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Bergen judge refuses to step out of murder plot case in synagogue firebombings

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot File Photo

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: A judge in Hackensack ruled today that she has no conflict in presiding over the case of a man accused of plotting to kill a former colleague of hers in the county prosecutor’s office after being arrested and jail on charges of plotting a series of Bergen synagogue firebombings.

“I am not going to recuse myself,” Presiding Superior Court Judge Liliana DeAvila-Silebi told defense attorney Brian Neary.

The only time she has contact with the assistant prosecutor, Martin Delaney, “is when he appears in court,” the judge said during Aakash Dalal’s arraignment on charges of conspiring from his jail cell to murder Delaney.

CLIFFVIEW PILOT also has learned that arson arson charges pending against Dalal out of in Middlesex County — where authorities said he conspired to burn down an ROTC office on Rutgers campus — were downgraded to disorderly persons offenses.

Although Delaney was the original prosecutor in the Bergen synagogue arsons, the case is now being handled by a trio of senior staffers led by First Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor John Higgins.

Neary claimed an “appearance of impropriety” made it necessary for him to seek a change of venue in the case last week and seek to force the entire prosecutor’s office to recuse itself from the arson trial.

“I know it’s only an arraignment,” the defense attorney added, but he asked DeAvila-Silebi to show “an abundance of caution” by sending today’s proceeding to another judge.

Neary argued that DeAvila-Silebi and Delaney have a personal association from their respective “distinguished histories” as prosecutors in Bergen.

Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor Daniel Keitel countered, “The fact a judge knows a victim in a case is no excuse [for recusal].  Many judges in this building do know Assistant Prosecutor Martin Delaney, and it is no excuse to disqualify yourself.”

Keitel it “would be an entirely different matter” if jurors knew him.

Neary also hopes to have his client tried separately from Anthony Graziano, who prosecutors said carried out the bombings in December 2011 and January 2012 under Dalal’s tulelage.

DeAvila-Silebi set Nov. 4 for Dalal to be back before her on the murder conspiracy indictment. Superior Court Judge Edward Jerejian is scheduled to rule on the change of venue motion Sept. 27, the same day Graziano is due back in court.

STORY / PHOTOS: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter

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