The prosecution of 104 men arrested earlier this year in Nassau County for patronizing prostitutes in a "Flush the Johns" sting suffered two more setbacks this week when a judge found one man not guilty after a nonjury trial, and dismissed the charges against another man in the interests of justice.
Judge Sharon Gianelli, sitting in First District Court in Hempstead, made the rulings in both cases on Tuesday. She had also suppressed key evidence against a third defendant in the sting in a ruling last month.
In a written ruling in the case dismissed in the "interest of justice," Gianelli was especially critical of prosecutors for a mistake that erroneously charged the defendant with a felony for soliciting a minor for sex.
The judge dismissed all charges against that man, an attorney, and gave prosecutors and the police until Feb. 28 to purge his record from the state criminal database.
"The defendant has been subjected to humiliation, placed on public display, suspended from work, and has suffered disruption, discontent and dishonor within his family and community on the basis in part of an erroneous felony charge with serious implications," the judge wrote.
The man's lawyer, Stacy Albin Eves of Rockville Centre, called the mistaken felony charge "beyond egregious."
"You can fix the state database, but you can't correct what is already out on the Internet. You can't undo what has been done," Eves said.
All 104 were initially charged with patronizing a prostitute in the third degree, a misdemeanor, Rice said in June in announcing that the results of a sting conducted in April and May that she labeled "Flush the Johns."
On the same day as the written decision, the judge acquitted from the bench another accused john's case after a three-day, nonjury trial, saying that there was not enough evidence to convict that man of patronizing a prostitute.
The man's attorney, Matthew Fleischer of Mineola, said the case was "all hearsay." The lawyer said a male detective testified in the nonjury trial that he took notes on what an undercover female detective said when men called and made solicitations.
"He never heard the other end of the calls and she handled 32 calls on the night in question. She couldn't remember what No. 1 said, and she couldn't remember what No. 32 said and she couldn't remember what my client, No. 29, said," Fleischer said.
Last month, Gianelli ruled that much of the evidence was inadmissible against another of the three accused men, and his lawyer, Brian Griffin of Garden City, said he filed a motion this week to dismiss the case for lack of evidence.
A Rice spokesman said in an email: "We've already convicted six defendants and the few issues that we've had have been limited to one judge's decisions. We're reviewing our options for how to proceed on her cases and we'll continue to move forward successfully on all the others."
A spokesman for the Nassau court system said, "The court's decision was based on the law and the evidence presented. Judge Gianelli has an unimpeachable reputation."
The court spokesman said there are 97 cases still pending where promoting prostitution is the top charge. The cases are spread out among seven district court judges, he said.
The names of the defendants in the cases in which there was an acquittal and a dismissal could not be confirmed.