Updated news on the Gambino, Genovese, Bonanno, Lucchese and Colombo Organized Crime Families of New York City.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Straight-shooter judge could break up Junior Gotti's perfect game

The federal judge handling John A. (Junior) Gotti's fourth trial, which starts Monday, has a resume long on complex civil cases and short on mob expertise.

But acquaintances, lawyers who've worked with him, and even jurors from past cases, say P. Kevin Castel probably won't have any trouble keeping prosecutors and the mob scion's bare-knuckle lawyers in line.

"He calls them like he sees them - the balls, the strikes," said Robert Giuffra Jr., a partner at Sullivan & Cromwell's litigation group who has known Castel for more than 15 years.

"He is the classic, fair, neutral umpire. He's not putting his finger on the scales of justice."

Consider this:

In the pretrial maneuvering, Castel was unmoved by reports of Junior Gotti's kidney stones, ruled that taxpayers shouldn't pay for his private eyes and refused to let the beleaguered don out on bail.

He also sent a chill down prosecutors' spines in June, when he cast a skeptical eye on their evidence of Junior's recent role in the Mafia.

After Assistant U.S. Attorney Elie Honig presented evidence of Gotti's mob involvement, Castel said: "That's it? . . . I'm not finding very much that's new."

The case Castel is hearing is the federal government's fourth attempt to get Junior Gotti, who claims he quit the mob in 1999.

Three prior racketeering trials in 2005 and 2006 ended in hung juries.

The feds say that in the 1980s and early 1990s, the Dapper Don's kid trafficked in drugs and had a hand in at least three gangland slayings. In order to convict Gotti, 45, they must show he committed more recent crimes.

Colleagues said the big names on the docket, and surrounding media hype, will just be background noise for Castel, even though it's his first big-name mob case.

"Vinny the Chin in a bathrobe - enough already. He won't be distracted by that type of thing," said Thomas Kavaler, a partner at Cahill Gordon & Reindel.

He's known Castel, 59, since the now-judge interviewed with him for a job at the firm in 1977.

"He doesn't work for the government. He doesn't work for the defense, he really is just a smart, quick straight-shooter," Kavaler said.

At therobingroom.com, a Web site that touts itself as the place where "judges are judged," Castel rates high marks, from anonymous lawyers and jurors who praised his fairness, efficiency and humor.

"My sense was that most of the jurors hated the case but loved him," said a defense lawyer who tried a civil rights case before him.

Born in Queens, Castel won full academic scholarships to St. John's University undergrad and law school.

He clerked for Federal Judge Thomas Duffy in the 1970s, and then jumped to the white shoe corporate realm when he joined Cahill, Gordon & Reindel.

He was credited with detangling complex commercial cases there, and over nearly 30 years, made enough money to give up corporate law for the federal bench, friends said.

In a sign of his wealth - and his generosity - he and his wife, Patricia, a lawyer and fellow St. John's alum, gave their alma mater a $500,000 gift.

A longtime Republican, Castel was nominated to the bench in 2003 by former President George W. Bush.

Colleagues said he is a big Abraham Lincoln fan who uses vacation time to visit Lincoln's haunts and to work Honest Abe's words into some of his decisions.


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