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Judge blocks press from covering conflict-of-interest motion

By Howard B. Owens
Nov 26, 2019, 2:16pm

More than 2 1/2 hours after the scheduled start time for a hearing a motion on allegations that Durin Rogers, City Court judge and assistant county attorney, has a conflict of interest in a Family Court matter, a reporter from The Batavian was denied access to hear arguments in the case.

Erin P. DeLabio, a judge from Erie County handling the motion after Judge Eric Adams recused himself, wouldn't even allow the reporter into the courtroom to make an argument for public transparency on the motion or grant a motion to delay the case until the reporter could obtain legal counsel. 

A deputy said DeLabio said that the motion was part of a sensitive matter.

According to a legal expert we consulted, Family Court is open to the public though individuals can be excluded from sensitive cases based on a finding supported by evidence. A motion about the attorneys in the case is not sensitive to the attorneys and the legal guardian of any children involved can consent to the presence of third-party observers.

There's no indication that DeLabio based her decision to exclude the press, and thwart public transparency of a case involving a fellow member of the judiciary, on any evidence nor that the legal guardian of the minors was consulted as to their position on a reporter being present for only the motion portion of the case.

Last month, attorney Thomas Burns filed a motion seeking to have Rogers removed from a Family Court case because of what Burns perceives as a conflict of interest.

The motion alleges that Rogers -- as a sitting, part-time Batavia City Court judge, with Burns' client also facing criminal charges in City Court -- has an apparent conflict of interest because Rogers has access to City Court documents and his position means he tries cases with other members of the county's criminal justice system who might also be involved in both cases. 

"As this court is certainly aware, and as DCA Rogers should be aware," Burns wrote in his motion, "a judge is obligated to avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety in all of the judge's activities and a judge is obligated to respect and comply with the law and is obligated to act at all times in a manner that promotes the confidence of the public in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary," Burns wrote in his motion. "As this court is also aware, the judicial duties of a judge take precedence over all of the judge's other activities."

In a response to The Batavian for publication of the original story (see link above), Rogers denied there was a conflict of interest.

Photo: Taken of Erie County Judge Erin P. DeLabio from outside Genesee County Family Court through the doorway window.

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