Anne E. Adams, a prominent lawyer until she was convicted last year of drunken driving and trying to fix the case, has won her bid for a new sentence.
Adams' 15-day jail sentence was illegal because acting State Supreme Court Justice Michael F. Griffith of Warsaw had no authority to sentence her, the Appellate Division of State Supreme Court has ruled.
The appellate court sent the case back to county court for resentencing.
In addition to the 15 days, Griffith sentenced Adams in April 2009 to three years' probation, continued mental health treatment, 100 hours of community service, continued drug and alcohol testing, and attendance at a panel on the impact of driving while intoxicated.
The appellate justices, however, did not render an opinion on the harshness of her sentence, another of her lawyer's contentions.
"Because they decided the State Supreme Court did not have jurisdiction to sentence Ms. Adams, they did not need to reach the contention we made [that] the sentence was harsh and excessive," said Kevin J. Bauer, her lawyer.
In addition to calling the 15-day jail sentence too harsh, Adams' lawyer objected to Griffith's order that Adams write two letters of apology, one to the Town of Hamburg police officers who originally arrested her and the other to the county bar association's newspaper.
"The letters of apology as a condition of probation were not rehabilitative, which a condition must be, but rather punitive," Bauer said.
Adams has been free since the day of her sentencing, when a state appellate judge granted her a stay.
"Ms. Adams is running a risk here," Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III said. "A new judge can sentence her more leniently, the same or more harshly."
Sedita said the appellate court's decision rested on "technical provisions" of state rules on transferring cases between county court and State Supreme Court.
"It only means the defendant is to be resentenced by a county court judge," he said.
Adams could stand before Griffith again.
State Supreme Court Justice Paula L. Feroleto, administrative judge of the Buffalo-based Eighth Judicial District, could assign Griffith to resentence Adams, provided he is available and the paperwork is handled properly.
Last year, Justice Sharon S. Townsend, then the administrative judge, reassigned the Adams case to Griffith after Erie County Judge Sheila A. DiTullio had recused herself. Both DiTullio and Adams were once Erie County prosecutors.
DiTullio took Adams' guilty pleas in February 2008 before recusing herself the following month. Griffith was then brought in to sentence Adams.
But moving a criminal matter from county court to Supreme Court requires the authorization of the chief administrator, and the switch must be made before a trial or the defendant's plea, the appellate court ruled.
While Griffith is a county court judge in Wyoming County, he also was serving as an acting State Supreme Court justice.
"When Judge Griffith came in, the paperwork reflected he was in acting Supreme Court justice status," said State Supreme Court Justice Richard C. Kloch Sr., supervising judge for all criminal matters in the district. "Judge Griffith is a county court judge. It's a matter of paperwork and a little bit of semantics."
Adams pleaded guilty in February 2009 to three misdemeanors: driving while intoxicated, offering a false statement for filing and attempted tampering with physical evidence linked to her arrest in September 2008 in the Town of Hamburg.