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Jenn March, Special to the Post-Star 

Hayes Hoffman, 3, pushes a button to start a sprinkler up at Gavin Splash Park on July 2 in Wilton. The summer of 2018 featured 50 separate occasions when the dew point, the main figure used to measure humidity in the air, hit or surpassed 70 degrees at the National Weather Service reporting station in Queensbury.


Local
Region sweated through one of muggiest, warmest summers in years

If you stepped outside, or looked at your air conditioner-driven electric bill, you undoubtedly concluded that it was a warm, muggy summer.

In fact, it was one of the warmest and most humid in many years.

The summer of 2018 featured 50 separate occasions when the dew point, the main figure used to measure humidity in the air, hit or surpassed 70 degrees at the National Weather Service reporting station in Queensbury.

The 70-degree threshold is considered “oppressive” humidity, said Christina Speciale, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Albany.

The average daily high temperature of 80.3 degrees was 1.5 degrees above normal, and put it just short of the warmest summer over the past 30 years, with the record being an average high of 80.9 degrees. There were 11 90-degree or higher days at the Queensbury reporting station, nearly triple the 30-year average.

Among the days when the dew point hit or topped 70 was one (Sept. 3) when it was reported to be 78 degrees, Speciale said. That is “subtropical” weather typically only seen when hurricanes or tropical storms move north, she explained.

“I think it is safe to say it is one of the most humid summers we have had in years,” she said.

One of the more notable weather figures for the summer of 2018 was that nights were not nearly as cool as usual, with morning lows significantly higher than normal.

“This summer we just didn’t cool off at night,” Speciale said.

A weather pattern that lingered for months was blamed, as a large area of low pressure over the western part of the country combined with a high pressure system parked over the Great Lakes to push hot air from the central part of the country and moisture from the Gulf of Mexico into the Northeast.

While there were early concerns about dry weather and moderate drought affecting the region’s farmers early in the summer, the season’s weather worked out fairly well for most local farmers.

Aaron Gabriel, soil and crops educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension in Washington County, said some farmers may get an extra cutting of hay this year as the growing season continues. Three cuttings is the norm, but some may be able to get a fourth once they are done bringing in corn, Gabriel said.

Corn crops turned out well in most parts of the region, although farmers who want dry weather to bring it in for storage would like to see the rain of the last couple of weeks come to an end.

“As always, the weather scares us to death but the crops usually turn out better than expected,” Gabriel said.

Apple-picking season is ongoing, and most local orchard owners have reported a good crop.


Local
Lawyer: Moreau shooting suspect didn't do it

BALLSTON SPA — The Moreau man charged with shooting and seriously injuring his neighbor last fall wasn’t responsible for the shooting, his lawyer told a jury Thursday, while appearing to cast the blame on the suspect’s twin brother.

Testimony began Thursday in the case of Joey M. Castro, who is charged with attempted murder, assault and numerous lesser charges for the shooting last Oct. 8 on Laurel Road that left 34-year-old Michael Desnoyers paralyzed from the waist down.

Saratoga County Assistant District Attorney Alan Poremba told the Saratoga County jury that is hearing the case and county Judge James Murphy that numerous witnesses identified Castro as the shooter. Two of them were watching as Castro walked up to the garage at Desnoyers’ home and fired numerous shots from an AR-15 style rifle into the garage toward Desnoyers and his girlfriend, Poremba said. Desnoyers was hit in the back and barely survived, he said.

The shooting came after words were exchanged while Castro and people at Desnoyers’ home were drinking and smoking marijuana, Poremba said.

“He was yelling, ‘Still think this is funny, mother (expletives)? Who wants to get shot?’” Poremba said.

Defense lawyer William Montgomery, though, said the evidence does not point to his client, as his DNA and fingerprints weren’t on the rifle. He said when Joey Castro left the party, he said he was going to get his twin brother, Jeffrey Castro, and the “assumption is it was Joey” who returned with the gun.

He asked jurors to pay attention to the clothing descriptions, and what each brother was wearing.

