By Daniel Wiessner
ALBANY, N.Y., Nov 8 (Reuters) - A New York appeals court has
upheld a decision to assign a special prosecutor in a criminal
case that an upstate district attorney presided over when he was
a county judge.
In a unanimous ruling, the Appellate Division, Third
Department, rejected arguments by Columbia County District
Attorney Paul Czajka that the "unique role" of a prosecutor
trumped the language of Section 17 of the state Judiciary Law,
which bars attorneys from handling cases they presided over as
Section 17 of the Judiciary Law reads, " former judge or
surrogate shall not act as attorney or counsellor in any action,
claim, matter, motion or proceeding, which has been before him
in his official character."
"The statute, to our reading, could not be more clear and
plainly operates to disqualify (Czajka)," Justice John Egan
wrote for the court on Thursday. "Had the legislature wished to
carve out an exception for district attorneys, it surely could
have done so."
Egan was joined by justices John Lahtinen, Leslie Stein and
In April 2010, a local man, Nicholas Fox, was charged with
several misdemeanors, including criminal possession of a weapon.
Czajka, who was county judge at the time, presided over several
aspects of the case, including two arraignments, a motion by the
public defender's office to disqualify itself, and the unsealing
of a search warrant.
Czajka resigned in May 2011 to run for district attorney,
and he won the post in November. After he assumed office, he
took over the prosecution of Fox's case.
In May, County Judge Richard Koweek granted Fox's motion to
disqualify Czajka and his staff and appointed the Greene County
District Attorney as special prosecutor. Czajka filed an Article
78 petition seeking to overturn Koweek's decision, and the Third
Department on Thursday affirmed.
Fox's attorney, John Leonardson, declined to comment. Fox
pleaded guilty to fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon
and is awaiting sentencing.
H. Neal Conolly, who represented Czajka, did not immediately
return a request for comment. The district attorney's office did
not return a call.
The case is the Matter of Paul Czajka v. Judge Richard
Koweek, New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Third
Department, No. 514623.
For Czajka: H. Neal Conolly of McNamee, Lochner, Titus &
For Nicholas Fox: John Leonardson.
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