A Manhattan state justice on Tuesday refused to intervene in a bitter divorce fight between former U.S. Sen. Alfonse D’Amato and his wife, Katuria, that mixes allegations about political influence and a gun, after a Nassau state justice last week gave the ex-senator custody of their two children.
The couple’s matrimonial struggles, according to statements in court, surfaced publicly less than two weeks after Nassau police responded to an early morning call about an intruder at their Lido Beach home. Katuria D’Amato was briefly hospitalized afterward, her lawyer said.
Within days, on Oct. 3, Katuria D’Amato petitioned for divorce in Manhattan, using the caption “Anonymous v Anonymous” to keep the petition under wraps. Alfonse D’Amato then filed papers in Nassau seeking custody and an order of protection against his wife, which Katuria D’Amato’s attorney, Joseph De Simone, said were based on untrue claims that she had a loaded shotgun and was psychotic.
At Tuesday’s Manhattan hearing, De Simone urged state Supreme Court Justice Matthew Cooper to take control of both cases, arguing that state Supreme Court Justice Joseph Lorintz in Nassau issued his orders “ex parte” without hearing from Katuria D’Amato. De Simone also said his client couldn’t get a fair hearing in Nassau because of her husband’s web of influence in the county.
“His whole modus operandi is influence and currying favor with others,” De Simone said. “He’s a bully.”
Cooper said the family lives in Nassau, and he had no basis to question the fairness and impartiality of Lorintz, who has set a hearing for Wednesday at which Katuria D’Amato can tell her side.
“This matter can be heard tomorrow in Nassau,” Cooper said. “Cases involving children are better handled where the children reside.”
Since losing his Senate seat, Alfonse D’Amato, now 80, has run Park Strategies, a high-powered consulting and lobbying firm. He and Katuria D’Amato, now 51, were married in 2004 and have a son, 9, and a daughter, 7. In 2014, the couple said they were working through “personal issues.”
After Tuesday’s hearing, Katuria D’Amato declined to comment, while the former senator said in a statement that he was filled with “more pain than I can describe.”
“I am genuinely heartbroken that this day has come to pass but the safety and well being of my children takes precedence over all other personal considerations,” Alfonse D’Amato said.
Court filings in the case are sealed. De Simone said the police visit to the Lido Beach home in late September came in response to Katuria D’Amato’s call just after midnight, in which she reported seeing a possible intruder. Alfonse D’Amato no longer lives there but was present at the time, De Simone said.
Although she told responding police officers there was a gun in the house, De Simone said, her husband’s legal filings falsely claimed it was loaded and that she was taking lithium.
“They said she was crazy,” De Simone said. “They said she was psychotic.”
Alfonse D’Amato’s side said their claims were based on a police report. Stephen Gassman, the former senator’s attorney, told Cooper that the Nassau judge had to act on an emergency basis because the police visit raised “serious questions” about Katuria D’Amato’s “mental state.”
Nassau police declined to comment.
During arguments Tuesday, Gassman also told Cooper that claims about Alfonse D’Amato’s influence in Nassau were exaggerated, noting that he left the Senate 20 years ago and is a Republican while Lorintz was elected on the Democratic ticket.
Immediately after the ruling, Steven Schlesinger, an influential Nassau political insider who has served as the county Democratic Committee’s top lawyer, stepped out of the spectator gallery and into the “well,” where lawyers and clients address the judge, and embraced D’Amato.
That move provoked an immediate reaction from both De Simone and Cooper.
“Moments after we finish, we see Senator D’Amato being congratulated by Steven Schlesinger, a Democratic influence in Nassau County,” De Simone said.
Cooper yelled angrily at Schlesinger.
“I didn’t give you permission to come into the well,” the judge told Schlesinger. “Who gave you permission to do that? . . . Do you understand what the optics look like?”
Schlesinger apologized repeatedly. Cooper said the episode was “disturbing,” but not enough to make him change his decision not to intervene. As Schlesinger jumped into an elevator after the hearing, he was asked about any ties to Lorintz.
“I know him,” Schlesinger said, “but I don’t have any relationship with him.”