Oct 22

Advocate for the defence. Diane Ketcham

By DIANE KETCHAM
To find a good doctor, the advice says, pick one other doctors go to. But to find a good lawyer pick one police officers use. On Long Island that lawyer is Stephen P. Scaring of Lloyd Harbor.

Mr. Scaring has had more police officers as clients than some villages have on their forces. But neither he nor police officials like to hear him referred to as “the policeman’s lawyer.”

“I have had a lot of cops as clients,” said Mr. Scaring whose office in Mineola is across the street from the Nassau County Courthouse. “But I’ve defended a lot of other people, as well.”

“Scaring’s the best,” said Gary DelaRaba, president of the Nassau County Police Benevolent Association. “But don’t make this sound like I’m giving him a plug. He’s handling Pat Ryder’s case for us because we wanted to get the best defense for our accused officer.”

Officer Ryder has been accused of police brutality. “This is an important case for us,” Mr. DelaRaba said. “So we got Scaring, because he’s thorough and works hard for his clients.”

But it is Mr. Scaring’s defenses of non-police clients that make Mr. Scaring the hottest criminal lawyer on Long Island right now. His recent success in defending Walter Grabinowitz, a St. John’s University student charged with sex crimes, resulted in the lawyer’s being widely quoted in newspapers and on television stations.

His defense of Gerald Monter, a developer in Nassau who faced a murder charge, and Dave DeBusschere, the former New York Knicks basketball player who was acquitted of driving while intoxicated after Mr. Scaring had subpoenaed the Breathalyzer, gained their shares of press attention. As did his appointment as the special prosecutor in the Suffolk police corruption cases several years ago.

And his defense of a C. W. Post student charged with manslaughter in the death of her newborn will no doubt add to his scrapbook. His series of 8 victories in 10 trials does not hurt his reputation, either.

If Mr. Scaring is on such a judicial roll, why isn’t his name a household word? Well in households with legal connections, it is. Others do not know of him because Mr. Scaring is not as media conscious as some lawyers.

“I love what I do,” he said. “I don’t need to be more prominent.”

He opposes cameras in the courtroom, which is like Jimmy Connors’s opposing an audience at the U.S. Open.

“I find the cameras distracting,” Mr. Scaring said. “I can hear every click, and it’s intrusive. You have private moments to deal with. It’s very emotional right before a verdict is read, and to have this camera hovering over the defendant, I find it very offensive.”

Quiet Exterior, Passionate Feelings

Flamboyant is not a word used to describe Mr. Scaring. His bespeckled conservative appearance and reserved manner make him appear the choir boy grown up. But his eyebrows dance the cha-cha when he becomes excited about something.

There is an undercurrent in this man who will be 50 years old next month, a sense that underneath the Eagle Scout exterior beats a Napoleon-like heart. Ambition is not alien to Mr. Scaring. He doesn’t just sail his 38-foot Sabre sailboat Verdict. He competes in the Around Long Island Regatta.

“I’ve won it,” he said. “And I came in second. I also came in last.”

He is fit and slim from playing tennis, and with well-tailored suits, usually visible suspenders and fashionable eyeglasses he attests to his creed of dressing for success. In both his office decor and his attire, he mixes panache with propriety.

But in the courtroom he is known for his quiet almost humble demeanor. He is not a shouter or an arm waver. And many say that is why he is such an effective trial lawyer.

“From ‘L.A. Law,’ we’re use to seeing histrionics before the jury,” said Kenneth Rosenblum, dean of students at the Touro Law Center in Huntington. “But very often what reaches a jury is not the great dramatics, but a low-key personal connection, putting something on a level the jury can relate to. That’s where Scaring excels.”

Mr. Scaring said there was a misperception about how aggressive he can be. “You have to have a feel for it,” he said.

His father was a police officer. “He liked to fix up houses,” Mr. Scaring said. “So we moved a lot.” From Queens to Searingtown to Mineola to Merrick, the family traversed Long Island. Mr. Scaring graduated from Mepham High School in 1959, and four years later from Post. He received his law degree from Catholic University in Washington.

“I always wanted to be a D.A.,” he said. “I didn’t want to be a corporate lawyer. I wanted to be trial lawyer.”

Criminal law became the choice. “It’s a special field,” he said. “People entrust their lives with you. There’s a great deal of pressure.”

