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Thursday 8 December 2022
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Update: Judge Throws Out Charges Against Bruce Conner in Alleged “Smear Campaign” Case

(Update, July 7): Acting Syracuse City Court Judge James Metcalf has thrown out charges against Bruce Conner, a retired firefighter who faced criminal charges for an illegal “smear campaign” against COR Development Co., and prominent black pastors.

“The court finds that conviction and prosecution of this defendant would constitute a serious injustice based upon the disparate treatment of this defendant for reasons not related to the alleged criminal conduct,” Metcalf stated.

According to an article in the Post Standard, Metcalf said he’d found technical issues with the charges against Conner; however, Metcalf also said Conner had been treated differently than a typical defendant with no prior criminal record would have been, by Onondaga County District Attorney William Fitzpatrick.

The judge referenced a possible political feud between Fitzpatrick, a Republican, and Democratic Mayor Stephanie Miner, who is a close friend of Conner’s. 

“The court therefore finds it appropriate to assure the public confidence in the criminal justice system by dismissing this charge in the furtherance of justice,” Metcalf stated. “This assures citizens that the court will try to ensure equal treatment and punishment for similarly situated defendants, rather than allowing disparate treatment for reasons related to political feuds.”

Conner, 66, has been a longtime, active member of the local Democratic Party.

(From June 3) – Bruce Conner, the author of a letter disputing the new COR project in Syracuse, is currently facing criminal charges for an illegal “smear campaign” against prominent Black pastors.

The letter claims that COR “had the power to transform our community: to build a new neighborhood on the rubble of yesterday’s industry. It squandered its potential to build hope by bringing Syracusans out of poverty,” and continues in this fashion to admonish the project.

The letter is signed at the bottom by five Syracuse pastors, two of whom had never signed off, or had even seen it.

While Conner’s lawyer argues that he is protected under first amendment rights of free speech, the district attorney’s office isn’t convinced.

Chief Assistant District Attorney Alison Fineberg is adamant that Conner can’t invoke freedom of speech, in particular because he didn’t submit the letter under his own name.

This is just one of the many civil lawsuits that cost the United States economy approximately $239 billion annually, but it presents some valid points about free speech.

“If we are to accept the defendant’s argument, a party would be free to impersonate another and say anything in that person’s name so long as it could be characterized as an opinion,” Fineberg wrote.

Syracuse.com reports that Conner, a political ally of Mayor Stephanie Miner, “emailed a letter to Syracuse.com in December in the names of five African-American ministers. The letter criticized COR for seeking tax breaks on its $350 million Inner Harbor development, saying the company valued ‘profits over people’.”

This letter was sent a few days after the city sued COR, and is alleged to be part of an effort to re-ignite the fire of the failed lawsuit.

Conner’s political affiliation with the mayor has led District Attorney William Fitzpatrick to believe that this letter is part of a wider legal war that Syracuse City Hall is waging on COR.

According to Alison Fineberg, “It is reasonable to infer that the letter was intended to harm the reputation of COR Development, in order to influence both the court of public opinion and the (state) Supreme Court in which the lawsuit was pending.”

A hearing will be conducted to determine whether or not the misdemeanor charge of criminal impersonation should be dismissed.

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