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Ellen, please be kind to the planet, not just to your fellow humans, gorillas in Rwanda

LUNCHTIME IN RWANDA: Ellen DeGeneres, right, and wife Portia de Rossi with a mountain gorilla. The Ellen DeGeneres Wildlife Fund  is supp...

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Woman is on trial in husband's murder and her defense attorney is 97 years old

The Bergen County Courthouse in Hackensack, where a woman is on trial in the murder of her husband, and her brother is accused of dismembering and disposing of the corpse.

Editor's note: As a newspaper reporter, I spent several years covering criminal and civil cases in federal court in Newark, and in state Superior Court in Paterson and Hackensack.


HACKENSACK, N.J. -- Defense attorney Frank P. Lucianna likes to say he has been "69 years a lawyer."

Indeed, at 97, Lucianna is the oldest lawyer still practicing in Bergen County -- if not in the state.

And on Tuesday, the well-dressed attorney was in a chilly courtroom in the Bergen County Courthouse, defending Adrienne Smith, who is accused of killing her husband, Randolph, in Bergenfield, and recruiting her brother to dismember and dispose of the corpse.

"I'm very lucky," Lucianna said during a break, referring to his being alive and able to practice at his age.

The Englewood native turned 97 on Jan. 11.

He said he gave the opening statement to the jury, cross-examined the medical examiner and will cross-examine the "important witnesses."

Asked his defense, Lucianna said, "She didn't do it," referring to client Adrienne Smith and the December 2016 murder.

His junior partner, Frank V. Carbonetti, is assisting Lucianna, and a lawyer from another firm represents Orville Cousins, Adrienne Smith's brother.

Cousins and Smith have been in jail since authorities discovered Randolph Smith's body parts in 6 containers in Burlington in January 2017.

The Record of Woodland Park and NorthJersey.com ran this photo of defense attorney Frank P. Lucianna, with his signature red pocket square, when he was 94 years old.  

Entering evidence

On Tuesday morning, in contrast to the drama of trials shown on "Bull" and other TV shows, the proceedings couldn't have been duller.

The prosecutor referred to numerous photos of the crime scene and the Smiths' two Mercedes-Benzes parked outside their Morgan Street home, and asked a detective on the witness stand if they looked the same as when he executed a search warrant.

"I'm going to show you what has been marked as 462...," she said.

There are 5 men and 11 women on the panel (a jury of 12, plus 4 alternates).

The prosecutor then moved to enter the photos into evidence, and if there was no objection from the defense lawyers and the judge approved, the photos appeared one by one on a flat-screen TV on the wall opposite the panel.

"How's everyone doing?" Superior Court Judge Christopher Kazlau asked the jurors at one point. "OK? "It's a little cold in here."

Traces of blood

The photos entered into evidence included those of a toilet, a wall inside a shower, a door leading into the garage and a washcloth, all with traces of blood.

Before the lunch break, Lucianna's partner, Carbonetti, began to cross-examine the county homicide detective, asking if was aware Bergenfield police officers twice visited the home and examined the crime scene.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

$5,000 rebate for buying or leasing an EV in N.J. is in effect now, official announces

SOLAR CHARGING: I often draw the energy to charge my Tesla Model S from the 60-plus solar panels on the roof of my home. I bought a used 2016 Model S 75D (all-wheel drive) from Tesla last November, below, to replace my first Tesla, a Model S 60, above.
FIRST WASH: My Tesla Model S 75D at Always Clean Detailing Services in Fair Lawn, N.J.

All-electric cars, plug-in hybrids must have MSRP below $55,000


HACKENSACK, N.J. -- Governor Murphy made it official today, announcing that the electric-vehicle incentive law he signed on Jan. 17 became effective that day.

There was lots of confusion about the vehicles covered and whether the rebates would go to buyers as well as those who lease, thanks to sloppy news media coverage.

Some reports suggested the law wouldn't go into effect for 3 months.

Today, the governor announced that plug-in gas-electric hybrids, as well as all-electric cars, are covered, whether you buy or lease.

The MSRP must be below $55,000, and the rebate is figured based on the EPA-rated electric-only range -- $25 per mile -- up to a maximum of $5,000 per vehicle.

