Former Bay Ridge District Leader Ralph Perfetto was slapped with 70 hours of community service for masquerading as a lawyer in 2008 after a judge agreed with a prosecutor’s assertion that the victimless crime was “an attack on the heart of the legal system.”
Judge Alexander Jeong hit Perfetto with the sentence after prosecutor Om Kakani demanded 300 hours of punishment, arguing that pretending to be a lawyer is anything but a trivial offense.
“This crime was an attack on the heart of the legal system,” Kakani said. “It’s his hubris that has led us to this stage. He wants to blame everybody else for what he did.”
A jury had convicted Perfetto, a boxer turned private investigator, for pretending to be a lawyer for his cousin at a routine arraignment proceeding on Aug. 21, 2008. Little of substance was discussed at that hearing before Judge Evelyn LaPorte; Perfetto claims that he merely answered the judge’s questions and that a court officer told him to sign the document, known as a “notice of appearance.”
DA Charles Hynes initially pursued the case, but then recused himself, citing the Shore Road resident’s political work.
So the case was handled by Kakani, a Staten Island Assistant District Attorney, who tackled the case as if he was handling a murder trial — the murder of the justice system itself. The conviction could have put Perfetto in the slammer for a year.
The former district leader opted not to use the sentencing hearing to atone, choosing instead to tell Jeong that an honest mistake had been made — and not by him.
Perfetto admitted that he signed the court document that only lawyers can sign, but it wasn’t his fault.
“The Notice of Appearance that I signed was hastily pushed in front of me to sign by the court officer,” Perfetto said. “I’m a detail-oriented person, but I was not given time to question it.”
The always nattily-dressed Perfetto said people often mistake him for an attorney, but that’s not his fault.
“My nine days in this courtroom convinced me of the lack of respect many people have [in] court, and why court personnel would assume, based upon my business attire, that I was an attorney.” Perfetto said, adding that nowadays, the only people wearing ties in court are attorneys.
“I did not enter the building through the attorney’s entrance, but though the scanners with everyone else. Each time I did so, the court officers asked me why I was passing through the scanners, I simply answered, ‘I’m not an attorney.’ ”
Kakani did show some compassion at the sentencing hearing, asking that the community service that Perfetto, who turned 77 this week, be forced to perform befit someone of his years. His more than 50 years as a civic activist and public servant should also be taken into account, he said.
“We don’t want to see him on the side of the road picking up trash,” Kakani explained.
The case file has not yet been sent to Hynes’s community service program, so it is unclear what service Perfetto will be ordered to perform.
Jeong agreed that Perfetto’s punishment should be “based on his age and his history of community service” — but he couldn’t hide his displeasure at Perfetto’s actions.
“You did practice law without a license,” he told the elderly private eye. “What you did was like someone performing surgery and then announcing that he never practiced medicine, so some punishment is appropriate.”
In the end, Perfetto said that the trial taught him a valuable lesson.
“If I’m ever in this situation again, I’m going to wear a sign around my neck saying, ‘I’m not an attorney,’ ” he said.