The attorney defending a woman charged in connection with the 2013 hit-and-run death of Barry T. Moss says he will seek a change of venue because a new television ad in the campaign for district attorney “taints the jury pool” and prevents a fair trial for his client.
Michael A. Benson, who represents Lynn A. Laettner on perjury charges connected to the case, said acting District Attorney Michael J. Flaherty Jr.’s new ad featuring Moss’s sister “taints his own case.” Laettner must now face prospective jurors exposed to the ad, Benson said.
In the political ad, Maria L. Wrafter praises Flaherty for bringing charges in the death of her brother, an Evans handyman.
Flaherty charged Laettner with perjury on June 21 as he simultaneously lodged vehicular manslaughter counts against her friend, Gabriele P. Ballowe.
Now Benson and co-counsel Robert J. Lee say they will petition State Supreme Court Justice Christopher J. Burns to move the case out of Western New York because of the ad.
“The sister convicts both of them prior to their day in court,” Benson said. “It’s completely wrong.”
The ad also concerns Thomas J. Eoannou, who represents Ballowe. He noted that Flaherty, who faces a tough Democratic primary against two opponents on Tuesday, has said “repeatedly” that he would not politicize the Moss case.
“Now we hear a Moss family member in a political ad paid for by him to garner votes,” Eoannou said. “If that’s not politicizing, what is?”
He added he will “consider all options” in the case, and that he expects to meet soon with Benson and Lee for further discussion.
Flaherty’s office said it would be “inappropriate” to address a motion it has not received.
“Any response we have will be made in open court,” said Thomas M. Finnerty, senior litigation counsel.
Benson, meanwhile, said he is sure that attorneys for both defendants will question prospective jurors about the ad.
“Did you see the commercial, the one in which Barry Moss’s sister said Flaherty did the right thing?” Benson said in presenting potential questioning of jurors.
He said the new development further complicates a case in which then District Attorney Frank Sedita sought reversal of the original grand jury decision not to indict. His client was asked to change her story about her knowledge of Ballowe’s actions on the night of Dec. 22, 2013, he said, and was indicted for perjury when she refused.
“How can you give someone a fair trial when there is this commercial about the case?” Benson asked. “And the person who put it on is the guy prosecuting it?”
Flaherty’s two opponents in the Democratic primary – John J. Flynn Jr. and Mark A. Sacha – have criticized the acting district attorney over the Wrafter ad. They note that Flaherty refuses to answer their accustion that he was assigned by Sedita to seek reversal of the grand jury’s decision in 2014, because he did not want to “politicize” the case out of respect for the Moss family.
They also say that Flaherty is now politicizing the case himself with an ad featuring a member of the Moss family.
Maggie McKeon, spokeswoman for the Flaherty campaign, said earlier this week that the Moss family wanted to cooperate in producing the ad.
“Our opponents have exploited a family’s tragedy as the cornerstone of their campaigns because they have little to offer other than negative attacks and mudslinging,” she said. “After months of attacks, the family wanted to set the record straight.”