April 05, 2020

Improper-influence verdict upheld > Superior Court judge denies state’s motion in Rockland councilor’s trial

ROCKLAND — In a case that never seems to end, City Councilor Patrick Reilley won another round in court Wednesday when a Superior Court judge upheld a verdict of innocent on a charge of improper influence.

The case has included a mistrial, numerous motions from both defense and prosecution attorneys and a contempt citation against defense attorney Robert Levine, which theoretically could send him to jail.

Reilley was arrested by Rockland police in his driveway on the night of April 16, 1997, and charged with drunken driving. Several weeks after the drunken-driving charge, the District Attorney’s Office added a charge of improper influence. It was the first time the law was tested in court.

The case generated tremendous interest in the city with the possibility that Reilley would be removed by other council members if he had been convicted on the influence charge. The council was split 3-2 on many matters and Reilley’s vote was considered crucial in local politics. Levine told the jury that the charge was instigated by “small-town politics.”

During the November trial in Rockland, arresting officers Edwin Finnegan and Christopher Young said Reilley reminded them that the police budget was up for a vote the next day and asked if there was “some other way to handle this.” Police said they took the statement as a threat against the police budget.

After a two-day trial, the jury Nov. 21 found Reilley guilty of drunken driving but could not come to a conclusion on the improper influence charge. Presiding Justice Francis Marsano declared a mistrial. A single juror held out for innocent with the 11 other members voting for a guilty verdict.

While the state announced plans to retry the case, Levine filed a motion for a directed verdict of innocent. In his motion, Levine compared the Reilley arrest to a hypothetical situation in which Justice Marsano was stopped by a state trooper who was scheduled to come before the judge the next day on a divorce hearing.

The judge objected strenuously to the “insolent” suggestion and cited Levine for contempt of court Dec. 16, but on Christmas Eve granted the motion to dismiss the improper influence charge against Reilley. The judge reasoned that if Reilley was drunk he could not have “knowingly or intentionally” made the statements to police, as required for conviction.

The state objected to the Marsano verdict and filed a motion to reconsider. On Wednesday, Marsano rejected the state’s motion.

Marsano said the state’s motion used inaccurate quotations to distort the meaning of established case law on the limits of trial judges. The evidence was reviewed by the judge only after the jury failed to come to a verdict.

The judge said “any fact finder hearing the relevant evidence would have to have a reasonable doubt as to the defendant’s capacity to formulate a culpable state of mind. The court found the state unable to meet that burden on the issue of a culpable state of mind in its order to acquit the defendant.”

Justice Marsano said Reilley cannot be retried without demonstration of legal error by the trial court.

But the case is still not over.

The contempt charge is pending. Attorney Levine has apologized to the judge and Wednesday waived a hearing on the contempt matter. Attorney James Davidson, who represents Levine, said he expected the judge to issue a ruling very soon, with no jail time expected.

Reilley will not be sentenced on the drunken-driving charge until the improper-influence case has been completed.

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