Raj Batheja, the developer of Stoneridge Homes, a controversial building...

Raj Batheja, the developer of Stoneridge Homes, a controversial building site in New Cassel, stands near the construction site and shows a Newsday reporter photos of work on the site and the site log. Neville Mullings, the executive director of the North Hempstead CDA, is right. (Jan. 24, 2007) Credit: Newsday/Julia Gaines

The key witness in a corruption trial who was ordered to jail Thursday for 30 days for contempt was released Monday evening after an appeals court ruling.

The witness, Ranjan Batheja, a developer who testified last month against four former Nassau County government officials, was found to be in criminal contempt last week by acting Supreme Court Justice Alan Honorof. The judge decided that, despite repeated warnings, Batheja was evasive on the stand.

Douglas Reda, of Woodbury, an attorney for Batheja, said Monday that the Appellate Division, Second Department, granted a stay of Honorof's order and ordered Batheja to be released immediately. The next court date is May 30, Reda said.

On Thursday, after Batheja finished his testimony, Honorof ordered that Batheja be taken into custody and fined $1,000, the maximum penalty allowed, for "persistently, flagrantly and repeatedly" refusing to answer questions.

The day before, Batheja, a builder on a major redevelopment project in New Cassel, had admitted to lying under oath to the jury in his previous testimony. He has pleaded guilty to bribery and has been cooperating with prosecutors.

Reda was denied a chance to address the court before Batheja was taken to jail.

Reda said one is "supposed to be given an opportunity to be heard before" such an order of summary contempt is issued. Summary contempt, without a hearing or legal representation, was "a drastic remedy only supposed to be used in very extraordinary and exceptional circumstances," he said.

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