York Town Judge Walter Purtell should resign immediately. Purtell made headlines after banning media from the courtroom during the arraignment of Danielle Allen for the homicide of her then boyfriend Marcus Postell. Rochester media outlets were rightfully livid over violation of first amendment rights. For myself, the greater issue is Purtell being able to continue on as Judge.
Marcus Postell died from stab wounds inflicted upon him by Danielle Allen. At this point, the only other information the public knows is that Allen’s dad is a New York State Police Major and that the Judge, a retired member of the New York State Police, banned media from the court.
The Honorable Judge Craig Doran serves as the Chief Administrative Judge for our region. He is tasked with ensuring judges are performing their duties in an ethically and to the letter of the law. Doran has already take action on the matter in removing Purtell from the case and changing the venue to the Town of Caledonia. Eventually, the case will end up at the County Courthouse in Geneseo.
The issue I have with Purtell continuing on to serve as a judge in the Town of York actually isn’t because of his violation of the First Amendment, it’s the undercutting of effort by law enforcement to handle this case professionally and in an unbiased manner.
From the start the investigation, the Livingston County Sheriff’s Office handled this high-profile investigation delicately and professionally to avoid even the slightest appearance of impropriety. State Police stayed out of the investigation and experts from nearby counties were brought in to assist in the matter. Purtell’s decision to block media from the courtroom paints a picture impropriety, coverup and dishonesty. Purtell has undermined law enforcement officials efforts to ensure a fair presentation of the evidence.
Now let’s talk about the giant elephant in the room: race. Postell is a black man from Rochester who was dating a white woman from Livingston County. Nationwide, members of the public, especially urban minorities, are daily expressing deep distrust in law enforcement as part of the Black Lives Matter movement. Having full disclosure in all courtroom proceedings is a critical component in ensuring a credible legal process.
In Livingston County, we rarely have issues or accusations of racial discrimination. That makes me proud of our legal community. Lady Justice wears a blindfold to shield herself from prejudice. Purtell has ripped the blindfold off of Justice, reinforcing accusations that the system is biased in Allen’s favor and against the black victim.
If this case goes to a jury trial, we do not yet know how Purtell’s decision will impact a potential juror. It’s easily perceived as being favorable to the Danielle Allen and her family. Allen’s lawyer, Cheryl Meyers-Buth is one of the top criminal defense attorney’s in Western New York State. The Livingston County District Attorney’s Office will be dedicating massive staffing hours as they prepare for trial. Either side now has a reasonable grounds for appeal regardless of the decision.
This case is now tainted and will forever be so because of Purtell. It’s safe to say that most prospective jurors are now aware of his decision to ban the media. Take the First Amendment issue out of this for a second. What’s the message Purtell has sent? He has sent the message that cronyism is at play, undermining the efforts of law enforcement across the board. The case is now transferred to Caledonia. The course of this trial forever changed and an easy appeal for both defense and prosecutors is now on the table regardless of the outcome.
The residents of York and Livingston County deserve better. The friends and family of Marcus Postell deserves better. Danielle Allen and her family deserve better. Those who cover the courts and work in the justice system carry great pride in our system and work tirelessly in faith that justice ultimately will be served. When Purtell decided to ban the media from the proceedings, he not only cut out our First Amendment rights, he also undercut the rights of those who serve in the name of justice.
Closing a courtroom to the media is a disgraceful decision that tramples the rights of the public. Purtell’s habit of sealing off high-profile criminal cases from the public eye is an unforgivable scoff in the faces of the people of York, Livingston County, law enforcement, attorneys and the efforts of law enforcement to carry out a fair investigation. Purtell has forever tainted his reputation in the legal community.
Purtell might have served an honorable career as a State Trooper but he surely has not as Judge.