bryan Hedges, 20 NY3d 677 (2013). Judge Popeo’s misconduct is not decades old and it cannot be tolerated in the current racially charged environment. To ignore Judge Popeo is to ratify his racism in public office.
FYI: Both Hedges and Popeo were represented by former Utica Supreme Court Judge Robert Julian, currently a prominent personal injury attorney and former chairman of the Oneida County Legislature. If you would like to join my complaint for the removal of Gerald Popeo, contact me at (315) 796-4000 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org. In the meantime, let’s make this viral for the sake of true justice everywhere!