New Lebanon Town Justice Jessica Byrne-York (Source: GCN News)
Last week, Columbia County District Attorney Paul Czajka drew applause from pro-gun quarters for declining to prosecute the first man arrested under New York’s new SAFE Act.
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.
Word spread on Thursday that Joe Fiero of American Glory had applied for a permit to shut down the entire 300 block of Warren Street for yet another car-and-cycle show today. This ignited a firestorm of protest, with nearby business owners taking stock of a City code stating that the Mayor will consider whether such events “unreasonably interfere with the rights of the neighbors.”
Strong indications are that virtually no neighbors were approached by Fiero or Mayor Bill Hallenbeck for their opinion, and efforts to convince Hallenbeck to reverse his decision fell on deaf ears.
As of 1:30 pm today, the 300 block was virtually empty, as seen in the photograph above. A small cluster of five vintage cars near American Glory was joined by only two more cars over the next half hour, plus a few ordinary motorcylces. Below are some additional notes from early this afternoon...
• There were as many police and first responders on hand as there were cars.• A source for this site spoke with one of the policemen on hand, reporting that he said they were getting overtime pay. It was not clear whether the City or American Glory would cover such pay.
• A stage was set up in front of Hudson Wine Merchants, one of whose owners had expressed concerns about the event.
• American Glory employees milled about in the vast emptiness, all carrying clipboards. It was not clear whether the purpose of these clipboards was to gather petitions, or other information from the sparse group of attendees.
• Reportedly several other, larger car shows are underway in the area (near Route 82, and in Greene County). One skeptical business owner speculated that exhibitors from those events would descend on Hudson toward the end of the afternoon, raising the question of why the street had to be closed for so many business hours.
• This site has received secondhand information that another business owner in the 300 block had applied within recent memory for permission to hold a tent sale in one of the parking lots on the block.
This sign on Route 9 south of Bell’s Pond announces the Livingston Colonial Mall, a concept with... possibilities. Say, hot-colored tricornered hats at Old Navy, happy hour Sazeracs at Hooters, and a musket section at Gander Mountain?
My preview of Fish & Game, Zak Pelaccio’s new Hudson restaurant which officially opened this week, went live at The New York Observer (not to be confused with The Hill Country Observer) on Thursday—link here. Below are some bonus pictures by Laetitia Hussain:
Chef Zak Pelaccio, builder Peggy Anderson, Jason Wyckoff, jewelery designer Shana Lee
Architect/designer Michael Davis, headhunter Kevin Delahanty, bassist Melissa Auf der Maur
Bartender Kat Dunn serves producer (and Fish & Game backer) Patrick Milling Smith and filmmaker Tony Stone of Basilica Industria
Peter Heilman, who built Fish & Game’s tables, bar, carts, stools et al., dining with his wife at last Friday’s preview dinner
View of the dining room, second fireplace, and carnage.
View toward the lounge, showing the old walls maintained as a ruin, Red Light District wallpaper, and staircase to an upstairs private room.
Described as a “contingency plan” to be enacted “in the event of a national crisis,” a June 1982 memorandum “called for the suspension of the Constitution and imposition of martial law,” according to UPI.
The news agency obtained the memo authored by FEMA official John Brinkerhoff with the assistance of North, acting as the agency’s liaison to the National Security Council. Under the right conditions, “control of the United States” would be turned over to FEMA, which would appoint “military commanders to run state and local governments.”
Brinkerhoff denied the allegation, claiming the plan’s purpose was “emergency preparedness” and the maintenance of “civil rule.”
The ironies here would be hilarious, if Beck and his peers were not so deadly serious about banging the whole “we need more guns to defend Amerikka against Goblin King Barack Hussain Obama’s tyranny” drum.
Their endless-but-empty invocations of The Constitution and fear-mongering about FEMA camps are absurdly hypocritical, considering their elevation of North to near-saintly status.
Not mentioned so far during the debate about TCI’s two fires (and desire to remain) in Ghent isthe company’s brief stay in the Town of Greenport during the late 1980s, after being kicked out of Ulster County.
And, as happened before with its mismanagement in Newburgh and later in Ghent, TCI’s Greenport activities resulted in a major explosion.
A front-page article in the June 22nd, 1987 edition of The Register-Star reported that a transformer blast that day “rocked an area within a half-mile” of TCI’s facility on the Industrial Tract.
The “blast” threw worker Louis Smith of Stuyvesant 20 feet, and landing him in Columbia Memorial Hospital with undisclosed injuries:
The explosion was audible at the Greenport town hall, according to Greenport Officer-in-Charge John Hawks... Greenport firemen were called to the scene [along with] Columbia County Sheriff Paul Proper and Undersheriff James Bertram.
