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Chris Charvella

June 29, 2011 - 3:40pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, Le Roy, Chris Charvella, Jay Grasso.

Melissa Cianfrini says, naturally she's disappointed the case was dismissed against Chris Charvella. As assistant DA, she was given the task of prosecuting him on an aggravated harassment, 2nd, charge because Charvella placed a phone call to Legislator Jay Grasso,

"I obviously respect the court and the court's decision, but I respectfully disagree with the reason behind it," Cianfrini said.

Town of Batavia Justice Mike Cleveland wrote in his decision, "Mr. Charvella's call was made to Mr. Grasso on a number not only listed in the public phone book but also listed on the Genesee County Legislature's list of public official contact numbers. It was not an anonymous or random call. It was not 'absent of expression of ideas or thoughts.'

"The factual allegations in this case," Cleveland concluded, "do not constitute a violation of the charge of PL 240.30-2.

The written decision dismissing the case is only two pages long and doesn't directly touch on any of the free speech or First Amendment issues raised by Charvella's defense attorney, E. Robert Fussell.

But Fussell said that just because Cleveland didn't mention the First Amendment doesn't mean that case law based on the First Amendment isn't the foundation of his decision.

Fussell said he believes the case law that led to Cleveland's decision is based on First Amendment protections.

He said prior cases interpret the clause in the law that says for "no legitimate purpose" to mean that a call must be entirely for the purpose of annoying or threatening to constitute harassment.

"Underlying the decision is that you can't charge somebody for just making a phone call," said Fussell. "What the courts are really saying is that the charge must pass First Amendment muster."

Cianfrini said, however, that she still doesn't believe this was a free speech case. It was about a private phone call placed to a private residence.

"This was about somebody saying something in private," Cianfrini said. "It was not something that was said in public, so it's not a free speech issue."

She was not the original ADA on the case, inheriting it after a change of venue from Le Roy to Town of Batavia, so the actual charge against Charvella wasn't a decision she made. During oral arguments, Cianfrini briefly raised the specter of filing a different charge, if necessary, against Charvella. Today, Cianfrini said there are no plans in the DA's officer currently to pursue the case further.

June 28, 2011 - 5:42pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, crime, Le Roy, Chris Charvella, Jay Grasso.

Late this afternoon, Chris Charvella received word from his attorney that Town of Batavia Justice Mike Cleveland has dismissed the aggravated harassment, 2nd, charge he was arrested on in November.

E. Robert Fussell, Charvella's attorney, could not be reached for further information on the dismissal and the town court is closed at this hour, so we can't retrieve a copy of the decision.

Fussell told his client the charges were dropped because of insufficient evidence to support the charge.

"It shows that politicians at any level can't have a person arrested for saying something they don't like, especially, 'thank you,'" Charvella said. 

He added, "I knew since I was arrested on November 11th that I had not committed a crime. I placed my trust in the justice system and I'm glad the system worked."

State Troopers arrested Charvella after Legislator Jay Grasso filed a complaint against Charvella claiming harassment.

Charvella was charged under a provision of the statute that prohibits telephone calls for "no legitimate purpose."

The call Charvella made was to Grasso's home phone, and he left a message that said, "thanks for reading my blog."

The message was in response to somebody leaving a political sign on Charvella's front lawn that made reference to an item Charvella posted on her personal blog. The sign contained the words, "Sharome Glasshole," a reference to one of Charvella's blog posts.

Following the phone call, Charvella posted another item on his blog that showed a picture of an Ewok and read, "prepare your anus."

Assistent District Attorney Melissa Cianfrini argued against Fussell's motion for dismissal on June 10.

Part of Fussell's position was that based on previous case law, the conduct of Charvella didn't rise to the level of aggravated harassment, 2nd, as intended by the statute since there wasn't an ongoing pattern of harassment. He characterized Charvella's speech as protected by the First Amendment.

Today, Charvella called the dismissal a victory for free speech.

Charvella has said previously that he spent $7,000 on his own defense in the case.

Neither Cianfrini nor Grasso were immediately available for comment.

June 10, 2011 - 1:41pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, crime, Le Roy, Chris Charvella, Jay Grasso.

