By Steve Plunkett
Businessman and magazine publisher Richard Lucibella has lost his courtroom quest to be cleared of all charges resulting from a backyard dustup with police in 2016 when he was the town’s vice mayor.
The appellate judges delivered comparatively swift justice, issuing a “per curiam affirmed” on April 16, just seven weeks after oral arguments. The court’s website advises that a panel can take up to six months to reach a decision. Despite losing his appeal Lucibella, 66, hailed the overall case as a win. During his criminal trial he was found not guilty of two felonies: resisting arrest with violence and battery on a law enforcement officer.
“In the end, I’ll settle for 99% vindication, for now,” he said.
The charges stemmed from an Oct. 22, 2016, confrontation in Lucibella’s backyard as police investigated reports of gunfire phoned in to 911. During a face-off Lucibella poked Ermeri with his finger through the officer’s bulletproof vest, “a forceful poke,” Ermeri, who has since been promoted to sergeant, testified at the original trial.
Leonard Feuer, Lucibella’s appellate lawyer, told the judicial panel on Feb. 25 that Lucibella had a right to defend himself after Ermeri, Officer Nubia Plesnik and Sgt. William Hallahan showed up.
“I’m not seeing this show of force” by the police, Judge Alan Forst said. “Clearly they weren’t invited in, but they didn’t come in with guns blazing.”
Senior Assistant Attorney General Melynda Melear, representing the state, told the judges that Lucibella “walked into” Ermeri’s extended arms before he was arrested.
“It was the defendant who provoked the aggression in the first place,” she said.
Feuer filed a motion on April 27, a Monday, asking the court to rehear the case, issue a written opinion and certify it as “an issue of great public importance.” The judges denied the request the following Friday.
Lucibella criticized the decision.
“In order to issue an opinion, the 4th DCA needed to rule on the legality of these officers entering my property. They chose to kick that down the road by not issuing a written opinion,” Lucibella said.
“Regardless, the (Circuit Court) jury found the officers to be acting outside their authority — that’s why they ruled my actions as simple battery vs. the original charge of battery on a law enforcement officer.”
Lucibella, who is chief executive of an “accountable care organization” for doctors and publishes a magazine for gun aficionados, is still the target of a civil lawsuit by Plesnik that accuses him of battery and negligence. His lawyers in that case have scheduled a deposition of Ermeri in June.