ONLY ON CLIFFVIEW PILOT: A Ramsey lawyer who angered a judge last month when she defied his order to stay in the courtroom returned contrite and repentant today — and got her one-year jail term slashed to 60 days.
Yana Chechelnitsky stood before Superior Court Judge Patrick J. Roma with a new attorney at her side — noted defense lawyer Brian Neary — during an emotionally-charged hearing.
She was stressed and out of control the night she tried to stab her husband in the back and, a short time later, assaulted two Ramsey police officers while being arrested, Chechelnitsky said.
The alcohol-fueled incident cost her custody of her two children, she said.
“I can’t explain how all this happened,” she said. “I have always been a loving and caring mother to my two boys. My second marriage, it was dysfunctional – and it didn’t occur to me to share my problems with my family because I was embarrassed to have a second divorce already with two kids.
“Alcohol for me was a pain killer, and it increased with the amount of pain in my life and led to self-destruction.”
Chechelnitsky abruptly walked out of her Jan. 26 sentencing, igniting a bizarre chain of events that ended with her taken to the county jail in cuffs.
Roma threatened to scrap Chechelnitsky’s plea deal after ordering defense attorney Socrates Lambrinides, who was representing her at the time, to go fetch her.
The judge also blasted Lambrinides for having “the unmitigated gall” to claim that neither he nor Chechelnitsky understood that her plea agreement included spending 364 days in the county lockup.
“My understanding from my attorney was not an actual jail term of 364 days,” Chechelnitsky added. “I would never have signed the plea agreement.”
Roma wasn’t convinced. After watching himself on video outlining the terms of her sentence, he had Bergen County Sheriff’s officers take her into custody.
Besides assault, attempted assault and weapons counts, Chechelnitsky was charged with two counts of child neglect in connection with the incident. Combined, these could have meant several years in prison if she’d been convicted at a trial.
After having her children “taken from me,” she told Roma today, “the definition of pain took on new meaning.”
Chechelnitsky said she set about doing “everything humanly possible to rectify my mistakes.”
She attended an outpatient program, attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, entered therapy, and kept at it until she was able to go from one-hour weekly visits with her children — supervised by DYFS – to shared custody.
Roma, in turn, worked deliberately to craft a solution to the situation that gave equal weight to several conflicting factors.
On the one hand, the judge said, Chechelnitsky had an outstanding reputation as a lawyer. On the other, she kicked and tried to punch an officer at police headquarters.
“I had to protect both children from her,” Chechelnitsky’s ex-husband wrote in a letter to the judge. “She became increasingly violent and her outbursts became more frequent. She assaulted me and attempted to kill me with a butcher knife in front of our two children . . . and then she tried to assault the police officers.
“I keep wondering what would have happened if I had not seen her coming at me from behind.
What’s more, the man wrote, “Yana and her attorney kept threatening me if I didn’t drop the charges …. Then she and her attorney filed false charges accusing me of assaulting and raping her. I had to take a loan against my pension to pay legal fees. After a long and painful battle all the charges against me were dismissed.”
Assistant Bergen Prosecutor Jessica Gomperts told Roma that her office did all it could to fashion an appropriate agreement, given the severity of the crimes.
“We crafted this plea so Ms. Chechelnitsky could keep her children, keep her law license,” she said. “The price that has been paid for this crime is very, very steep.”
And while she said she didn’t object to Roma reconsidering Chechelnitsky’s sentence, Gomperts said, “there does have to be a punitive aspect to a crime.
“Has these 36 days in jail been enough?” the assistant prosecutor asked. “It’s not for me to say.”
Chechelnitsky has 24 more days before being released on parole. She will be strictly tested for drugs and alcohol every week, said Roma, who urged her to make the most of her break.
“Everyone speaks volumes about your work ethic,” the judge told her. “Pulling out a butcher knife, kicking your husband, and kicking a police officer cannot be tolerated.”
STORY / PHOTOS: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter
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