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August 4, 2010

 

Williams seeks dismissal of Dayton suit

Public defender claims Legislature chair should not have acquired Family Court records

By CATHERINE WILDE
Staff Reporter
cwilde@cortlandstandard.net

Cortland County Legislature Chairman Jack Williams has moved for a dismissal of the lawsuit brought against him Dec. 16 by county Public Defender Keith Dayton, who accused Williams of improperly accessing Family Court transcripts.
Williams’ attorney, Robert Shafer, of Riehlman, Shafer & Shafer, filed a motion to dismiss the suit July 26 with a tentative court date scheduled for Oct. 8 before state Supreme Court Judge Phillip Rumsey.
The matter should be dismissed, according to Shafer, because the court does not have jurisdiction to hear the complaint since Williams (D-8th Ward) was sued individually, yet the complaint is about actions he took as a legislator last year.
Dayton said Tuesday he plans to oppose the motion because he does not think there is basis for dismissal.
Dayton filed an injunction in December against Williams, barring him from further distributing Family Court transcripts, which Dayton claimed Williams had unlawfully accessed earlier that month.
Dayton also said Williams violated the privacy rights of his clients by accessing the transcripts.
But in the recent court papers, Williams says he had the authority to access the records, acting as a member of the county Judiciary and Public Safety Committee.
At a Dec. 1 meeting of the committee, Williams distributed Family Court transcripts from Aug. 4, 2009; Oct. 12, 2007; and Sept. 18, 2007.
During the meeting, Williams, who was not chairman then, was questioning the case load of the Public Defender Office since the committee was exploring the feasibility of disbanding both the Conflict Attorney and Public Defender offices to save money.
Williams then stated he had the transcripts the committee could read to “see just what is representing you and the people of this county.”
Dayton claimed Williams had no legal authority to obtain Family Court records since he did not fall into one of the categories outlined by Family Court regulations authorizing such access.
Williams submitted a written request for the transcripts to Family Court Clerk Laurie Case Nov. 30, according to court papers.
The request was granted later that day by Judge Julie Campbell.
Dayton said he sued Williams individually because Williams’ request came with his home address supplied and never identified him as a legislator.
Dayton questions how Williams knew what transcripts to request.
“I ordered those transcripts for use in Family Court proceedings for my clients and somehow he knew I had ordered them,” Dayton said.
Shafer argues Williams was “acting in accord with his duties ... in conducting legislative investigations.”
Shafer claims it was within Williams’ rights to distribute the transcripts to the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee because the committee has oversight of the Public Defender’s Office.
Shafer further argues that Dayton is not authorized to bring the action because he is the Public Defender.
“Nowhere in the summons and complaint does (Dayton) disclose any grant of authority by the purported Family Court clients authorizing the Public Defender to initiate private civil litigation on their behalf,” Shafer states.
Dayton said it is his duty to represent his clients.
“I am doing this at my clients’ behest because I feel their Family Court rights have been violated and they’ve asked me to protect them,” Dayton said.
Dayton will have the opportunity to oppose Williams’ motion Oct. 8 when oral arguments will be heard in court. Dayton said he is drafting his written response, adding it is still too early to say what type of relief he will seek.
Shafer did not return phone calls for comment by press time.
Williams said this morning his legal fees are being covered by Trident Insurance, the county’s insurance company, because the suit was brought against him for actions he took in his capacity as a legislator.
“I originally gave my attorney a retainer then was told (by my lawyer) that the insurance was in force to protect legislators,” Williams said.

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