Thomas Gilbert Jr., the former Georgica Estates resident accused by the New York Police Department of murdering his father in January 2015, waived his right to have the court appoint a new lawyer for his trial. Gilbert appeared in the Manhattan courtroom of New York State Justice Melissa Jackson on January 16.
Jackson ruled there was a conflict of interest in that Gilbert’s mother, Shelly Gilbert, who discovered her husband’s body in the bedroom of their Beekman Place apartment, will likely be one of the prosecution’s main witnesses. She also happens to be paying the legal fees for her son’s defense.
Though Shelly Gilbert rarely comments on the record about the case, the legal fees that she is bearing cannot be cheap. Originally, she had retained Alex Spiro from Benjamin Brafman’s law firm, one that handles high profile, wealthy clients. After over two years of court appearances, Spiro left the firm, and she hired another leading attorney, Arthur Levine, to represent her son.
Prosecuting attorney Craig Ortner had first asked the question about a possible claim of a conflict of interest by the defendant during a December court date. The matter had been discussed, but, according to Levine, after Justice Jackson reviewed the transcripts of that session, she decided to revisit it last week.
Gilbert was brought into the courtroom in a Rikers Island-issued orange jump suit. He sat next to his attorney, constantly tapping his right foot.
Jackson explained the possibility of a conflict. “I need to review it with you, to make sure you understand,” she said. She asked if he wanted a new attorney appointed. Gilbert said he did not want a new attorney appointed, particularly if it would delay the process any further. Jackson asked him directly about the appearance of a conflict. “Do you understand?” she asked. “Yes, I do,” Gilbert answered.
Gilbert asked if the trial could begin this month, but Jackson said that would not be possible. In fact, it appears that the trial may wait another couple of months, as Levine has a trial scheduled in federal court, which would take preference over the state criminal court.
At one point, Gilbert asked if he could be moved from Rikers Island to the Tombs detention facility next door to the courthouse. Jackson told him that was beyond her purview.
During the court appearance, Levine made a motion to have another hearing to determine Gilbert’s mental fitness to stand trial. He presented the judge and the prosecution with several higher court rulings on the question. Jackson will weigh the issue and the response of the prosecution before rendering a decision on the motion February 1.
Ortner was asked, after the court session, why it took four years for the prosecution to explore the question of the potential conflict. He would not comment other than to say, “I will let the record speak for itself.”
A spokesman for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance’s office, Justin Henry, in an email wrote, “Because of the litigation about this defendant’s fitness to stand trial, he could not have waived the conflict until he was found fit.” Unfortunately, that response came in late Friday, not allowing for a follow-up, especially with Monday being a holiday. Gilbert has been ruled by the court fit to stand trial twice already, including once a couple of years ago, when Spiro was still Gilbert’s attorney.