A secure phone line

Federal prosecutor Rocky Piaggione was midway through his closing arguments in the Tonawanda Coke trial this week when a loud beep interrupted the courtroom's quiet decorum.

Chief U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny immediately recognized the beep as an incoming conference call. But why now, in the midst of the biggest local environmental trial in years?

Even worse, the beeping wouldn't stop. So Skretny took charge and ordered the phone answered.

“The FBI reports one home break-in every 15 seconds,” said the voice at the other end. “If you allow us to place a small sign in your front yard, we will install a home security system in your home, free of charge.”

It appears even federal judges are not immune to the barrage of telemarketing ads coming our way these days.

Skretny took it in stride.

“And I have coupons if you want them,” he told the jurors.

Trick-shot artist

Former Channel 4 news anchor Ray Collins still plays tennis competitively, years after his stints on the St. Joseph Collegiate Institute and St. Bonaventure University tennis teams.

But when he showed up at the All-Star Tennis Charity Event in Key Biscayne, Fla., he wasn't facing his usual playing partners.

Andy Murray, who won gold at the London Olympics, was Collins' doubles partner. Ana Ivanovic, the former No. 1 woman in the world, was across the net.

And Novak Djokovic, the top men's player, prepared to serve to Collins.

Collins, who worked at WIVB from 1994 to 1999 as co-anchor of the morning and noon newscasts, now lives in Florida and has a media production and public relations consulting company.

He also does travel writing, and that's how he got invited to the March 19 charity event at the Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne, hosted by Cliff Drysdale, where he and other reporters got a chance to play a point with the pros.

Collins returned Djokovic's serve, and the four players began a lengthy rally.

What elevated this from a standard, brush-with-celebrity encounter came at the end, when Djokovic hit a shot to Collins' left. Instead of playing it safe with a backhand volley, Collins took a risk and hit a behind-the-back shot with his forehand.

His slick shot soared over the head of Djokovic, landed in bounds and won the point for Collins-Murray. Collins earned high-fives and kudos from the three pros and Drysdale, the host.

Even better, Collins had the good sense to have asked another reporter to record the point on video.

He took the footage and, with a friend, produced a slick, 90-second video posted to YouTube under the title “Ray Collins Surprises Novak Djokovic with a Trick Shot.”

“The whole thing was surreal,” Collins told us.

Humor in the court

Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon Farkas, a regular source of Off Main items, was back at it in court this week.

She started by sentencing Jose M. Cabrera, who was caught growing marijuana in his former Town of Lockport home, to one to three years in prison.

State Police Investigator Thomas E. Gibbons said the indoor growing equipment seized from the home would be donated to agricultural recipients through Cornell Cooperative Extension.

“Oh, this will be legal horticultural activities,” Farkas said. “I thought you were going to donate it to another [marijuana] grower.”

“I don't want any of that stuff,” Cabrera, a Cuban national, said through a Spanish interpreter.

Then Garrett J. Oliver, who listed a Gasport address, stepped up to plead guilty to fraudulently receiving unemployment insurance benefits.

“People who live in Gasport aren't supposed to commit crimes,” Farkas said. “It's a sweet little rural community. Nice people.”

But upon further review, Oliver was living in the City of Lockport when he committed his crime, so Gasport's record remains clean.

By Stephen T. Watson with contributions from Phil Fairbanks and Thomas J. Prohaska.