[977 N.Y.S.2d 693] Sugarman Law Firm, LLP, Syracuse (Paul V. Mullin and Jenna W. Klucsik of counsel), for appellant.
Gregory S. Oakes, District Attorney, Oswego (Mark Moody of counsel), for respondent.
[999 N.E.2d 1138] The central issue in this case is whether the County Court Judge's failure to recuse himself from the case deprived defendant of his right to a fair trial. We conclude that it did not.
Defendant was indicted for various drug offenses arising from an undercover operation involving the sale of marihuana. At a Huntley [*] hearing, the County Court Judge informed the parties that he may have either represented or prosecuted defendant in
the past. Neither party objected to his continuing to preside over the matter.
At a later hearing, however, defendant requested that the judge recuse himself, basing his request solely on the judge's prior representation of him on unrelated criminal matters. Not recalling anything about those representations, the judge commented that defendant had been arrested 39 times and that he assumed that defendant " had a large majority of the defense bar at some point representing [him]." The judge ultimately found no reason to disqualify himself and denied the motion.
The judge proceeded to a discussion of the appropriate sentence if defendant were to accept a negotiated plea. He reviewed the presentence investigation and noted that the report showed defendant had never had a job " on the books," had smoked marihuana daily for 32 years, and had an extensive criminal history. Additionally, the judge noted that, according to the presentence investigation report, defendant owed substantial sums in back child support for his 10 children. The judge continued by remarking that because the youngest child was only seven years old defendant was " going to owe well over a million dollars in child support." In light of the report, the judge indicated that he would sentence defendant to four years' incarceration.
The discussion then returned to the recusal request, and defendant argued this time that the judge was biased and prejudiced against him. The court noted that it had suppressed certain evidence, thus pointing out that it was not showing any bias against defendant. Defendant responded that the judge " didn't do [him] any favors" because the judge had to follow the law. At that point, defense counsel attempted to stop defendant from engaging in a colloquy with the court, stating:
" Your Honor[,] [defendant] has not been cooperating with me when I ask him to do something he doesn't do it, he never shows up to my office except for once. Judge and for the record your Honor on that [ Huntley ] hearing you suppressed two major statements, however one was, is going to be permitted. So I guess you were abundantly fair you know and I think you are. The offer is very, very reasonable Judge. For the record. And I'm hoping that my client takes this [999 N.E.2d 1139] [977 N.Y.S.2d 694] based upon the facts and circumstances surrounding his case."
At a later hearing, defendant asked the court for a new attorney based on the statements made by defense counsel. The court ultimately relieved defense counsel and assigned new counsel of defendant's choosing.
After a jury trial, defendant was convicted of criminal possession of marihuana in the second degree (Penal Law § 221.25), criminal sale of marihuana in the second degree (Penal Law § 221.50), criminal possession of marihuana in the fourth degree (Penal Law § 221.15) and criminal sale of marihuana in the fourth degree (Penal Law § 221.40).
Defendant appealed arguing, among other things, that the County Court Judge should have removed himself from the matter and that he was denied the effective assistance of counsel. The Appellate Division affirmed the judgment ( 93 A.D.3d 1341, 941 N.Y.S.2d 424 [4th Dept.2012] ), holding that the judge's recusal was not warranted on any basis and that defendant received meaningful representation.
A Judge of this Court granted defendant leave to appeal (19 N.Y.3d 973, 950 N.Y.S.2d 356, ...