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Federal judge admonishes Scheinblum
By Alex Wood, Journal Inquirer, 11/17/2004

Enfield Superior Court Judge Howard Scheinblum often seems like a man from another era.  Known for his stern demeanor -- but not for imposing unduly harsh sentences -- Scheinblum often has plea-bargained directly with criminal defendants at their first court appearances, inducing them to plead guilty without benefit of legal advice.
A federal judge reviewed one such guilty plea on Tuesday before imposing sentence on Jose Figueroa, 35, a former Hartford resident who has pleaded guilty to a federal charge stemming from his involvement in a heroin packaging operation on Hanmer Street in East Hartford last spring. 
Figueroa's guilty plea before Scheinblum in a 1999 drug-possession case increased his sentence range under federal guidelines. But the 1999 conviction, in Hartford Superior Court, wouldn't count in the guideline calculation if it was found to have been obtained in violation of Figueroa's constitutional right to a lawyer.
Judge Mark R. Kravitz ruled during Tuesday's sentencing in U.S. District Court in New Haven that Figueroa's constitutional rights had not been violated because he knowingly and intelligently waived his right to a lawyer during the 1999 plea hearing.  As a result, Kravitz counted the 1999 conviction in the guideline calculation, which increased Figueroa's minimum prison sentence from 70 to 77 months.
The federal judge then imposed the 77-month minimum, which is almost 6 years.  But Kravitz also made clear that he disapproved of Scheinblum's handling of the 1999 plea. "I do not condone this kind of process at all, and I don't want to be seen as rubber-stamping it," the federal judge said.  Kravitz described a number of aspects of the 1999 plea hearing as "troubling." For example, he said, Scheinblum took Figueroa's guilty plea before reminding him of his right to a lawyer.  Later, according to a transcript of the hearing, Scheinblum said, "Now, do you want to go ahead without a lawyer and I will give you what I said I was going to do?"  Kravitz described that as "kind of a quid pro quo" for Figueroa's agreement to give up his right to counsel. He said Figueroa might not have insisted on having a lawyer "because he felt he might lose the deal he got."   Figueroa had testified earlier in Tuesday's sentencing hearing that he was a heroin addict and was going through withdrawal when he entered the guilty plea on May 28, 1999. Because he was withdrawing from drugs, he said, "I didn't want to sit there patiently like I am now. I just wanted to get the case over with."  In describing withdrawal, Figueroa said, "My bones ached. My body aches. I feel exhausted. I'm impatient."  Kravitz acknowledged that "this defendant has a history of drug abuse and going through withdrawal." 
But he also said Figueroa knew he had a right to counsel, in that he had been represented by lawyers in a number of previous criminal cases. Figueroa had 10 criminal convictions before the 1999 plea, including four burglary convictions and a conviction of carrying a pistol without a permit, as well as convictions for larcenies, drug offenses, and other crimes.
Federal prosecutor Anastasia Enos didn't seek to count another guilty plea Figueroa entered before Scheinblum in the sentencing-guideline calculation, effectively acknowledging that his constitutional right to a lawyer was violated in that 1997 case. But that concession had no effect on his sentence because the 1999 conviction put Figueroa in the guidelines' most serious criminal-history category.  Figueroa was a relatively minor participant in the Hanmer Street heroin operation, which police and federal agents raided on April 14. His role was to help cut and package the heroin.  But it was a relatively significant operation. When agents raided the apartment at 73-A Hanmer St., they found 87 grams of unprocessed heroin and 6,600 street bags ready for sale. Pablo Velez, whom authorities portray as the leader of the packaging operation, admitted throwing about 1,500 more street bags out the window of a car after realizing that police were following him.
Figueroa has the chance of getting a year off his prison sentence if he completes a 500-hour drug treatment program in prison. Enos said Figueroa, who has been in jail since his arrest in April, is healthier now than he was then.  After he is released from prison, he will be on probation for four years, during which any violation of court-imposed conditions could result in up to three more years in prison.


Chris Kennedy
Ellington, CT 06029


The Shared Parenting Council -CT
The Fatherhood Coalition -MA
Fathers-4-Justice- UK

    On March 6, 2006 Judge Howard Schienblum testified under oath to the judicial committee that I insisted on representing myself in a case he refused to resolve for 2-1/2 years.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  Transcripts submitted to the judicial committee and in the judge's file clearly show this judge removing two of my defense attorneys each time I demanded a jury trial and after 2 years of being forced to court.  About June of 2005, he ordered the court reporter to shut off the recording device and threatened me with retaliation if I made any more allegations against court officials.  He had just removed my second defense attorney after a private meeting in his chambers and I provided transcripts of the prosecutor lying to the judge, denying calls made by judge Kaplan of Rockville to prosecute me.
    In fact, it is typical for this judge to threaten and intimidate defendants to plead guilty without representation or face jail and other threats.  (See "Federal Judge Admonishes Scheinblum" , Journal Inquirer, Nov. 2004.)  I objected and but was denied my constitutional right to be heard. I filed a motion to reconsider but was denied without review.  I filed an appeal but was dismissed for lack of final judgment.  I requested protection under the ADA laws and was ordered to file a brief in one week.  He denied the brief without review.
His claim to the judicial committee that he has denied every motion I filed as frivolous omitted that these were motions for a speedy trial, for a jury trial, motions to transfer my case, motions for Bill of Particulars as to what I was charged for and what facts; Motion for recusal, motions to dismiss...etc.  Every motion was denied without review, without turning a page, as fast as I handed it to the court.
Remove this judge, hold him accountable for false testimony to the judicial committee and for abusing thousands of defendants in Enfield court.