Electric cars from Tesla, Chevrolet, Nissan, Hyundai, Kia and other manufacturers cost less than $55,000 and qualify. 

"A fully electric car with 200 miles of range will qualify for a $5,000 rebate," Murphy said. "A hybrid electric car with 20 miles of electric range will qualify for a $500 rebate."

The New Jersey incentive is especially welcome after the expiration of the $7,500 federal tax credit when a company has sold more than 200,000 of a certain model.

In December, Tesla's website listed EV incentives in other states, and all of them are lower than New Jersey's rebate:

  • California offers a $2,500 state rebate, and PG&E offers an additional $800 rebate for applications submitted on or after January 1, 2019.
  • Connecticut customers are eligible for a $2,000 rebate for new Model 3 RWD vehicles, as well as exemption from state emissions testing and a reduced vehicle registration fee.
  • Massachusetts offers rebates up to $2,500 for new EV purchases.
  • New York offers rebates up to $2,000.
  • Colorado offers tax credits up to $5,000.
  • Pennsylvania offers rebates up to $1,750.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Bumps in the road, a glitch in the kitchen in pursuit of 2 bargain Manhattan lunches

FOR SEAFOOD LOVERS: A whole local Black Sea Bass (Spigola Nero in Italian), above, and a Mediterranean Sea Bream, below, were highlights of bargain lunches at Manhattan fine-dining restaurants during the NYC Restaurant Week promotion -- 2-courses for $26 and 3-courses for $32, plus tax and tip.
MOB SCENE: The service at Estiatorio Milos, a Greek restaurant in midtown Manhattan that seats about 200 on three levels, was excellent despite a packed and noisy dining room. I was impressed that the whole fish I ordered was butterfield and deboned, and loved the bread service with extra-virgin olive oil and fresh oregano.


HACKENSACK, N.J. -- Twice a year, I get such a big kick out of making reservations for bargain lunches at some of Manhattan's most expensive restaurants.

The NYC Restaurant Week promotions in January and July are intended to drive business to hundreds of fine-dining restaurants during their slowest periods, and I've been a loyal fan of these great deals since the early 1990s. 

In keeping with the low prices, I have always taken mass transit into the city, but this time, I encountered a couple of bumps in the road -- literally -- when taking NJ Transit buses from Hackensack to the midtown Port Authority Bus Terminal.

The round-trip fare for seniors is a mere $4.10.

Milos and Esca

I met a friend for lunch at Estiatorio Milos, a Greek restaurant where fresh whole fish is displayed on a bed of ice and sold a la carte for more than $60 a pound.

And I took my son to lunch at Esca, where seafood dishes that normally cost $27 each "are rooted in Italian flavors," according to the website.

In 2019, Esca's Executive Chef David Pasternack parted ways with Chef Mario Batali, who had a financial interest in the restaurant until reports that Batali had sexually assaulted and harassed women.

Esca closed, then reopened last September after Pasternack found new partners. 

Overcooked fish

During Restaurant Week, 2-courses lunches are $26 and 3-course lunches are $32, plus tax and tip. Dinners are $42, but the menu is similar to what is served at lunch and they aren't as good of a value.

The winter promotion ends on Sunday.

The only glitch I experienced was that the kitchen at Esca overcooked the monkfish in my entree, reminding me of a disastrous Restaurant Week meal I had there in July 2011.

At that 3-course lunch, which cost $24.07, my entree was a whole John Dory, one of the ugliest and boniest creatures in the sea. 

Bad news. After I posted this, I got an email from Esca, which is unveiling a 2-course lunch for $34 on Feb. 18, and the first fish entree listed is "Whole roasted John Dory." 

NJ Transit

Despite the astronomical property taxes we pay, our streets and roads are in terrible condition, and I felt every bump and pothole riding what appeared to be a decades-old NJ Transit 165 local bus with screeching rear brakes into Manhattan on Jan. 30 for lunch at Milos.

The return trip was equally agonizing, and the beaten-down seat cushions provided no comfort on the noisy, herky jerky ride.

This week, the express bus to Manhattan and the local bus returning to Hackensack my son and I rode were in a lot better condition, and the seats far more comfortable.

