Niagara Gazette

Columns

February 17, 2014

COPS NOTEBOOK: Ranting about the silence

It’s one of those weeks when it’s time to rant.

New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman seems like a nice enough guy. Affable, funny, smart, a good lawyer and a pretty savvy politician. 

He certainly doesn’t come across as the kind of control freak that his two immediate predecessors, Andrew Cuomo and Eliot Spitzer, were. However, first and surface impressions can be deceiving.

Schneiderman, like Cuomo and Spitzer, champions himself as “the people’s lawyer.” The guy who is out there really looking out for you and your best interests.

Now I don’t know about you, but I’d expect “my lawyer” to be pretty open and honest with me about how he’s handling my business, my cases. Sadly, the New York State Attorney General’s Office is a fortress of secrecy and silence.

Case in point, the public corruption indictment of Town of Niagara Supervisor Steve Richards. 

Richards was arraigned on a 28-count indictment in October in front of State Supreme Court Justice Richard C Kloch Sr. 

Kloch, who sits in Lockport, is no rookie on the bench. He has been the supervising judge for the criminal courts in this judicial district for years. 

At the time of the arraignment, Richards’ lawyer questioned the legal validity of many of the counts in the indictment. In fact, you didn’t have to be even a third-year law school student to see what a sloppily drafted document it was.

Kloch agreed with Richards’ lawyer that there were issues that might need to be addressed and scheduled hearings for those matters. Just days before those matters were scheduled to be argued, Kloch took himself off the case.

The legal term is he “recused” himself.

Recusal is something that happens when a judge, for some reason, believes there may be a conflict of interest in his hearing a case or if he believes he can’t be an impartial arbiter of the facts. It can also happen if a party in a case raises those objections about the judge.

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