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FAMILY COURT JUDGE UPHOLDS CHARGES OF CHILD NEGLECT AGAINST PIGNATAROS

A judge Thursday refused to dismiss the child-neglect case against Anthony Pignataro and the former doctor's estranged wife, Deborah, ruling that Erie County child welfare officials had justified concerns their two children were poisoned by one or both of them.

Last week, Family Court Judge Marjorie C. Mix reserved decision on attempts by both Deborah Pignataro and the Erie County district attorney's office to have the neglect charges dropped. Thursday, she upheld the view of county Social Services Department attorneys that evidence of child neglect has been established.

The judge noted that the Pignataros have not provided "any explanation" for the elevated levels of arsenic that doctors found in their children 13 months ago, and the only medical expert on the case cannot prove the children weren't exposed to toxic inorganic arsenic last year.

The judge spoke of medical evidence that nontoxic arsenic, which all humans consume eating shellfish and other seafood, is excreted within five days of consumption and that toxic or inorganic arsenic is metabolized by the body.

The children became ill after drinking soup with their mother. Mix noted that Mrs. Pignataro "may have developed a tolerance to arsenic such that ingestion would not result in an immediate and acute reaction" such as her children exhibited 13 months ago after eating soup with her that may have been laced with arsenic.

Hospitalized on Aug. 10, 1999, with near-fatal levels of arsenic in her system, Mrs. Pignataro remains under a doctor's care.

Attorneys for the imprisoned Pignataro, who is about to stand trial for allegedly trying to kill his wife, joined with Social Services attorneys to oppose dismissal of the neglect case.

Already in prison for parole violations stemming from the 1997 death of a patient in his West Seneca medical office, Pignataro, 43, maintains he had nothing to do with the poisoning of his wife or children.

He faces another 25 years in prison if convicted of the attempted murder of his wife.

After living under court protection with a maternal uncle the past year, the two Pignataro children were returned to their mother's home three weeks ago at Mix's order after psychiatric testing confirmed that it would help them emotionally.

Mix reserved decision Thursday on the issue of whether she will remove the Erie County district attorney's office as a court-approved intervenor in the case, noting that prosecutors have seemed most intent on protecting evidence in the impending trial of Pignataro.

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