BY MICHAEL VOLPE
Judge Victor Alfieri has jailed an indigent man for failing to pay his ex-girlfriend’s legal bills, even though Rockland courts ruled him to be incapable of paying his own.
On August 9, 2016, Judge Alfieri sentenced Daniel Bruen to 90 days in a Rockland County jail for contempt of court after Bruen failed to pay his ex-girlfriend’s, Joelle Merla Savas, legal bill of $6,250. Since 2013 Bruen has been provided counsel after another judge deemed him indigent.
“Daniel Bruen has had assigned counsel attorneys since 2013. He qualified under the Family Court financial qualifications.” Antoinette Gonzalez, assigned counsel administrator for Rockland County said in an email. “Daniel did not have the funds to hire an attorney.”
Rockland County Jail released Bruen early on October 7, but according to Alfieri’s order, Bruen’s case will be re-evaluated after 90 days when Alfieri could sentence him to more jail time. “He (Alfieri) put me in jail for not having money to pay for an attorney and trying to be a father to my son,” Bruen said.
Bruen’s girlfriend, Lisa Morina, told the Rockland County Times that not only has Bruen been unable to work and on public assistance due partly to the stress of his custody battle, he also did not receive his prescribed medication while in prison.
Bruen and Savas were never married but have been locked in a custody battle for their son since 2012. Bruen seeks greater visitation rights.
Alfieri had prior exposure to the Bruen-Savas courtroom battle because Savas accused Bruen of domestic violence and Alfieri oversaw the court proceedings in November 2013.
Bruen told the Rockland County Times he wanted a jury trial in that case, but Alfieri threatened that given the amount of time a jury trial would take, he would be inclined to levy a harsher sentence if he was found guilty. The case was eventually settled with an adjournment contemplating dismissal plea, which effectively dismissed the charges after a probationary period.
A message left at Savas’ attorney Lynn Burstein Kampel was left unreturned.
In November 2015, RCT ran an expose of Alfieri where several litigants complained of erratic and draconian behavior; RCT also published a letter to the editor from Deborah Goodman who said her divorce dragged on for more than six years in part because Alfieri started everything over again inexplicably more than two years in.
Alfieri is due to be retired from the judge system at year’s end.