UPDATED 3:26 p.m., with clarification of a quote.

In the interest of justice, the aggravated harassment in the second-degree charges filed against political activist Chris Charvella should be dropped, Charvella's attorney argued in Town of Batavia Court this morning.

The hearing was prompted by the defense's motion to dismiss the case.

"If you allow this case to go forward, what is the public going to think?" Charvella's attorney, E. Robert Fussell, told Justice Mike Cleveland. "Are they going to trust a system where a politician is allowed to call the police and have a political opponent silenced?"

Assistant District Attorney Melissa Cianfrini, representing the people, argued that the case against Charvella is neither political nor does it conflict with the First Amendment.

The case is entirely about Charvella's conduct, Cianfrini argued. The key question is whether that conduct violates the harassment, 2nd, statute against making phone calls with no legitimate purpose.

Charvella is accused of placing a phone call to Legislator Jay Grasso and leaving a message on his answering machine. The message said, "Thank you for reading my blog."

Cianfrini argued that the message had no legitimate purpose and taken within the context of comments made by Charvella on The Batavian and on his own blog, constitutes an attempt to threaten and intimidate Grasso.

"What Mr. Charvella did was serious," Cianfrini said. "It wasn't a light moment. He wasn't trying to be funny. It was serious and if you look at the whole body of conduct, it is serious."

In order for the case to be considered serious, Fussell argued, the conduct of Charvella would have to be seen by a reasonable person as intimidating. Just because the alleged victim, he argued, felt alarmed doesn't mean the conduct is in fact harassing.

"Mr. Grasso is either an exceptionally sensitive person who is easily frightened, or he is acting to shut out Mr. Charvella from the political process," Fussell said. 

A key fact disputed during the hearing was the timing of the phone message in relation to a post Charvella did with a picture of an Ewok with the caption, "Prepare your anus."

Cianfrini said the posting of the picture followed by the phone message was clear evidence that Charvella intended to intimidate Grasso.

Fussell countered that the Ewok picture was posted after the phone call, so Grasso could not have seen the picture before getting the phone message.  

To which Cianfrini replied that if that's the case, Charvella's conduct potentially constituted a threat.

Fussell quickly replied that Charvella hadn't been charged with such a crime.

"If those are the facts that come out at trial, the people reserve the right to file that charge," Cianfrini said. "He's on notice."

A few times during the oral arguments, Cianfrini made the point that Grasso wasn't acting in his capacity as a sitting legislator, so the First Amendment didn't apply to the case.

The events around the case were entirely personal, Cianfrini argued, and not about politics or anything Grasso did as a government official.

"That’s what the First Amendment deals with, the government not politics  the placement of a political sign or personal conflicts," Cianfrini said.*

And even if it is a political issue, Cianfrini said, the case isn't about the content of any postings or messages. It's about Charvella's conduct, which Cianfrini argued, was clearly intended to intimidate and harass Grasso, causing him to feel alarmed.

One key piece of evidence not available in the case, Fussell complained, is the phone message itself. The recording was not preserved.

Fussell said the recording would provide important context to the message -- what was Charvella's tone of voice? Was it threatening? Was it humorous? 

It's hard to believe, Fussell said, given Grasso's background in law enforcement, that he didn't know to preserve the evidence.

Cianfrini said Grasso's law enforcement training is irrelevant to the case and that the recording is not needed since Charvella doesn't dispute the fact that he left the message.

As the oral arguments before Justice Cleveland wore down, the tensions between the attorneys intensified.

A couple of times near the close, Fussell made the point that if the case goes forward, Charvella will incur significant legal expenses (Charvella has already spent $7,000 on the case) while Grasso is getting the services of Cianfrini for free.

"That's not accurate, you're honor," Cianfrini said. "I take exception to that remark, I represent the people of the State of New York and I can't stand here and let that go on the record."

*NOTE: Quote clarified after further discussion with Melissa Cianfrini. 

February 28, 2011 - 6:11pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, crime, Le Roy, Chris Charvella, Jay Grasso.

Chris Charvella can start attending Genesee County Legislature meetings again.

