Tension Between County Court Judge, DA Surfaces At Trial
MAYVILLE — Chautauqua County’s district attorney accused County Court Judge David Foley of interfering with his prosecution of a vehicular manslaughter case.
Remarks by Jason Schmidt, who later confirmed them, were noted by Foley in court prior to a jury trial resuming Thursday. Stating he wanted the information on the record, Foley said the DA accused him of interfering and “trying the case” himself from the bench.
“That’s an improper accusation to make to any judge,” Foley said.
Foley is hearing the trial of Heather Capell, a Georgia resident charged with driving the wrong direction on Interstate 86 the morning of July 1, 2021, before crashing head-on with a vehicle operated by 52-year-old Bradley Wakefield of Cattaraugus County. Wakefield died in the crash.
Schmidt’s comments to Foley came Wednesday during a brief conference in the judge’s chambers that also included Chautauqua County Public Defender Ned Barone, who is representing Capell.
The judge had called for a brief recess to review Capell’s medical records that Schmidt sought to enter into evidence. While inside his office, Foley requested Schmidt and Barone to come inside.
On Thursday, during a hearing before jurors returned for the fourth day of Capell’s trial, Foley addressed the comments made by Schmidt that were apparently critical of the judge’s actions with the medical records and during the trial.
Foley said if Schmidt had a problem with him he should note them on the record in court.
Schmidt did not immediately offer a response.
Barone appeared caught off guard by Foley’s comments. In court, he said he didn’t want to respond but did offer that what happens between the judge and attorneys in conference usually stays between them.
When Schmidt did eventually address the court Thursday, he said Foley “time and again” has cut him off when making arguments while at the same time allowing several members of the defense team to speak freely.
The DA also said Foley’s actions have been noticed by others, stating that he’s been asked, “What have you done to anger this judge?”
In response, Foley said he sometimes cuts off both prosecutors and the defense when necessary and said Schmidt too often repeats himself while making an argument, hoping the judge will change his mind.
“I don’t believe I’m being unfair to your side,” Foley said after the issue was brought up again. “I’m trying to be fair to both sides.”
Tension between Foley and Schmidt was apparent even before court officially resumed Wednesday. The DA said he wanted to enter Capell’s medical records into evidence, which prompted Foley to state that he would have to go through all of the documents to redact information that might be prejudicial.
Because of a scheduling conflict, court was not set to start Wednesday until 1:15 p.m. With Foley needing to review the medical records, jurors did not enter the courtroom until after 2 p.m.
“The jury sat there for 45 minutes,” Foley said. “They’re sitting there, putting aside their personal business.”
The trial was abruptly adjourned for the day around 4 p.m. Wednesday while body camera footage of investigator Adam McAdoo interviewing Capell at a hospital was being shown to jurors. Barone objected to a portion of the video that included Capell being advised of an impairment charge being filed against her as well as another investigator mentioning to Capell her right to refuse a chemical test.
Capell told police she took a dose of Adderall and smoked marijuana before the crash.
Foley previously ruled that results of a chemical test from a blood sample sent to a lab in Erie County could not be used at trial due to a discovery violation. He also ruled that investigators could not offer their opinions on Capell’s possible impairment the morning of the crash because a drug recognition test was not fully completed.
After Thursday’s hearing, Foley gave an instruction to the jury regarding the charge read to Capell. He also struck from the record the partial mention of a chemical test briefly shown on the body cam footage.
On Thursday, McAdoo returned to the witness stand and described a search he conducted July 9, 2021, on Capell’s vehicle. During that search, he reported finding a wallet that contained a “cloudy, rock-like substance” as well as two $1 bills found in another wallet with the same substance.
Brian Boeck, the owner and manager of a Buffalo club, also took the stand. Hours before the interstate crash, Capell visited the club — referred to as a strip club by prosecutors — with a friend who worked there. Capell left the club in the early morning hours before eventually getting on I-86.
Boeck didn’t provide too much testimony. Instead, the DA’s office showed security footage from his club from the night prior and morning of the crash. Boeck did identify Capell’s friend on the video.
Jesse Anderson, a physician assistant at UPMC Chautauqua, testified on the initial treatment Capell received after the crash. He said her right ankle, broken in the crash, was stabilized before she was transferred to a hospital in Erie, Pa., for further treatment. An analysis from a urine sample showed she was positive for marijuana and amphetamine/methamphetamine.
Mark Baglia, a crime scene investigator, and Brent Burgess with the Southern Tier Regional Drug Task Force also briefly testified Thursday. The trial is scheduled to resume today in County Court.
Capell is facing charges of second-degree manslaughter, second-degree vehicular manslaughter and driving while ability impaired by a combination of drugs/alcohol.