In a few weeks, an interesting trial will be getting underway in Queens Criminal Court here in New York. The underlying incident should provide fodder for either a Lawyer of the Day or a Judge of the Day — but it’s not clear which.
The episode giving rise to the criminal charges was reported back in May by the New York Daily News:
A disabled lawyer accused of touching the rear end of a Taxi and Limousine Commission judge is blaming it on his cerebral palsy. Queens prosecutors have charged Hippocrate Mertsaris, 35, with sexual abuse and sexual harassment for allegedly grabbing the woman’s inner thigh and buttocks during a meeting in her Kew Gardens offices.
Mertsaris’ lawyer, Wyatt Gibbons, admits his client touched the woman but denies it was sexual. “He whacked her in the butt but it wasn’t sexual abuse,” Gibbons said. “He has spastic movements.”
Let’s dig a little deeper….
An account of the event that’s favorable to Hippocrate Mertsaris, who goes by “Chicho,” appears over at Banned on the Web. It’s derived largely from an interesting Fox News video clip (embedded into the post). The segment reports that the wheelchair-bound Mertsaris has difficulty controlling his limbs due to his cerebral palsy. He has to rely upon his father and an aide for help with the most basic tasks, such as feeding himself.
But he is able to work as a lawyer, aided by technology:
The thinking part of Mertsaris’ brain works fine. He moves his head to manipulate a computer. He graduated from college and earned a law degree.
Mertsaris works as a lawyer at the Taxi and Limousine Commission. He handles cases involving taxi drivers.
(Random aside: I’m actually going to “taxi court” later this month, to testify against a cab driver who refused to accept a credit card payment or even to turn on his meter, on a late-night ride into Manhattan from JFK Airport — presumably so he could just pocket my cash fare. If anyone has advice for me, please leave it in the comments.)
Back to the post, and the judge’s accusations:
Last October, a TLC judge accused Mertsaris of grabbing her upper thigh and buttocks while they were in the office alone. His aide had gone to file papers.
His arms and hands tend to flail around and that’s where the trouble started. When people get too close to him, Mertsaris tends to get nervous and he has more trouble controlling his arms. He says his arm moved and hit her. He says he did not intend to touch her.
So that’s Mertsaris’s side of the story — and the case for making this judge, kept anonymous because she claims to be the victim of a sexual assault, a Judge of the Day. Accusing a disabled man who can’t control his limbs of sexual harassment, because his flailing arms once grazed the judicial buttocks? For shame, Your Honor.
(By the way, perhaps the term “judge” should be in quotation marks; she’s a mere ALJ.)
Now let’s hear the judge’s side of the story. First, according to the DA’s office, Mertsaris does have some use of his hands — or at least more control over them than he claims.
Second, Mertsaris has a history with this judge. Two years ago, he sent the judge a series of emails — which appear to have creeped the judge out, since she asked Mertsaris’s supervisors to make him stop emailing her (which he did). Under this reading of the situation, Mertsaris is trying to use his disability as a free pass to harass.
In the comments on the New York Daily News article, both sides of the story are presented. Here’s one commenter who takes the judge’s side (and who may have a future in rap):
Oh PLEEEEEZ! Everyone knows that this PERVERT has been bizarrely OBSESSED with this woman for YEARS.
For [fellow commenter] WNG and friends: Poor Chicho’s been HOPING to go GROPING. He got his CHANCE and imagined ROMANCE. His physical condition’s SAD, but this boy is BAD.
And here’s one commenter who takes Mertsaris’s side:
This whole thing is ludicrous. I am ‘s sister and I can’t tell you how many times I was hit by him when we were younger. He never once meant any harm. He is not only confined to a wheelchair. He needs someone to feed him, dress him, bathe him and wipe him when he goes to the bathroom. He doesn’t just need help, he actually needs someone who can do all this for him.
There are errors in the article written by DN. This judge actually went into HIS tiny little office when the incident occurred. She happened to go in there conveniently when his aid[e] had left briefly to return some files. When he hit her with an involuntary flailing of his arm she made a scene. She started screaming for help and ran away.
How humiliating and ridiculous. Is she mentally stable? Scary that she is an actual judge deciding the fate of others. He was not in a motorized chair. What could he do to her?
We spoke yesterday with Mertsaris’s attorney, Wyatt Gibbons, who confirmed that the case is set for trial on August 3 (see also the docket). Gibbons has been trying to get the DA to dismiss the charges, but without success. “The DA wants to go forward, so we’ll go forward,” Gibbons said.
We’ll see what happens at trial (and let you know the result). In the meantime, based on what can be gleaned from the news coverage — which, of course, won’t be as comprehensive as the record to be developed at trial — what do you think of the case?
Wheelchair-bound lawyer ‘molested judge’ (with video) [Banned on the Web]
Lawyer: I didn’t mean to touch judge’s butt, my cerebral palsy made me do it [New York Daily News]
People v. Hippocrate Mertsaris: Docket [Queens Criminal Court]