Staff affidavits finger former Assistant D.A. as alleged culprit in alterations
Columbia County District Attorney Paul Czajka has issued a stiff response to demands for sanctions against him brought by Kinderhook Town Justice David Dellehunt. While taking responsibility for his office’s actions, Czajka motions for a summary dismissal as he strongly denies “involvement in the alteration of a Court order… or somehow knowingly fail[ing] to inform the Court of that alteration.”
Czajka’s rebuttal, which includes several affidavits from past and present members of his staff, can be downloaded here as a PDF [1.5 MB]. Two of the affidavits point to then-Assistant District Attorney Dominic J. Cornelius as allegedly making the key alternations in question. Cornelius is now listed as a County Attorney.
Dellehunt and Czajka (now in his second stint as D.A., after an interlude as a County judge) have been engaged in a long tussle over their competing legal authorities, a dispute centering on whether a judge can insist on a trial if the D.A. decides not to bring charges against a defendant.
The dispute’s ante got upped after Czajka filed requests for transcripts of proceedings in Dellehunt’s court. The pot was then re-raised substantially as Dellehunt alleged that Czajka altered a court document without a judge’s approval.
Last month, Dellehunt’s call for sanctions was sent back to a State Supreme Court by the Appellate Division in Albany for consideration. The Columbia County Democratic Committee, which often remains silent on far less obscure matters of public interest, quickly piled on and called for Czajka’s head.
Czajka swears that “I do not seek to absolve myself from responsibility as the District Attorney… Rather I simply seek to correct the invalid and untrue statements of the Decision that I was personally involved in the alteration of the Order and somehow benefited therefrom.”
In addition to Czajka’s own rebuttal and that of his attorney, the filing includes several affidavits from D.A.’s office employee Lisa Bleau, taking responsibility for faxing the amended documents, while noting that she observed and questioned alterations to the document by A.D.A. Cornelius.
Czajka, she says, “was not in the office at that time,” and expressed surprise about the alterations after the January 6th, 2015 oral argument in Albany where this became a bone of contention. The next day, Bleau says, Czajka had her call a State Police investigator to collect all the relevant documents.
Another affidavit from D.A.’s office legal intern Ryan Carty describes the process of the drafting and serving of documents, and appears to back up Bleau’s account regarding Cornelius.
A copy of the key fax attributes the document to former Greene County Public Defender and A.D.A. The motion also attaches numerous other records central to the case, such as an affidavit from Assistant D.A. James Carlucci describing a timeline of events.
While conceding that “the facts and circumstances as to the amendment are of course troubling,” Czajka’s attorney Peter Coffey notes that “nobody sought to develop, investigate or have examinations of witnesses as to the alteration” until long after the fact. Using unusually strong language for such replies to a court, Coffey characterizes its comments as “unfathomable” and “made without attention to the record.”
Coffey makes a motion to dismiss the sanction demand and award back the legal costs of filing the motion. In doing so, Czajka’s camp is highly critical of both the Town Justice’s assertions, and the justice system’s handling of them.
That response notes that “from the very beginning everyone knew that the original Order to Show Cause was amended/altered,” attributing any confusion due to mistaken filing of the documents by the County Clerk’s office. “How in the world can one claim that the alteration was hidden when it was sent to the very Judge who signed the original,” Coffey asks on Czajks’s behalf.
Calling it “sophistry” and “indulg[ing] in “obfuscation,” Coffey goes on to blast the Appellate decision as containing “a plethora of misstatements, untrue statements and, if one were to be harsh, reckless statements.”
Coffey further argues that Czajka “did not order the Assistant District Attorney to do this nor did he ratify it,” citing the Rules of Professional Conduct in his defense. Asserting that he “had no ‘hands on’ involvement in the preparation or service of the papers and had no conscious knowledge of the fact that there was an alteration…” Coffey states that while Czajka “had knowledge that there was an Amended Order to Show Cause,” he says he had “no knowledge at all that it was anything other than authorized.”
He likewise characterizes any assertion that his client improperly altered the documents as “scandalous, libelous and reckless,” and suggests that the charge is itself worthy of sanctions.
Czajka’s own affidavit recounts his long history of service both as D.A. and on the bench, and that despite inevitable “baseless allegations” being lodged against him he has never been “issued any punishment, sanction or instruction, public or private” by the Committee on Professional Standards or Commission on Judicial Conduct.