Ben Ostrer is honored for defending those in need

New York State Bar Association honors Chester attorney with Outstanding Pro Bono Volunteer Award: Ostrer contributes hundreds of hours to ensure 'Justice for All'

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  • Amir Sadaghiani posted this photo of Ben Ostrer (second from right) receiving his latest award, with the message: "For the second time in 3 years -- my boss, mentor and friend Benjamin Ostrer has been recognized by the New York State Bar Association with a statewide award... Ben truly lives his life by following the directive of "For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required."

Ostrer devoted more than 100 hours in 2017 to pro bono work, and even more in prior years: during the Seeber Case, he contributed more than 325 hours, and in the Pitkin case more than 200 hours.

By Ginny Privitar

— Chester attorney Ben Ostrer has contributed many hundreds of hours over the years to defending people in need. That hard work has earned him a high honor, the New York State Bar Association's 2017 Outstanding Pro Bono Volunteer award.

"It's hard to put into words," said Ostrer, when asked why he puts in so many free hours. "There's a certain satisfaction about providing assistance to people who are in need."

Ostrer received the award at the "Justice for All" luncheon, during the bar's annual meeting at the Hilton Midtown in New York City on Jan. 25. Every year, the bar honors individual attorneys and several law firms as Empire State Counsel honorees.

It's not the first time Ostrer has been honored by the state bar. In 2016 he received the Charles F. Crimi Memorial Award as Outstanding Private Criminal Defense Attorney in New York State.

"Ben is a greater lawyer, and even better person, but most of all he belongs to Orange County!," said Orange County District Attorney David Hoovler.

Decisions that made a differenceOstrer defended Michael Maragh in People v. Maragh, in 2000, which resulted in a reversed homicide conviction and the adoption of a new jury charge on juror expertise.

He also defended Christopher Pitkin from 2006 to 2008, in People v. Pitkin, "shaken baby" baby. Pitkin was accused of killing 10-month-old Antonio Torres, his girlfriend's son, while the baby was in his care. Ostrer successfully argued that Pitkin's actions were meant to revive the baby, not harm him, and he obtained not guilty verdicts on all counts, including Murder 2.

"The whole shaken baby diagnosis was called into question," Ostrer said, "In reality, if you shook a child that severely, they would have to have injuries to the neck. There were none. We were one of the earliest cases to undermine the shaken baby diagnosis."

The child died from a cerebral hemorrhage, caused by a short-distance fall, he said.

Ostrer was co-counsel on behalf of Katherine Seeber in Saratoga County in People v. Seeber, with Vernon Broderick and Corey Chivers of Weil, Gotshal and Manges, which resulted in vacating a homicide conviction that had relied upon falsified evidence at the New York State Police Lab. It ended 12 years of incarceration for a young woman.

And since 2013 he has represented David Carlson, the man convicted of manslaughter in connection with the shooting of an escaped rapist. He remains free on bail pending appearance. Ostrer will soon argue the case in the Appellate Division 2 Judicial Department.

From Brooklyn to Pine Hill RoadOstrer devoted more than 100 hours in 2017 to pro bono work, and even more in prior years: during the Seeber Case, he contributed more than 325 hours, and in the Pitkin case more than 200 hours.

A graduate of Alfred University and New York Law School, Ostrer was admitted to practice in New York in 1977 and is also admitted before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and in the District Courts of the Southern and Eastern Districts.

He was born in Brooklyn, raised on Long Island and moved to Orange County in 1975, while he was still attending law school. Here he and his brother raised thoroughbred horses on their Sugar Loaf farm at the intersection of Pine Hill Road and Hambletonian Road. Ostrer, busy with the horse farm, did not fully practice law until the mid-1980s.

Asked if he's still involved in horses, he said, "I'm cured. You can't lose money on every horse and make it up in volume."

He regularly accepts pro bono matters on behalf of individuals accused of serious crimes and, as a criminal defense lawyer, has won favorable verdicts in numerous cases and has successfully litigated appeals before the New York State Court of Appeals and Appellate Divisions.

Ostrer has volunteered as mock trial coach at Chester Academy and, previously, at S.S. Seward Institute in the Village of Florida and has done pro bono work for Safe Homes of Orange County.

"When they call us we're happy to oblige," he said. "It's not just me — all the lawyers at the firm end up being awarded not just by the appreciation of the client, but by a learning experience from each case I've worked on, with a lot of professional growth as a result of those cases."

He serves on the Board of the Criminal Justice Section of the state bar and received the section’s Charles F. Crimi Award in 2016. He is a board member of the Legal Aid Society of Orange County and past president of the N.Y. State Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. His firm, Ostrer Associates, P.C., is located in Chester.

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