“A skilled prosecutor could indict a ham sandwich,” said the defense lawyer for the accused “Soccer Mom Madam,” Anna Gristina, paraphrasing a famous line from Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities as he argued for her release before a New York appeals court on Thursday. Norman Pattis, the ninth lawyer assigned to Gristina’s case, was arguing to reduce his client’s $2 million bond, which has kept her parked in the notorious Rikers Island jail since her Feb. 22 arrest.
Gristina, 44, is accused of running a multimillion-dollar whorehouse out of her East 78th Street apartment in Manhattan. At her arraignment, prosecutors argued that underage girls were circulated in the alleged 15-year-long hooker ring, and that Gristina would flee the country if released on bail, citing a wiretap in which they caught her boasting about police protection and mentioning a previous instance when she fled the country to avoid arrest.
On Thursday, Pattis argued that Gristina’s lack of any criminal record and the single felony count against her don’t warrant such a high bail.
“We now have bail being used as a tool of interrogation. If you cooperate, you can go home. If not, sit for a while,” Pattis told the appellate court. “What am I supposed to tell my client who’s wandering around Rikers Island? ‘They’ll give it to you someday?’ She has rights to a reasonable bail.”
Assistant District Attorney Charles Linehan countered that Gristina’s flight risk was “not theoretical,” referring to the wiretap, which prosecutors have not yet released. He argued that under the law, her previous flight alone was a sufficient basis for denying bail.
Linehan’s language fired up Justice James Catterson, who said he was “appalled” by the argument as a means to justify Gristina’s giant bail package. Linehan’s language, he said, implied that denying bail based on her previous flight is a “matter of the law,” when in reality it’s “a matter of fact.” Strike one for the prosecution.
Justice Sallie Manzanet-Daniels jumped in to ask why prosecutors hadn’t considered Gristina’s offer to wear an ankle-bracelet monitor if they lowered her bail. With a hint of sarcasm, she asked if the district attorney’s office and police department had seen a “rash of prisoners” let out on bail who had fled the country wearing monitoring ankle bracelets. And she reminded the prosecutors of another well-known arrestee they’d likely prefer to forget: Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Why, Manzanet-Daniels asked, had the D.A. allowed the former International Monetary Fund chief, who was charged with sexual assault in May 2011, to be released on bail with an ankle monitor, but deny Gristina the same opportunity?
When Linehan responded that he didn’t “know enough about ankle bracelets” to answer the question, Manzanet-Daniels interrupted, “Oh, but I do,” eliciting laughs from the courtroom. Strike two.
After the hearing, Pattis told reporters he looked forward to the panel’s ruling and hoped to get Gristina home soon.
“The court was receptive, but that’s what’s called a hot panel. You can’t guess what an appellate court will do,” he said.
A ruling on Gristina’s bail could come as soon as Monday, when she is scheduled to go before the Manhattan Supreme Court to make a separate argument for a bail reduction. Gristina filed a motion last week saying her son has developed a heart murmur in her absence, and asked Judge Juan Merchan to lower her bond so that she may return home and care for him.