ALBANY – For the third time, rape charges brought by the Justice Center for the Protection of People with Special Needs have been dismissed.
It’s the third judge to dismiss similar charges for the same reason – the Delmar-based Justice Center does not have the authority to prosecute without consent of and oversight by the local district attorneys.
“As the Justice Center and the District Attorney have made clear, the District Attorney had not retained the ultimate responsibility to prosecute here, and the court is therefore constrained to find the Justice Center does not have the authority to prosecute this case,” according to a four-page decision written by Albany County Court Judge Roger McDonough.
The judge is referring to oral arguments during which the office of District Attorney David Soares maintained it was just following the law as passed by the state Legislature granting the Justice Center concurrent authority with his office. But, the judge – like the two previous and Attorney General Eric Schneiderman who intervened on an earlier case – feel extending that power violates the state Constitution.
In this case, Nicole Hodgdon, at the time an employee at the drug and alcohol treatment center Hope House, was arrested in
December, 2016, for raping a client in her care in May of that year. She was charged with felony rape and the misdemeanors of sex abuse and sexual misconduct.
Her attorney, Terry Kindlon, said his client denied the charges from the beginning, and while pleased they were dismissed, is upset she will not have the opportunity to defend them in court.
“Here is a young mother working in a field to help people and she gets tangled up with this jackass who wanted, I think, to get money from the state and accused her of having sex with him,” he said, adding that the “victim” hired an attorney. “In addition to being the victim of a prosecutor acting in excess of any authority she has been denied the opportunity to demonstrate that innocence in court.”
Last month Albany County Court Judge William Carter tossed out
a Justice Center rape case against an employee at Vanderheyden Hall, Justin Hope, and earlier this year, Judge Thomas Breslin threw out a rape case against a former employee of the LaSalle School, Marina Viviani.
In their respective decisions, both judges cited a dissenting opinion by Court of Appeals Justice Jenny Rivera which strongly outlined why it is unconstitutional for the state Legislature to grant prosecutorial power and why that awesome responsibility rests only with the duly elected Attorney Generals, District Attorneys or their agents.
Kindlon, while lauding its core mission of protecting the disabled, called the Justice Center, a “train wreck from the start.”
“It’s such a bizarre situation, you have this bureaucrat with an office in Delmar who can to go to Plattsburgh or Montauk or Binghamton and indict someone on a whim,” he said. “These people at the Justice Center have too much power and too little supervision of that power. They are like a little kid pointing a fake gun at people, and they have damaged a lot of lives while doing it.”
Whether or not his client has civil recourse is still up in the air.
While the Justice Center did file a notice of appeal in Viviani and in Hope it has yet to formally file the paperwork.
The state Legislature, with the blessing and urging of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, created the Justice Center in 2012 to investigate allegations of abuse in state sanctioned facilities.
A Justice Center spokesman said they are reviewing the decision.