Appeals Court Sides with Lawyer in Dispute with Jurist
Attorney John Aretakis Wins a Hearing after Clash with Judge
By Bob Gardinier
Albany Times Union
November 25, 2006
The state Supreme Court Appellate Division has struck down a fine and sanctions against attorney John Aretakis that had been imposed by an acting Supreme Court judge who accused the lawyer of making unfounded accusations against him.
In 2005, Aretakis represented a man accused of rape in a case heard by acting state Supreme Court Justice Christian F. Hummel in Rensselaer County. Aretakis, who represents dozens of alleged victims of sexual abuse by priests, accused Hummel of bias favoring the Albany Roman Catholic Diocese in other matters he had before Hummel. He had previously asked the judge to recuse himself from some of the civil cases. He also made a request that Hummel recuse himself from the rape case, and Hummel refused.
In August 2003, Hummel dismissed a lawsuit filed by Aretakis that had accused the diocese of intentionally discouraging victims from coming forward to lodge complaints. In September 2003, Aretakis alleged Hummel engaged in secret communications with diocese officials or attorneys and notified them about a ruling before informing him.
Hummel accused the lawyer of airing unfounded accusations trying to remove him from the case and fined Aretakis $7,500 in March 2005.
"These are the same tired and untrue allegations which Mr. Aretakis raised in his two prior motions seeking my recusal," Hummel wrote in his decision at the time. "These allegations are made here without any reasonable, factual or legal support and for the sole purpose of delaying this and harassing this court."
Appellate court justices Wednesday reversed Hummel's action and the fine, saying Aretakis should be afforded a hearing first.
"As it appears that the imposition of sanctions might certainly be warranted, we remit the matter to afford Aretakis the opportunity to be heard," the justices wrote.
No hearing date has been set.
Aretakis' client, Christopher Allen, had a conviction on a rape charge overturned due to prosecutorial mistakes by the Rensselaer County district attorney's office. Aretakis did not represent Allen during his first trial.
County Judge Patrick J. McGrath, who handled the first trial, recused himself from the retrial. Hummel was then assigned and Aretakis sought his recusal as well.
In May 2005, just as his retrial was about to get underway, Allen pleaded guilty to a charge of first-degree sexual abuse, a violent felony. He was sentenced to two years in prison but had already served that much time before his case was overturned so did not return to prison. He also was sentenced to three years post-release supervision and had to register with the state as a sex offender.
Bob Gardinier can be reached at 454-5696 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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