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Charges dropped against Prakash Churaman

DA decides not to move forward with case

Prakash Churaman walked out of Queens Criminal Court on the afternoon of Monday, June 6 for what he says will be the last time in his life.

Prakash Churaman walks out of Queens Criminal Court a free man on Monday, June 6.

Churaman, now 22, had all charges against him dropped by the Queens District Attorney’s office. As a 15-year-old kid of Guyanese descent from Queens, Churaman says he was forced to confess to a crime he had nothing to do with.

Initially convicted of the home invasion and murder of Taquane Clark, Churaman has maintained his innocence, even despite being sentenced to nine years to life, before having the Appellate Division court overturn the conviction in June 2020.

When the conviction was overturned, he was offered and later refused a plea deal to plead guilty to assault and be released in a matter of weeks. Instead, Churaman opted to fight for his freedom.

“It took a long time, it took a lot of blood, sweat and tears,” Churaman said outside Queens Criminal Court.

Churaman was incarcerated for six years, one month, and 10 days before being bailed out and serving an additional 16 months in home confinement.

“I just want to utilize this time to heal,” Churaman said. “All of this is internally and externally traumatizing. I want to spend time with my son, my family. I just want to live my life.”

In a letter signed by a group of elected officials and advocates of Churaman, the decision to drop all charges levied against him was met with overdue relief. The letter was signed by Councilwoman Shahana Hanif, Councilman Shekar Krishnan, Assemblyman Zohran Mamdani, former Council candidate Felicia Singh, and Democratic District Leader Mufazzal Hossain.

“Prakash is a Guyanase immigrant who spent over half a decade of his life behind bars after being wrongfully convicted of murder,” the letter reads. “This decision speaks to the power of his community and the movement he built.”

Assemblymember Jenifer Rajkumar said the case is a victory for Queens and for the entire Indo-Caribbean community.

In a statement, she said she would be conducting an inquiry into what led to Churaman being coerced into a false statement. Rajkumar is the Chair of the State Assembly Subcommittee on Diversity in Law.

“As a civil rights attorney, I have seen firsthand how the justice system can fail defendants and deny them their right to due process,” Rajkumar said in a statement. “I have spent my career fighting to change this, bringing the voices of the vulnerable and disenfranchised into courts of law. Mr. Churaman’s victory was a victory for that cause. Thank you also to District Attorney Melinda Katz for doing the right thing and dropping the charges, showing that the hand of justice is fair in Queens.”

The District Attorney’s office did not immediately respond for comment.

Bayside Attorney runs for Judge

Bayside’s own Karen Lin will be in the running for Queens Civil Court Judge in the upcoming Democratic Primary on June 28.

Lin officially announced her candidacy back in April, kicking off her campaign with a show of support from local elected officials including U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks, U.S. Rep. Grace Meng, State Senator John Liu, Assemblyman Edward Braunstein, and District Leader Carol Gresser.

With 25 yeast of legal and courtroom experience, Lin is running to increase representation in the judiciary and to make history as the first East-Asian American woman elected judge in Queens.

“As judges, our job is to serve the people,” Lin said in a statement. “I would love the opportunity to be someone who serves the people of Queens. This is my home, this is the place I love, and these are the streets I know. Representation matters, having people who are diverse on the bench matters.”

Last year, former NYS Assemblywoman and countywide Judge Michele Titus and Judge Laurentina McKetney Butler were elected to the New York State Supreme Court’s 11th Judicial District, leaving behind two open seats for Queens Civil Court Judge. Lin, along with attorney Thomas Oliva, were selected by Queens County Democrats to replace them.

On Monday, May 23, a press conference was held in front of the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association to announce U.S. Rep. Nydia Velázquez’s endorsement of Karen Lin for Queens Civil Court Judge.

“We need judges on the bench that can relate to the people over whom they preside,” Velázquez said during the press conference. “We need diversity on the bench as it is an essential component of a fair and impartial judiciary. Bringing a range of experiences and perspectives allows judges to make better-informed decisions and increases public confidence in their rulings.”

Lin began her career as a civil rights and family law attorney at a small firm, representing families in New York City Family Court and the State Supreme Court. She subsequently left for an opportunity to work for New York State Senator Catherine Abate in lower Manhattan.

From her experience, she gained new insight into the needs of New Yorkers regarding issues such as affordable housing, fair wages, and labor rights, which she hopes to bring to the table if elected to the Queens Civil Court.

