A Nassau judge has recused herself from presiding in the innocence claim hearing of a convicted sex offender, saying there's now a "potential appearance" that could cause her impartiality to be questioned.
With her Tuesday ruling, acting state Supreme Court Justice Teresa Corrigan reversed an October decision she made to remain on the case despite objections from defendant Jesse Friedman.
"The public deserves the right to believe that the case is being decided without concerns of partiality from the court," Corrigan wrote.
Friedman, 45, of Connecticut, pleaded guilty in 1988 to sexually abusing boys who took computer classes at his family's Great Neck home. He's since proclaimed his innocence, saying he took a plea to avoid life behind bars and that police manipulated children into false claims.
But in 2013, the Nassau district attorney's office found after a review that Friedman had been justifiably convicted. Last year, Corrigan granted Friedman an upcoming hearing on his innocence claim.
In first asking for Corrigan's recusal, Friedman claimed her ties to her former boss, then-District Attorney Kathleen Rice, would "amount to a clear appearance of impropriety." The judge disagreed. The Nassau district attorney's office had argued Corrigan shouldn't recuse herself unless she felt a personal bias or had "extrajudicial knowledge of disputed evidentiary facts."
In her new decision, Corrigan cited arguments from the defense's second motion, including that she is a co-defendant with Rice and Rice's former chief investigator in an unrelated federal civil action. Corrigan also noted she previously had reported to and supervised people involved in both Friedman's original prosecution and his conviction review.
She wrote that Robert Schwartz, the lead prosecutor against Friedman until recently, became a judge about a month ago. She said she could anticipate an argument that she might feel a need to support Schwartz's previously espoused position.
Friedman's attorney, Ronald Kuby, said the defense was pleased Corrigan "realized that the appearance of impartiality is crucial to the integrity of the legal process."
Paul Leonard, a spokesman for acting District Attorney Madeline Singas, said his office was "confident that Friedman's conviction will be upheld by any judge."