Neither here nor there

Speaking about great food, did you see The New York Times' Food section on Wednesday?

In a clear sign of desperation among the editors, the cover story focuses on nudists in Lutz, Fla., who cook, and there's a big color photo of three men and and a woman at a dinner party from more or less their sagging midsections up.

I stopped reading after the woman, who looks like she is in her 60s but still eats artery clogging bacon,  is quoted as saying this:

"Embracing the nudist lifestyle has given me permission to feel my feelings."

This ridiculous article "gave me permission" to turn the page, and shake my head over another Times pasta recipe with 2 tablespoons of artery clogging butter that the dish absolutely, positively doesn't need (Page D3).

GRILLED CALAMARI: At Esca, my son loved his appetizer of grilled local squid with hot red pepper, arugula and radish.
SARDE: I chose House Marinated Sardines with a Salad of Italian Greens dressed in a Caper Thyme Vinaigrette.
PESCATRICE: The kitchen at Esca overcooked the relatively small pieces of local Monkfish in my entree, in contrast to the juicy whole Sea Bass served to my son, who gave me some of his fish. And there was a long stretch of time between appetizer and entree I hadn't encountered at previous Esca lunches. Below, my son wanted a 3-course lunch, so I paid $6 more for his dessert, Chocolate and Blood Orange Cake with Cocoa Whipped Cream and Roasted Hazelnuts.

OLIVE SERVICE: We were served a dish of olives at Esca and 2 kinds of bread, but the complimentary crostini with white beans I had enjoyed in the past was missing.
MORE SEATS: The renovation at Esca opened a wall to a second, smaller dining room, and added seats, but I guess I'll have to warm up to it.
GREEK MEZE PLATE: My appetizer at Milos -- tzatziki, taramosalata and htipiti (whipped feta cheese and roasted red peppers) -- with warm pita and marinated vegetables. I followed with that butterflied whole Mediterranean Sea Bream, and didn't have room for a 3rd course.
TOASTED BREAD: Fresh oregano was snipped at the table as part of the bread service.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

As Tesla's value soars, buyers of EV bitch, moan about mediocre customer service

The Tesla sales and service center in Paramus, N.J. This company photo shows the outside of the showroom.

Owners often come last 
at a sales-service center
staffed by millennials


HACKENSACK, N.J. -- I typed a letter to Tesla's legal department in California, put in an envelope, affixed a stamp and a return-address label, and put it out for the mail carrier.

I can't remember the last time I wrote a letter, but my repeated emails to Tesla Motors have been ignored since last November, when I sold the 2015 Model S 60 I bought new and purchased a used 2016 Model S 75D from Tesla.

The first issue I had was getting a refund for a 2-year extended warranty I bought for $2,100 when the 4-year factory coverage on my 2015 Model S ended last April.

The warranty was in place from last May to last Nov. 14, when I sold that car to Carvana.

I emailed the warranty cancellation and refund-request form provided to the email address on it -- and then to a second email address and to a third provided by a service advisor in Paramus.

All my emails were ignored.

Damage to 2016 Model S

The second was getting Tesla to repair minor damage to the bottom of the front bumper of the 2016 Model S I bought in November -- damage that occurred after a company employee emailed me photos that showed no such damage.

I feel that was bait and switch. The damage likely occurred when Tesla employees or agents transported my Model S by truck to Paramus, N.J., from storage in Newburgh, N.Y.

Leaving the Paramus showroom on Thursday, I spoke to a man who said he had flown down from Vermont to pick up the 2016 Model S he was looking over in the parking lot.

He said bought the car from the Tesla website and photos he was sent showed scratches on the front bumper, below the headlight, but didn't show damage and a hole in the front left fender liner he was inspecting.

A dent, mismatched touch-up paint and scrapes on the lower bumper of my 2016 Model S 75D, above and below, that I pointed out to Sean, a Tesla delivery advisor in Paramus, N.J., on Nov. 14, when I picked up the car. He said Tesla wouldn't pay for repairs.

Go to service center

So, a couple of weeks ago, I drove to the Tesla sales and service center (less than 4 miles from my home), and sat with Andrew, a service advisor, for nearly 30 minutes as he searched for an email address I could send my requests to.

