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Justice Delayed: Judge Postpones Ruling in Buckley Case

It's been 18 months since Nate Buckley was maced and clubbed by NFTA police during an antiwar rally in fromt of M&T Bank's Goldome building.

“We’re gonna celebrate,” a supporter of Nate Buckley said to another sympathizer as they waited for a hearing before Judge Joseph A. Fiorella to begin in Buffalo City Court Monday morning. Fiorella was scheduled to deliver a ruling on a motion to dismiss criminal charges “in the interests of justice,” filed in August by defense attorneys Michael Kuzma and Daire Brian Irwin. As events unfolded after the 9:50am start, celebratory plans had to be suspended.

Buckley is charged with three misdemeanor counts of trespass, obstructing governmental administration, and resisting arrest, stemming from his arrest in April 2011 during a group protest against M&T Bank’s ties to war profiteers at the bank’s Goldome facility on Main Street in Buffalo.

There had been an expectation among some of those following the case that the judge was going to issue a decision Monday that wouldn’t displease Buckley and his supporters. On September 27, Fiorella sent a message to both sides that they need not continue preparation for a trial that was to begin on Monday. But if these interpretations of his intentions were substantially accurate, intervening events sidetracked that outcome.

Prosecutor Susan H. Sadinsky, chief of the Erie County District Attorney’s City Court Bureau, filed an affidavit on October 10 with further objections to the motion, chiefly based on Buckley’s arrest on October 4 outside his West Side residence. He was charged with a Class D felony for carrying an allegedly illegal knife after two officers stopped to ticket Buckley’s truck, which was parked in front of his residence, pointing in the wrong direction. The police, and Sadinsky in her affidavit, claim that he was prohibited from carrying a weapon because of a four-year-old plea to a misdemeanor charge, for which he received a conditional discharge. The knife is said to be an illegal switchblade.

The arrest, Sadinsky wrote the judge, “illustrates yet another insistence [sic] where he chose to disobey a lawful order of a police officer” and that Buckley “presents a potential danger to the safety and welfare of the citizens.” The officers added a charge of obstruction.

Fiorella asked Irwin and Kuzma if they wished to respond orally or in writing. Irwin asked him if he was suggesting a reconsideration of his pending decision. Fiorella replied, “The prosecutor is asking me to reconsider my decision”—another possible hint of the judge’s now interrupted direction.

In the event, the defense said it welcomed the opportunity to file a document correcting what it called the prosecutor’s erroneous contentions, and Fiorella gave it the two weeks Irwin said were necessary. Both Buckley and his lawyers directly contradict the police and prosecutor’s account and legal arguments. Buckley has said he informed the two officers of the knife’s presence in his pocket, in answer to a question—a contention substantiated by the official statement of one officer, William Rezabek. Moreover, Buckley has said the alleged weapon was one of several inscribed knives given out earlier this year to groomsmen in a wedding party as commemorative gifts, and that it was his understanding that they were legally purchased in East Aurora.

“There was nothing surreptitious here,” Kuzma told Artvoice after the hearing. “This wasn’t some online purchase. You and I could run down to East Aurora to buy one.” He contrasted the situation with the state’s prohibition against fireworks purchases: “You don’t have people buying them legally.”

Addressing another charge, Irwin asked rhetorically, “Where’s the obstruction?” Buckley is said to have tried to remonstrate with the officers after he identified himself and they told him to put his hands on the roof of the truck. The defense considers this charge a kind of pile-on excess. (A request to District Attorney Frank Sedita III’s office for comment wasn’t answered.)

Reportedly, at a hearing after Buckley’s arrest, Irwin showed Sadinsky an identical knife to demonstrate its nonthreatening appearance, and the prosecutor then tried to hand the knife back to the defendant, who demurred, pointing out to her he was already accused of illegally possessing such a weapon.

The next hearing is scheduled for November 15.

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