The culmination of a years-long endeavor, Judge Leavitt is proud to announce that his "semi-autobiographical" book is now available in paperback and on Kindle.
I do not remember how long I have wished to write a book. I only know how hard it has been to finally sit down and start. I have been a lecturer, professor, and entertainer for over a quarter of a century, as well as a lawyer for over forty years and a judge for eighteen. My students and audiences often tell me how much they enjoy – and learn from – my anecdotes. But I do not want to just tell you stories. I want to tell you about my experiences and the family who shaped me—and tell this to you in my best storytelling manner.
I don’t expect to be on any best-seller lists or to win any awards, especially after you read about how I feel about the media, poorly prepared attorneys, insurance companies, a small percentage of bad judges and police, and the media (I dislike them twice as much as any other group.) I do, however, hope that you will take something away from this book—something about the way the lives we live and the people we become shape our decision-making. When it’s your job to make decisions, decisions that lead to life-altering consequences, understanding how and why judges—or this judge, anyway—reach their decisions can, I hope, be both instructive and entertaining.
Or perhaps I am just a storyteller after all, and this book is just for me.
I’d like to tell you about the most high-profile case of my judicial career, known as the "Dobbs Ferry Deli Murder." From the incident through the arrest, jury selection, trial, sentencing, and appeals, there were a number of firsts I’d never experienced. I hope to give you an insight into what happens behind the scenes in a high-profile case, as well as what you’d ordinarily not learn from the media.
During jury selection, prospective jurors’ cars had been keyed, they had to walk through a gauntlet of demonstrators, and much more that I had never had to deal with before. This was not the usual well-mannered courthouse or courtroom that I was used to...
It was on October 3, 1996, around 5:15 p.m. in Dobbs Ferry, NY when Charles Campbell drove into the parking lot of the Venice Deli located at 225 Ashford Avenue, and parked his shiny black Corvette in a spot that had been marked “Reserved for Patrons.” The owner of the deli was an Italian-American named Richard B. DiGuglielmo.
DiGuglielmo saw Campbell parking his car in front of his store and rushed out to confront the motorist. Charles Campbell was an African-American. DiGuglielmo had had more than twenty-eight prior incidents with non-patrons parking in his lot, and he had been accused of shouting racial, ethnic, and sexist slurs at anyone who parked in front of his store. Some of the complainants who called the police said that they had been pushed, sworn at, slapped, choked, and punched. Many of them had filed complaints against him, but the Dobbs Ferry Police Department never prosecuted any of them. Several of the complainants also asserted that the police tried to discourage them as much as possible, mentioning that DiGuglielmo’s son [referred to here as DiGuglielmo Jr.] was a cop in New York City.
Witnesses testified that DiGuglielmo Sr. told Campbell not to park there if he wasn’t a customer. Campbell told him he was going across the street to get a slice of pizza and would come back to the deli to buy a soda. Campbell walked across the street to the pizzeria and when he looked back across the street, DiGuglielmo was putting a no parking sticker on the passenger side of the Corvette. Campbell went to confront DiGuglielmo and a fight broke out.
It is unclear from the witnesses who threw the first punch, but as the fight started, DiGuglielmo’s son-in-law Robert Errico joined the fight against Campbell and then DiGuglielmo Jr. joined in. This threesome beat Campbell so badly that DiGuglielmo Sr. broke his hand punching him, and broke Campbell’s cell phone by hitting Campbell in the head with it. Campbell struggled to his feet, ran to the trunk of his car, and retrieved an aluminum baseball bat. Witnesses stated that DiGuglielmo Sr. and Errico continued to advance at Campbell, who struck at their legs with the bat.
Diguglielmo Jr. went back into the store to get his father’s .32-caliber pistol. Most of the witnesses reported that Campbell then backed away when the son emerged from the deli. Diguglielmo Jr. shot Campbell three times without any warning. The wounds were fatal. Death and tragedy, all of it caused by the anger of the deli owner over a parking space.
This was truly a senseless death. There were accusations in the press that DiGuglielmo Sr. had hurled racial slurs at Campbell. There was a tremendous amount of pretrial publicity and all three men were indicted by a grand jury, DiGuglielmo Sr. and Robert Errico on charges of second-degree assault, and DiGuglielmo Jr. on two counts of murder in the second degree and second-degree assault.
The protests started almost immediately since DiGugliemo Jr. was an off-duty New York City policeman at the time of the shooting. There was speculation that because he was “on the job,” he had the prior twenty-eight complaints against his father swept under the carpet. The statements from some of these complainants seemed to corroborate this. There were protesters gathered at the deli, sometimes two hundred strong. The Reverend Al Sharpton joined them at least one time. As the press reported, [Westchester County District Attorney] Jeanine Pirro was accused by the defense lawyers of inflaming racial tensions by issuing statements that at least one witness had heard DiGuglielmo Sr. say to Campbell: “You f*cking n*gger, you can’t leave your car here!” This was substantiated in an eight-page document filed by the prosecution, detailing the witnesses who heard him cursing at Campbell and providing their statements.
The district attorney presented the case to the grand jury and the case was set down for motions, hearings, and trial. When there is a long delay before a trial—when attorneys make their motions and judges rule on them and after all the hearings are held—there is usually a lull in the outside activity. Not in this case. The protests and demonstrations never stopped and the media became a hungry wolf for any tidbit of information about the case. Then the big guns arrived.