Court of Appeals September Session: Arguments of Interest for September 6, 2017

The Court of Appeals is back for its second day of argument at Court of Appeals Hall, with four cases on the docket (the Court’s argument summaries can be found here). Some interesting cases on the calendar today involving the following issues: (1) whether the Second Class Cities Law is superseded by the Taylor Law such that the City of Schenectady is barred from unilaterally imposing police discipline outside of the collectively bargained discipline process; (2) whether judges who are elected to County Court may determine appeals taken from their own decisions while they sat in City Court; (3) whether informing a first grand jury that the defendant was being investigated for murder but ultimately not submitting a murder charge to the grand jury prevents the prosecution from later submitting a murder charge against the defendant to a second grand jury after uncovering additional evidence; and (4) whether a non-attorney Town judge should be removed from office for trying to get his daughter’s cell phone ticket transferred to a different judge and then appearing at her hearing and acting as her advocate.

No. 94 People v Brian Novak

In Novak, the defendant was tried on a driving while ability impaired charge in Schenectady City Court in a bench trial before City Court Judge Matthew Sypniewski, who found him guilty of all charges. The defendant appealed his conviction to Schenectady County Court and, after he filed his appellate brief, Judge Sypniewski was elected to County Court and assigned to the defendant’s appeal. Judge Sypniewski then affirmed the defendant’s conviction.

On appeal, the parties agree that there is no statute or constitutional provision addressing this situation. The defendant argues nevertheless that the Judge should have recused himself to maintain the appearance of impartiality, citing federal law that specifically requires recusal. In contrast, the prosecution argues that the Judge was under no duty to recuse because there was no allegation that he was not competent to hear the appeal. The prosecution likens this situation to when a judge hears a CPL 440 motion after the judge was the trier of fact at trial, which happens regularly without objection.

It seems to me that the Judge should have recused, but whether that was legally required will be decided by the Court.

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