When Judge James Piampiano dismissed the murder charge against Charles Tan – the Pittsford college student accused of killing his father – legal experts were stunned.
“I’ve never seen a case where there was a seemingly sufficient evidence to convict or at least sufficient evidence for a jury to decide, and the judge taking it into his own hands to say no there’s not sufficient evidence,” said Florina Altshiler of the firm Russo Toner in Buffalo.
In his ruling to unseal the trial record, Judge William Kocher acknowledged the unusual nature of what happened.
“In light of the virtually unprecedented nature of the Trial Order of Dismissal issued in this case and the fact that it was issued orally from the bench, the People are entitled to obtain a transcript of the court proceeding in order to review available remedies under the law,” Kocher wrote.
“It was an oral ruling to dismiss the indictment, an oral ruling on the motion, so I want to read exactly what was said on the record,” said District Attorney Sandra Doorley. “So this allows me to get the transcript and review the court proceedings and then we’ll go from there.”
Legal experts do not believe the prosecution has a leg to stand on.
“I don’t believe the DA’s office, unfortunately, will have a remedy to appeal even with the unsealing of the records. Even if it appears his decision was not founded in the facts and was not proper,'” said Altshiler. “Because there was no verdict for a conviction in this case, the appellate decision, the higher court to which they would have the right to appeal, has already decided in other similarly situated cases that the district attorney’s office does not have the right to appeal.”
Even if the case is over for Tan, it may not be over for Piampiano.
The State Commission on Judicial Conduct is investigating a complaint filed by local media outlets about Piampiano’s decision to forbid media access during the jury’s visit to the crime scene.
Doorley will also likely file a complaint. Issues could include Piampiano’s public comments after he ordered a mistrial, his treatment of prosecutor Bill Gargan and the ruling to dismiss the charge altogether.
“The judge may certainly be sanctioned, censured, removed from a criminal docket and moved over to a civil docket. There’s any number of possibilities and that’s up to the judiciary committee to decide,” said Altshiler.
“There may not be a next step. There may be a next step. There may be next steps, ” Doorley said.
The trial records will remain unsealed for 90 days.