Berne woman’s case headed for jury trial in New Scotland

BERNE — After two town justices disqualified themselves from presiding over her case, Marcia Pangburn’s defense would be heard by a jury in New Scotland.

Albany County Court Judge Peter Lynch granted a transfer request by the district attorney’s office last week, made because no judges were available in Berne.

Pangburn was arrested last summer next to the Thompsons Lake Rural Cemetery, in the northeast corner of town where the border is shared with Knox and New Scotland, a few hundred yards from her home. Parked in the cemetery, she was mourning her relatives late at night, and was handcuffed, police said, after she refused to take a test of alcohol on her breath and failed field sobriety tests. A chemical test later showed her blood-alcohol content was .01, well below the legal limit for driving.

Pangburn faces charges of resisting arrest and obstructing governmental administration — misdemeanors she has fought by hiring attorney Lewis Oliver.

Judge Alan Zuk, who had presided over the case with motions leading up to the trial, said the court had received one letter “attempting to sway our opinion.” He and Judge Albert Raymond recused themselves in order to avoid the appearance of impropriety.

Zuk, who is serving his second year on the bench since he was a judge in the 1980s, said he doesn’t know of any past recusals by Berne judges.

“Small towns are, I think, subject to situations where both judges are familiar with the defendant,” said Zuk, a former town supervisor and school transportation director. “That’s kind of the case we have here.” He later explained that he knows Pangburn’s family, having lived in the town his whole life, but declined to elaborate.

He said the letter came before a hearing held in December to determine whether certain evidence or statements would be withheld from a possible trial.

When asked why he didn’t recuse himself before the hearing, Zuk said it was a combination of the letter and the hearing that led to the recusal.

“I guess I felt uncomfortable,” said Zuk.

Raymond has not returned calls for comment.

Oliver said Zuk denied his motion after the hearing — in which Zuk said Oliver’s drawn-out questioning did not meet the purpose of the hearing — and told Lynch his decisions should be invalidated after disqualification.

“It would have been my preference if the court had inquired about when the disqualification information occurred,” Oliver said. “But, during the argument, the [assistant] district attorney said she didn’t know, and I didn’t know, and Judge Lynch did not inquire.” If Pangburn were ultimately convicted, he added, the issue would have to be pursued in an appeal.

Oliver said a date in New Scotland Town Court hasn’t yet been scheduled.

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