The Rensselaer County DA's Office has forwarded this matter to Judge McGrath. It's likely that a Special Prosecutor will be appointed. Which brings us to this...
When this story broke, many of you entertained visions of crimes, convictions and jail time. Perhaps you saw Mr. Buell in a perp-walk or being re-christened Sally by his 6-7, 350lb cell mate. Perhaps you imagined Mr. Mirch pimping Mr. Crawley in the prison yard for a carton of Lucky's.
The reality is, acts such as those alleged by Ms. Regan can be illegal, unethical and can violate numerous work rules. They can be as distasteful and as ugly as my Mother-in-Law after a pub crawl. That does not make the alleged acts criminal. Maybe yes, maybe no.
Lets take a look at what our Legal Department has prepared: Criminal statutes that, if the allegations prove true, may have been violated.
NY CLS Penal § 135.65
Coercion in the First Degree
A person is guilty of coercion in the first degree when he commits the crime of coercion in the second degree, and when:
1. He commits such crime by instilling in the victim a fear that he will cause physical injury to a person or cause damage to property; or
2. He thereby compels or induces the victim to:
(a) Commit or attempt to commit a felony; or
(b) Cause or attempt to cause physical injury to a person; or
(c) Violate his duty as a public servant.
Coercion in the first degree is a class D felony.
NY CLS Penal § 135.60
Coercion in the Second Degree
A person is guilty of coercion in the second degree when he compels or induces a person to engage in conduct which the latter has a legal right to abstain from engaging in, or to abstain from engaging in conduct in which he has a legal right to engage, by means of instilling in him a fear that, if the demand is not complied with, the actor or another will:
1. Cause physical injury to a person; or
2. Cause damage to property; or
3. Engage in other conduct constituting a crime; or
4. Accuse some person of a crime or cause criminal charges to be instituted against him; or
5. Expose a secret or publicize an asserted fact, whether true or false, tending to subject some person to hatred, contempt or ridicule; or
6. Cause a strike, boycott or other collective labor group action injurious to some person's business; except that such a threat shall not be deemed coercive when the act or omission compelled is for the benefit of the group in whose interest the actor purports to act; or
7. Testify or provide information or withhold testimony or information with respect to another's legal claim or defense; or
8. Use or abuse his position as a public servant by performing some act within or related to his official duties, or by failing or refusing to perform an official duty, in such manner as to affect some person adversely; or
9. Perform any other act which would not in itself materially benefit the actor but which is calculated to harm another person materially with respect to his health, safety, business, calling, career, financial condition, reputation or personal relationships.
Coercion in the second degree is a class A misdemeanor.
The first observation we make is that technically, if you really think about it, coercion and local politics are virtually synonomous. The damn thing is built on coercion. Hell, local government probably couldn't function without it.
Take a close look at Coercion in the Second Degree sub. (5). Mr. A wants to run for city council, county legislature, whatever. Mr. B works for the local political boss, mayor etc. Mr. B tells Mr. A, "if you run against us, we'll release all the dirt we have on you." Mr. A has a legal right to run for office. That sounds like Coercion, a misdemeanor. The GOP does it all the time.
An argument can be made that:
1) If a County employee's job is threatened unless he or she does something that they do not have to do;
2) And if the person doing the threatening is in a position to carry out that threat;
The crime of coercion may be applicable. In our scenario, however, the acts alleged against Crawley and Buell do not fit into that statute. They have no authority over a county employee. In this situation they're just of two goofballs too stupid to realize that they could be witnessing a crime.
Furthermore, if the crime of 2nd Degree Coercion can be established and Regan was compelled or induced to violate her duty as a public servant (ie. not play politics on County time), you may have a felony.
We'll leave the nuances of the criminal law to the lawyers. Point is, calling something criminal means you have to locate a criminal statute that fits the act(s).
Next time, we'll look at another statute: Official Misconduct. You won't want to miss it. It'll be more exciting than a special episode of Blossom.