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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, April 5, 2007

Man arrested for stabbing cat

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND — Police arrested a 61-year-old man after they received a call that he stabbed their family’s cat to death.

Guilderland Police arrested William J. Brannigan on March 25 at his 6116 Johnston Rd., home after he "stabbed the family cat with a pocket knife four times, causing the cat’s death," according to his arrest report.

He is being charged with aggravated cruelty to animals, which, under the 1999 "Buster’s Law," makes the crime a felony.

Buster’s Law was named after an 18-month-old tabby cat named Buster that was doused with kerosene and burned to death by Schenectady teenagers in 1997. It was signed by Governor George Pataki and passed by the majority of the state’s legislature in order to "further prevent egregious animal abuse against defenseless animals," according to the legislation.

Lieutenant Curtis Cox of the Guilderland Police told The Enterprise that he was unsure of whether or not this was the first Buster’s Law arrest in town, but confirmed that it is a felony charge.

According to the arrest report, Brannigan was arrested at his home two days after the incident occurred there.

Brannigan is described in the arrest report as a white 5 foot, 7 inch man, who is divorced and weighs 190 pounds and his occupation is listed as "disabled." The arresting officer, Thomas Funk, was not available for comment.

Brannigan was arraigned on the night of his arrest before Guilderland Town Judge John Bailey, the arrest report says. He was remanded to Albany County’s jail without bail pending a mental health evaluation, according to Guilderland Police.

Although Brannigan’s arrest report says he was scheduled to appear in town court on Thursday, March 29, he did not appear on the court calendar that evening.

Bad pick"
Aretakis bashes town’s lawyer choice

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND — A lawyer known for prosecuting priests on charges of sexual abuse, has written scathing letters to the Guilderland Town Board, criticizing its choice of a lawyer to hear the case of the town’s suspended police chief.

Kevin Luibrand, a local attorney who has handled several national cases, says he is the man for the job and that his experience and qualifications speak for themselves.

John Aretakis, another local — and sometimes controversial — attorney who handles high-profile cases, says that Luibrand and his Albany firm, Tobin and Dempf, should not be selected to hear the case.

Luibrand was appointed as a hearing officer on March 20 after the town board held a lengthy executive session.

He will hear four civil charges against James Murley, the town’s long-time police chief: sexual harassment, breaching the town’s ethics law, misconduct with a vendor, and not maintaining accurate leave records. Murley’s lawyer, William J. Cade, has called the charges baseless.

Murley stopped receiving his nearly $97,000 annual salary on March 9.

The town board acted together in choosing Luibrand, Supervisor Kenneth Runion said, and added that the hearing will, by law, be closed to the public.

"The town board evaluates the qualifications of the people it hires," said Runion. "The attorneys are still talking, but from my understanding the hearing is probably going to take place sometime in the beginning of May."

The town has hired Brian O’Donnell to present its case against Murley.

Murley is still not allowed to have contact with town workers or set foot on town property, the supervisor said.

Guilderland’s town attorney, Richard Sherwood, said the hearing would be in May to allow the attorneys to prepare their cases and because school vacations are over. The case will most likely be heard at Town Hall, he said, because "That’s where all the witnesses are," but that the decision is ultimately left to the arbitrator, Luibrand.

"I know all the aspects of these cases," Luibrand told The Enterprise. Being a lawyer for more than 20 years, Luibrand has been a town attorney and has tried cases in both federal circuit courts and the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, he said.

"I’ve defended people in Chief Murley’s position before," he said.

Luibrand’s decision on the charges against Murley will not be legally binding, but will be used for consideration by the town. The decision could range from reinstating Murley to firing him, or could recommend taking disciplinary actions.

When asked if he were familiar with Murley’s case, which has received widespread media coverage, Luibrand responded, "I’ve never heard a word about it. I don’t really follow the area."

Runion also said he was told the hearing would most likely last two or three days and that the lawyers hired by the town will be paid hourly rates.

Luibrand said he could not comment on any details surrounding the hearing because of the nature of the case and the position for which he has been hired.

Dueling lawyers

John Aretakis has been openly critical of Luibrand’s appointment since it was announced.

In a letter sent to the Guilderland Town Board on March 22, Aretakis says, "I write to request that the town change its use of hiring Kevin Luibrand, a partner in Tobin and Dempf"There are 1,300 lawyers of integrity who are members of the Albany Bar Association alone. Please find a lawyer with integrity."

Luibrand responded with a letter of his own last week, questioning Aretakis’s credibility.

And this week Aretakis answered with a counter-attack.

Aretakis contends that Tobin & Dempf has a long history of defending priests in the Albany Roman Catholic Diocese.

"My first case over 10 years ago involved a youth I went to Farnsworth Middle School with, where Tobin & Dempf paid me $1 million on this one case in 1996, and the abuse occurred in Guilderland," Aretakis wrote to the board.

Aretakis currently represents over 120 children who claim they were sexually abused as children in the Capital Region by Albany Diocese Priests, he wrote. Tobin & Dempf currently represents the Albany Diocese.

