The judge in the child custody battle between former Sen. Alfonse D’Amato and his estranged wife refused Friday to accept as an expert for the defense a witness who planned to testify that police violated procedure during a 911 response to the couple’s former home.
“I will not allow his testimony,” State Supreme Court Justice Joseph Lorintz said of witness Nicholas Casale.
Katuria D'Amato, who married the former senator in 2004, wanted Casale to criticize the decision by Nassau police to bring her involuntarily to a hospital in September 2017 after her 911 call about a possible intrusion at her Lido Beach home.
That response precipitated the current custody fight and divorce case between the D'Amatos, with Lorintz shortly thereafter awarding the former senator temporary custody of the couple's two children after Alfonse D'Amato questioned his estranged spouse's mental stability.
Police previously testified that Katuria D'Amato, 53, was "delusional" when they came to the home, saying she believed the former senator would let intruders who hid behind lasers into the residence. But she testified Thursday that the idea she told someone she saw a laser was "preposterous."
The judge made his ruling Friday about the defense witness after lawyers in the case spent the morning questioning Casale about his qualifications and published work.
Casale is a former first-grade NYPD detective who also served as a high-ranking MTA official overseeing counterterrorism training, according to his testimony and resume. The law enforcement veteran also previously worked as a court officer and correction officer in New York City, and provides expert commentary on police matters for media outlets.
But Stephen Gassman, an attorney for Alfonse D'Amato, 81, told the judge that while Casale had "a long and distinguished career," there was no evidence the former police official was an expert in the issues at hand. Those issues concern proper police procedure in situations involving involuntary hospital commitments, domestic cases and emotionally disturbed people.
"How can you critique Nassau County police officers … when you have never seen their guidelines and their patrol guide?" Gassman said of Casale.
The D'Amato children's appointed lawyer, Mark Green, told the judge Casale "has no clue about Nassau County" and no basis to know if police acted reasonably.
The judge’s ruling came as Katuria D’Amato marked her second day acting as her own attorney in the case while her disqualified lawyer, Thomas Liotti, again looked on from the Mineola courtroom's gallery.
Lorintz threw Liotti off the case last year after finding he “acted against the best interests” of the D’Amatos' son, now 10, and daughter, now 9, while interacting with the children in April.
Katuria D’Amato, who has worked in corporate law and clerked for federal judges, has never tried a case before and confers with Liotti during breaks.
The judge told her Friday not to ask "leading" questions, and also clarified the scope of questioning allowed when determining a witness' competency to testify as an expert.
"I apologize, your Honor," Katuria D'Amato told him at one point. "It's my first time."
Later, she expressed disappointment at Lorintz's decision to reject Casale, saying he had impeccable credentials and should have been admitted as an expert.