He joined the Nassau District Attorney’s office in 1969 and within a year had his first big case. A school administrator in Valley Stream, Howard Holder, and his lover, Lynnor Gershenson, a teacher, were accused of killing Mr. Holder’s wife. “This was a case nobody wanted,” Mr. Scaring said, except him.

Mr. Scaring won the case and the attention of the media. “It gave me a little boost,” he said. He became chief of the homicide bureau after Denis Dillon, then a Democrat, had been elected District Attorney.

Mr. Scaring, a Republican was prepared to quit, but Mr. Dillon asked him to stay. The two got along so well that a few years later when the Nassau Republican chairman, Joseph M. Margiotta, offered Mr. Scaring the nomination to run against Mr. Dillon, he declined. “We had developed a relationship,” Mr. Scaring said. “I couldn’t run against him.”

He racked up victories, but that is not so unusual, Mr. Scaring said. “A prosecutor wins most of his cases because he decides which ones to prosecute,” Mr. Scaring said. “If there isn’t enough evidence, he won’t chance it. A defense lawyer doesn’t choose his cases. They come to him.”

One of the defendants he prosecuted was Dr. Charles Friedgood, whose case he considers his biggest before the St. John’s case. Dr. Friedgood, of Great Neck, was convicted of killing his wife after Mr. Scaring had spent months researching and prosecuting the case.

The victory sent Mr. Scaring in a new direction. “It was such an exciting case,” he said. “I couldn’t see how I could then return to waiting for the next call to do another murder. I decided to move on and go into private practice.”

He first opened a law firm with Thomas S. Gulotta. “That lasted four months,” Mr. Scaring said. “I don’t work well with partners.”

Out on his own, he found defending far different from prosecuting.

“The prosecutor puts pieces of the puzzle together,” he said. “The defense lawyer doesn’t even have the parts. You don’t know what the facts are. You have to develop a strategy. You’re always reacting. That’s why the cross-examination is so important.”

‘She Was a Volatile Witness’

It was Mr. Scaring’s cross-examination in the St. John’s trial that won the case for his client, he said. Several St. John’s students were charged with sexually abusing another student. When the young woman took the stand, Mr. Scaring was the first lawyer to cross-examine her.

“If the witness had been different,” he said, “my cross would have been a lot shorter and more analytical. But she did not appear as a victim. She was aggressive and lashed out. She was a volatile witness. I looked at the jury as I cross-examined and I knew I was reaching them. I was fairly aggressive with her, but not as aggressive as I was portrayed.”

Members of women’s rights groups voiced concern that Mr. Scaring and the other defense lawyers were using a “blame the victim” defense.

“Not so,” Mr. Scaring said. Mrs. Scaring, who helped with research on the case, said she had no reservations about the aggressive questioning.

“I looked at it very objectively,” Mrs. Scaring said. “There was a witness on the stand. It didn’t matter whether the witness was a male or a female.”

The cross-examination changed his entire strategy, Mr. Scaring said. “I was going to put my client on the stand,” he said. “I thought we had to. But after she testified, I knew it wasn’t necessary.”

The prosecutor in the St. John’s cases, Peter Reese, a Queens assistant district attorney, said he had not known much about Mr. Scaring. “Observers at the trial were calling him ‘the prince of darkness,’ ” Mr. Reese said. “I guess that was because of his demeanor and the pointed questions, and because of his appearance. He’s tall and dark, and he dressed in dark suits.”

But Mr. Reese said he soon respected his opponent’s skills. “The man is definitely a fine trial attorney,” he said. “He made some gutsy moves and he played that jury right.”

The Grabinowitz family had not heard of Mr. Scaring before hiring him. “My son’s teacher at St. John’s gave him the names of two lawyers,” Mr. Grabinowitz’s mother, Carol, said. “Mr. Scaring and someone else who was in New York City. Mr. Scaring was in Mineola. So we took him, because he was closer. Later we found out that he was well known.”

Payment to a man of Mr. Scaring’s reputation does not come cheap. It has been a long time, he said, since he took a load of shrimp as his fee or a car where a body had been stored in the trunk. “My wife asked that I return that one,” he said.

“I try more cases than most,” he said. “So far this year it’s been seven or eight.”

After 14 years in private practice, Mr. Scaring acknowledged, “Things are going well.” But his philosophy has changed. “As a young lawyer,” he said, “you look at it more in terms of winning and losing,” he said. “I’ve found I’ve gotten much more reasonable. I care what it’s all about.”

But winning and losing? “Oh, winning is still very important,” he said, his eyebrows dancing once again.