"Without him providing evidence, I don’t know what he’s talking about," Kenneth Goldfarb, director of communications for the Albany Diocese, responded through The Enterprise.

"Mr. Aretakis has a history of making outlandish and undocumented accusations"and I’m not talking just about the church; the courts have recognized it, too," Goldfarb said, citing court sanctions against Aretakis.

"Tobin & Dempf have lots of clients; that’s what they do," Goldfarb said. "As for Mr. Luibrand, he doesn’t specifically represent the Albany Diocese."

Aretakis, a member of the Greek Orthodox Church, says he is not "going after the Catholic church," and maintains that Luibrand is still a poor choice to hear Murley’s case.

"Mr. Luibrand and his firm have no credibility, especially in such an important issue of sexual harassment, and other alleged acts involving Chief Murley," Aretakis said in his letter.

Luibrand said he had read the letters and would not comment to The Enterprise about their content, but he wrote to the town board, that he would not respond to Aretakis’s letter, but that he would simply provide "some context" for town board members. The letter goes on to detail several recent cases where Aretakis was fined and held in contempt by judges because, Luibrand wrote, of "false statements and unprofessional legal work."

"While Mr. Aretakis’ letter is of no consequence to my designation to preside over the Article 75 hearing, nor the conduct whatsoever of that hearing, letters of this sort should not be allowed to linger about the files — or perhaps waste baskets — of others without a letter of context," Luibrand wrote. "I would ask if you would share this letter with whomever you are required to or did share Mr. Aretakis’ letter."

Luibrand told The Enterprise that he has never worked with Aretakis, and, in his letter to the town board, he said that a different partner in the firm represents the Albany Diocese.

"Michael Costello is the partner who represents the Diocese, and he does so and has done so with professionalism and dignity," Luibrand wrote. "Michael Costello’s work with the diocese has, at times, placed him on the opposite sides of litigation with John Aretakis."

In the cases that Luibrand cites in his letter, he says that Aretakis was fined by a federal judge in February for $8,000 for "misconduct" and "inflammatory allegations." He cites another case from December of 2006 where Luibrand wrote that Aretakis was fined by a judge for $1,000 under similar circumstances.

Aretakis had accused Rensselaer County Judge Christian Hummel of engaging in "criminal activity" and "improper conduct," which the court found to be a "baseless accusation."

Aretakis countered Luibrand’s assertion by saying that the $8,000 federal sanction is being held on appeal, and that the second sanction was "reversed on my successful appeal."

Court documents obtained by The Enterprise show that Aretakis was originally fined $7,500 by the Rensselaer County judge for his "frivolous conduct" in a March, 2005 case, but that Aretakis appealed the sanction.

He was, however, eventually fined $1,000.

"I had that sanction reduced by more than $6,000 on my successful appeal," Aretakis responded.

Aretakis said that Tobin & Dempf is compromised.

"You have a firm with a history of protecting pedophiles," he said of Tobin and Dempf last week. "I just think this firm has zero credibility."

Luibrand’s letter makes clear that he feels Aretakis may have a personal agenda.

"In the recent past, judges in varying jurisdictions have found that Mr. Aretakis made false statements in affirmations, pleadings and in open court, and courts have sanctioned him"," Luibrand wrote to the town board. "Some"involve cases against clients represented by Mr. Costello, and thus likely Mr. Costello’s role or successes in helping to expose Mr. Aretakis in court proceedings formed the justification, in Mr. Aretakis’ mind, for his unsolicited and inaccurate letter to you."

In Aretakis’s second letter, he names three Catholic churches in the town of Guilderland where he says his clients were "raped and sodomized."

Goldfarb, from the Albany Diocese, said he would not comment but questioned Aretakis’s motives in his letters and accusations to the town board.

"This matter in Guilderland has absolutely nothing to do with the diocese," Goldfarb said. "This matter is between these two lawyers: not us."

Aretakis said that, although he has not received any feedback on his letters from the town board, that town attorney Richard Sherwood has tried to contact him.

"Him and I have traded messages," he said.

Sherwood said he received a voice mail after Aretakis’s original letter and called him back and left a message for him, but has not been in contact with Aretakis since.

"I received the letters and forwarded them to the town board," Sherwood said. He would not comment to The Enterprise about the letters.

Runion confirmed to The Enterprise that he received copies of the letters sent to the town board, but also said he would not comment on their contents.

"I wouldn’t touch this with a 10-foot pole," he said.

Burns’s cleanup completed
Concerns raised about toxins in reservoir

By Jarrett Carroll

GUILDERLAND — After years of testing and cleaning toxic waste dumped by the former Army depot in Guilderland Center, most of those involved agree — headway has been made.

However, concerns have been raised about toxins infiltrating the Black Creek and ultimately the Watervliet Reservoir, from either the old depot or from industrial runoff.

