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Hilltowns Archives —The Altamont Enterprise, December 25, 2008

Spargo charged with two felonies

By Zach Simeone

BERNE — The decade-long legal battle of Thomas Spargo, a Berne resident and former State Supreme Court justice of New York, is ongoing.

On Dec. 10, Spargo was charged with one count of attempted extortion and one count of attempted bribery.

According to the indictment from the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York, a grand jury charged that Spargo, while a Supreme Court justice, solicited and pressured an Ulster County attorney practicing before him to consent to give $10,000 to benefit him “all under color of official right and induced by fear of economic harm,” the indictment says.

Further, on the count of attempted bribery, it says Spargo “corruptly solicited and demanded, for his own benefit…$10,000…for the use of his official actions and influence to the benefit of an Ulster County attorney practicing before him, and for refraining from the use of his official actions and influence to harm that Ulster County attorney.”

At Spargo’s Dec. 16 arraignment, a deadline for discovery was set for Jan. 13, 2009.

Neither Spargo nor his lawyer, E. Stewart Jones, could be reached for comment.

The roots of these issues reach back to 1999, when Spargo was running for town justice as a Republican in Berne. The New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct charged that, during this time, he handed out $5 gift certificates to voters and, after identifying himself as a candidate for town justice, brought a round of drinks at a bar.

In addition, the commission charged, he handed out coupons for doughnuts, coffee, and gasoline; gave out half-gallons of apple cider and doughnuts at the town dump; and purchased and delivered pizza for Berne-Knox-Westerlo teachers, town highway department workers, and workers at the school bus garage.

While judges are allowed to hand out promotional material, the commission said, they cannot distribute things of value to voters. Spargo, a Republican, won the election, in a town where Democrats outnumbered Republicans 3 to 1.

While serving as town justice, the commission charged, Spargo saw criminal cases prosecuted by the Albany County District Attorney’s Office, without disclosing to the defense that he had rendered legal services to Paul Clyne’s campaign for district attorney, or that the Clyne campaign committee owed Spargo $10,000 for legal services.

In both instances, the commission said, Spargo “failed to avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety and failed to act at all times in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.”

Then, in May of 2001, the commission said that Spargo, calling himself a candidate for the Supreme Court, talked at a fund-raiser in Rochester about his work in the Florida recount on behalf of the George W. Bush presidential campaign. The commission said that this “exceeded the boundaries of permissible conduct.”

The commission filed complaints against Spargo in 2002 for these charges. Spargo argued that his First Amendment rights were being violated, and eventually lost the case.

To pay for the legal costs associated with these charges, the commission said, Spargo approved the creation of the Thomas J. Spargo Legal Expense Trust. In 2003, the commission charged, Spargo asked, through friends, for contributions to this trust from lawyers with cases before him.

Bruce Blatchly, an attorney from New Paltz, told The Enterprise in 2004 that Spargo invited him to “meet some people” at a luncheon at La Canard in Kingston. Blatchly suspected that he would be asked for money at this lunch, as he had never dined with Spargo before, he said.

As he was leaving the luncheon, Blatchly said, he was approached by Sanford Rosenblum, an old friend of Spargo, who asked him for $10,000.

Eight days later, Blatchly told the commission, Spargo called him to discuss the judicial assignments for the coming year. That call, the commission said, “Was intended to induce Mr. Blatchly to contribute to respondent’s legal expense fund.”

Richard Emery, a New York City lawyer and member of the commission, called Spargo’s case “a paradigm for what is wrong with our adversarial elective system for selecting judges” in his written opinion. “In effect, the misconduct rules regulating judicial campaigns are a patchwork of compromises and ad hoc judgments which fail to address the central causes of the unseemliness of judicial campaigns: party control and the candidate’s need to raise money.”

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