Obscene Text Messages Are Forever – Especially When Your Ex-Girlfriend Is The Judge.
People v Adams
2013 NY Slip Op 02107
Court of Appeals
Decided on March 28,2013
Obscene Text Messages Are Forever – Especially When Your Ex-Girlfriend Is The Judge. A Prosecutor Must Remain Impartial, Even If The Complaining Witness Is A Judge That The Prosecution Argues In Front Of Regularly.
Summary: A Rochester City Court Judge accused Defendant of sending her three offensive text messages. Defendant was charged with two misdemeanors counts of aggravated harassment. Despite repeated plea negotiations, the District Attorney’s office did not offer Defendant a reduced charge or agree to a favorable sentence because the complainant was a Judge. Defendant filed a motion to disqualify the District Attorney due to the conflict of interest and requested that a special prosecutor be appointed. Both motions were denied. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that because the District Attorney’s office failed to take steps to dispel the appearance of inappropriate disparate treatment in this case an appearance of impropriety was created requiring disqualification.
Issue: Whether the trial court erred when it failed to take steps to dispel the appearance of inappropriate disparate treatment that prejudiced Defendant where complainant was a city court Judge.
Holding: The Court of Appeals held the courts, as a general rule, “should remove a public prosecutor only to protect a Defendant from actual prejudice from a demonstrated conflict of interest or a substantial risk of an abuse of confidence.” An appearance of impropriety may arise, when the record provides an objective basis to question whether the prosecutor is exercising pretrial discretion in an evenhanded manner. Because the District Attorney’s office failed to take the steps to dispel the appearance of inappropriate disparate treatment, impropriety was created, requiring disqualification. The order of County Court was reversed and the case remitted to City Court.
Facts: A Rochester City Court Judge accused defendant, the ex paramour of a City Court Judge, of committing a crime by sending her three offensive text messages by cell phone. The messages were vulgar and personal in nature, Defendant was charged with two misdemeanor counts of aggravated harassment and no plea bargain could be reached and the parties remained at an impasse. The case proceeded to a jury trial in City Court. Defendant was convicted of one count of aggravated harassment and appealed to Count Court, which affirmed the judgment. A Judge of The Court of Appeals granted leave to appeal.
Legal Analysis: The District Attorney’s office did not offer Defendant a reduced charge or agree to a plea that included a favorable sentence. The District Attorney refused to accept a reduced charge because the complainant was a sitting judge who demanded that the matter go to trial. The District Attorney, by giving undue weight to the wishes of the victim in screening this case, was no longer acting as a fair and impartial official.
The District Attorney’s office felt constrained in how they handled this matter due to the position of the complainant as a Judge. Generally, in comparable cases, the District attorney consistently offered a plea to a reduced charge. However, the position of the complaining witness influenced the DA and the outcome of the case.
The appearance of impropriety itself is a ground for disqualification, as the case law recognizes. The Court of Appeals stated that the DA’s office was obligated to avoid even the appearance of impropriety to maintain public confidence. The DA’s office should have been disqualified and an independent prosecutor appointed.