"We are turning the corner here," said Gregory Goepfert, the project manager from the Army Corps of Engineers, at a meeting Thursday of the Restoration Advisory Board, made up largely of local citizens.

The land used by the former army depot, which was built in the 1940s, is now largely occupied by the Northeastern Industrial Park in Guilderland Center. The industrial complex lies near the Black Creek which is a tributary to Guilderland’s main source of drinking water — the Watervliet Reservoir.

"It’s been good work," Goepfert said of cleanup efforts during the past several years. "We’re doing good things."

The chairs of Restoration Advisory Board, Charles Rielly and Thadeus Ausfeld, both agreed that much has been done in recent years, but both added that they were concerned about the future health of the town’s reservoir.

"Probably not in our lifetimes," Ausfeld said at the meeting, "but sometime that reservoir is going to have to be cleaned up"We’ll probably end up passing the buck on to our children."

Rielly said that, despite all of the corps’ efforts in identifying trouble spots and cleaning up the area, more testing needs to be done. Saying that the corps is only "looking for contaminants coming from the depot," Rielly said more needs to be done because the "town would rather just look away."

The city of Watervliet, which owns and operates the reservoir located in the town of Guilderland, did not send a representative to last week’s meeting. The city has recently drafted plans to raise the level of the reservoir by several feet in order to sell water to other municipalities.

Guilderland Supervisor Kenneth Runion praised depot cleanup efforts this week and applauded the Army Corps of Engineers and volunteers who have made the work possible.

"I think they’ve been doing a great job," Runion told The Enterprise.

As for the raising of the Watervliet Reservoir, Runion said the city is still in an "investigative phase" and the environmental impact statement is still being prepared. The town has roughly 10 years left in its contact for municipal water with Watervliet.

"We have a contract with them to take a certain amount of yielded water from the reservoir each year," Runion said. "They’re still in the process of preparing impact statements for raising the water level."

As for the 35 acres of land on Depot Road — the last part to be used by the Army — that the town was previously looking to acquire for a town park, Runion said more testing needs to be done on the land.

The land was used to store defense supplies such as aluminum, copper, lead, and zinc for decades.

"We had a couple of discussions with the branch of the federal government that deals with this," Runion said. "We have to be assured that there’s no potential for any type of contamination before we can proceed looking into it."

Runion said he believes the government is in the process of taking samples from the property.

The Cleanup

Goepfert reminded the restoration board that the Army Corps of Engineers is only responsible for the cleanup and monitoring of contaminants which came from the old Army depot, but added it is responsible "in perpetuity."

A final report has been issued on the cleanup of toxic waste from Joan Burns’s property, which is identified as Area of Concern 2 by the corps. All of the excavation and "disposal actions" on her property were completed in October of last year, according to Goepfert.

Burns, who is also a member of the restoration advisory board, said she is concerned about possible waste being found on her property in the future.

"It is open-ended on behalf of the federal government, which is liable for anything found in the future," Goepfert reassured her at the meeting.

Burns and her late husband, Milton, bought the 40 acres on Depot Road in 1963. The property had once belonged to the Army depot and the Burnses bought it from the General Services Administration when the depot was being phased out.

The couple were not told about the buried wastes there, according to Burns.

Burns, who was a nurse, has told The Enterprise in the past that her family suffered "a lot of health problems" that she believes were associated with the buried waste. She also had several animals abruptly die on the property as well, she said.

The Army Corps of Engineers was able to secure $650,000 in federal funding for the project. Thousands of cubic feet of dirt have been removed from the property. Found underneath the ground’s surface were drums filled with a tar substance, bottles with paint residue, and ink, as well as many small pill bottles.

At last week’s meeting, Burns said that she was happy with the final report issued to her corps.

"I want to make an official thank-you to everyone for all of their hard work," Burns said at the meeting.

Rielly responded by saying, "We should be thanking you for all of your cooperation."

Groundwater from a total of five monitoring wells and one surface water sample will be taken in April and again in October of this year to be analyzed for volatile organic compounds, semi-volatile organic compounds, chlorinated pesticides and metals, according to Goepfert.

However, Goepfert said, no long-term test plans are in place for the property.

"If there was still something there, we would find it in the groundwater," he said.

The board’s co-chairs were also skeptical of the landfill caps slated to be put in.

"If I owned a well within a half-mile of that cap, I wouldn’t drink the water; no matter what," said Ausfeld, who manages the water plant for the town of Guilderland.

Rielly agreed.

"Be wary of the caps; I don’t believe it," he said of their reliability and longevity in containing runoff.

"The caps are warranteed like anything else"The corps is not going to give away this responsibility," Goepfert told them. "It’s sort of forever once you cap a landfill"but a range of other alternatives besides capping are available."

Many of the plans in place for the corps’ work in the area are "contingent upon the availability of funds," according to Goepfert.

"We have a 100-year backlog worth of work," Goepfert said of regional Army clean-up projects. "With $500 million worth of work that we know of, we get about five million dollars a year to work with."

Overall, though, Goepfert said, the project should be considered "a great success."

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