Attorney tells judge County Task Force violates due process

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 23 September 2014 at 12:00 am

Unit operates out of DA’s office, which then prosecutes

ALBION – An attorney for an Albion man facing numerous drug charges is questioning whether his due process rights have been violated because he was arrested by a task force that operates out of the District Attorney’s Office, which is now prosecuting him.

Shirley Gorman represents Joseph James, an inmate in the county jail. James, 33, was arrested along with 15 others on April 1 following a six-month investigation into the sale and distribution of illegal drugs in the village of Albion, the Orleans County Major Felony Crime Task Force reported.

Gorman says the Task Force in Orleans differs from those in other counties, which operate outside of the DA’s Office as independent units. Gorman made her statements in court on Monday during an appearance with James.

“My position is the Drug Task Force violates due process and a fair trial,” she told Orleans County Court Judge James Punch. He set a hearing for Nov. 5 from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. on that and other issues raised by Gorman.

“This would be legally unprecedented,” Punch told her in court on Monday.

The Task Force works under the supervision of the DA’s Office, but the Task Force has independence is investigating its cases, First Assistant DA Susan Howard told the judge.

The Task Force includes officers from the Holley, Albion and Medina police departments, as well as the Orleans County Sheriff’s Department. A board of directors oversees the Task Force. They include the three village mayors, county legislators and law enforcement officials.

Howard said the arrests by task force members actually come from one of the village police departments or the Sheriff’s Department.

In other counties, the DA’s Office will work with a task force after the charges have been brought, but not while a case is being developed, Gorman said.

“The DA’s Office is creating the crime,” Gorman said. “It’s not the action of a police department. It’s a task force run by the DA’s Office.”

She also alleged prosecutorial misconduct because the confidential informant in the case against James was observed on tape telling a police officer, “I have to tell you I used some.” Gorman said the informant ingested cocaine without any apparent repercussions from the task force or DA’s Office.

Howard said the informants often will ingest materials that resemble illegal drugs, but aren’t necessarily cocaine or another narcotic.

She noted the office willingly turned over videos to Gorman.

“We’re not trying to hide anything,” Howard responded in court.

Punch said he wants to hear more on the informant’s actions as well as other issues raised by Gorman.

“All of these things need to be developed at the hearing,” he said.