Briggs plans to fight charges in court

HILLSDALE — Town Highway Superintendent Richard Briggs is due back in Town Court next week and according to his attorney, he is looking forward to it.

Mr. Briggs, 41, of Hillsdale, was charged with second degree harassment, a violation, by Sheriff’s Office Senior Investigator William Foster and Deputy Jeffrey Hofstetter, August 13. According to the complaint against Mr. Briggs signed by a town Highway Department employee, Mr. Briggs allegedly made sexually suggestive statements to him, which caused the employee to be annoyed and alarmed.

 

Mr. Briggs, represented by Copake Attorney Jeanne Mettler, appeared in Town Court on the charge August 18. Though Town Justice Juliette Crill has recused herself from hearing the case, Town Justice Russ Immarigeon made no mention of recusing himself during the August 18 appearance, according to Attorney Mettler.

Columbia County District Attorney Beth Cozzolino has disqualified her office from prosecuting the matter “for reasons unrelated to the case,” the DA said earlier this week. A special prosecutor from Greene County has been assigned to the case.

A week before Mr. Briggs was actually charged, the Hillsdale Town Board met in executive session August 6 and members cast a vote of “no confidence” in Mr. Briggs and called for his immediate resignation.

Hillsdale Supervisor Art Baer said Wednesday that the board based its vote on a presentation about the evidence in the case made to them by the Sherriff’s Office. “We knew what would be following,” said Mr. Baer.

The board then put out a press release dated August 13 making reference to the vote and the resignation request. “Given the severity, scope and documentation of these workplace complaints, the Town Board regrettably has no alternative but to request Mr. Briggs immediate resignation,” said the release.

Mr. Briggs has no intention of resigning, according to his attorney. And under the applicable Public Officer’s Law he doesn’t have to. Mr. Briggs is an elected town official and cannot be removed or suspended from his job by the Town Board. He therefore remains on the job with pay.

According to the law, Mr. Briggs may be removed from office by the state supreme court for “any misconduct, maladministration, malfeasance, or malversation in office.”

While harassment is not specifically listed as grounds for removal, that section of law says an application for removal may be made by any citizen resident of the town, and the accusatory instrument signed by the employee qualifies as that application. Whether or not the complaint will result in Mr. Briggs being removed from office is a determination to be made by a judge, Earl Redding, the town’s special counsel on labor matters, told The Columbia Paper last month.

“My client has a long history of public service in this community. He has served with the Hillsdale Fire Company for 25 years and is currently the chief of that department. He has been a member of the Highway Department since 1987, and has been the superintendent since 2004. He has been the chair of Hillsdale Community Day for several years, including the very successful celebration this year,” said Ms. Mettler, adding, “Obviously these charges are very disturbing, but two things should be remembered. First, after all the investigation, my client is not charged with a crime; he is charged with a violation.

“But more importantly, these are only accusations and proof of nothing. My client looks forward to his day in court, and we are preparing for trial.”

The next court date in the case is September 15.

To contact Diane Valden email .

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