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Convicted dad: Court didn't prove neglect

ALBANY -- A man convicted of patronizing an underage prostitute told the state's top court yesterday that he posed no danger to his five children and that county officials were wrong to conclude that his return home from jail constituted child neglect by him and his wife.

The man, identified in court as James C., said two 2007 convictions should not have allowed Dutchess County social workers and a family court judge to force him out of his Poughkeepsie home for the next three years. They were required by law to prove neglect, he said, and "they couldn't."

After more than a year in jail, he pleaded guilty in Manhattan to second-degree rape involving a 14-year-old and patronizing a 17-year-old prostitute. He was sentenced to time served.

"I'm sure family courts across the state have done the same thing," he said after yesterday's oral arguments. As an attorney, he represented himself in the appeal.

A midlevel court reversed the family court ruling in 2010. His wife and four youngest children have moved to Canada, attorneys said.

But it wasn't just his status as a sex offender, argued Laura Gail Skojec, an assistant county attorney. The man's crimes were against children, and he showed no remorse and declined to participate in counseling, she said.

The family court judge heard three days of testimony and reviewed the man's record before making a decision, Skojec said.

The judges yesterday questioned how that presented an imminent danger to the couple's children and whether the designation of registered sex offender was enough for a neglect finding.

"I think there's a difference between danger to the community and danger to your own children," Judge Robert Smith said.

Officials in two other counties backed the action of Dutchess County, noting that Level 3 sex offenders are highly likely to be a threat to public safety.

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