“The proof will not show that my client, Joey Castro, fired this gun,” Montgomery said. “The people (prosecution) will not establish beyond a reasonable doubt that Joey Castro fired that gun.”

Jeffrey Castro pleaded guilty to a felony weapon charge in August, agreeing to cooperate against his brother. He said under oath at the time of his plea that he was in the Castros’ neighboring home when the shooting occurred and didn’t witness it, but was not responsible. The two twins have different tattoos, he said at the time of his plea.

The first witness of the trial was Saratoga County Sheriff’s Office dispatcher Scott Millington, who fielded a 911 call from Desnoyers’ teenage stepson, reporting the shooting.

The jury heard a tape of the 911 call, in which 19-year-old Charles Miles reported, “my dad has been shot by my next-door neighbor,” and then told the dispatcher he watched the tail end of the shooting and saw Desnoyers hit the floor of the garage.

“What’s your neighbor’s name? Millington asked Miles.

“Joey Cartell ... Joey Castro, 12 Laurel Lane,” Miles replied.

Although the families are next-door neighbors, they had not socialized until the hours before the shooting, after Miles had returned the Castros’ dog to their home. Desnoyers’ invited them in for a beer when they went over to say thank you, and during the two-hour or so gathering, Joey Castro became belligerent, made crude remarks to a woman and was ushered into the garage, Poremba said.

There, words were exchanged, Castro challenged others to fight, and then Castro called the group at the home “dirt bags” and left, saying he was getting his brother.

About five minutes later, he appeared at the front of the garage, leveled the rifle at Desnoyers and his girlfriend and started firing, Poremba said.

Desnoyers’ spinal cord was compromised by a round that hit him in the lower back, and Miles suffered a minor leg injury from ricocheting material in the garage as shots were fired, Poremba told the jury.

State Police forensic experts found eight shells from a .223-caliber rifle on the property after the shooting, Poremba said.

Desnoyers, who was unconscious in Albany Medical Center for more than two weeks, remembers only bits and pieces of the shooting, Poremba explained. He will testify nonetheless, and several other people witnessed the shooting, he said.

Montgomery had earlier filed a notice, seeking to use a psychiatric defense in the case, but made no mention of such a defense on Thursday.

The trial is expected to last through next week and potentially into the following week.

Joey Castro, 25, faces up to 25 years in state prison on the attempted second-degree murder and first-degree assault counts. He also faces charges because the rifles he had were guns that were supposed to have been registered with the state but were not, authorities allege.


Castro


Local
Family Court judge facing lawsuit

FORT EDWARD — Allegations made against Warren County Family Court Judge Ted Wilson just before his election in 2016 are now heading toward a trial.

He asked this summer for the case to be dismissed, arguing that he had immunity as a judge.

But state Supreme Court Justice Patrick McGrath, who is overseeing the case, said the allegations do not involve “any judicial function,” although Wilson was working as a law clerk at the time. McGrath added that if the allegations are true, they are extremely serious.

“The complaint alleges that a law clerk (Ted Wilson), as a representative of the Judge, charged at an attorney and her client during a conference, screamed at the attorney, insulted her numerous times in front of her client and her associate, and prevented her from leaving his office,” McGrath wrote. “This conduct is outrageous in character, and so extreme in degree, as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency and to be regarded as atrocious and intolerable in a civilized community. The motion to dismiss is therefore denied.”

The case is scheduled for another conference on Feb. 26. A trial, if it happens, would be set for sometime after that date.

The chance for a trial increased substantially when McGrath refused to dismiss the case.

It all began in August 2016, when attorney Melody Mackenzie met with Wilson for a settlement conference. She was representing one side in a complex divorce case, in which the spouses shared a lucrative business, had two children together, and could not agree on anything.

The case had dragged on for 2 1/2 years, and Washington County Family Court Judge Stan Pritzker had ordered both sides to spend an entire day trying to settle before starting a trial the next day. He directed his law clerk, Wilson, to oversee the negotiations.

Wilson got one side to offer a new settlement. But when he called in the other side — represented by Mackenzie — things went rapidly downhill.

