G. Steven Pigeon is questioning the independence of a veteran judge, the latest chapter in a campaign to discredit the public corruption case against him.
Pigeon claims Michael A. Pietruszka, the Erie County judge who signed the search warrants that led to his prosecution, might not have been neutral in his handling of the warrants.
In a new motion filed in his bribery and extortion case, Pigeon claims Pietruszka signed five different search warrants. He wants to know how the same judge could be assigned or selected each time a warrant was needed.
The former Erie County Democratic Party Chairman also claims Pietruszka was a political enemy.
“I am concerned about what appears to be the highly irregular role the judge had in this instance when you consider that he was a political adversary,” Pigeon said in a statement. “This, on top of the attorney general also being a well-known political opponent, raises questions of fairness.”
The charges against Pigeon were brought by Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman.
Pigeon’s allegations, outlined in court papers, mark the latest step in his efforts to challenge the validity of the warrants, a key element of his defense. His lawyers want a hearing into the matter, with an eye toward ultimately suppressing the evidence gathered with the warrants.
“There is reason to believe that the search warrants were not reviewed and authorized by a neutral and detached magistrate,” defense attorney Paul J. Cambria Jr. said in his court papers.
Cambria’s affidavit to the court also includes copies of a recent Artvoice story about Pietruszka’s role in the prosecution, as well as two Buffalo News stories about Pigeon’s political dealings with the judge.
Pietruszka, a longtime city court judge who won election to the county court bench in 2008, did not return a telephone call asking for his reaction to Pigeon’s allegations.
Cambria, in his court papers, also challenged the judge’s handling of a possible witness against Pigeon.
Citing the Artvoice story, he raised questions about the court’s assignment of counsel for David B. Pfaff, a Democratic Party activist who worked with Pigeon’s political fundraising committee.
Pfaff’s current lawyer said his client never asked for a new attorney and suggested the judge’s intervention was “way out of bounds.” He also claims Piuetruszka improperly acted at the request of an FBI agent assigned to investigate Pigeon.
“I want some answers,” said Peter A. Reese, Pffaff’s lawyer.
Reese, who is mentioned in Cambria’s court papers, said Pietruszka’s history with Pigeon should have resulted in his recusal from the case.
“I want to know what he was doing touching those warrants to begin with,” he said.
Like others, Reese points to Pietruszka’s decision to withdraw from a race for State Supreme Court in 1996 and a Buffalo News story indicating Pigeon may have pressured him to withdraw.
Sources said Pietruzska’s support for the judgeship evaporated when Pigeon became Democratic Party Chairman, replacing Pietruszka’s ally, Vincent J. Sorrentino.
“He’s a good judge and a good party person, and I’m very happy he’s doing this for the sake of unity,” Pigeon said of Pietruszka at the time. “To have a former chairman backing another candidate would be divisive.”
Two years later, Pietruszka ran unopposed for county judge and, according to another News’ story, again found himself at odds with Pigeon. This time, it was over a political consultant that Pietruszka claims Pigeon wanted him to hire. He refused.
“I was unopposed,” he told the News in 2002, “so why did I need a consultant?”
Pigeon is named in a nine-count indictment that also charged former State Supreme Court Justice John A. Michalek with related bribery charges.
Michalek pleaded guilty in June, resigned from the bench, and is known to be cooperating with prosecutors.
From the day Pigeon and Michalek were charged, Schneiderman has pointed to their political relationship and what he described as their breach of the public trust.
“The deceit, the horse-trading, the ‘I’ll scratch your back and you’ll scratch mine’ status quo has really got to end here and now,” Schneiderman said at news conference announcing Pigeon’s indictment.
Pigeon is charged with two counts of bribery, six counts of rewarding official misconduct and grand larceny.
In recent weeks, Pigeon’s lawyers have taken the offensive by suggesting the state’s case is based on evidence that was collected illegally.
Cambria, in August, filed court papers claiming the agents who raided Pigeon’s waterfront home last year were acting on a deficient search warrant. He claims the document Pietruszka signed the day before the raid was altered by hand and changed the location of Pigeon’s home from the seventh to 10th floor.
The FBI and representatives for Schneiderman declined to comment on Pigeon’s latest motion.