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Local newspaper publisher ordered back to jail

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Local newspaper publisher ordered back to jail

  • June Maxam, a longtime newspaper publisher and the director of a government watchdog organization, has been ordered to return to jail by a judge she recently named in a lawsuit that questions his legal standing.

Editor’s note: Maxam’s conviction was later overturned because she was denied counsel and was not present during a court hearing on the case. The charges were completely dismissed in December 2005.

Dec. 23, 2003 — A county judge named in a lawsuit that challenges the legal standing of nearly a dozen elected officials in upstate New York has ordered the director of the government watchdog organization that filed the suit to spend the next nine months in jail.

June Maxam, a longtime newspaper publisher, was convicted in December 2000 of harassing her neighbors, and was sentenced to 9-1/2 months in jail. She has filed numerous appeals in the case — citing jury and evidence tampering — and has long held that her arrest and conviction were in retaliation for stories she published that criticized local officials in and around Chestertown, N.Y.

Maxam served 17 days in jail — from Dec. 19, 2000 to Jan. 4, 2001 — before Judge Michael Muller, of Queensboro Town Court, finally set bail. He issued a stay in February 2001, then recused himself from all related cases involving Maxam.

Since that time, Maxam has fought her conviction and launched a government watchdog group that discovered a legal technicality involving eight judges, a prosecutor and a county sheriff who allegedly failed to take and file their oaths of office within 30 days of the start of their terms, as required by law. Maxam, 55, says those named in her suit do not have the legal authority to perform their duties, and, in accordance to state law, must vacate their positions.

Judge Felix Catena, of Montgomery County Court, is presiding over Maxam’s appeal because two other county judges recused themselves from the case. One is named in Maxam’s oaths of office lawsuit, which was filed in Warren County Supreme Court. In New York, the Supreme Court is the name of the trial-level court.

However, Catena is also named in the suit. Maxam filed a motion in late September asking that he too recuse himself from her case. Catena refused, and then revoked her jail stay, saying Muller never had the authority to issue it. Catena’s order requires Maxam to surrender herself on Dec. 31.

“There was no reason, no cause and no hearing on the matter,” said Maxam, who has published the North Country Gazette, a free newspaper in Chestertown, since 1981.

“That’s one way to try to be sure that you win, put your critic and challenger in jail,” she added. “I’d say at the least there’s an appearance of impropriety.”

Maxam must surrender herself to Judge David B. Krogmann, of the Glens Falls City Court, who took over the proceedings following Muller’s recusal. Krogmann, who is among those named in the oaths of office case, was recently elected to the Warren County Supreme Court.

Maxam’s attorney, Theresa Souzzi, said Krogmann is willing to accept a stay signed by another county court judge. The problem, Souzzi said, is that Maxam’s reputation precedes her throughout Warren and Albany counties, among others in upstate New York.

“They hate her up there,” Souzzi said. “She’s made a lot of enemies.

“We’re trying to find a judge who has the authority to sign the stay, but we’re running in circles.”

Krogmann’s office declined to comment on any of the proceedings while Maxam’s appeal is still pending. A hearing is set for January regarding court transcripts from her trial, which Maxam says were falsified.

Earlier this year, Maxam served six months in Warren County jail for falsely accusing her neighbors of harassing her. She was released on good behavior April 30.

(New York v. Maxam) JL

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© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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