Mackenzie said in her legal paperwork that Wilson insulted her — saying she was a “horrible” and “impossible” attorney — and refused to give her a document detailing the new settlement. Instead, Mackenzie wrote, he tried to “bully” her client into accepting it immediately. He threatened that if she did not, the children would not be able to attend their desired school district, she said.

Mackenzie asked one question about the settlement — regarding the way the spouses’ business would be divvied up — and, according to her court documents, Wilson “exploded.”

He shouted at them to “get out” of his office. But as Mackenzie’s client sat crying and begging to have a few more minutes to consider the settlement, Mackenzie asked Wilson to sit back down and return to negotiations. He sat down and began again, she said, but was red-faced and began to shout at her, she said.

Finally, she decided to tell the judge that they were at an impasse, according to the paperwork.

Both sides agree that Wilson asked — or shouted at — Mackenzie to leave his office during the settlement conference. Both sides also agree that Mackenzie stayed and discussions resumed, but that no progress was made and that Mackenzie eventually said she wanted to talk to the judge.

In Wilson’s paperwork, he said he told her that she could not just walk into the judge’s chambers and demand to talk to him. His paperwork suggests that his next actions were to keep her from doing that.

Mackenzie said he lunged at her so suddenly and aggressively that she and her client thought he was going to hit them. He then walked out of his office through the door behind them — and spoke to the judge, who agreed to see them.

Mackenzie immediately told Pritzker about the situation. But in open court, Pritzker suggested he did not believe them, saying that he knew his law clerk well and had never seen him behave in such a way.

Pritzker then took over the settlement negotiations himself, removing Wilson from the case. Later, the case was reassigned to a Warren County judge.

The week of the incident, Mackenzie filed a complaint about Wilson with the Independent Judicial Qualifications Commission, which rates judge candidates. A poor rating doesn’t stop a candidate from running for office, but the rating system is used by some voters in deciding who to choose. The commission rated Wilson as “highly qualified.”

The commission looked into her complaint, and decided to reaffirm on Oct. 12 that Wilson was “highly qualified.”

While Mackenzie waited for the commission to make a decision, she also filed a complaint with Administrative Judge Vincent Caruso on Sept. 16, more than two weeks after the incident. Caruso questioned the timing of the complaint, noting that Wilson was running for Warren County Family Court judge. He also questioned why Mackenzie would go to the Independent Judicial Qualifications Commission before going to him.

In mid-October, Mackenzie went public, saying she had to tell the voters about the incident. Wilson publicly denied the allegations, but admitted to criticizing her and calling her “paranoid.”

Mackenzie and the two other witnesses to the incident were never interviewed by Caruso or the Independent Judicial Qualifications Commission, according to her court paperwork. The other two witnesses were her client and her legal assistant.


Kavanaugh's political fate in hands of four senators

WASHINGTON — The eyes of the polarized nation are riveted on three Republican and one Democratic senator who aren’t saying, so far, whether they are ayes or nays on the politically fateful question of whether Brett Kavanaugh should sit on the Supreme Court.

One Democratic senator facing a tough re-election in North Dakota, a state President Donald Trump won handily in 2016, announced she’s against Kavanaugh. Suspense remains, however, around the other undecideds.

They’ll have to go public with their decisions soon. Even before the FBI had delivered its report on the allegations against Trump’s nominee, Senate Republican leaders set the chamber barreling toward an up-or-down vote sometime this weekend. But first, these five are reading the FBI report as they navigate the political storm that Kavanaugh’s nomination has created.

Notably, some could vote yes — and also, no — on Kavanaugh-related questions under the Senate’s always-interesting rules and traditions.

A look at the five and what to watch:

THE STATE OF THINGS

The White House at 2:30 a.m. EDT on Thursday delivered the FBI file to the Senate that contains an updated background check on Kavanaugh, accused by Christine Blasey Ford of sexually assaulting her while the two were in high school. Kavanaugh strongly denies the allegations and says he has never sexually assaulted anyone.