When got home, I composed a detailed email and attached the warranty cancellation/refund form and photos of damage to my 2016 Model S to CustomerSupport@Tesla.com, only to get a response in a few minutes:

"This email address is no longer monitored."

I was urged to log into my Tesla.com account to ask any questions or make any requests -- "this is so we know who we're speaking to and can help you quicker."

That didn't help, either. I got no response.

Then, I called a woman at Tesla Finance who collected my final payments last year on 3 Powerwall storage batteries I had installed on my home, which has more than 60 solar panels.

She gave me two phone numbers, but I could not speak to a human at either one.

Second trip to Paramus

Last week, I read that the electric carmaker's shares soared, pushing Tesla's market cap past $100 billion and officially making it the second-largest automaker by value after Toyota.

Little comfort to me as I set out for my second trip to Paramus, where I made a point to seek out Jose Solis, a service advisor who gave me good customer service in the past.

Solis pored over the extended warranty and found the address for Tesla's legal department.

I went home, wrote and mailed the letter, which invokes Tesla's "dispute-settlement program," and now I'm waiting.

Ageism at Tesla?

Tesla Paramus is staffed by millennials -- in sales and service -- and I'm 75 with salt-and-pepper hair and a goatee.

Is that why I usually get treated like chopped liver?

That's my hunch. What do you think?

Another possibility is that the Paramus service center got a lot busier after the introduction of the Model 3, and that might have resulted in less attention to Model S owners like me.

What others say

Charlotte P. of Manhattan told Yelp:
"Terrible experience- the sales guy gave me his cell phone number telling me I can call him anytime - after selling the car he disappeared and never picked up the phone - terrible customer service as well - kept me on the phone for three hours and still could not tell me how to turn on the emergency Light on the car.

Another woman, from Secaucus, told Yelp: 
"Very lukewarm experience at the Paramus Tesla. The staff wasn't very eager to answer questions.  The staff was busy on their cell phones or talking to other sales reps. The floor was not busy so I don't understand why we weren't assisted. I'd look at another location for better and actual service."

Craig Cochran told TESLA Owners Worldwide:

"How do you get a human being on the line when you call Tesla service? When I call, I get a circular voicemail menu that doesn't seem to ever direct to a human. I simply need to ask a question and I don't want to schedule a service appointment to do it." 

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Ellen, please be kind to the planet, not just to your fellow humans, gorillas in Rwanda

LUNCHTIME IN RWANDA: Ellen DeGeneres, right, and wife Portia de Rossi with a mountain gorilla. The Ellen DeGeneres Wildlife Fund is supporting global conservation efforts for endangered species.

Talk show host is living large, 
aggravating our climate crisis


HACKENSACK, N.J. -- In these dark times for our environment, comedian Ellen DeGeneres is definitely part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Ellen signs off every episode of her mid-afternoon talk show with "Be kind to one another," and The Ellen Fund raises money to save the mountain gorillas in Rwanda.

But at home in California, Ellen drives noisy German and Italian sports cars or an SUV that guzzle gas and pollute the air with the same emissions that cause tens of thousands of premature deaths every year. 

Last October, Ellen surprised her wife, Portia de Rossi, with a silver Lamborghini -- not a silver Tesla. 

Solar energy?

Not much of a gift, when you consider Ellen chose deadly emissions over zero emissions.

And none of her enormous homes appear to be self-powered, as they could be with rooftop solar panels charging storage batteries that would run them at night.

Or, Ellen could cool and heat her homes using geothermal energy from the ground.

So, sadly, Ellen is aggravating climate change, and the warming that has sparked dangerous wildfires near her California homes and her wife's native Australia.

$77 million a year

That's irresponsible, given that she certainly has the means to convert all of her homes to solar power and geothermal energy, and buy a fleet of Teslas and other zero-emission electric cars.

According to Forbes, Ellen earns $77 million a year for her talk show hosting duties. The Ellen DeGeneres Show is now in its 17th year.

That doesn't include income from another TV production, Ellen's Game of Games, and the money she receives for endorsing several products and services.

