Niagara Gazette

Courts

October 18, 2012

Lockport sign owner gets a new trial

Niagara Gazette —

LOCKPORT — David J. Mongielo is entitled to a new trial, even though he did violate the town's sign ordinance, Niagara County Judge Matthew J. Murphy ruled this week.

Murphy's nine-page written decision stated Town Justice Raymond E. Schilling did not follow procedure when he allowed Mongielo to proceed without an attorney in a December 2011 nonjury trial. In that trial, Mongielo was found guilty a second time of violating the sign law, which led to him being sentenced in March to 15 days in Niagara County Jail.

The law says signs cannot change more than once every 10 minutes. Any violation in the town's ordinances is a misdemeanor, which by state law means a person charged with such is entitled to a jury trial.

At a Sept. 21 hearing in front of Murphy, Town Prosecutor Bradley D. Marble said Mongielo should have been offered a jury trial and was not.

Murphy didn't go into detail on the jury issue, but still reached the same conclusion. The judge said Schilling did not take Mongielo through a "searching inquiry" before allowing him to represent himself. 

“While the transcript of that trial does demonstrate that sufficient legal evidence was presented to support the trial court’s finding that Mr. Mongielo’s guilt was proven beyond a reasonable doubt, that conviction must nevertheless be reversed and remanded for a new trial,” Murphy wrote.

Murphy said in the written decision Mongielo should not have violated the law again.

"Mr. Mongielo was ill-advised to have engaged in such conduct, which was disdainful of both the trial court and the law,” Murphy wrote.

Murphy wrote Mongielo apparently thought the one-year conditional discharge he received for the first sign law violation expired Aug. 24, 2011 a year after the verdict. His second violation of the sign law occurred Aug. 25, 2011, when Mongielo used the video board of Mongielo's Auto Specialties on Robinson Road for advertising a fundraiser for an injured Niagara County sheriff’s deputy.

But actually, Murphy wrote, the discharge started the day Schilling pronounced the sentence, which was Sept. 14, 2010.

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