LOCKPORT – Niagara County Judge Sara Sheldon Farkas threatened to cancel a former North Tonawanda music teacher’s guilty plea to child molestation Thursday after learning that he was denying any wrongdoing.
Farkas ordered the sides back to court June 5 to hear her decision in the matter, after Solomon stood silently when the judge, during a scheduled sentencing, unsuccessfully demanded details of what he did to the girl, who is now 22.
When Farkas told the victim, “Sweetheart, I’m sorry. This case has to go to trial,” the woman screamed at Solomon, “I hate you!”
She was led sobbing from the courtroom. But later she returned and said, “Let’s have a trial.”
However, Farkas ordered the two-week postponement. Solomon remains in jail without bail; he has been behind bars since his plea on March 5.
“This wasn’t the outcome I expected,” defense attorney Glenn Pincus said.
Solomon, 48, who taught music in Lutheran schools and in a private business, had admitted to a reduced charge of attempted first-degree course of sexual conduct against a child in exchange for a promise of no more than 12 years in prison.
He already has served more than seven years of a 32-year sentence Farkas imposed after a jury convicted him on 23 counts in 2005, stemming from allegations of repeated sexual contact with the girl between 1999 and 2004. Solomon also was convicted of taking pornographic photos of the girl.
But he was freed when his conviction was overturned by the State Court of Appeals in October 2012 on a legal technicality having nothing to do with the charges themselves.
That court ruled the presence of Solomon’s former attorney, Assistant Public Defender Michele G. Bergevin, constituted a conflict that could not be waived because Bergevin had once represented one of the investigating North Tonawanda police officers in a private legal matter.
Assistant District Attorney Robert A. Zucco said Thursday that the plea was offered to protect the victim from the stress of a new trial. However, Zucco said, “She has enormous courage, and I think she could have done it.”
The woman, who was not one of Solomon’s former students, said Thursday that she was shattered by the news of the Court of Appeals ruling.
She said, “I went back on medications I hadn’t taken in eight years.” She said that as the case worked its way back through County Court, she was hospitalized twice because of heart palpitations.
The woman unloaded on Solomon at the start of Thursday’s session, when she thought there was going to be a sentencing.
Solomon stared at her with a calm expression as the woman said, “In my heart, I know Michael Solomon deserves every second of those 32 years.”
The victim blasted Solomon’s apology, which she found insincere.
“You’re sorry? No, you’re not. You’re sorry you got caught,” the woman said. “You’re sorry everybody saw you for the sick and sadistic person you are … I will never forgive you. I stand here, your survivor who hates you with every fiber of her being.”
Meanwhile, Zucco battled Pincus, who argued that Solomon hadn’t admitted to any sexual contact with the girl, despite the plea deal.
After the plea in March, Pincus told The Buffalo News, “He did not admit and is not convicted of any sexual contact with the victim. He’s convicted of an attempt.”
Apparently, Pincus continued that assertion in a sentencing memo and letter to Farkas. Zucco said in court Thursday that the plea bargain “does not mean he was exonerated of the other charges … That does not mean the defendant didn’t do all the acts, and more, that are contained in the indictment.”
Zucco said Pincus’ arguments were “not constrained by the bounds of truth.”
Decrying what he called the prosecutor’s “ad hominem attack,” Pincus didn’t back down.
He said Solomon admitted to attempting one charge of the 23, “so his not-guilty pleas to those (other 22) counts are still in effect.”
“No, they’re not,” the judge said, telling Pincus that as a former prosecutor himself, he should know that.
Farkas objected to what Solomon told a probation officer in a presentencing interview. Farkas said, “All he said to the probation officer was, he cuddled her and it was misconstrued. Well, guess what? That doesn’t meet the parameters of a plea.”
The judge said, “Cuddling isn’t a crime,” and demanded repeatedly that Pincus or Solomon give her specific details of the acts to which he pleaded guilty. She refused to let Pincus rely on the legal definition of the crime.
“What did he do, specifically, graphically? Tell me, finally,” Farkas said.
Pincus sat down and let Solomon speak.
After apologizing again, Solomon made no reply when Farkas asked, “What did you do, sir?”
After a few seconds of silence, Farkas said, “She made it all up?”
Solomon shook his head slightly but said nothing.