Justice's welcome message against official misconduct

WIlliam Flanagan, left, leaves a Nassau County courtroom.

WIlliam Flanagan, left, leaves a Nassau County courtroom. (Feb. 14, 2013) (Credit: Newsday/Thomas A. Ferrara)

Joye Brown

Newsday columnist Joye Brown Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006.

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State Supreme Court Justice Mark Cohen, in sentencing a former high-ranking Nassau police official to 60 days in jail, said he did so to send a message.

And he did.

Which came as a surprise to many in the courtroom, including some who had assumed that William Flanagan, a former second deputy commissioner, would get no jail time.

MORE: Long Island crime coverage

Flanagan was one of three former Nassau police officials charged in connection with what prosecutors said was a conspiracy to keep the son of a police benefactor from being arrested.

Flanagan was convicted on misdemeanor -- but acquitted of a felony -- corruption-related charges in February. A second former official, former Deputy Chief of Patrol John Hunter, pleaded guilty and was given probation. And the case of the third, former Seventh Precinct Squad Deputy Supervisor Alan Sharpe, is still pending.

Some court watchers had assumed that Flanagan, like Hunter, could get probation, with no jail time.

But Cohen, during sentencing, quickly appeared to put that notion to rest.

The Suffolk judge -- who was assigned to the corruption-related cases after several Nassau judges recused themselves -- in explaining why he sentenced Flanagan to jail, invoked the name of Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff and former U.S. District Court Judge Denny Chin.

In 2009, Chin sentenced Madoff to 150 years in prison, well beyond the time he could serve. Chin acknowledged that the sentence was symbolic but important because, among other things, it would served as a deterrent.

Cohen decided on jail time for Flanagan because he wanted a sentence that would have the same effect.

He said that it was important for the court system to send that message to the community.

Cohen's words and his sentence, which also included community service, appeared to stun many in the courtroom.

Afterward, the crowd filed out of the courtroom somberly, and almost in silence. Many appeared to be genuinely saddened by Cohen's decision.

Flanagan was accompanied by family, friends and former colleagues -- including a congressman and a former Nassau police commissioner -- in a courtroom filled to capacity.

It was a formidable show of support for Flanagan, buttressed by some 150 letters the judge said he had received.

Cohen said he'd read every missive. And in an unusual step, he carefully broke down for the record where the letters came from. The bulk -- 73 -- were written by current and former police officers; most of the balance from family and friends, he said.

The judge called Nassau's police department one of the finest in the nation, going on to note that Flanagan had enjoyed a privileged position within it.

He said Flanagan had shown no remorse for his actions. And that he had never apologized to the public.

"You never accepted responsibility," he told Flanagan.

The judge said that his intent was to show that the law must be equally applied. And he was careful early on to specify that his comments were directed at Flanagan's case, rather than those of Hunter or Sharpe.

While answering a question later in the hallway, Flanagan's attorney, Bruce Barket of Garden City, said of the former official: "He's shown no remorse because he's done nothing wrong."

Barket also repeated that he intended to appeal the case -- which, of course, is Flanagan's right.

Flanagan's supporters applauded as he left the courtroom. He stopped to thank them for their support.

But Cohen deserves thanks, too. The judge straight up called it as he saw it.

And his message against official misconduct was loud and clear -- and welcome.

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