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Lea Spiess is an Attorney with a Big Heart Who Specializes in Federal Civil Rights and Criminal Defense

published February 19, 2013

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( 127 votes, average: 4.7 out of 5)
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Personal Life

Queens Imam sentenced connection nyc subway
Lea Spiess is an Associate at the Law Office of Ronald L. Kuby based in New York City. Since 2008, her varied practice areas include federal civil rights violations such as excessive force, warrantless searches, false arrest and malicious prosecutions as well as criminal defense practice in appellate work and post conviction motions. Lea is well known for participating in a number of high-profile cases, representing, among others, model Zoe West and artist Andy Golb and his models who were detained for public nudity; Margaret Johnson who is currently being sued by Devon Johnson (no relation) because she shot him with a .357 magnum gun after he assaulted her; and Queens Imam Ahmad Afzali, a government informer indicted in 2009 for allegedly operating as a double agent in a New York City subway bombing scheme.

Lea is also known for handling wrongful conviction cases. In July 2012, she settled a wrongful conviction case that she worked on for four years. Lea explained that she filed a wrongful lawsuit on behalf of Michael Clancy, who spent eleven years in prison, eight and a half years of which was served in state custody for a murder he did not commit. Clancy's conviction was vacated and he was released in 2008.

The civil rights attorney successfully vacated the juvenile conviction of Declan Devlin after new evidence came to light that she was responsible for drafting the argument in the appellate brief for Henry Matyjewicz. Lea's brief disputed the lawfulness of circumstances unilaterally enforced by the trial court at a court appearance, which followed the appeal proceeding. After serving an eleven-month sentence, the Appellate Division vacated Matyjewicz's prison sentence and felony conviction and allowed the former inmate to receive a plea agreement.

Lea proved to be a proficient negotiator when she oversaw the return of seventy-four traditional New York City subway signs to the rightful owner of Bill's Antiques and Props, Billy LeRoy. The New York police confiscated one hundred of Billy's signs from his store and accused the owner of stealing the signs from the MTA. Although Billy was charged with grand larceny, Lea and Ronald dismissed the charges against the Antiques and Props owner.

Lea drafted the briefs in the milestone case People v. Khemwattie Bedessie, a plea in which the Court of Appeals recognized a defendant's right to present professional testament once a false confession occurs. She also has appealed the courts to examine cases which involve innovative legal matters, and she was permitted to plea to New York's highest court in three cases.

Lea was born and raised in Denville, NJ. She graduated from the University of Maryland and earned her J.D. from Fordham University School of Law. Lea's favorite law professor was Thane Rosenbaum who is currently the John Whelan Distinguished Lecturer in Law and Director of the Forum on Law, Culture & Society.

When she isn't working, the University of Maryland alumna enjoys collecting wine from the Russian River Valley and she attends several wine events in Manhattan, NY. Lea also enjoys cooking for her boyfriend and walking her dog. The fearless attorney said she loves traveling "anywhere and everywhere." Lea recalled living in Australia for seven months before she began law school, calling the land down under "gorgeous and amazing." She noted that New Zealand's landscape and scenery is just as depicted in the The Lord of the Rings.

Lea participates in two fantasy football leagues and is an avid Packers fan and shareholder. She is a frequent visitor of Totto Ramen located on 52nd street in New York, NY. Lea explained that Totto Ramen can only seat twelve people at a time and since forty to fifty people usually wait outside, she places her order and returns an hour and a half later to enjoy the "best ramen soup" in town.

Lea's Successful Law Career

When Lea was asked if she could tell us about her most memorable law school experience, she recalled the following experience: "I was a member of Fordham Student Sponsored Fellowship and in that role, one of my responsibilities was to throw Fordham's annual alumni action. I don't know how successful the auction has done since I left, but the one I planned in 2008 was the highest winning auction [at the time]."

Why did Lea decide to become an attorney? "I majored in Psychology at [the] University of Maryland and I planned to go to medical school. I thought I would be a Psychologist, but I didn't think medical school would be for me. I didn't want to disappoint my parents, so I went to law school." Lea said that her mother's reaction was "I think you have been smoking too much pot."

What is the best part of her job? "I can bring my dog to work."

