U.S. District Judge David G. Larimer spends most of his days sitting on the bench.
Thursday was different.
Minus his customary black robe, Larimer found himself in an unusual spot – on the witness stand in an obstruction of justice trial being heard in Buffalo federal court.
By all accounts, he’s the first federal judge to ever testify in a local case.
“Judge Larimer, what do you do for a living?” Assistant U.S. Attorney Lisa M. Fletcher asked as she began her questioning of the 30-year veteran of the bench.
“I’m a federal judge,” he answered.
Larimer, who is based in Rochester, is one of several high-profile witnesses in the trial of Ronald House, a Rochester minister and anti-violence activist accused of taking money from convicted criminals in return for promising to help reduce their sentences.
The trial is being held here because of the potential conflicts posed by the testimony of Larimer and others.
The prosecution’s witness list also includes U.S. District Judge Charles Siragusa of Rochester and State Sen. Joseph Robach, a Greece Republican.
House, 57, is well known in Rochester, in large part because of his work as an anti-violence advocate.
It was in that role, prosecutors say, that he broke the law.
They claim House built a reputation as a community leader who helped police solve crimes and then used that reputation to solicit money from criminals seeking leniency in their sentences.
Larimer, who was on the witness stand for less than an hour, testified about his reliance on letters of support submitted on behalf of criminals facing sentencing.
He told the jury that he views the letters as important, especially when they come from outside the defendant’s family.
“They’re independent,” Larimer said of those letters. “They’re from nonfamily members.”
His testimony is significant because of the allegation that House submitted or solicited letters that contained claims he knew to be untrue.
Prosecutors claim those letters include one written by Robach and another by a high-ranking City of Rochester official on behalf of a convicted drug dealer.
“Would this get your attention?” Fletcher asked of one of the letters.
“Indeed,” Larimer said.
House’s alleged use of letters of support is at the core of the government’s prosecution.
Scott Green, House’s defense attorney, questioned Larimer about five other letters submitted on behalf of the same drug dealer and asked if he would have considered them important, as well.
Larimer said he would with one exception – the last letter Green showed him.
“They misspelled my name so I might not have considered it,” he said.
He then paused and said, “Just kidding.”
Larimer also drew a few laughs when he compared and contrasted his job with what Chief U.S. District Judge William M. Skretny does.
Skretny, his boss, is presiding over the House trial.
“He’s the chief judge,” Larimer said, “so he gets the better parking spot.”