Town of Batavia Justice Mike Cleveland today adjusted the order of protection barring him from showing up at the place of business of Legislator Jay Grasso.

Grasso has accused Charvella of harassing him for leaving a message on his home phone that said, "Thanks for reading my blog."

Charvella is charged with harassment, 2nd. Under the statute, he is accused of making a phone call with no legitimate purpose.

Along with attorney E. Robert Fussell, Charvella, a Democratic committee member, appeared in Town of Batavia Court today for a status hearing.

Fussell indicated he is preparing motions to challenge the constitutionality of the charge, but the only request today was to change the order of protection issued in Town of Le Roy Court when Charvella was first arrested. The order prohibits Charvella from having any contact with Grasso.

"It's certainly has been my practice to attend meetings of the legislature," said Charvella, who ran for a seat on the county board in 2009. "That's a practice I would like to continue."

Assistant District Attorney Melissa Cianfrini object to the change in the order, saying that Charvella was offered a plea deal that would have altered the court order and given Charvella a conditional discharge of the case.* Since Charvella turned down that offer and the case may go to trial, Cianfrini said, Charvella should be kept away in all circumstances from Grasso, since Grasso is both the alleged vicitm and a potential witness in any trial.

(UPDATE: Cianfrini called to clarify: Charvella was offered an adjournament in contemplation of dismissal, meaning the case would be dismissed with no record (all court records would be sealed) if Charvella stayed out of trouble for six months).

Grasso, a Republican, is Le Roy's elected representative on the legislature.

Outside of court, Fussell wouldn't confirm that he and his client intend to take the case to trial. He would only say, "I'm preparing motions." He said the motions would be based on constitutional issues.

During the hearing today, Fussell gave some indication of what those arguments will be, telling Cleveland, "If a politician doesn't like what a constituent has to say, it would be very, very chilling (to block meeting attendance). He (Charvella) should be allowed to attend these things."

Those motions must be filed by April 15 and Charvella's next court appearance was set for 4:30 p.m., May 23.

For previous coverage of the Chris Charvella and Jay Grasso case, click here.

January 24, 2011 - 7:47pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in politics, crime, Le Roy, Chris Charvella, Jay Grasso.

The case of Chris Charvella, accused of placing an unwanted phone call to Legislator Jay Grasso, is moving back to Genesee County Court with a request that Judge Robert C. Noonan reassign the case again.

Previously, the case was moved from Le Roy Town Court to Town of Batavia because both judges in Le Roy had conflicts of interest.

Charvella's attorney, E. Robert Fussell, told Town of Batavia Justice Michael Cleveland that he and the District Attorney's Office agreed the case should be heard by a judge who is an attorney.

Cleveland is not an attorney.

Justice Tom Williams in Town of Batavia Court is an attorney.

Cleveland said that when the case was moved to Batavia, he and Williams discussed the case and decided that Cleveland would hear the case. Cleveland did not explain why they reached that decision.

Fussell will submit an application to Noonan to have the case reassigned to another town court, such as Stafford, where an attorney sits on the bench. Yet Stafford does not have two judges with a legal degree. The case could still wind up before a non-attorney judge.

The case needs to be heard by a judge who is an attorney, Fussell said, because of the Constitutional issues involved in the case.

Charvella is charged with harassment, 2nd, under the provision of the law that prohibits phone calls for no legitimate purpose.

After some back-and-forth between Charvella and Grasso prior to the last election -- in which Charvella reportedly wrote that he would shove some campaign signs up some people's rear ends -- Charvella called Grasso's house and said, "Thanks for reading my blog."

Grasso, who represents Le Roy, contacted State Police and had Charvella arrested on the harassment, 2nd, charge.

For previous coverage, click here.

December 21, 2010 - 12:31pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, politics, Le Roy, Chris Charvella, Jay Grasso.

Because of a conflict of interest with the judges in Le Roy, where the case originated, Judge Robert C. Noonan this morning assigned the case of Chris Charvella to Town of Batavia Court.

Charvella is charged with harassment, 2nd, for allegedly placing a phone call to the home of Legislator Jay Grasso.

