August 15, 2013

Harrietstown justice retires under cloud

HARRIETSTOWN — Town Justice Howard Riley retired as part of an agreement signed with the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct.

Riley, elected to the Harrietstown bench in 2008, vacated his office after the commission began following up on formal written complaints filed against him last winter.

The judge’s last day was Aug. 1, according to a decision and order released Wednesday by the commission.

The nature of the complaints stemmed from court proceedings between Jan. 2010 and Dec. 2011, the commission said, and were based on procedural matters.

Allegations in the formal written complaints, according to commission documents, say Riley, in numerous cases, “engaged in inappropriate conversations with unrepresented defendants at their arraignments, allowing them to make potentially incriminating statements.”

The allegations also suggest Riley dismissed “or reduced charges against defendants without notice to or consent of the district attorney as required by law,” and that, in several cases, he “made statements that appeared to coerce defendants to enter guilty pleas.”


In the decision and order, allegations further say that during small-claims action, Riley “directed the defendant to present his defense first, before the claimant presented his case.”

Commission documents show that on April 24 Riley denied all allegations of misconduct.

In an interview with the Press-Republican, the former town justice said he had prepared to retire more than a year ago, as the courts in Harrietstown and Saranac Lake were merging.

“I thought it was misleading in there that as soon as the complaint was filed, I retired,” Riley said.

“I had an investigative interview in November of 2012. And it was all procedural stuff.

“I got the formal complaint at the end of Feb. 2013. The commission using the word ‘misconduct’ to describe my actions as a town justice is so misleading, it’s like comparing lighting one firecracker to a Fourth of July celebration.”

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