A judge denied a motion to dismiss felony fraud and campaign finance charges against Mayor Lovely Warren and two co-defendants during a two-hour court session Monday.
But state Supreme Court Justice Thomas Leone, a Cayuga County judge who has been assigned the case, left open the possibility of dismissing the cases on other grounds. On Monday, he indicated he’d make future rulings on motions seeking dismissal of the charges either on grounds of selective prosecution or due to flawed evidence presented to the grand jury which indicted the co-defendants.
Facing charges along with Warren are Albert Jones Jr., who was her campaign committee’s treasurer, and Rosalind Brooks, who was the treasurer of a political action committee created by the mayor called Warren for a Strong Rochester. Brooks, who also goes by Rosalind Brooks-Harris, is the city’s finance director.
The three defendants face two charges, including illegal coordination between political committees for the purpose of evading donor limits and participating in a scheme to defraud in the first degree. The charges stem from the 2017 mayoral election.
Joseph Damelio, who is Warren's attorney, argued that the three defendants are being selectively prosecuted in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection clause.
“It’s certainly a rarity, this type of charge, to say the least,” Damelio said.
He noted that the prosecution originated with a report prepared by state Board of Elections's enforcement counsel, Risa Sugarman, and the board’s enforcement division that was provided to the Monroe County District Attorney’s Office. The report states that “Considerable evidence supports a finding that Lovely Warren, Albert Jones Jr., Rosalind Brooks . . . and others engaged in a scheme to evade contribution limits.”
But Damelio said the report completely omits key information about the steps Warren campaign committee and PAC officials took, in consultation with state Board of Elections staff, to bring both funds into compliance. He added that the division didn’t submit the report to the Board of Elections commissioners for approval, as required under state law.
“They heard this one-sided report and we are alleging that it is an invalid report,” Damelio said. “The issuance of this report alone had multiple election law violations. They violated their own rules.”
He and the other two attorneys in the case Leone to hold a hearing on the matter. They also want him to approve subpoenas to the Board of Elections and other agencies so they can gather data on prior election law enforcement actions.
Damelio also argued that prosecutors showed grand jurors two legal opinions regarding the campaign committee and PAC that were subject to attorney-client privilege and therefore confidential. The letters shouldn’t have been presented to the grand jury, he said.
“The client was seeking advice and advice was given,” Damelio said.
But Assistant District Attorney Jacob Ark pushed back on that claim. Multiple third parties testified to the memos, the contents of which were not discussed during the hearing. Attorney-client privilege, he added, only applies to confidential material.
“It was out in the open,” Ark said.
Jeremy Moule is CITY's news editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.