White House spokesman Raj Shah said on CNN that the FBI reached out to 10 people and interviewed nine. Democrats said that’s too limited given the allegations by Ford and Kavanaugh’s Yale classmate, Deborah Ramirez, who says Kavanaugh flashed his genitals in her face.

All 100 senators, split in the GOP’s favor 51-49, have access to one copy of the file in a secure room, to prevent leaks of confidential information under the Privacy Act, according to the Senate Judiciary Committee. That’s created a backup of senators in a Capitol complex already tense over protests, beefed-up security and campaign-season politics.

Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D. Ill., told reporters on Thursday that time slots for reading the FBI file are so full that senators are being told they might have to wait until Friday to read the report.

That could back up the review into the first vote, on whether to advance Kavanaugh’s nomination. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has set Friday for the vote on whether the Senate agrees to hold a final confirmation vote as soon as Saturday.

AYE AND/OR NAY

There are two votes on Kavanaugh, and senators can vote differently for each question.

First, on Friday, senators will vote on whether the full Senate should hold a final confirmation vote. That initial vote is called “cloture,” which is Senate jargon for bringing debate to a close. Agreement by a majority of the 100 senators would advance Kavanaugh’s nomination.

Second, as soon as Saturday, senators will take a final vote on whether to confirm Kavanaugh to a lifetime seat on the high court — or not. Confirmation requires a majority of the 100-member chamber.

Usually, the two votes are the same for every senator.

But on Kavanaugh, it’s possible a senator who votes yes on the first question could vote against Kavanaugh’s confirmation. That strategy would give waverers one last day to decide how they’ll vote.

COLLINS AND MURKOWSKI

They’ve been followed through Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and dogged by protesters and reporters. They’re being protected by U.S. Capitol Police. And they’re mum about how they’ll vote on Kavanaugh.

Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska have been at the center of the Kavanaugh maelstrom for months, since they expressed concerns over Kavanaugh’s anti-abortion views. Neither is up for re-election this year. Both said they wanted the FBI investigation, and both denounced Trump’s mockery of Ford this week in Mississippi. And neither is saying how she’ll vote on Kavanaugh.

On Thursday, Collins called the FBI investigation, “very thorough.”

It’s not clear they’ll make the same choice, in part because their states are not politically aligned.

Democrat Hillary Clinton won Collins’s state by about 3 percentage points.

But Trump won Murkowski’s state by nearly 15 percentage points.

FLAKE

Sen. Jeff Flake, the Arizona Republican who is retiring, said he intends to vote to confirm Kavanaugh. But hours after issuing that statement last week — during which two protesters cornered him in an elevator on live television — he attached a condition. He’ll vote for Kavanaugh’s confirmation as long as there is an FBI investigation into Ford’s allegations. A key swing vote on the Senate Judiciary Committee split 11-10 as well as in the closely divided Senate, Flake got something resembling his wish: Republicans agreed to a weeklong pause in the drive toward a confirmation vote, while the FBI investigated “credible allegations” against Kavanaugh.

Flake said the FBI investigation could inject the highly partisan process with credibility. On Thursday, he told CNN that he saw no corroboration of the allegations against Kavanaugh in the report.

HEITKAMP

Democrat Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota finally ended the suspense over her vote, announcing Thursday she was a “no” on confirmation.

But her decision comes at peril. Heitkamp is in a tough re-election battle in a state Trump by almost 36 percentage points. Trump cast her as a “liberal Democrat” during a rally in Fargo.

“You need a senator who doesn’t just talk like they’re from North Dakota but votes like they’re from North Dakota,” Trump said at the June event.

On Kavanaugh, Heitkamp told WDAY, a TV station in Fargo, “the process has been bad, but at the end of the day you have to make a decision and I’ve made that decision.”

“I will be voting no on Judge Kavanaugh,” she said.

MANCHIN

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who also is on the ballot, has said he’s awaiting the FBI report to make a decision on Kavanaugh.

Trump won his state by about 43 percentage points.

To those who might not support him based on how he votes on Kavanaugh, Manchin offered an apology.

“I’m sorry you’re a one-issue voter,” he told WVNews this week.