“I am deeply honored by Congresswoman Velázquez’s endorsement and support for my civil court race. In the most diverse county of Queens, Asian Americans remain vastly underrepresented in the judiciary,” Lin said in a release. “This is why I’m running. A qualified judiciary is more than just the sum of their professional experience. A judiciary that reflects the community it serves is the most legitimate and effective option. My commitment is and will always be the same: ensuring equal justice under the law for all.”

The Democratic Primary election will be held on June 28.

Gopee inducted as NYS Supreme Court justice

Becomes first Indo-Caribbean judge to serve on Supreme Court

Family, friends, local elected officials, and other community members gathered at Queens Borough Hall last week to celebrate Karen Gopee’s induction into the Supreme Court of the State of New York’s 11th Judicial District.

Gopee ran for one of the six open seats in the district on Nov. 2, 2021, and won with 11.6 percent of the vote.

Her victory makes history for New York State, as she is the first Indo-Caribbean judge to serve on the Supreme Court.

The Gopees first came to Southeast Queens in 1973 from Trinidad and Tobago, when Judge Gopee was a year old.

Her father, Prakash Gopee, said that their entire family endured many hardships, but worked tirelessly to support themselves.

“From a young age, Karen worked very hard. She went to school, and she never wanted to go out with her friends — she only liked books and studying,” Gopee said. “I am so very proud of her; I cry inside with joy today.”

Gopee went on to earn her bachelor’s degree from Binghamton University, and her J.D. from St. John’s University School of Law in 1997.

Prior to her appointment to the Queens County Criminal Court, Gopee worked for the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office and for Red Hook Community Justice Center under Alex Calabrese, Acting Supreme Court Justice.

Calabrese, along with other colleagues of Gopee’s, remarked on her character, contributions to the law field, and achievements.

“She is a natural leader and leads by example. She doesn’t see the accused in court defined solely by the charge, but takes a holistic view of that person who may be a father, mother, caregiver, or friend,” Calabrese said.

“She controls her courtroom not by yelling or cutting off attorneys, but by listening to everyone,” he continued. “Judge Karen Gopee treats people with respect, gives them a voice, listens to them, and makes sure that everyone in the courtroom understands what is happening.”

“Karen is more than just a colleague, she’s someone you can rely on and trust,” said Michelle Johnson, Justice Supreme Court – Criminal Term. “In my capacity as a supervising judge, she was the person who came as a new judge and said ‘I want to build programs for young drug offenders in Queens,’ and she did.”

Gopee also helped form the South Asian and Indo-Caribbean Bar Association of Queens, where she serves as president.

Paying homage to her Indo-Caribbean roots, Gopee invited singer Evana Labban to sing Trinidad’s national anthem, 1 Taal Academy of Tassa for a musical performance, and her former intern, Shivana Subir for a traditional dance number.

“While I grew up and assimilated into the United States, the Caribbean and Trinidad is my heritage. I wanted to bring that here with me today to the individuals here who may not have ever experienced that,” Gopee said.

“Every day, I thank God for the blessings He has bestowed upon me. I am left with a loving and big family, friends, help, a happy home, and a career that is beyond anything that I ever dreamed of as a little girl,” she continued.

“This nomination is life changing for me and my family, and it is equally life changing for my community and for others who look and sound like me.”

Striving for success on the court and in the classroom

Martin Luther School Senior reaches 1,000 points, reflects on success during his 5-years as a student-athlete

Adam Kirouani, a senior from Astoria, Queens, netted his 1,000th point this season. As captain of the Martin Luther Varsity Basketball team, the 5’7 point guard led the Cougars to a successful season; finishing above .500 and making their 7th playoff appearance in a row. The team eventually fell to western rivals, Avenues, but not before Kirouani reached the 1,000 point mark in his high-school career.

“Honored and grateful,” were two words Kirouani used to describe what reaching the milestone means to him. “To know that my hard work is recognized amongst other high-achieving student-athletes that graduated from Martin Luther is an honor, and I am grateful for the opportunity that the Boys and Girls Club gave me to attend this school that I love,” Kirouani said.

Kirouani is referring to the Student-Athlete Sponsorship that the Variety Boys and Girls Club granted him in 2016. The sponsorship fund, established by Peter Vallone Sr. decades ago, was meant to help high potential Variety Boys & Girls Club Members (Club Kids) who were under-performing at their current school, find a school where they would excel academically and athletically. Between 2016 and 2022, 15 Club Kids have been sponsored to attend Martin Luther School.

