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Defense attorney attacked by client seeks security upgrades in Holding Center

Over the past 35 years, no local defense attorney has likely represented more people charged with homicide and violent assault than Joseph J. Terranova.

Terranova estimates he has defended clients in at least 350 such cases since he began defense work in 1982. He said he has spent countless hours in face-to-face meetings with people accused of the worst kind of violence.

On Friday, police said one of those clients, Mark Dublino, viciously attacked and injured the 63-year-old Terranova in a small meeting room at the Erie County Holding Center.

Terranova told The Buffalo News on Sunday that he is upset about the incident, but he said he has no plans to stop defending people accused of crimes of violence.

What he does plan to do is become a crusader for better security procedures in the Holding Center and other facilities where defense attorneys sometimes have to risk their personal safety to meet with potentially violent clients.

"No, I will not alter in any way my willingness to represent any client," Terranova said. "I want to explore ways to avoid putting attorneys at risk of personal injury. Many of my defense colleagues and others required to use the meeting room at the Holding Center have contacted me and are concerned about returning."

Despite occasional safety risks, Terranova said he and other local defense attorneys are dedicated to the principle that every person accused of a crime deserves skilled representation in the courts.

Friday was the first time he was assaulted by a jailed client, but Terranova said he had worried "for years" about what would happen if an unstable client lost control in the jail's meeting room.

"It could have been worse," said Terranova, who said it took about a minute for deputies to realize he was being assaulted and rush into the room. "The Holding Center's escape-proof conference rooms are too small to defend yourself in, and can't be quickly accessed by staff in the event of a problem. This has been a risk for a long time."

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Terranova declined to provide specific details of the attack Sunday because Dublino, for the moment, was still his client. He said he expects to be relieved of that responsibility in court on Monday.

Terranova did say that Dublino – nine years younger, a head taller and much heavier than Terranova – went after him while they were discussing plans to appeal Dublino's recent conviction for the attempted murder of his ex-girlfriend, among other crimes. Dublino already was scheduled to appear in State Supreme Court on Monday for sentencing for those offenses.

Terranova said he received about three hours of hospital treatment for injuries to his eyes, head, face and nose. "Not so pretty anymore," Terranova said, describing his physical appearance. He said his vision was OK after the assault, but said he was "pummeled" around both eyes.

According to the Erie County Sheriff's Office, the 54-year-old Dublino, who lived in Cheektowaga but has been jailed since his arrest in June 2016, stood up and attacked Terranova during their meeting.

Terranova represented Dublino is his trial earlier this year, when Dublino was found guilty of two counts of attempted murder, assault and other offenses for attacking his former girlfriend and another man with a hammer – fracturing the woman's skull – and for beating her then-77-year-old father with a shovel during a rampage at their Williamsville homes in June 2016.

There already was friction between the lawyer and client, as seen during pretrial court appearances over the past year and during the trial itself, when Dublino's unhappiness with his legal representation and how his defense was handled became a matter of court record.

New charges will be filed against Dublino in connection with the attack on his attorney, deputies said.

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Terranova said he has already begun discussions with Holding Center officials about changes that need to be made. He said every other jail facility he works in manages to provide attorney-client privacy while also protecting the attorneys.

In his view, changes have to be made so deputies can see attorneys at all times while they are meeting with clients and that there should be a "panic button" that can bring immediate help. He said the Holding Center needs to provide deputies with easier access to attorney-client conference rooms, and it needs to be easier for an attorney who is in danger to leave the conference room.

"The design of the Holding Center's 'contact permitted' visiting rooms leaves no means to exit if there is trouble. The rooms are electronically locked and unlocked by one deputy in the control room. He or she may be alerted by a button in the visiting room, but the control room must address you from an overhead speaker to determine what you want," Terranova said.

Terranova said he has visited clients in many jails and prisons throughout Western New York and that the Erie County Holding Center is the only one with conference rooms that attorneys cannot leave quickly in an emergency.

Terranova added that "male and female probation officers, psychologists, psychiatrists, investigators, and parole officers are required to use these same visiting rooms."

Terranova said he prides himself on his reputation for being able to represent "difficult" and combative clients. Past clients have included Riccardo McCray, now serving time for murdering four people and injuring four others during a shooting outside the former City Grill restaurant in Buffalo in 2010.

He said one client threw a water pitcher at him in the courtroom during an attempted murder trial in the mid-1980s, "but he missed me."

"I work hard to establish trust with the client through sheer persistence in personal consultation," Terranova said. "The overwhelming percentage of clients charged with violent crimes have not threatened personal violence. Disagreements and unpleasantness occur much more often over legal issues for which my clients claim superior knowledge."

Married with three grown children, Terranova said there was one note of humor after the attack. His mother, Mary Terranova, told him, "This never happened to your father."

Terranova's late father, Dominic Terranova, was a former Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority attorney who specialized in government, civil and business litigation.

Staff reporter Melinda Miller contributed to this report.

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