A Nassau judge has disqualified the attorney for the estranged wife of former U.S. Sen. Alfonse D’Amato from representing her in the couple’s child custody battle and divorce case, ruling that lawyer Thomas Liotti “acted against the best interests of the children” during an April encounter.
State Supreme Court Justice Joseph Lorintz wrote in his Tuesday decision that the disqualification of Katuria D’Amato’s attorney is “necessary to protect the rights” of the couple’s 9-year-old daughter and 10-year-old son.
The former senator’s attorney, Stephen Gassman, made a motion for Liotti’s disqualification after the Garden City attorney drove his client, a nanny and the children from Lido Beach to another client's house in Plainview in April without notifying the lawyer for the children.
Gassman, also of Garden City, argued that the children's presence in Liotti’s car meant Liotti was “inducing trust in him as mommy’s lawyer.”
The children’s Westbury attorney, Mark Green, argued his clients were “tainted” by being exposed to the attorney for one of their parents.
Liotti had said that matter involved an emergency situation in which a private investigator was following his client and police were at the scene. He claimed he “never spoke to the children about this case or anything else,” the judge’s decision says.
But the judge also said in his decision that the children “witnessed Mr. Liotti purporting to rescue their mother from an unlawful arrest and shielding them from a private investigator they knew was employed by their father.”
Lorintz added that Liotti “risked influencing the children to think favorably of him and the defendant and unfavorably of the plaintiff,” and “in doing so, he acted against the best interests of the children.”
Liotti had argued that the children were upset about the investigator following their mother, who had learned her driver’s license might be suspended, and so he drove them away from the area as the private eye tailgated him, according to the ruling.
The judge said in the decision that he found no evidence of a plot to arrest Katuria D’Amato, which Liotti had claimed Alfonse D’Amato had engineered.
Katuria D’Amato, 52, called the decision “corrupt” in an interview Wednesday, saying as an attorney herself she planned to go forward representing herself while keeping Liotti as a legal consultant.
“It’s just another example of the power and influence that my husband wields over the judiciary, and the manner in which he bullies everyone in the system to get his way and to carry out his vendetta,” she said.
But Gassman called the decision “a thorough and well-reasoned decision which I think correctly took into account the actions of the defendant’s attorney.”
Liotti vowed Wednesday to appeal the matter to a higher court, and said Katuria D’Amato’s motion to recuse Lorintz from the case is still pending before an appellate court.
“I’m not going anywhere,” Liotti said.
The couple’s child custody battle began in fall 2017 after Alfonse D’Amato, 81, alleged his wife was mentally unstable following a police response to her 911 call from their formal marital home.
In an emergency order, Lorintz granted the GOP power broker temporary custody of the children.
Police later testified at custody proceedings that Katuria D’Amato was “delusional” during their response to the Lido Beach home, saying she believed the former senator would let in intruders who hid behind laser beams.
Police also said the woman reported that she’d cowered in a closet and tried to load her shotgun, but couldn’t find a key to the weapon’s gun lock.
Katuria D’Amato started legal action against Nassau police, saying they colluded with her estranged husband and caused her to lose child custody.
A doctor who treated her during an involuntary hospital commitment following her 911 call testified he believed she had drug-induced psychosis from taking too much Ritalin for her ADHD.