The Beth Lynne Hoskins animal-cruelty trial has taken an odd turn with the horsewoman asking the judge to throw out the case, contending that a prosecutor had been romantically involved with an SPCA investigator.
“I think most people’s response to this information is the same as my first response: shock,” Hoskins told The Buffalo News on Tuesday. “While it doesn’t explain all the wrongdoing in the case, it’s a perfect microcosm of wrongdoing and how it has been handled.”
Hoskins’ attorney, John P. Bartolomei, filed the motion Friday seeking dismissal of the case.
Bartolomei alleged that Assistant District Attorney Matthew A. Albert, one of two prosecutors in the nonjury criminal trial in Aurora Town Court, and Alex A. Cooke, an investigator with the SPCA Serving Erie County and the agency’s former horse barn manager, were in an “intimate relationship” that dates from November.
Bartolomei cited Albert’s Facebook page at that time, as well as since.
Cooke has not been called as a witness, but she has been an investigator in the Hoskins case, which began three years ago after the East Aurora horse farm was raided by the SPCA, leading to the seizure of dozens of horses. Until a month ago, Cooke was the SPCA’s horse barn manager.
In an affidavit two years ago, Cooke described the conditions at Hoskins’ farm as far from ideal. She has gone to court-ordered checks of horses at the Hoskins farm – one as recently as last week – and has helped with the agency’s foster care of some of Hoskins’ other horses.
Tuesday, the SPCA would not comment on whether Cooke continues to help care for any of Hoskins’ fostered horses still under agency care, or whether Cooke’s parents still have five of her horses under foster care their Aurora home, as Hoskins alleges.
“The continuing relationship between Mr. Albert and Ms. Cooke suggests not only inherent bias and conflict, but necessarily compromises Mr. Albert’s ability to remain impartial, as required by his duty to the public office and his status as an officer of the court,” said court documents filed on Hoskins’ behalf.
“The independent judgment of Matthew Albert is questioned and undoubtedly compromised in this matter,” court papers said.
Aurora Town Justice Douglas W. Marky is scheduled to conduct a hearing on the matter this afternoon.
The motion comes just weeks after Hoskins filed a civil lawsuit seeking more than $2 billion in damages against a list of people involved in the case – including Albert and Cooke – and as Hoskins’ yearlong trial on 74 misdemeanor counts of animal cruelty winds down.
Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III had strong words about the allegations Tuesday.
He noted that Cooke has not been a witness in the case, and he called Hoskins’ efforts “another act of desperation” – referring to requests by Hoskins earlier this year to have her trial delayed because she was ill.
Eventually, the case moved forward, and no further mention was made of illness.
“It would be arguably improper if Ms. Cooke were a witness, but Ms. Cooke was not on any witness list,” Sedita said. “I will not comment about a criminal case while it’s still pending. However, suing a prosecutor civilly, especially in the midst of a criminal prosecution, is completely frivolous, because prosecutors have immunity.”
Court papers last week said the relationship between Albert and Cooke “is more than platonic.”
“The fact that they live together suggests that beyond being intimate, they also share their personal and professional lives with one another,” legal documents stated.
“This, in turn, implies that not only is this case discussed between them on a fairly frequent basis, but opinions and feelings about the defendant are expressed, which unavoidably play a role in Mr. Albert’s prosecution of this case.”
Sedita said the allegation by Hoskins involving Albert and Cooke was raised several weeks ago and was reviewed.
“We looked into the matter. I’m not going to check whether their relationship was romantic or not,” he said.
“Ms. Cooke was not called by either side, and she was not a witness in this case. We’re just looking forward to this matter going to a verdict.”
Sedita said he believes the two no longer have a relationship.
Neither Bartolomei nor Albert returned phone calls from The News seeking comment; The News was unable to reach Cooke.
Meanwhile, closing arguments in the criminal trial are scheduled for 9:30 a.m. June 7, a day after the prosecution calls two rebuttal witnesses for additional questioning, including one of the veterinarians involved in the case, Dr. Charlotte Tutu. The defense case wrapped up Friday.