Defense lawyer Ron Kuby on the shvitz and stop 'n' frisk
Defense lawyer Ron Kuby, 55, who has represented pepper-sprayed OWS protestors, Colin Ferguson (the LIRR shooter), alleged associates of the Gambino crime family and Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman is now focused on getting "innocent people out of prison in non-DNA cases." He lives in Chelsea with his wife, the psychotherapist Marilyn Vasta and, sporadically, their 20-year-old daughter Emma Vasta-Kuby, a government major at Wesleyan University.
Q What would you most like to see changed or accomplished in NYC?
A The single biggest thing that would make NYC a fairer and more livable place would be to have a real, institutionalized effort to stop over policing and to monitor over policing. Hundreds of thousands of men of color are needlessly stopped and frisked – it’s hard to imagine for those who are unaffected, but it’s something that really destroys your sense of the social compact. Over policing is not just stop and frisk: I admire Ray Kelly as a police commissioner, but unfortunately he views any gathering of more than two people as plotting an Al-Qaeda attack.
Q: How do you think NYC’s resources would be best deployed, then, to prevent another terrorist attack?
A One of the crucial components to fighting terrorism is people being willing to come forward when they suspect that something bad is going to happen. But if you’re not convinced that you won’t get in trouble or that the (other) person will be treated fairly, you’re much less likely to drop a dime. All this intrusive monitoring and infiltration and surveillance since 9/11 has yielded zero results – with the exception of one deranged match stick man (Jose Pimentel). He was going to do jihad on a mailbox and they needed a police informer to show him how to make a mail box bomb. It’s wrong to see the Muslim community as a whole as something that needs intrusive monitoring. What a lot of resources and good will thrown away! The surveillance of students, businesses and everyone else simply on the basis of ethnicity is simply not necessary. After 10 years, they should be able to show what it’s accomplished and they can’t – except for Pimentel. The mailboxes of Brooklyn are safe! It may be true that most of the people engaged in terrorism in New York City are Muslim men. It may be true that most jazz saxophonists are black men. But if you were looking for a jazz saxophonist, and stopped every black man on the street to see if he played the saxophone, you’d spend an awful lot of resources before you came across one who even played the piccolo.
Q: Is there anyone you won’t represent?
A: I turn people down every day! I’m a two-person office and I get hundreds of requests for help. I’m not a bus: I’m not the M23 and I don’t stop at every avenue. When I accept them, it’s usually because the case stands for a principle bigger than “just them.” I took the day care worker accused of raping a four-year-old child (Queens child care worker Khemwatie Bedessie) because it was a false confession case. I won on that issue, but her conviction was confirmed. I’ll also take cases that are important civil rights issues – when a person or group is facing the power of the state that can put them in prison for the rest of their lives – artists, dissidents, OWS protestors and people trying to change society who are wrongly criminalized by their radicalization. I have limited resources and I’d rather vindicate the person whose skull is getting crushed by a police officer than a police officer facing criminal charges. I get along fine with individual police officers, incidentally: I don’t harbor any animus towards cops. But (many police officers) want me to be with every cop every time in every instance.
Q: Tell us the coolest secret thing you know about New York.
A: The Russian & Turkish Baths on East 10th St. today and for long past has a tradition of employing people who are deaf and frequently mute - but few people know why. One Sunday morning in the 1980s I was naked in the shvitz with a man who had a disreputable reputation – okay, he was an old time member of the Dutch Schultz gang - who was telling me that the baths became a Jewish gangster hang out because when they were naked, in the steam, everyone could see that no one was wearing wires and no one had a gun. Anyway, they didn’t want anyone working there listening to them. Last time I was there it was still filled with people who were deaf. It’s still a great place to make a deal!
Q: You’re a lightening rod for some people. Do you own a gun?
A I’ve been a gun owner all my life, but when my daughter got old enough to explore everything – about age 3 – I put it in a locked box on a high shelf. Then I thought to myself, “self – if you have the time to go up there and get it, you probably don’t need it” and I turned it into the NYPD. I haven’t regretted it at all: It’s a good idea I don’t have one. I never used it on a person, but I shot a snake one time that ate a fish out of my pond (in Pennsylvania). He was a big black snake just sunning himself on a rock, but I’d had that fish for three years. A friend of mine vivisected him afterwards and found the fish, so I know he was guilty.
Q What side are you rooting for in the health care mandate case now before the Supreme Court?
A: I’d like to see the case decided in favor of the Obama administration. It will make sure poor people have insurance and that everyone has health care. Yes, universal health care might be preferable, but they couldn’t get it past those 40 Republican congressman. You can’t do everything with the law.
Q: What’s the best investment a New Yorker can make?
A A bicycle. I ride all the time. One of the truly great things Michael Bloomberg has done is to invest heavily in the greenways around the city and make sure the waterways are not dumping grounds. He wants to turn it into a greener city and to do that, he’s making driving here so awful that people won’t bring in their private cars.
Q You have a spare hour. What do you do with it?
A If I have a whole afternoon, I go to the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens – Spring time in particular is beautiful with all the daffodils and magnolias and cherry blossoms and lilacs. I love flowers.
Q: What does being a New Yorker mean?
A: You can be anything in the universe you want to be and do anything in the universe you want to do as long as you don’t hurt anybody else. New York is so diverse, exciting and powerful: It creates New Yorkers who come here. You can be a gay artist with an accounting degree and find another 1,000 people just like you right here. My Islamist clients made such crappy terrorists. After they were here for awhile they didn’t have much interest in fighting Satan and killing the Jews because New York City has such an effect on people: No one hates them here! They got sucked into things or joined up, but then they lost all interest in jihad.