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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Wilcox Returns From Political Exile

As Yankee great Yogi Berra once said, "It's Deja Vu all over again". So too has the GOP's willingness to resurrect the man who presided over some of what many refer to as the darkest chapters in the history of law enforcement in Rensselaer County,by bringing back the haunting memories of Charles J. Wilcox's tenure as District Attorney.

Wilcox and the GOP obviously hope that voters will not recall or be reminded of his record of malfeasance and misconduct as DA. They should forget his infamous feud with the Sheriff at the time, a man of his own political faith, with whom he refused to speak for years because the Sheriff laid off his father in law in some budget cuts. Yes, voters should forget the fact that Wilcox refused to speak with the man whose department had the responsibility to investigate major crimes in the county, crimes Wilcox was charged with prosecuting.

There were many cases from the early 1980's which made headlines. The Bugbee case from the town of Berlin in which an elderly man was murdered and the accused killer acquitted because of bungling by the county's law enforcement agencies, including the DA stands out. So too does the murder of Schaghticoke resident Robert Wolfersheim who was run down at a bait farm by poachers who also escaped justice when prosecuted by Wilcox. Missing evidence, violating civil rights, lawsuits and finger pointing dominated the law enforcement headlines during Wilcox's tenure. Who can forget the case of Rebecca Redcross who successfully sued the county over a Wilcox prosecution.

Of course the willingness to ignore the Sheriff as the county's chief law enforcement official was his ultimate downfall. Headlines spread across two full newspaper pages chronicled "The Wilcox-Eaton Feud" and damage it did to the law enforcement community in our county. Many believe that the feud led Wilcox to use the Grand Jury to get Sheriff Eaton. The Grand Jury issued three reports criticizing the Sheriff, one of which conveniently was leaked under seal by a still unknown high ranking public official. It produced a headline "Rensselaer County Grand Jury urges removal of Sheriff Eaton" on October 28, 1982. The Sheriff expressed shock that a "high ranking" official would leak the contents of a sealed report and break the law. We can only wonder who he was pointing at. All Wilcox would say was that the "sealed reports were delivered to the persons named in them". Ah,to listen in on the conversation over that cup of coffee with then WRGB reporter Dick Beach at Coffee Time on Fourth Street who protected his source with the State's Shield Law.

The Wilcox record seems not so distant in the face of yesterday's announcement on the steps of the court house in Troy. Some obviously are concerned about the notion of placing the word judge near the name Charles Wilcox. Take a look at this .com address.

But what can the Republicans be thinking or better yet, what have they forgotten by dusting off this political relic, properly buried by voters in the November 1985 election in which James B. Canfield was first elected District Attorney. The campaign theme enunciated by Canfield seems as prolific today as it was then as Wilcox prepares to challenge North Greenbush Justice Andrew Ceresia. "Return Justice and Credibility" to the DA's office was the tag on the literature of Canfield. Republicans apparently want none of that, attempting to portray Wilcox as "experienced" against the younger Ceresia.

The question is what kind of experience would each bring to the office of County Court Judge? Ceresia offers six years on the bench as a judge, where he has presided over trials and thousands of cases. Wilcox brings a different kind of experience as a controversial prosecutor who was forced by voters into private practice where he defended clients.

Political exile is a difficult place from which to escape. Especially when you look at his record thumbing his nose at authorities investigating his misconduct. This classic comes to mind in the Times Union of April 19, 1986: "Referring to the SIC probe, he added, "They can stick it up their nose as far as I'm concerned." Wilcox declined Friday to comment further on the SIC probe."

The bet here is that once reminded of the Wilcox record as a public official, voters will deny this new public appeal and let their 1985 verdict stand, returning Mr. Wilcox to voter imposed exile. In essence, "stick it up your nose Mr. Wilcox".

You can read the Times Union story on this announcement here and the Record here.

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