It will be up to the court in Batavia to set a time for Charvella's next appearance, and whether that appearance will be in front of Justice Tom Williams or Justice Mike Cleveland.

After the hearing this morning, Charvella said he couldn't comment on the case, but added, "When all is said and done, I'm confident I'll be completely vindicated."

Assistant District Attorney Kevin Fennell said there's been no discussion in the DA's office about whether or not to proceed with the case, but indicated that Charvella was arrested so he would be prosecuted.

He said he doesn't see this as a First Amendment issue.

"It's not the political aspect of the case that's been at issue," Finnell said. "It's the phone call to his home for no apparent legitimate purpose."

New York's harassment law bars phone calls for "no purpose of legitimate communication."

At the time of the call, according to Charvella's blog entries, Charvella believed Grasso was responsible for placing a Mike Ranzenhofer campaign sign on Charvella's front lawn. Charvella said he called Grasso's house to thank him for reading his blog, where he had previously written about a Ranzenhofer signs showing up in front of the family business, where he works.

Charvella, a frequent contributor to The Batavian, is active in local Democratic politics and ran in 2009 for county legislator against Grasso's colleague Hollis Upson, losing to the GOP incumbent.

Besides sitting on the legislature, Grasso is a part-time aide to Ranzenhofer, now in his second term representing Genesee County in the state Senate.

November 18, 2010 - 10:48pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, crime, Le Roy, Chris Charvella, Jay Grasso.

Sure there's a free speech consideration, District Attorney Lawrence Friedman said when discussing the arrest of local Democrat activist Chris Charvella on a charge of aggravated harassment, 2nd.

But the statute he's charged under has nothing to do with the content of the phone message Charvella left for Republican Legislator Jay Grasso.

lawrence_friedman.jpgThe statute is about making a phone call "for no legitimate purpose other than to harass or annoy," Friedman said.

The content of the message matters only in helping to establish intent, and intent is a matter, ultimately, only a judge or jury can decide.

"That's always true," Friedman said.

Critics of Charvella's arrest have expressed concern that the 30-year-old Batavia resident won't get a fair hearing in Genesee County because of his political affiliation.

Friedman, a Republican, said politics plays no part of it.

"I've been in this job 29 years and I challenge anyone to say politics has played a part in my decision making," Friedman said.

The case is being handled by one of Friedman's five assistant attorneys, and as is often the case, he said he isn't personally involved. Friedman said how the case is handled is entirely up to Assistant District Attorney Kevin Finnell.

Because of the jurisdiction of the case -- a town court, where ADAs handle the caseload -- and the nature of the charges, it's a case that he does not routinely follow.

"I don’t intend to get personally involved in this case, so my political affiliation is irrelevant," Friedman said. "My political affiliation is always irrelevant. I don’t look at anybody’s politics when I get involved in a case, neither the victims nor the defendants nor the witnesses nor anybody else."

He added, "I don't get involved just because a case is in the media."

Friedman said he hasn't read the case file and only knows about Charvella's arrest from what he's read in media reports. 

For previous coverage of Charvella's arrest for allegedly harassing Grasso, click here.

Photo: File photo.

November 18, 2010 - 11:21am
posted by Howard B. Owens in politics, Chris Charvella, Jay Grasso.

Just for the record, the Batavia Daily News has issued a correction regarding an article published yesterday about the Chris Charvella case.

Yesterday, we did a post about a quote taken out of context, thinking it was significant enough to the case to bring attention to the matter. We're glad to see the Daily found the misunderstanding of the quote relevant enough to clarify it.

UPDATE: Managing Editor Mark Graczyk has written a blog post explaining the Daily's correction policy.

November 17, 2010 - 8:58am
posted by Howard B. Owens in politics, Chris Charvella, Jay Grasso.

Since the Batavia Daily News is not likely to run this correction themselves, we'll run it for them.

In the Daily's story about Chris Charvella's arrest, there is this paragraph:

"Charvella responded with an additional blog, according to state police. It included the comment 'I'm going to travel around the district and puncture Republican tires.'"

There are multiple problems with this one short paragraph.

First, the context is though Charvella is responding to events in November. But the quote above is from June 2. It was not a response to anything regarding election signs in November.