EnCon officials were expected to arrive on the scene later this morning. Some transformers contain levels of PCBs. It was unknown this morning whether the explosion caused any leakage of the suspected carcinogens.
Detail of a Robert Ragaini photo of emergency workers tending to an injured TCI worker on the Industrial Tract in Greenport
A search of seven months of the Register’s back issues found no follow-up report on the cause of the blast or investigation of environmental fallout.
By 1988, TCI was reëstablished on Falls Industrial Road in Ghent, the blast apparently not having given that Town’s planning board any cause for concern. In March 1989, a young TCI worker (also named Smith, but no known relation) died after being overcome by fumes at TCI’s new plant.
The search for this article was prompted by a brief mention in a 1989 report on the fatality, alluding to the earlier Greenport explosion, spotted by Patti Matheney of GhentCANN.
Why this earlier explosion has never come up is anyone’s guess. Perhaps the barrage of major news of 1987—the Wiley Gates trial, a massive October snowstorm, the televised testimony of Philmont native Ollie North, the death of Jackie Gleason?—somehow blotted this event from local memory.
Over at The Gossips of Rivertown, Carole Osterink reports that the debate about whether Standard Oil occupied a key parcel in the City of Hudson has been settled—with skeptical citizens fully vindicated.
The City’s title searcher has belatedly conceded to Giff Whitbeck (who strove mightily to prop up his law partner Cheryl Roberts’ untenable claims) what resident researchers such as Tim O’Connor and Cheryl Stuart already knew. Namely, that the oil company most certainly did have a presence on the acreage in question.
The immediate impact of this tardy and grudging acknowledgement should be for the City to stop dodging a full environmental assessment of the land they want to acquire. But don’t hold your breath on that due diligence. Given Roberts’ monomaniacal obsession with securing State approval for her deeply-flawed waterfront plan at any cost, it would hardly be surprising if some new rationale for ignoring potential contamination emerges.
There ought to be another, more lasting impact of this sorry episode: Hudson elected officials finally may be forced to doubt the integrity of their counsel’s advice.
A review the recent reporting on how this matter was handled does not redound to the City’s credit, to put it mildly. There’s no getting around the stark fact that the claims and retorts emanating from the official side of the table in response to sincere, well-researched citizen input have been egregiously (and even offensively) mistaken. Officials took their experts’ vague assurances as gospel, while undercutting every piece of citizen research, at their own peril.
Start with the howlers contained in The Register-Star’s April 21st, 2013 article:
Common Council President Don Moore in response to a well-researched memorandum about the land transfer from Citizens In Defense of Hudson, lectured Stuart “to be careful with her accusations.”
Attorney Roberts was even more condescending in her response, thundering at Stuart: “You are so completely wrong in your legal assessment of that document, I don’t even know where to start.”
Roberts also told the Council that “The Standard Oil piece is north of the port.”
“At the informal Common Council meeting on April 8, city attorney Cheryl Roberts reported that the title searcher hired by the City had not discovered Standard Oil ownership of any land south of the port.”
“Roberts addressed the issue by saying that there was ‘a serious misunderstanding about what a title search is.’”
“Roberts' placement of the Standard Oil property was confirmed by Alderman Cappy Pierro (Fifth Ward), who said that ‘oil barges pulled up where the Spirit of Hudson docks now.’”
“City attorney Cheryl Roberts questioned whether there were such things as oil tanks in 1888.”
“Assistant city attorney Carl Whitbeck provid[ed] evidence that nothing ever existed on the Hudson waterfront west of the railroad tracks and south of the port.”
It’s now painfully clear that each of these official, lawyerly, patronizing assertions were at best laughably mistaken, at worst nastily misleading:
Despite Moore’s finger-wagging, Stuart’s group proved to be not only “careful,” but also correct;
Roberts, not CIDH, was “completely wrong” in her legal assessment;
Standard Oil was south, not “north of the port” as Roberts claimed;
A sustained barrage of evidence from O’Connor, Gossips and CIDH was required to convince a professional title searcher to admit what a host of amateur sleuths found out on their own;
The only “serious misunderstandings” seem to be those harbored by Roberts, Whitbeck and the City’s title searcher;
Aldermen who claim direct knowledge of activities which ceased at about the same time as the First World War are not reliable narrators.
Hudson has many unique features, among these being a rare species of elected official who, unlike the rest of the human race, lacks a natural distrust of lawyers. Renewing a skepticism which traces its lineage at least as far back as Shakespeare, once again local citizens have witnessed firsthand how possession of a law degree does not in itself guarantee the deliverance of honest, well-informed counsel.
When it comes to professionals in the pay of City Hall, the operating principle seems to be: Don’t trust us. We’re experts.