The following article from the Register Herald details how the Division of State Police is suing a retired member – and current Town Justice – alleging that he exceeded his authority. The article is shown below.
State Police sue Milan justice; ticket’s reduced charge may have exceeded authority
By: Erikah Haavie , Special to Taconic Press
MILAN – The New York State Police have filed a lawsuit against Milan Town Justice Frank Christensen, alleging that he exceeded his authority by reducing a speeding ticket to a lesser charge.
The Article 78 proceedings were recently filed in Dutchess County Supreme Court, resulting in the fifth lawsuit pending against the town.
The issue goes back to March 2007, when Carol Sussman was traveling on the Taconic State Parkway through the Town of Milan. She was ticketed by a state trooper for her speed "in excess of the 55 mile-per-hour speed limit," according to court documents.
Her attorney, Douglas Wicks of Red Hook, filed a motion for dismissal in town court in June 2007, arguing that her "rights of due process and equal protection under the constitution, and the judges ability to participate and be instrumental in plea bargaining is eliminated."
In 2006, state police officials began prohibiting troopers from plea-bargaining vehicle and traffic offenses.
Wicks said his client was "deprived of due process" because of being unable to obtain a copy of the regulation preventing plea-bargaining from the state police.
"She cannot see the rules and regulations which control the outcome of the case," Wicks said.
He asked that the speeding ticket be either dismissed or reduced from a six-point to a two-point violation.
In his ruling dated August 24, 2007, Christensen declined to dismiss the charges. He said the court granted a plea of guilty to a lesser charge, failure to comply with a traffic control device.
"It is the opinion of this court that the State Police-announced blanket policy to ‘not participate in any plea bargaining connected with vehicle and traffic prosecution’ regardless of a defendant’s unique circumstances and/or record is an improper and unreasonable position," Christensen said.
"As long as the State Police refuses to plea bargain based on a memorandum of the superintendent and not on a full and fair evaluation of the evidence and defendant’s history, the defendant is denied the opportunity to receive justice in the courts," he said.
By accepting a plea to a reduced charge, Christensen acted "in excess of his authorized judicial authority" and "contrary to law," Paul Salvino, assistant counsel for the New York State Police, said in court documents.
In his petition, Salvino asked that Christensen be prohibited from "accepting pleas to lesser offenses in the absence of agreement by the People of the State of New York."
He also asked that the criminal action for the speeding charge be reinstated.
In discussing the matter with Milan town board members Friday, Christensen said of his decision, "This is not a plea bargain."
He said a motion was submitted and the court has the discretion to reject or accept a motion.
Salvino said Monday that the case was the only one of its kind that he has brought during his post with the state police.
Salvino and Douglas Wicks, the defendant’s attorney, both declined further comment.
Depending on the outcome of the case, "It’s going to make a big difference throughout the state," Christensen said.
Town board member Al LoBrutto said he was concerned that the town would have to "carry the whole load" in defending the lawsuit. "It’s a lot of money we’re talking about," he said.
Outgoing Supervisor John Talmage complemented Christensen’s work for the community.
"We really appreciate the job you and Ken (Kremenick) have done for the town," he said.
During Friday’s meeting, town board members approved the transfer of an additional $34,000 into the town’s budget to cover the cost of pending legal and contractual expenses.
The town is also facing lawsuits from a private citizen regarding a subdivision, another regarding the town transfer station and from Red Wing Properties.