Second, it is not "an additional blog." A blog is a website with multiple entries on it. A blog post is an item posted on a blog. People can comment on blog posts. These are called comments.

In this case, Chris left a comment on a blog post. And there was nothing "additional" about it in context of current events. The comment had nothing to do with the sign issue and was not directed at Jay Grasso.

Third, the comment did not appear on Charvella's personal blog, as the story would lead you to believe. It was posted on The Batavian (something, of course, the Daily could never admit).

Fourth, it's completely out of context. Here's what Chris wrote:

Charlie, I'm going to do what any political hack worth their salt would do. Starting at midnight on November 2nd, I'm going to travel around the district and puncture Republican tires :)

Note, the emoticon at the end -- a clear signal, it's a joke, but the emoticon was not included in the Daily's quote.

UPDATE: As of 10:08 a.m., without acknowledging the error or putting the comment in context, the Daily has removed the paragraph from its story completely. It's possible, considering the timing, it may still appear in the print story.

For our previous coverage:

November 15, 2010 - 6:00pm
posted by Billie Owens in politics, Le Roy, Chris Charvella, Jay Grasso.

A new judge will be requested to hear the case of Chris Charvella, a member of the Genesee County Democratic Committee charged with aggravated harassment, 2nd.

In Le Roy Town Court this afternoon, Judge Kermit Arrington readily agreed to recuse himself since Charvella had worked on his election campaign.

Likewise, Le Roy Town Judge Charles Dusen will also be asked to recuse himself because the complainant, Republican Jay Grasso, had worked on his campaign.

The recusals will be forwarded to county court Judge Robert Noonan who will appoint another judge.

Assistant District Attorney Kevin Finnell suggested that the case be moved to another town or county because of conflicts of interest in the politically sensitive matter. Charvella's attorney, E. Robert Fussell, opposed the idea and Arrington said there was no adequate basis to justify moving the case.

County Legislator Jay Grasso had Charvella arrested by State Troopers after Charvella made statements on his blog regarding some campaign sign shenanigans and he left a message on Grasso's home phone.

On his blog Charvella said, among other things, that he was going to stick a campaign sign up the arse of the first Republican he encountered at local GOP headquarters if another sign for Republican Senator Mike Ranzenhofer showed up on property he managed.

After a sign reportedly did show up at Charvella's house, with a message written on it that indicated it may have been left by Grasso.

That prompted a call from Charvella to Grasso's home phone.

"Hey, Jerome, it's Chris Charvella. Thanks for reading my blog," was the message Charvella left.

He then posted a blog item that concluded with a picture of an Ewok and the message, "prepare your anus."

In a statement to The Batavian on Friday, Charvella said he didn't believe he did anything illegal.

Before Arrington spoke, Fussell had a brief conversation with Finnell. Fussell asked if the DA's office had received his faxed letter, seeking dismissal of the case because it is a First Amendment issue.

Finnell acknowledged reading the letter, but said "This is not a First Amendment case. ...By calling the house and referencing the blog, that was taken as a threat."

"You're kidding?" said Fussell.

"No, I'm serious," Finnell said flatly.

"I'm ready -- whatever," responded Fussell.

Moments later, an incredulous Fussell told Arrington "We live in a whole new universe than the one I grew up in."

Democrats Rose Mary Christian, who sits on the Batavia City Council, and Lorie Longhany, who chairs the County Democratic Committee, accompanied Charvella in court today.

"This is absolutely not a good use of taxpayer money," Christian said afterward. "There was no threat to Jay or Mrs. Grasso. You should hear some of the messages people have left on my phone. You wouldn't believe the stuff they say. 'You bitch, why did you do that?' I just call them back and say "Here's why."

Longhany said the case is pure politics, adding that Grasso is "trying to shut us up" and that Charvella will wind up paying a hefty legal bill for nothing.

Previously: Local Dem arrested after Republican legislator accuses him of harassing phone call

November 12, 2010 - 3:14pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, politics, crime, Jerome Grasso, Chris Charvella.

