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Faced with losing his driver's license, a DWI defendant makes a deal

James Karalis leaves the Nassau County Courthouse in

James Karalis leaves the Nassau County Courthouse in Mineola on July 9, accompanied by his attorney, Susan Scaring Carman.  Nassau Executive Assistant District Attorney Maureen McCormick is in the background. Credit: Howard Schnapp

James Karalis stood before a Nassau County judge facing felony drunken driving charges and a potential lifetime loss of his license.

But instead of losing his driving privileges, Karalis, 43, the manager of a Roslyn Heights restaurant, recently got a misdemeanor plea deal in a case that highlighted how police testimony in another DWI case led to dozens of plea agreements in Nassau courts since last year.

Karalis' case is among more than 60 cases in which judges agreed to reduce or dismiss charges — many for drunken driving allegations.

The deals, involving arrests by the same two Nassau police officers, started after District Attorney Madeline Singas’ office disclosed to the defendants that police testimony in a separate 2017 DWI case in Greenvale was “inconsistent” with video of that encounter.

A lawyer for the Greenvale DWI defendant had obtained video of his client’s September 2017 arrest that contradicted court testimony of former veteran Nassau police Officer Michael Palazzo, now retired, and Officer Dana Allimonos, then a rookie cop.

On Aug. 27, Karalis pleaded guilty to reckless endangerment and a judge sentenced him to 30 days in jail that he already had served before the case made an unusual second trip through the court system.

Initially, Karalis had pleaded guilty in September 2017 to a felony DWI charge after Palazzo arrested him on June 22, 2017, near his Roslyn Road workplace.

Palazzo wrote in a felony complaint that Karalis took a portable breath test at the scene that registered a partial reading of 0.08 percent — the legal threshold for intoxication — before a 0.10 percent test result at police headquarters more than an hour later.

The officer also alleged in arrest paperwork that Karalis failed to signal for a turn and had a strong odor of alcohol on his breath, bloodshot eyes, slurred speech and was swaying.

Records show Karalis faced felony charges because his 10-year driving history included a DWI conviction in 2007, after what his attorney said was a separate arrest by Palazzo.

Based on Karalis' first guilty plea in the case in September 2017, a judge in November 2017 sentenced Karalis to 30 days in jail and five years of probation.

But this February, a judge threw out Karalis' conviction after a motion by his new defense attorney, Susan Scaring Carman, because his former lawyer didn’t tell him he would face a permanent driver’s license loss as a result of his 2017 guilty plea.

The case was then automatically reinstated in February and prosecutors had to disclose Palazzo’s conflicting testimony and the video from the Greenvale case to Karalis so the defense could use it to challenge Palazzo’s credibility.

Singas spokesman Brendan Brosh said recently that prosecutors were “duty bound” to prosecute Karalis’ case “as a matter of public safety.”

Karalis’ new attorney also filed a motion asking acting State Supreme Court Justice Howard Sturim to review Palazzo’s confidential police personnel records to see if more material involving other potential disciplinary issues should be turned over.

In addition, Karalis signed an affidavit contesting Palazzo’s allegation that the officer gave him a portable breath test and field sobriety tests — a claim Carman said an eyewitness backed up.

An attorney for Nassau County tried to block the disclosure of Palazzo's police records, arguing that a state civil rights law protected them.

But Sturim never ruled on the records motion, which the defense withdrew when Karalis accepted a misdemeanor plea offer from the prosecution that the judge approved.

Executive Assistant District Attorney Maureen McCormick said after Karalis' plea last month that it “was the best resolution of the case under these circumstances.”

The judge warned Karalis, who also already served two years of probation, that he didn’t want to see him in court again.

“You never will. I promise you,” the Queens man told Sturim.

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