A Chelsea District Court judge who found a defendant not guilty of assault and battery without hearing any evidence from the prosecutor beforehand reversed himself Tuesday, undoing the verdict during a brief hearing.
But then Judge Benjamin Barnes dismissed the charges against the defendant anyway, accomplishing what he had tried to do at the June 25 hearing. On Tuesday, Barnes dismissed the case after concluding that the prosecutor, who had been in a different courtroom at the time of the June hearing, had failed to present any evidence to convict Robin Lee Scalesse.
Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley, who had already appealed Barnes’s earlier decision clearing Scalesse of assault and battery charges, said he will now appeal Barnes’s dismissal of the case.
“The record does not support a dismissal,” said Conley’s spokesman Jake Wark. “We will appeal this decision, as we did the imposition of a verdict without a trial.”
Barnes found Scalesse not guilty of attacking her former boyfriend’s current girlfriend June 25 after three delays that lasted all morning because the defense lawyer was running late and then did not have the right file.
By the time Scalesse was ready to stand trial before Barnes, the prosecutor was in another courtroom.
Barnes told another assistant district attorney in the courtroom that she could “walk, not run” to fetch the prosecutor assigned to the case, Michael LaFleur.
But before the prosecutor could return, less than 10 minutes later, Barnes had declared Scalesse not guilty without hearing any evidence, a court transcript showed.
The stunned LaFleur showed up less than a minute after the judge’s decision.
“Your honor, I’m right here,” he said.
“So found not guilty?” LaFleur asked incredulously. “He found not guilty?”
Prosecutors appealed to the Supreme Judicial Court, asking the court to undo the ruling, arguing there can be no trial when one side is not in the room.
“Any judge should know that a trial cannot and has not been conducted when the prosecutor is not present and does not call a witness,” Conley’s office wrote in its appeal.
“The fact that a trial involves adverse parties and witnesses is common knowledge among all competent members of our society.”
However, judges do sometimes dismiss charges against defendants when they believe the prosecutor is taking an undue amount of time or deliberately slowing the legal process.
Later this week, prosecutors will ask the SJC to throw out Tuesday’s dismissal and send the case back for trial.Andrea Estes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.