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Judge disqualifies himself from participating in DA probe

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CANTON — St. Lawrence County Judge Jerome J. Richards disqualified himself Thursday from all proceedings involving District Attorney Mary E. Rain’s investigations into allegations that the county used forfeiture money illegally and omitted a grant application to fund positions in the district attorney’s office.

Ms. Rain is convening a grand jury to investigate why the county failed to apply for a five-year grant totaling $500,000 that has paid for two victim advocate positions in the district attorney’s office. Ms. Rain also contends that $12,148.61 in forfeiture funds authorized by former District Attorney Nicole M. Duve in December were illegally and improperly used by County Manager Karen M. St. Hilaire for the purchase of a sound system in the county Board of Legislators chambers

In 2004, while he was district attorney, Judge Richards authorized the use of $35,488 for a board chambers sound system and recorder from forfeiture funds.

Judge Richards filed his certificate of disqualification with Judge Vito C. Caruso, the administrative judge for the Fourth Judicial District.

In his certificate, Judge Richards requested disqualification from presiding over, hearing and determining all proceedings pending in Ms. Rain’s probe of the county because “based upon subpoenas issued by the district attorney the scope of the investigation goes back ten years to a time when I was the district attorney.”

Ms. Rain has let it be known that a former district attorney and the DA’s office were also a target of the investigation, Judge Richards wrote.

Judge Richards also sent Judge Caruso a proposed order to show cause, submitted by County Attorney Michael C. Crowe, requesting the appointment of a special prosecutor. That order, if approved, would have to be signed by the judge appointed to take over for Judge Richards.

Ms. St. Hilaire was among several county department heads subpoenaed by Ms. Rain in her investigation for July 29 grand jury testimony. Ms. St. Hilaire had received a June 30 letter from the DA to inform her of the probes, holding her responsible for the mishaps.

In an affidavit supporting the order seeking a special prosecutor, Ms. St. Hilaire points out that Ms. Rain has been negotiating with the county space committee in an attempt to gain a larger office space in the county court building.

“I and other department heads opposed her requests for office space due to the cost and effect on other departments,” Ms. St. Hilaire wrote in her affidavit, adding that the announcement of the investigation has had a “chilling effect” toward reaching a resolution in the matter.

“The public perception of the district attorney conducting a grand jury investigation at this time, as reflected in the media, appears to be that of an effort to affect the office space issue in her favor, or to want a measure of retribution of opposing her demands for the largest and most expensive space,” Ms. St. Hilaire wrote.

Ms. Rain could not be reached for comment.

In a memorandum of law filed under the order to show cause, Mr. Crowe said Ms. Rain should be disqualified and a special district attorney appointed due to the existence of a conflict of interest. Mr. Crowe wrote that Ms. Rain also received emails from the Office of Victims Services regarding the renewal and RFP of the grant, which covered the salaries of two employees in her office.

“Since Ms. Rain was privy to these emails, this would require Ms. Rain to be a witness in the grand jury, which constitutes a conflict of interest justifying her removal …,” Mr. Crowe wrote. “Ms. Rain clearly cannot present this case to the grand jury because of her need to be a witness and her personal involvement in the outcome of the issues at hand.”

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