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Judge Richard Meyer
Judge Richard Meyer

DA questions judicial conduct in Scaringe trial

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There are continuing complications after a high profile rape case in Franklin County. An Essex County and acting state Supreme Court judge may have violated New York's judicial conduct laws by providing legal advice to the defense in the Michael Scaringe case. Scaringe was convicted last week of raping a 13-year-old when he was director of the youth center in Saranac lake.

The Franklin County District Attorney's Office has been reviewing the testimony provided in Scaringe's trial last week by Judge Richard Meyer. Meyer, who lives in Saranac Lake, admitted sending a fax to Scaringe's former attorney that the prosecution said contained a defense strategy. Chris Knight reports.

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Chris Knight
Adirondack Correspondent

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Meyer took the stand on Tuesday morning, describing himself as a friend of Scaringe’s dating to the late-1960s when the two went to school together in Saranac Lake. Under cross-examination by county prosecutor Jack Delehanty, the judge was asked if he ever contacted Scaringe's former attorney, Brian Barrett, to suggest a defense strategy in the case. Meyer said he didn't recall contacting Barrett, but said that Barrett had contacted him.

Meyer was then asked if he ever sent Barrett a fax containing a defense strategy. "I sent him a fax, yes," the judge said without any elaboration, and the subject didn’t come up again. In an interview at his office the following day, county District Attorney Derek Champagne said the issue was raised in an attempt to discredit Meyer as a witness. "The information we had was that Michael went to the judge's house and that Judge Meyer sent (the fax) to Barrett," the DA said Wednesday. "That was the information we had. We were just told it was trial strategy."

“I’ve ordered the transcript. My office is going to sit down, review the transcript, review the information we have and we’ll see if we have any ethical obligations from here,” said Champagne. Two days after that conversation was recorded, Champagne said his office had reviewed Meyer’s testimony and was “complying with what our ethical obligations are.”

Champagne declined to comment when asked if that meant he’s contacted the New York Commission on Judicial Conduct, which is charged with investigating alleged violations of the state’s judicial conduct laws. The commission’s administrator and counsel, Robert Tembeckjian, wouldn’t say whether his agency is looking into the matter, but he was willing to speak in generalities about the issue. “Generally speaking, a judge may be a fact witness in a trial. A judge may not be a character witness in a trial, unless a judge has been subpoenaed for that purpose,” said Tembeckjian.

Scaringe’s attorney, Mary Rain, said that she subpoenaed Meyer to testify as "a witness to the facts.” But she also gave the impression that Meyer, whom she hadn't met until the day he took the stand, volunteered to testify. "I spoke to him about the case and he indicated he'd be willing to testify to his knowledge of some information that he had,” Rain said.

But did Meyer violate judicial ethics laws by providing legal advice to Scaringe, as the DA's office alleged? Robert Tembeckjian, again speaking generally, said, “There is also a general prohibition on a full-time judge practicing law.”

Meyer is a full-time judge, or at least he said he was the last time he ran for office in the fall of 2009. But does sending a fax containing a defense strategy qualify as practicing law? And is that the only role Meyer played the case? Those are questions that remain unanswered. Meyer, for now, isn’t talking. He said in an email last week that he is "prohibited from making any public comment" though he wished he could.

Scaringe was convicted on Wednesday of raping a 13-year-old girl at his home in Saranac Lake in 2009. He had met the girl through the Saranac Lake Youth Center, where he worked as director.

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