Attorney Joe Tacopina and rapper Meek Mill speak on stage...

Attorney Joe Tacopina and rapper Meek Mill speak on stage during a 'Stand With Meek Mill' rally after his court appearance on June 18, 2018. Credit: WireImage

Daily Point

For this Trump case, a well-cast combatant

The New York State indictment of Donald Trump instantly catapults another lawyer into his biggest spotlight ever, to defend the ex-president. Because this case is expected to be about hush money, private dalliances, and allegedly false records, the casting of lawyer Joseph Tacopina, 56, as Trump’s representative seems to fit.

Other lawyers might be better suited to shore up constitutional arguments against the consequences Trump may face involving the removal of confidential documents, or inciting an insurrection, or trying to get Georgia officials to fix the 2020 electoral count in his favor.

But Tacopina, a denizen of the New York tabloid arena, has relevant experience in criminal cases featuring clients with boldface names, such as former Yankee Alex Rodriguez, actor Lillo Brancato, rapper Meek Mill, disgraced NYPD commissioner Bernard Kerik, and a defendant ultimately cleared in the 1997 police torture of Abner Louima.

A more unusual and lucrative aspect of Tacopina’s background is his side career as a sports entrepreneur. Currently, he’s president of Società Polisportiva Ars et Labor, a soccer team commonly known as S.P.A.L., in Ferrara, Italy.

One snapshot of Tacopina’s pugnacious style on and off whatever field he is playing on comes from a spontaneous incident 20 years ago, reported by Newsday from Brooklyn federal court.

Tacopina was defending Gambino crime family soldier Jerome Brancato (no relation to Lillo). At the time, his client was a co-defendant of Peter Gotti, brother of the deceased “Teflon Don” John Gotti, in a high-profile racketeering trial.

With the judge and jury out of the room on a break, a high-volume shouting match suddenly erupted between Tacopina and Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Genser, in front of courtroom spectators. “You want to get into a public fight?" Tacopina yelled at Genser after the prosecutor blurted out something the defense attorney found offensive but that couldn’t be understood from the gallery. It had to do with transcripts of wiretapped conversations that Gensler presented as evidence.

None other than Peter Gotti intervened from his courtroom seat, according to reporter Anthony DeStefano’s story from Jan. 4, 2003.

“Let’s all be friends,” Gotti called out. Once tempers cooled, Tacopina denied he was challenging his courtroom rival to a fight, only verbally sparring.

And afterward, Gotti said through a spokesman: “That is my nickname, 'Peaceful Pete’ … That was my nickname as a kid, not 'Godfather.' "

Next Tuesday, it appears, Trump and Tacopina head together to court — with matters of statesmanship, mediation, and probably the lawyer’s premium fees, all beside the point.

— Dan Janison @Danjanison

Pencil Point


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Final Point

Speed-limit push sputters in the slow lane

Show of hands: How many motorists have never driven 70 miles per hour on the Long Island Expressway where the posted limit is 55 mph?

That’s one way to assess the news that an upstate Assembly member this budget season is pushing legislation that would raise the speed limit to 70 miles per hour on state roads where it is already 65.

The measure was introduced by GOP Assemb. Angelo Santabarbara, whose district includes part of Schenectady as well as Rotterdam and Amsterdam, a swath crossed by interstate highways 88 and 90. A memorandum filed with the bill in the chamber’s transportation committee makes a none-too-expansive pitch for its justification.

“The majority of States across our Country have State speed limits that exceed 65 MPH. New York has failed to keep up with the rest of the Country,” says the memo filed with A5044, “by not adopting a more efficient speed limit. This bill would correct this inefficiency by allowing for a 70 MPH speed limit where appropriate.”

Since the measure is nowhere yet to be found in the State Senate, a change in the speed limit looks unlikely. But some of the safety-conscious at the Capitol are already opposing it.

“It’s bad timing for this proposal given the increase in fatalities and serious injuries in road crashes that we are seeing lately,” said Robert Sinclair Jr., senior manager of public affairs for the AAA, when The Point contacted him for comment.

He cited information from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety which crash-tests cars, and found that even a small increase in speed can make a difference in damage and injury.

The institute says on its website: “Drivers often travel faster than posted speed limits, but when officials raise limits to match travel speeds, people still go faster. Today, 41 states allow 70 mph or higher speeds on some roadways, including eight states that have maximum speeds of 80 mph or more. A 2019 IIHS study found that rising speed limits have cost nearly 37,000 lives over 25 years.”

And, the institute adds: “Speed limit laws, which date to 1901, traditionally have been the responsibility of the states, but the national maximum speed limit in place in the 1970s and 1980s effectively established maximum speed limits of 55 mph everywhere in the country. Since its complete repeal in 1995, speed limits have trended up.”

Further, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety has documented the reality that the limit isn’t really the limit anyway.

According to a report on its 2021 survey, “45 percent of drivers said they had exceeded the speed limit by 15 mph on a freeway in the past month, and 35 percent reported exceeding the speed limit by 10 mph on a residential street.”

Perhaps Long Island’s parkways, which aren’t even designed to handle the current pace of traffic, would become Exhibit A against raising the limits in New York if that move ever gains traction.    

— Dan Janison @Danjanison

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