AMSTERDAM — The felony case against 4th Ward Alderman Stephen Gomula on Tuesday was adjourned in City Court until later this month because of his connection to local officials.
City Court Judge Lisa Lorman noted during Gomula’s court appearance that she was familiar with the defendant through his past employment by the Montgomery County Department of Social Services.
Gomula had a close working relationship with Lorman’s husband, William, who is the assistant attorney for Montgomery County.
The connection led Lorman to schedule future appearances to be heard by City Court Judge William Mycek. Gomula was arraigned on the charges against him by Mycek on Dec. 14.
“I think it’s not a conflict per se for me, but I think to avoid any appearances of impropriety I am going to place this on Judge Mycek’s calendar,” Lorman said.
Montgomery County Assistant Public Defender Theodore Hartman, representing Gomula, did not raise any objections to the substitution.
Gomula was charged by state police on Dec. 14 with two counts of third-degree criminal possession of a weapon, both class D felonies, for allegedly having an assault weapon and a large capacity ammunition feeding device.
District Attorney Lorraine Diamond is awaiting the assignment of a special prosecutor to handle the case due to the past employment by her office of Gomula’s former fiance, Hartman noted.
Since being charged, Gomula has been free on pretrial release, which Lorman continued on Tuesday. She noted the handling of the felony case in City Court will be to determine whether the case should be sent for grand jury action.
The case was adjourned until Gomula’s next scheduled appearance in City Court at 10 a.m. on Jan. 20.
The only remarks made by Gomula during the brief court appearance were to answer questions from Lorman. He has repeatedly declined to discuss the charges against him with the press on the advice of counsel. Hartman declined comment on the pending case following the appearance.
State police alleged in a felony complaint filed in City Court that Gomula possessed a 30-round detachable rifle magazine and .223-caliber Windham Weaponry rifle with a forward hand grip, pistol grip and flash suppressor. Both are illegal to own in New York state.
The charges stem from the earlier recovery of the devices from Gomula’s home by city police during a call for service after Gomula threatened to end his life with a shotgun on the afternoon of Dec. 10. All of the weapons were confiscated by officers.
Gomula was not taken into custody or charged at that time. He instead received inpatient treatment at St. Mary’s Hospital for three days and later documented on the internet the mental health crisis he experienced that day related to his prior diagnosis of post traumatic stress disorder from a career in emergency services.
Due to Gomula’s elected position, city police referred the investigation of the assault weapon and large capacity magazine to state police, leading to the charges against him. Custody of the seized devices was also transferred to the other agency.
Amsterdam officials last month urged Gomula to resign from office to focus on his mental health and the criminal charges against him. He has rejected their recommendation, saying he wants to use his platform as an alderman and his recent experience to bring attention to mental health struggles commonly facing emergency services personnel.
However, Gomula has acknowledged the criminal charges against him are unrelated to his recent mental health crisis. Members of the Common Council have declined to take action to potentially remove Gomula from office as allowed under the city charter for “behavior unbefitting a public official.”
They indicated they plan to monitor the situation as the legal process moves forward and could revisit their decision to take action on Gomula’s position if the case becomes a hindrance to governing the city.
Depending on the outcome of the charges against him, Gomula could be barred from holding elected office. Felony and certain misdemeanor convictions can prevent individuals from holding public office.
Gomula has a prior conviction in connection to an incident involving a firearm. He was charged with second-degree menacing after pulling out a gun and aiming it at another man during an argument in 2003.
Gomula was a Montgomery County sheriff’s deputy at the time and displayed his service weapon during the off-duty incident. Gomula eventually lowered his weapon.
The incident resulted in disciplinary proceedings and Gomula ultimately resigned. He later pleaded guilty to the menacing charge and served 30 days in county jail.
Reach Ashley Onyon at [email protected] or @AshleyOnyon on Twitter.
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