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On Thursday, the Court of Appeals, New York held that the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office was disqualified from prosecuting a case where a local judge complained against a man for sending vulgar texts to her. The man, Keith Adams, had had a romantic relationship with the Rochester City Court Judge Maija Dixon. Adams was convicted in 2010 of harassment.
According to concurring court documents filed by the parties, Dixon had moved to the neighborhood where Adams lived, in 2009. They developed a romantic relationship and Adams would often text Dixon, which Dixon mostly ignored. In September 2009, Adams attended a soccer game where Dixon’s son was playing without Dixon’s permission, but left after Dixon refused to speak with him. Later that day, Adams sent Dixon three vulgar messages, calling the judge a “slut” and a “tramp” besides making several other crude comments.
Adams was arrested for second-degree harassment.
However, Adams argued that the Monroe County district attorney’s office had a conflict of interest as a prosecutor because Dixon routinely heard complaints brought by that office. Adams also claimed that he was never offered a plea deal, because the involved prosecutors from the Monroe County DA’s office did not want to “engender any hostility” from Dixon, who insisted the matter be taken to trial.
During the trial, Adams moved for disqualifying the Monroe County DA’s office citing actual prejudice and appearance of impropriety. However, the Monroe County Judge hearing the matter denied Adams’s motion.
A jury found Adams guilty in 2010, and sentenced him to one-year conditional discharge with conditions to stay away from Dixon.
However, on Thursday, the Court of Appeals sided with Adams and held the appearance of impropriety was great enough for disqualifying the prosecutor’s office. The appellate court did not find any actual prejudice in the matter.
Writing for the Court of Appeals, Judge Eugene Pigott observed, “Because the District Attorney's office failed to take steps to dispel the appearance of inappropriate disparate treatment, we conclude that this is one of those rare cases in which a significant appearance of impropriety was created, requiring disqualification.”
The matter has been sent back to the Rochester City Court with order to appoint a special prosecutor
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