Kirouani was one of the 15 selected by former Head Varsity Basketball Coach, John Sanchez, together with Variety Boys & Girls Club Athletic Director and CM3 AAU Basketball Organizer, Charles Melone.

“Although he was always the smallest player on the court, his voice was always the loudest,” John Sanchez said. “His confidence, grit, and strong voice indicated that he would be a good leader and a team player,” Sanchez added.

“Besides his skill on the court, his positive attitude and strong work ethic have always been contagious to those around him,” Charles Melone, a mentor and coach of Kirouani’s for the last several years, said.

Kirouani was the only eighth-grader selected, and in his first year at Martin Luther, stepped into a big role on the JV team, led by Coach Jon Kablack.

Kablack was assistant coach for one year in 2016 before becoming JV coach in 2017. He coached Kirouani throughout his entire five-year high school basketball career.

“He’s a special kid,” Coach Kablack said when asked to describe Kirouani on and off the court. “He deploys kind candor when communicating, leading to feelings of respect and admiration from his teammates,” Kablack added.

To his teachers, Kirouani was a bright light around school; always smiling and engaging with others. Through his hard work and commitment to seeking extra help with subjects he struggled with, Kirouani was able to maintain a 3.0 average during his time at Martin Luther.

“It’s been a true pleasure watching him mature from middle school to high school,” said Assistant Principal, Ann Boyle. “The growth he was able to demonstrate, both in the classroom and on the court, has been impressive,” Boyle added.

Kirouani is eyeing a few D2 and D3 basketball schools, but is undecided as to where he would most like to attend college. “Knowing that Martin Luther and The Variety Boys and Girls Club are in my corner means the world to me,” Kirouani said. “I couldn’t have dreamt of a better high school experience, and I am thankful to God, my family, friends, and of course MLS & The Club for making my high school career an unforgettable one,” Kirouani added.

Greener horizons at West Side Tennis Club

West Side Tennis Club members and guests were first to play on the newly resurfaced field of eight state-of-the-art grass courts at the iconic Forest Hills club last Friday.
“To have been able to take on a transformational upgrade of our grass courts at this moment in time is a testament to our Board of Governors, our members, and our commitment to our mission,” said club president Monika Jain.
Virginia Wade, who won the 1968 U.S. Open, was a guest of honor.
“I had deja vu watching all these good players out today,” she said. “I know what good grass is like. Grass technology is so sophisticated these days, and it’s so exciting that this club chose to take advice from Wimbledon.
“The WSTC lawns will become the envy of every tradition-loving club and player,” Wade added. “And for those lucky enough to play on them, it will be a blissful experience.”
“My favorite surface in the whole world is grass,” said Rennae Stubbs, a legendary Australian tennis player, coach, and Racquet Magazine podcast host. “It was the first time I ever played here, and it was great to be part of opening the courts for the first time this year. You just have to look around to know you’re in a historic tennis club.”
After WSTC relocated from the Bronx to Forest Hills in 1913, grass was laid for seven courts. The following August, a Davis Cup match would attract an audience of over 12,000, transforming tennis.
The hallowed grounds are where legends like Bill Tilden, Bobby Riggs, Ken Rosewall, Althea Gibson, Arthur Ashe, Billie Jean King, and Chris Evert made their mark on the tennis world.
However, the courts were considered past their prime with spongy and bent grass. After Newport’s International Hall of Fame resurrected its turf venue, WSTC leadership was inspired to examine the feasibility of upgrading its grass courts.
The $650,000 project was designed by Tom Irwin Advisors and spearheaded by Ian Lacy, the former head of Great Britain’s Institute of Groundsmanship Professional Services.
Test pits were dug to evaluate layers of soil, and Lacy and his colleagues recommended a plan to replace the grass, upgrade the irrigation system, enhance the underlying dirt by adding a sand mixture for playability and durability, and regrade the courts.
The grass is a modern blend of three varieties of rye, the same kind used at Wimbledon, the Newport Hall of Fame, and London’s Queens Club.
“The new grass courts are much better, since the ball bounces higher and we can rally and really enjoy it,” said longtime club member Juan Reyes. “Before the ball would hardly bounce.”
The upgrades included Wimbledon-style wooden tennis posts with brass winder mechanisms and “West Side Tennis Club” etchings.
“This is one of the most revered sites, as it was the first home of the U.S. Open,” said Frank Milillo, a pickleball ambassador. “The courts have always been top notch, and it’s exciting to see how well the club improved it with a new lawn. This is where the sport grew, and now it’s coming back to its roots.”

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