Gregory Dean of Hopewell Junction had faced charges for having nine bullets in his .40-caliber pistol, two more than the new legal limit of seven. Published reports gave no indication of any objection from Town Justice Jessica Byrne-York to Czajka’s exercise of prosecutorial discretion.
Meanwhile, less than an hour to the north, an Albany judge took a very different view of another exercise of such discretion. Assistant District Attorney David Rossi declined to call witnesses against members of the Occupy movement who had camped last summer in a local park.
But the judge in that case, William Carter, did not look so impassively on Rossi’s decision as Byrne-York did on Czajka’s. Instead, Judge Carter warned the Assistant D.A. that he could be charged with contempt of court. (Note that Rossi was understood to be carrying out the wishes of his boss, the progressive Albany County D.A. David Soares, who has refused to prosecute other trespassing cases against Occupy.)
Why the difference in handling? No doubt some legal expert can find some way in which the two situations are “distinguishable,” and don’t present a contradiction. But to a layperson, the principle in play appears to be the same: Does a prosecutor have the right not to press a case following an arrest—whether for ideological, budgetary or other reasons?
In these two cases, it looks a lot like the difference in judicial approach has less to do with differing interpretations of the law, and more to do with either politics or control, or both.
In the gun case, one suspects that the New Lebanon Town Justice shared Czajka’s position on the SAFE Act, and thus did not view the D.A.’s exercise of discretion through a hostile lens. (Byrne-York was in the news early last year after recusing herself from the case of 28 teenagers found drinking at the home of Republican Town Supervisor Michael Benson.) In the Albany case, there is no obvious evidence of any hostility to the Occupy movement from Carter. But the Judge may view the repeat declinations by the D.A.’s office as a threat to his authority.
For Czajka, the issue of prosecutorial discretion is also not a new one. In December, Judge Jonathan Nichols (another Republican, though one generally considered moderate) sided with the Columbia D.A. in his dispute with Kinderhook Justice David Dellehunt, ruling (per The Columbia Paper) that “unfettered discretion to determine whether or not to prosecute an individual and the Courts may not and should not interfere with that discretion.”
UPDATE: A reader points to this editorial a couple days ago in The Albsny Times-Union, which raises the same disconnect between the two cases, and posits another explanation. The paper alleges that Judge Carter has a close affiliation with a candidate that was beaten out by Soares for the D.A. slot, and who still bears him some animosity.