QUEENSBURY — Lawyers for two state agencies appeared in Warren County Court on Wednesday to explain why they have not complied with a judicial subpoena issued as part of the criminal case against the former leader of a Lake George-based environmental organization.
Judge John Hall issued a subpoena to the state Comptroller’s Office and Department of State on Jan. 24, at the request of the lawyer for David Decker, former director of Lake George Watershed Coalition. Decker faces 22 criminal charges for the alleged theft of $440,000 in state and federal funding while he oversaw environmental projects for the coalition.
Decker’s new lawyer, Karl Sleight, has sought records from the agencies, regarding their interaction with Decker and the watershed coalition, as trial in Decker’s case approaches in less than two months. But Sleight said he has gotten no response and no documents as of this week, and he was “extremely concerned” that Decker’s ability to defend himself was being “severely jeopardized.”
That prompted Hall to seek an explanation, and lawyers for the agencies went before the judge to explain that copies of all of their material were turned over to the Warren County District Attorney’s Office months ago. Repeating that effort would take extensive time and money to reproduce tens of thousands of pages of documents, they said. They also argued the requests were overly broad.
“He has most of the documents he seeks in his subpoena,” said Ben Hill, counsel for the Department of State.
Sleight, though, said he cannot be sure of that, and he has the right to find out what documents the state has that could be relevant, outside of documents prosecutors turn over during the pretrial evidence “discovery” phase of the criminal case.
Lawyers for the Comptroller’s Office questioned whether the effort was a “fishing expedition,” but Hall did not accept that.
“It’s not a fishing expedition,” he said. “Arguably, there are documents in there that might indicate his innocence or prove his guilt. I think the entire thing has to be turned over to Mr. Sleight. It is not fair for the government to make those decisions (about what he is entitled to.)”
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Hall directed that staff from both agencies meet with Sleight by mid-March.
Lawyers for both agencies indicated they would do so, but they also informed Hall they reserved the right to file a formal motion to quash the subpoena.
With Decker facing a potential sentence of decades in prison if convicted, Hall said it is important that every effort be made to make sure he can defend himself.
“I can’t think of a more compelling reason for these state agencies to do what needs to be done,” Hall said.
The coalition is a loosely knit consortium of environmental groups and municipalities in the Lake George basin that have received millions of dollars in grants for environmental protection projects.
Decker, 67, of Burnt Hills, is accused of stealing $440,000 while working on coalition projects between 2013 and 2017. Some of the money was allegedly funneled to a shell contracting corporation he created that did not provide any services or materials to the projects for which it was paid.
He has claimed the money he received was legitimate payment for his work, but he is accused of tax fraud for not claiming the money on his state taxes in 2012, 2013 and 2014.
Decker is free, pending jury selection on April 22.