Prosecutors Seek New Judge Amid Allegations Of ‘impropriety’
WILKES-BARRE — County prosecutors on Monday sought a change of venue to prevent Magisterial District Judge James J. Haggerty from presiding over an upcoming homicide hearing, alleging his conduct at an arraignment “created an appearance of impropriety.”
Dana Ganjeh, 39, of 71 Price St., Kingston, is due in court for a preliminary hearing Friday to determine whether he will stand trial on an open count of criminal homicide. Ganjeh is accused of beating his girlfriend, 56-year-old Linda Frick, to death Aug. 4 and leaving her body in a vehicle outside his home.
During Ganjeh’s preliminary arraignment a few days after Frick died, Haggerty asked the parties to address bail in the case — an unusual move at a homicide arraignment because under state law first-degree murder is a non-bailable offense. Now prosecutors say Haggerty’s conduct makes him unfit to preside over the case.
“(Haggerty) improperly pre-judged this case, or, at the very least created an appearance of impropriety,” says the motion, filed by First Assistant District Attorney Sam Sanguedolce and other prosecutors. “The commonwealth avers that this particular (judge) has pre-judged the matter and lacks the required judicial independence to preside over the preliminary hearing.”
Reached Monday evening, Haggerty said he had not previously seen the filing. He declined to comment.
During the Aug. 8 arraignment, Haggerty — the former Kingston mayor who took the bench in January — noted that bail may not be permitted in the case but then went on to ask the parties to address the issue.
Ganjeh maintained he was not a danger to the community, while Assistant District Attorney Thomas Hogans argued that Ganjeh has an extensive rap sheet and a history of not complying with bail conditions.
In the end, Haggerty denied bail. He said he found Ganjeh did not qualify for bail, but said he would have denied it even if Ganjeh were eligible.
But the motion filed Monday characterizes Haggerty as having “disputed” the prosecution position that the charge was a non-bailable offense. The filing notes that Haggerty himself approved the charge of criminal homicide, an umbrella homicide charge that encompasses crimes ranging from first-degree murder to involuntary manslaughter.
Under state law, crimes that carry a maximum sentence of life in prison are non-bailable.
The motion says Haggerty “improperly” required prosecutors to argue for a bail denial and commented to a police officer that he “did not believe the commonwealth could sustain its burden” to prove murder.
As a result, prosecutors are seeking to have the case reassigned to an objective magistrate.