LISTED FOR $49 MILLION: This photo of Ellen DeGeneres' Beverly Hills compound (from the Hollywood Reporter) shows the exterior and lack of solar panels. Ryan Seacrest bought the property in 2012. It was listed for $49 million.

$24M beach house

Last July 4, CNBC.com reported Ellen was selling her beach house in Carpinteria, Calif., adding: 
"Talk show host Ellen DeGeneres is known as a house flipper, and has bought [more than] 12 houses in 20 years. Take a look at the oceanfront estate ... that she and wife and actress Portia de Rossi are selling for $24 million."
A CNBC video shows the roof of the beach house, and there isn't a single solar panel in sight -- this, in California, where the sun shines nearly every day and could zero out her energy bill, and reduce the demand for electricity from a utility that can't always generate the power residents need.

Greta Thunberg

On her show last Nov. 1, Ellen interviewed Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old environmental activist, and promised viewers she and Greta would discuss what viewers and audience members could do to ease the climate crisis.

After the break, Ellen announced her show was dedicating $100,000 to a web page on EllenTube: Join Greta Thunberg & The Climate Crisis Movement.

But that was as far as she went. 

When Greta said she had stopped flying, Ellen didn't pledge to sell her private jet, nor did the world's funniest women tell us she would convert all her homes to solar power and buy electric cars.

In fact, Ellen made no reference to her profligate lifestyle or any steps she would take to ease her tremendous impact on the environment.

Sunday, January 5, 2020

The opening of a new Little Ferry H Mart awaits repaving of flood-prone parking lot

GRAND OPENING SOON! After the old H Mart in Little Ferry closed unexpectedly last July 31, customers of the Korean supermarket have been teased by signs in the new store at 260 Bergen Turnpike, above and below: "GRAND OPENING SOON!" and "BIGGER, BETTER, BRAND NEW!"
OPENING DELAYED UNTIL MAY 2020? Employees at H Mart's Lyndhurst headquarters wouldn't address a rumor that the new 43,000-square-foot supermarket in Little Ferry won't open until May.


HACKENSACK, N.J. -- The cyclone fence that now surrounds a large shopping center on Bergen Turnpike in Little Ferry is a sign that the opening of a new H Mart has been delayed once again.

The old supermarket -- which operated in the other half of a sprawling building -- was one of the biggest H Marts in Bergen County (and also the shabbiest).

But the store drew customers for its low prices on produce, fresh fish, rice and many other items, as well as free Korean food samples on the weekends.

The old store closed unexpectedly last July 31, but company officials haven't announced an opening date for the new, 43,000-square-foot store and food court.   

The new and old H Marts are part of what once was known as the Valley Fair Shopping Center for the discount department store that operated there for many years.

Lawsuit, paving

A Little Ferry official said a lawsuit, which has been settled, delayed the opening of the new Korean supermarket, but she would not provide any details.

Last Thursday, an employee at the Lyndhurst headquarters of the Korean-American supermarket company said H Mart was waiting for a permit needed to make repairs to the parking lot, which is prone to flooding.

About a month ago, I drove past the new but unopened H Mart only to see a large puddle and a dozen or more seagulls where customers would be parking.

Today, I saw that a portion of that same lot has been torn up in preparation for repaving.

H Mart leases the space from the owner of the property, the employee said.

At 43,000-square-feet, the Little Ferry H Mart is bigger than another H Mart planned for American Dream, the megamall in East Rutherford. 

H Mart Smart Members

To buy fresh fish on Sundays ever since the old Little Ferry H Mart closed at the end of July 2019, I have been driving to the Super H Mart in Ridgefield or to 99 Ranch Market, the Chinese supermarket in Hackensack.

H Mart offers a "Smart Member" loyalty card that returns 1% of your purchases, redeemable for a $10 certificate after you spend $1,000 at its supermarkets.

Bad decisions

The long delay in opening a new supermarket in Little Ferry is the second time H Mart officials have acted against the interests of their customers in Bergen County. 

In 2018, company officials blindsided loyal Korean-American and non-Korean customers (like me) by closing the H Mart in Englewood -- a move that wasn't announced beforehand -- only days before a new H Mart opened at the traffic-choked Routes 17 and 4 intersection in Paramus.