Lea discussed what she is known for professionally. The candid civil rights/defense attorney stated, "I have been only practicing law for five years, so there is only so much I can be known for." In the short period since she joined the Law Office of Ronald L. Kuby, Lea has formed her own reputation in civil rights as well as criminal defense issues. She acknowledged her civil case involving false arrest and excessive force for occupied Wall Street demonstrators. The case is a federal one and is currently pending in the southern district of New York. Lea also pointed out that she has been filing hiatus petitions lately. She talked about settling a wrongful conviction case that she worked on for four years. The young attorney filed a wrongful lawsuit on behalf of Clancy, who was incarcerated for eleven years for a crime he did not commit and he was finally vacated in 2008. At that time, Lea graduated from law school and worked at the office for a couple of months when Clancy stopped by to thank the attorneys who were working on wrongful conviction cases. Clancy's gratitude left a lasting impression on Lea.

What area of the law is Lea most passionate about? "Wrongful convictions," the attorney said without hesitating.

She was asked if there was an area of practice she would like to develop further into? Her response again was "Wrongful convictions."

In regards to her strength as an attorney, she claimed "Criminal leave applications. 1) Is being able to identify legal issues that are at the forefront of modern day jurisprudence…important, legal issues. 2) Is effectively arguing for you client and 3) is not being discouraged when you lose. When you lose in an appellant division, you get the opportunity on occasion to argue in front of [the] Court of Appeals."

So what does Lea think about the legal field today?  "Lawyers don't have a good reputation these days. Some things are moving in the right direction. The Court of Appeals are accepting more criminal leave applications and are moving towards Valery reform. The problem is that the Court of Appeals only grants four percent of criminal leave applications." Lea has been granted leave for three out of four appeal cases.

If she weren't a lawyer, what would Lea probably be doing? "I would be an Interior decorator; it's one of my hobbies. I always redecorate my apartment." Lea said it felt like everyone in law school focused on conforming. She does interior decorating on the side, which provides a creative outlet for her while she practices the law.

Lea was asked, where do you see yourself in five years time? "I don't think that far in advance." The straightforward attorney expressed that she is enjoying what she is doing right now, practicing civil rights and criminal defense.

How does she want to be remembered? "I am hoping to have a long successful career and I want to be remembered like my boss who has a long and grey ponytail."

Lea's High Profile Cases

Lea represented Queens Imam Ahmad Afzali, a government informant accused of acting as a double agent in the 2009 New York subway-bombing plot. The judge imposed a sentence requiring deportation, but not jail time. Was Lea pleased with the outcome of this case? "Well, I was pleased with the sentence. He had a lot at stake. He could have been sentenced to a period of imprisonment, so any time you can keep your client out of jail is a good thing. In that case, however, it was a devastating punishment because Ahmad had to leave a country he truly loves and his family still lives here. They love their country."

Lea represented artists and models arrested during demonstrations involving public nudity. What was the outcome of these civil cases? "I am currently working on some cases now. Some cases were dismissed. Zoe West is a model who was falsely arrested of body painting in Times Square. I filed a federal lawsuit on her behalf and it was settled for $15,000. Andy Golb is a well-known street artist in New York City. I represented several of his models who were arrested. Their case was dismissed."

The top-notch attorney is currently representing granny Margaret Johnson who is being sued by Devon Johnson because she shot him with a .357 magnum gun after he attacked her. What is the status of this case? "It's still pending, with no end in sight. No trial date has been set."

Lea successfully represented clients in criminal and civil matters, at trial and on appeal, in federal as well as state courts. She got the juvenile conviction of Declan Devlin vacated after new evidence came to light. How did you get involved in this case? What did the evidence show? "Declan used to work in our office building and one day, he came to the office seeking legal representation. The newly discovered evidence was a confession from an individual who I interviewed."

Pro Bono Work, Lea's Mentor and Goals

Does Lea handle pro bono cases? "I do some, but it's the most brutal work. Pro bono work can last three to four years because the cases involve civil matters. [The] pre trial process is very slow moving in state civil courts."

Lea said her mentor is her boss, Ron Kuby. She explained that she has a picture of Ron's mentor, William Kunstler, on her desk.
Lea has mentored law students, college student interns as well as paralegals.

What are Lea's goals? "To be well respected by opposing counsel. To establish meaningful relationships with my clients and to challenge myself by taking on cases that present me with any opportunity I can to help advance our legal system."

published February 19, 2013

By Follow Me on
( 127 votes, average: 4.7 out of 5)
What do you think about this article? Rate it using the stars above and let us know what you think in the comments below.