November 9, 2020

"I Hired An Ax Lawyer" | Cup of Joe

"I Hired An Ax Lawyer"

John A. Clifford, 68, of Long Beach, an attorney, was arrested on March 29 and charged with menacing with a weapon, criminal possession with a weapon with intent to use and child endangerment.

But not so fast. This week we take an hour (and a half drive southwest from Manhattan, and five hours from the Loudhouse up in Syracuse) to the city of Long Beach.

The movie City by the Sea, starring Robert De Niro, was inspired by a true story about a Long Beach resident who committed a murder in Far Rockaway, a few miles west.  The film adaptation of The Godfather, was set partly in Long Beach, where the Corleone compound was said to be. Mike Francesa, WFAN 660AM New York City radio host, was born and raised in Long Beach. During one of his rants about the pitiful performance of the NY Mets, he claimed that Mr. Met was put on suicide watch.

But this week’s case is about a road rage rant that just went too far. And the ranter was a lawyer.  This is his trial.

Testimony Of John Clifford

Q: Where were you on March 29, at approximately 4:50 p.m.?

 A: I was driving my 2005 Chevrolet Suburban north on Centre Street in Long Beach, New York. 

Q: Did something happen while you were driving?

A: Yes. As I passed a Bank of America, a woman, who I later found out to be Marie Maraglio, suddenly pulled out of the bank's parking lot, cutting me off. 

Q: What did you do when that happened?

A: I sped up and swerved to my left to avoid a collision with Marie's vehicle.

Q: What happened next?

A: At that moment, a Sgt. Lee Nielsen of the Long Beach Police was jaywalking across Centre Street, heading west.

Q: Was he with anyone?

A: He was with his daughter. 

Q: Was Nielsen wearing a police uniform?

A: No. He was dressed in plain clothes.

Q: And what happened when Nielsen and his daughter appeared?

A: Nielsen shoved his daughter to the curb on the west side of Centre Street, then swung a weighted bag he was carrying at my windshield. 

Q: How did you react?

A: I again swerved to my left to avoid colliding with Nielsen. 

Q: Did you collide with Nielsen?

A: No. Nielsen's bag missed the windshield but struck the rear passenger side window of of my SUV.

Q: And what did you do next?

A: I immediately stopped and got out of my vehicle.

Q: Were you holding anything when you got out of your car?

A: I was carrying a hatchet sheathed with a leather cover, which happened to be in the car. 

Q: Then what happened?

A: I inspected my vehicle for damage and noticed what appeared to be a crack in my window.

Q: Did you react?

A: Yes. I ran after Nielsen and demanded that he return to my vehicle so he could see what he did. And he did see it. I showed him. He saw it – clear as day.

Q: Now, you were initially irritated at Nielsen because he was jaywalking, right?

A: We are a nation of laws…

Q: And you have had issues in the past when people do what they want, like your incident on the Long Island Rail Road?

A: LIRR commuters think it's their absolute right to talk as loud as they want. It's my intention to keep people from annoying me.

Q: Like when 19-year old Nicholas Bender was sitting behind you on the train and speaking on his cell phone?

A: That’s an example.

Q: And you snapped your fingers repeatedly at Nicholas to insist that he quiet down?

A: What’s that got to do with the price of….

Q: But the teen, who was just finding out about his cousin's kidney failure during the conversation, ignored you?

A: Yeah.

Q: And then you cursed at teen and called him a slur?

A: Sure.

Q: In fact, you really blew a gasket – screaming “F- – -ing faggot!” – when the kid  suggested that not blow your nose and rustle your newspaper so loudly?

A: Nonsense!

Q: And then a fellow commuter, Lydia Klein, attempted to hand the teen her business card as on offer of assistance. You remember that?

A: Think so.

Q: And you tried to take the card from her and slapped her hand twice?

A: That’s an exaggeration…

Q: In fact sir, you have been arrested or ticketed on the LIRR many times since 1993 for a variety of alleged infractions?

A: I won’t deny that.

Q: Including punching a woman, tossing a cup of coffee in a man's face, throwing an egg sandwich on a woman's hair, menacing, and grabbing the cell phones of others, is that right?

A: That’s a lot of questions…and I won’t answer.

Testimony Of Sergeant Nielsen

Q: Where did you first meet Clifford?

A: Clifford traveled about 50 feet down the road after he swerved away from me and my daughter. He then stopped his vehicle. 

Q: Did you see what he did next?

A: Clifford took a quick look, saw damage to his window, grabbed a sheathed hatchet from his tools, exited his vehicle, he took seven steps toward me and my kid. He then held up the still-sheathed hatchet, and said, "Come on. If you want a piece of me, come get it."

Q: What did you do next?

A: I went over to see what he said I did to his car.

Q: What did you do after you saw the damage to Clifford’s car?

A: I told Clifford that I was a cop. And then Clifford said that he was a retired cop. 

Q: What did you do next?

A: I asked Nielsen what he was holding. 

Q: What did he say?

A: Clifford replied that it was a hatchet. After that, I told Clifford to turn off his car, and then I called the police. They arrived. I pointed out the ax and they locked him up. He charged at me and my daughter waving his crazy ax around.

The Defense Attorney Makes a Request:

Your Honor, we are asking for a justification defense to these charges.

The Judge:

Are you arguing that Clifford was justified in waving an ax over his head at a police officer and his daughter because his car was attacked with a diaper bag?

That application is DENIED. The case will go to the jury. Closing arguments! Now!

Closing Argument

The Defense:

Members of the jury: Clifford is a lawyer and a former sergeant in the police force. He was not going to use the ax. He never even took it out of its sheath. Please: find Clifford NOT GUILTY.

The Prosecution

Members of the jury: a person commits Menacing in the Second Degree when that physical threat is accompanied by the display of a dangerous instrument. A dangerous instrument can be a knife, bat, crowbar, or any other item which could conceivably be used to cause physical injury – like an ax, for example. And the person is holding that object in a way that communicates an intention to use it, regardless of whether the object is actually used. Here, Clifford used an ax and waived it in the air at a police officer and his daughter. You must find the defendant GUILTY.

Jury's Verdict

We the Jury find the defendant John Clifford, GUILTY of menacing in the second degree.


Click HERE to read the full case.

Post Mortem: John Clifford sued the LBPD in federal court for violations of his constitutional rights arising out of this case.

He is representing himself: https://casetext.com/case/clifford-v-nassau-cnty

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