That Englewood supermarket has been torn down.

WALKING THE DOG: On Dec. 21, a couple was seen walking their dog past unopened stores in the H Mart shopping center in Little Ferry.
MORE SHOPPING: The entrance to another store in the H Mart shopping center, this one near the entrance to the old supermarket, below.
MADISON WINE: A liquor store continues to operate just inside the entrance to the old supermarket.
PROPERTY OWNERS: Allied Builders and Management is the contractor for paving of the parking lot, not the owner of the property.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

The Record's Local section cheats Bergen, and editors promote lots of unhealthy food

PASSAIC COUNTY NEWS: Local, the section of The Record containing municipal news, was filled with Passaic County stories on Dec. 11, cheating readers in Bergen County, where the newspaper flourished for more than 110 years and where the majority of readers live. Instead of a guide to what was inside the section, an ad appeared above the masthead.
PATERSON DATELINES: Renovation of Lambert Castle on Garret Mountain in Paterson led the Local section on Dec. 11.
MORE PATERSON NEWS: A second Paterson story appeared on L-1 on Dec. 11. The 2 other stories on the Local front were about Ridgewood and Leonia schools.

Writers don't appear eager 
to steer us to healthy choices


HACKENSACK, N.J. -- On Dec. 11, The Record published yet another local news section that cheated Bergen County readers.

Even before the newspaper was taken over by Gannett in 2016, The Record's owners decided publishing a single Local section would save them hundreds of thousands of dollars in newsprint costs every year.

The decision to fold separate Bergen and Passaic sections condemned the majority of readers, who live in 70 Bergen County towns, to slog through story after story about Paterson and the rest of Passaic County, even as Hackensack, Teaneck and Englewood news went missing.

And so it was last Wednesday:

CLIFTON NEWS: On Page 2L, a story reported Clifton planners were to hear a proposal for 300 "housing units." A second story on the page reported the "rescue" of a deer "with a plastic pumpkin stuck on its head," according to the headline.
THE TOWN, NOT THE DEPARTMENT STORE: The big news leading Page 3L was from Bloomingdale, the Passaic County town, not the department store in Hackensack. 
WAYNE, PATERSON AND ESSEX COUNTY NEWS: The rest of 3L included a photo essay on a model train display in Carlstadt, more news about Paterson, a fire in Wayne and the homicide of an unidentified "minor" in Newark.
MINOR KILLED: The story on the homicide contained few details. 
PATERSON POLITICAL NEWS: The story on a school board member in Paterson seeking a City Council seat has absolutely no redeeming value for Bergen County readers. "Redmon" and "Jackson" aren't recognizable names in a headline for Bergen readers.
UBIQUITOUS WEATHER PHOTO: Even the weather photo on Page 6L, the fourth page of local news in the section, was taken in Paterson, which is closer to The Record's newsroom in Woodland Park than Hackensack, Fort Lee and other Bergen County towns. So, covering Passaic County saves Gannett even more time and money, but robs Bergen readers.

Pushing sugar, mystery meat

The same Dec. 11 edition of The Record included a Better Living section cover story by the fashionably slim food editor, Esther Davidowitz, and food writer Rebecca King with a hard sell on "desserts to pick up for the holidays."

The story on "deliciously gooey, royally luxurious, beautifully presented" desserts certainly came as a shock to diabetics or other readers who are watching their intake of sugar and butter -- both of which can clog heart arteries -- not to mention eggs and whipped cream.

How many of the 13 bakeries listed are advertisers or potential advertisers to which Davidowitz and King are sucking up?

Davidowitz wrote "The 7 Best Dishes of 2019" in the December 2019 edition of (201) magazine, also published by Gannett's North Jersey Media Group.

Four of the 7 dishes included meat, but Davidowitz is silent on whether that pork and beef were naturally raised without antibiotics and other harmful additives.

I hope I'm not the only one who believes food writers shouldn't knowingly or unknowingly promote unhealthy food.

On Dec. 6, the cover story in The Record's Better Living section explored "food options" at Nordstrom, but the writer was sent to the department store in Manhattan, not the one in Paramus, the shopping mall capital of New Jersey.