A judge apologized to Rachel Winter on Tuesday as he dismissed a drunken driving charge lodged against her by the Niagara County Sheriff's Office after an internal process that Winter's father, a prominent Niagara County attorney, said was politically motivated.
Winter, 21, was pulled over by Deputy Timothy Caughel in Lockport Nov. 24, and Caughel wanted to charge her with driving while intoxicated and reckless driving.
Undersheriff Michael J. Filicetti said last month that the DWI charge was not brought at the time because Caughel's supervisor that night, Lt. Steve Broderick, was doing a favor for Winter's father, Ronald J. Winter, a former assistant Niagara County district attorney. Filicetti said the ex-prosecutor came to Sheriff's Headquarters that night and talked to Broderick.
Broderick, who is also Town of Lewiston supervisor, was the subject of an undisclosed internal administrative action, as was his commander that night, Capt. Jill Herrington.
"Persons in the Sheriff's Department viewed Steve Broderick as a potential candidate for sheriff and sought to discredit him, and used this case to do it," charged Ronald Winter, the law clerk to State Supreme Court Justice Richard C. Kloch Sr.
Broderick, who said he couldn't comment, is a Republican whose family has long been prominent in politics. Sheriff James R. Voutour, whose term runs through 2020, is a Democrat.
"The assertion that this was done to discredit Lt. Broderick is absurd," Voutour said. "The actions of (the Niagara County Sheriff's Office) were to do the right thing when no one else would. That is what the public expects."
"I feel we did the right thing. I have no control over what the court does," Filicetti said. "I'd rather get faulted for doing my job rather than be accused of covering something up."
"I never asked for a favor, and certainly my daughter didn't," Ronald Winter said. "My daughter and I are going to explore what options we have as far as recourse."
The Sheriff's Office added the DWI charge against Rachel Winter March 5, but Niagara Falls City Judge Robert P. Merino threw it out Tuesday, along with the reckless driving charge, finding the evidence of each was legally insufficient.
Rachel Winter then pleaded guilty to failure to keep right and an equipment violation. She was granted a conditional discharge and was not fined, although Merino had to impose state-mandated surcharges totaling $146.
"The court issued an apology to my client on behalf of the justice system," defense attorney Theresa L. Prezioso said.
Orleans County District Attorney Joseph V. Cardone didn't fight Prezioso's dismissal motion. He could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Cardone was named special prosecutor after Niagara County District Attorney Caroline A. Wojtaszek, a former colleague of Ronald Winter, recused herself. Merino ended up with the case after city judges in Lockport and North Tonawanda also recused themselves because of their connections to Ronald Winter.
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