A federal chief judge has cleared local attorneys George Aney and Joseph Hobika Jr. of any professional wrongdoing in connection to the case of a Utica man convicted of killing two men in 1993.
In his ruling Tuesday, Chief District Judge Gary Sharpe also ruled that an assistant state attorney general did nothing unethical by allowing Aney and Hobika to testify during a 2008 hearing that questioned whether the attorneys had engaged in misconduct.
Sharpe’s ruling appears to be the final word on allegations that first surfaced last November when U.S. Magistrate Judge Victor Bianchini accused Aney and Hobika of being untruthful in their testimony about the case of Vincent Pepe.
Pepe, 37, is currently serving 50 years to life in prison for killing John Zajac and Brian Brewer at a North Utica dry cleaning business and then burning their bodies in the trunk of a car behind the Riverside Mall on Oct. 7, 1993.
Since his conviction in 1995, Pepe has argued that his case was sabotaged because Aney and Hobika were acting under conflicts of interest by simultaneously representing Pepe and two other key witnesses, Dominick Crocilla and Matthew Cuda.
Sharpe puts that issue to rest by stating there isn’t enough evidence to back up that argument, and therefore Aney and Hobika were not being untruthful when they disputed such allegations during the 2008 hearing.
Particularly, Sharpe said of Aney: “It seems more likely that Aney’s testimony was an innocent attempt to emphasize the relatively minor nature of his role in this matter, perhaps in an effort to defend himself against the ineffective-assistance-of-counsel claims lodged against him.”
On Wednesday, both Aney and Hobika said they were pleased by the latest decision that clears their names.
“Anybody would be bothered by that kind of innuendo, but I knew what the truth of the matter was and I couldn’t speak out on it until it was concluded as of now,” Aney said.
Although Aney also sought to fire back at Magistrate Bianchini for attacking his professionalism in the first place, Aney said he would withhold any criticism until he determines the “ethical bounds” of what he can say about a judge.
“I hope to one day freely express my opinion in public of Bianchini, just as he took liberty in discussing his personal feelings, not only of myself, but of other very decent people who he wrongfully criticized,” Aney said.
Hobika also said it was reassuring to hear a judge confirm everything Hobika had said all along.
“I told the truth, and when the final decision came out it confirmed that I told the truth,” Hobika said.
Additionally, Sharpe’s 24-page decision dismisses Bianchini’s allegations that Assistant Attorney General Jodi Danzig may have acted unethically by allowing Aney and Hobika to testify and by submitting a potentially fraudulent statement by Pepe’s previous attorney, Kenneth Ray.
Page 2 of 2 - “The Attorney General's Office is pleased that Chief Judge Sharpe has vindicated the conduct of Assistant Attorney General Jodi Danzig, and conclusively rejected the Magistrate Judge’s proposed findings of misconduct on her part,” said Jennifer Givner, press secretary for the state Attorney General’s Office.