Tankleff judge to recuse himself from motions


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May 10, 2008

The Suffolk County Court judge who was considering a pair of legal motions involving murder charges against Martin Tankleff agreed to recuse himself Friday after defense attorneys argued that he had a conflict of interest.

Judge James Hudson is presiding over a grand jury that is considering evidence in the 1988 murders of Tankleff's parents, Seymour and Arlene Tankleff.

Tankleff was found guilty of the murders in 1990, but an appellate court overturned his conviction in December 2007, saying a lower court judge did not properly consider new evidence that Seymour Tankleff's business partner and three other men may have been behind the killings.

Prosecutors with the state attorney general's office, which took over the case from the Suffolk district attorney in January, have been presenting evidence to a grand jury. Tankleff's lawyers last week filed two motions with Hudson looking for more information regarding the grand jury - including whether it was improperly considering evidence against Martin Tankleff, who is still indicted, and whether it had been "tainted" by hearing other cases presented by Suffolk prosecutors.

Earlier this week, Tankleff's lawyers asked Hudson to recuse himself after he disclosed that he worked in the Suffolk district attorney's office during Tankleff's original prosecution in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Hudson was a prosecutor in the white-collar crime bureau and rose to become a supervisor before leaving the office in 1991.

Tankleff's attorneys have said that the Suffolk district attorney's office should be one of the targets of the attorney general's probe for its mishandling of the original prosecution.

"Given the notoriety of the case, it's almost impossible to believe he didn't have some exposure to the case, and as a supervisor in that office, that he may have some allegiance to that office," said Tankleff's defense attorney, Barry Pollack, of Washington, D.C.

Benjamin Rosenberg, the attorney general's office prosecutor handing the Tankleff case, did not oppose the defense request.

Hudson said that because he had no personal involvement in the Tankleff prosecution, he was not required to step down. But he acknowledged that the case "was undoubtedly discussed in my presence while I was an assistant district attorney" and he understood the perception of a possible conflict of interest.

It was not clear Friday who would be assigned to decide the pending motions. Hudson will remain as the presiding judge over the grand jury, although his responsibilities in that capacity are few and do not include any decisions involving evidence.

Pollack praised Hudson for "doing the right thing."

Tankleff was in court for the brief hearing and said only that he looked forward to "a favorable resolution to the case and being able to get on with my life and return to normalcy."

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