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NJ appeals court orders Bergen to move synagogue firebombing trial out or bring in outside judge

Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter
Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia
Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter
Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter
Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter
Photo Credit: Bergen Prosecutor) INSET: Dalal with Ron Paul (EXCLUSIVE CLIFFVIEW PILOT PHOTO
Photo Credit: Mary K. Miraglia, CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: A state appeals court ordered a judge in Hackensack today to move the trial of two men in a series of Bergen synagogue firebombings out of the county or bring in an outside judge to preside over it because of threats one of them is accused of making against judges and an assistant prosecutor.

“[E]ven though we are confident the trial judge could actually preside fairly and impartially, we conclude that the appearance of fairness in the future proceedings will be impaired so long as a Bergen judge presides over the matter,” the New Jersey Appellate Division wrote in its ruling.

Superior Court Judge Edward Jerejian (FILE PHOTO: CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter Mary K. Miraglia)

Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli, in turn, said that doesn’t change his office’s case against Aakash Dalal ( above ) and Anthony Marco Graziano.

“I understand the Court’s ruling,” Molinelli told CLIFFVIEW PILO T. “It does not affect us greatly as we will still try the same case either outside of county or within county before a judge brought in to try it.

Dalal’s defense attorney, Brian Neary ( above, left ), argued before the higher court on Nov. 12 that a venue change was necessary because of charges that his client hatched murder plots against an assistant prosecutor and two judges.

The request originally was denied earlier this year by Superior Court Judge Edward A. Jerejian, who called it “the crudest form of judge shopping.”

“After carefully considering the circumstances, we conclude that a reasonable person would harbor such doubts despite our own confidence that the trial judge could fairly and impartially preside over this matter,” the higher court countered.

The appeals judges said they reached that conclusion “not because we possess any doubt about the trial judge’s ability to fairly and impartially preside over this matter, but because, in the final analysis, ‘justice must satisfy the appearance of justice.’

Bergen County Prosecutor John L. Molinelli (FILE PHOTO: CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter Mary K. Miraglia)

“[T]he preservation of the appearance of fairness and impropriety — reasonably questioned in these circumstances — compels the granting of relief.”

Neary also argued that there was insufficient evidence to indict his client for instigating arsons against the synagogues by his co-defendant, Anthony Graziano.

He also said errors were made and the presence of Molinelli in the room unduly influenced the grand jurors.

Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor Elizabeth Rebein countered that “the rules of the grand jury are relaxed,” and that “the state does not have to prove its case. We only have to demonstrate sufficient cause to charge him.”

Molinelli’s presence didn’t violate any laws or regulations, she added.

Rebein said prosecutors had no choice but to charge Dalal in the alleged plots after a jailhouse snitch came to them.

She also said that Dalal “told the FBI [Assistant Bergen County Prosecutor] Martin Delaney would be the first person he would kill when he got out of jail.”

Jerejian said in February that he there was “nothing before this court that would cause its impartiality to reasonably be questioned.”

SEE: Judge refuses to dismiss charges, move trial in synagogue firebombings case

He said he personally wouldn’t be prejudiced against Dala if the threats turned out to be true.

Anthony Marco Graziano (FILE PHOTO: CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter Mary K. Miraglia)

“Even if the trial went to another county, they are still fellow judges,” Jerejian said.

The Appellate Division, in reversing his decision, emphasized that there was no directly provable conflict.

“A recusal based on an appearance of impropriety, however, does not suggest weakness,” today’s ruling says. “To the contrary, vigilance in ensuring the fairness of our procedures in general, and as specifically applied in a prosecution charging the most heinous of offenses, is one of the Judiciary’s great strengths.

“We doubt our decision today would encourage threats against members of the judiciary as a new form of judge-shopping.”


(FILE PHOTOS: CLIFFVIEW PILOT Courthouse Reporter Mary K. Miraglia)

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(EXCLUSIVE CLIFFVIEW PILOT PHOTO)

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