County Legislator Jay Grasso says he felt threatened by online postings, and one phone call, from a member of the County Democratic Committee and so he called State Police.

file_chris_charvella.jpgYesterday, 30-year-old Chris Charvella -- a former candidate for the legislature himself and a frequent contributor to The Batavian -- was arrested and charged with aggravated harassment, 2nd, a misdemeanor.

Today, Grasso said that he felt Charvella had gone too far with some of his postings, but when Jay got a call from his wife, who said she felt fearful after a phone call from Charvella, he couldn't just laugh it off.

"I don't view it as a joke once you call my wife and upset my wife," Grasso said. "When you call my house and threaten my wife, that's going too far in local politics."

The complaint against Charvella reads:

On the aforementioned date, time and place, said defendant did contact the residence of Jerome J. Grasso by leaving a message. The message stated "Hey, Jerome, it's Chris Charvella, thanks for reading my blog."

The complaint is signed by Jay Grasso.

The alleged message is the same one Charvella said he left in a blog item about troopers showing up at his house that he posted on his own website yesterday at 7:55 a.m., more than 24 hours before his arrest.

Today, Charvella, who lost a legislative race to Republican Hollis Upson in 2009, made a two-sentence statement to The Batavian: "You can decide whether or not there is something illegal in there. I obviously don't think so."

The genesis of this particular dispute goes back to just a few days before the Nov. 2 election. Charvella wrote in a blog post that he had shown up to work that morning and found a lawn sign for Republican Mike Ranzenhofer's campaign on his employer's property. He speculated that Grasso had left the sign, giving him the alias, "Sharome Glasshole."

Charvella concluded his post thusly:

"So, to the Genesee County 'sign guy' and the Ranzenhofer campaign: The next time I see an unauthorized sign go up in front of a commercial property, I'm going to harvest the damn thing, march straight down to Republican headquarters and cram it up the first ass I see."

The next day, according to another blog post by Charvella, a Ranzenhofer sign was left in his front yard with a message, "Courtesy of Sharome Glasshole."

It was that message, according to Charvella, that prompted the phone message on Glasso's home phone.

In that post, Charvella raised a number of allegations about Grasso, accusing him of not having a job to pay his bills, having a house go into foreclosure and assaulting a subject while a Sheriff's deputy.

Those are allegations Grasso has heard before and he said today that he can prove he was the victim of identify theft and he is fully prepared for local Democrats to try and use those allegations against him.

Charvella's post concludes with a picture of an Ewok (of "Star Wars" movie fame) and the caption "Prepare Your Anus."

That was a remark that Grasso said he found threatening, adding that the alleged threats have no place in local politics.

"This is local," Grasso said. "We all know each other. We don't need this partisanship. Hopefully, (this case) will cause people to reflect and step back from the politics of destruction."

Photo: File photo of Charvella.

October 30, 2009 - 1:24pm
posted by Chris Charvella in politics, Voting, genesee county legislature, Chris Charvella.

Dear Friends and Neighbors of the 8th District,

We are nearing the end of the campaign season and by Election Day I’ll have knocked on every door in the 8th District.  It has been a long and interesting road but meeting and talking with you has made it all worth the effort. 

Over the course of the campaign we have discussed balance, oversight and transparency as being the essential ingredients to an efficient and open government and it is plain to see how much you and I really believe in them.  So, today, I would like to put all of the campaign talking points and issues discussions aside and let you know what your vote means to me.

October 1, 2009 - 1:15pm
posted by Bea McManis in Chris Charvella, Genesee Blues.

Last month, I asked Chris Charvella to write a "short" essay for the Genesee Blues.

The message Chris sent was a little longer than I anticipated, but so sincere, I printed it anyway.  Chris gave me his permission to share it. 

What We Can Do
I had intended to give you a quick piece about how great my campaign is going, about how I intend to win in November and, most importantly, about what an honor it is to have been given the opportunity to get involved in local politics. I can’t do that though. It’s not because all of those things aren’t true, as a matter of fact they’re truer than I’d ever dreamed they would be, it’s because I’ve found that win or no win, there’s real work for Democrats to do in the City of Batavia and it’s about time we put our noses to the grindstone.

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