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Newsday fights move to keep Robert Macedonio case sealed

Criminal attorney and former Suffolk prosecutor Robert Macedonio,

Criminal attorney and former Suffolk prosecutor Robert Macedonio, shown on Jan. 27, 2016, lost and regained his law license after being convicted of felony cocaine posession. Credit: James Carbone

Newsday filed legal papers with Suffolk Supreme Court Judge James Hudson Tuesday opposing an attempt by the Suffolk County district attorney’s office to keep records sealed in the case of Robert Macedonio, an attorney and former prosecutor who lost and then regained his law license after being convicted of felony cocaine possession.

District Attorney Thomas Spota’s office argued in court filings last week that public interest in the case has been “manufactured” by Newsday, which is seeking to unseal records. Attorneys for Macedonio also filed papers opposing release of the records and filed a separate motion asking for the entire case to be retroactively sealed because Macedonio completed a court monitored drug treatment program.

Newsday published an investigation in February highlighting the unusual case against Macedonio. Many of the case records had been sealed without explanation, and the records Newsday obtained suggested an ambitious law enforcement investigation in which Macedonio and multiple associates were probed for alleged criminal activity, including mortgage fraud.

Macedonio ultimately pleaded guilty to felony drug possession, though the basis of that charge was not revealed in any detail in court proceedings or in public records. With the support of prosecutors and the approval of Hudson, Macedonio then had that conviction vacated and replaced by a misdemeanor, paving the way for him to regain his law license.

Newsday had previously filed a motion to have two documents from the case unsealed: the affidavit law enforcement used to obtain a search warrant for Macedonio’s law office and the plea agreement the attorney reached with prosecutors. Hudson, who presided in the Macedonio case, ordered both records sealed in 2008.

The DA’s office opposition states that its prosecution of Macedonio was largely routine and that the newspaper’s efforts to shed light on the case were “an attempt to gin-up interest in the mundane.”

The papers Newsday filed Tuesday argue against sealing the case and assert its First Amendment and common law right to access the search warrant affidavit and plea agreement. Newsday attorney Katherine Bolger wrote that the right of access “is of particular importance in a case like this where the District Attorney and defendant’s counsel have collaborated to keep public records secret.”

“Such secrecy in such a strange case — and, indeed, the ferocious efforts by the state to maintain that secrecy — call into question the legitimacy of the judicial process and should not be tolerated,” Bolger wrote.

An attorney for Macedonio, in a separate motion, has asked Hudson to recuse himself from deciding whether to grant Macedonio’s request to seal the case. Macedonio’s attorney argues that because the Newsday story raised questions about Judge Hudson’s rulings in the case, the judge would be exposed to perceptions of self-interest regardless of how he decided.

It’s unclear when Hudson will rule on any of the motions.

The renewed action in the Macedonio case comes amid wide-ranging scrutiny of Spota’s office. Macedonio’s case was handled by Spota’s top corruption prosecutor, Christopher McPartland, who is the subject of a federal grand jury investigation for possible obstruction of justice charges in connection to former Suffolk police chief James Burke, Newsday has reported. Burke has pleaded guilty to assaulting a Smithtown man and of orchestrating a cover-up of the crime.

Federal investigators subpoenaed from the DA’s office all records and materials related to the Macedonio case after Newsday published its story. Several people connected to the case, including investigators, also received federal subpoenas, Newsday reported.

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