(CN) – Challenging last week’s release of former Weather Underground activist Judith Clark, two victims of the fatal 1981 Brink’s armored-truck robbery for which Clark drove the getaway car brought a lawsuit Monday claiming her parole vote rested on a conflict of interest.
Clark was released Friday after the parole board voted 2-1 last month to end her 38-year stint at the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility.
As alleged in the lawsuit filed Monday, however, the vote occurred without public disclosure of the fact that board member Tana Agostini is herself married to a convicted murder whose release she worked to secure in 2013.
Arthur Keenan Jr., an officer with the Nyack Police Department who survived the 1981 Brink’s robbery, and Michael Paige, the son of murdered Brink’s guard Peter Page, say Agostini cast the deciding vote to grant the 69-year-old Clark parole.
Asking the Albany Supreme Court to void the board’s decision, Keenan and Page say “the actions of [the board] by a 2-1 vote without proper public disclosure on the record of any potential conflicts borders on impropriety.”
Two White Plains law firms, Bleakley Platt & Schmidt and Blanchard & Wilson, brought Monday’s complaint on behalf of Keenan and Page.
“This litigation is filed since the victims of murders should have equal respect and equal rights as those accorded to murderers,” the filing states.
Attorneys for Clark meanwhile defended their client’s release.
“The careful and thorough decision by the Parole Board was grounded in all applicable law,” lawyers Michael Cardozo and Steven Zeidman said in a statement. “We are confident that a judge reviewing the process and the record will find that the board in all respects acted legally and appropriately.”
Agostini was joined by Ellen Evans Alexander, a fellow appointee to the parole board by Governor Andrew Cuomo, in supporting Clark’s release. The vote against Clark came from William Smith Jr., who has been on the board since his appointment by former Republican Governor George Pataki.
Parole would not have even been possible for Clark meanwhile had Cuomo not commuted her sentence in 2016.
“New York is a state of opportunity and today, we are granting these individuals and others a second chance to live up to their full potential, provide for their families and give back to their communities,” Cuomo said two years ago, announcing conditional pardons for Clark and more than 100 others.
Clark never fired a weapon in the Brink’s heist and publicly disavowed any justification for her role in the plot. She published her first open letter of apology in a Rockland County newspaper in 1994, followed by another eight years later titled “I Am Deeply Sorry.”
Considered a cause célèbre for successful rehabilitation, Clark’s supporters exist well outside traditional activist circles. Former Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morganthau, ex-Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, and more than 70 elected officials signed letters in her support, as did one of the witnesses against her and a sister of a murder victim.
After her sentencing, Clark spearheaded initiatives that became national models. She trained puppies to become explosive-detection dogs for law-enforcement agencies, as well as service dogs for the disabled. She also started an AIDS counseling program, earned two degrees and completed the certification to become a chaplain.
“Her case is about whether we as a society would deny the possibility of redemption and rehabilitation by virtue of the nature of the crime that a person is convicted of,” New York Liberties Union’s executive director Donna Lieberman said last month in a phone interview. “So, I think it speaks well of New York that we are prepared to allow somebody to redeem themselves.”
Save for the indirect connection to Agostini, Clark’s case is unrelated to that of Agostini’s husband, Thomas O’Sullican, who was sentenced in 1982 for the murder-for-hire of a drug dealer.